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Stopping progress? Pro cyclists weigh in on the disc-brake debate

  • By VeloNews.com
  • Published Aug. 15, 2014
Will this become a common sight at the Tour de France in future years? Photo: Brad Kaminski | VeloNews.com

(Editor’s Note: Our article on the debate over disc brakes in the pro peloton previously ran in the August issue of Velo magazine. To accompany that article, several prominent professionals were asked to weigh in on the issue. Their views are presented here.)

Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step): I’ve never used [discs] before, except on a mountain bike. I’d love to try it in training, and in a race. I think it has its advantages — you see how scary it is to go downhill in a race with no brakes or almost no brakes. The problem now with carbon rims is 50 percent of your brake power is gone when it starts raining so it’s maybe a good thing that they will allow it, or should allow it.

VeloNews: Is it frustrating that you are the most elite bike racers in the world and there’s an advanced technology that exists that you’re not allowed to use?

Tom Boonen: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of technology we aren’t able to use as cyclists. Tourists can have bikes that weigh 4.5 kilograms [9.9 pounds] and our bikes have to be 7 kilo [15.4 pounds] almost, so … it’s a few things. The brakes are only for safety, and I don’t really get the point when they say you can’t really have any better brakes. Any other sport that has to go fast and depends on speed, like motorsport, they all depend on brakes. Brakes allow you to go faster. And much safer. And we can’t use those brakes.

VeloNews: One of the concerns is that you’d have to have everybody on discs, that you can’t have some on rim brakes, and some on disc brakes.

Tom Boonen: It always has to start somewhere. There are still mechanicals. Electronic shifting has been in the peloton for six or seven years now, so it takes time. We cannot say, “Hey, in 2015 everyone is on discs.” It’s not possible. It takes time. I don’t think it will be a problem if you’re in the peloton, if you can brake hard, because you’re not going to brake hard all the time.

•••

Peter Stetina (BMC Racing): I’d love to have road discs someday. I’m all for the progression of the sport, and it’s only beneficial. I think it’s the next step. I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon — it’s not ready yet. I’ve been talking with other people; it’s too heavy, still, there are other issues. You have to strengthen the forks, the wheels, you need more spokes in the wheels. I think, for going under the rigors of full ProTour racing, it’s a long ways to go. You have to think about other things in mass crashes… Have you ever touched a disc brake when it’s hot? It’s hot, so when you have mass crashes you’ll start having disc brake burns on your body. [There are] different rotor sizes, different pads that go on rotor sizes, you have to wear the rotors down. If you ever put new pads on a disc, they’re squeaky and stop really sharp, you’d almost need permanently worn ones. But I cannot wait for the day when I can go down a wet descent and not have to grab my brakes and then wait four seconds until they actually engage on a carbon rim. I hope someday, and I think it’s the next thing in the sport. But it’ll be awhile.

Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing): Next year the UCI is going to make an exception, and have one race [Paris-Roubaix] where teams are allowed to try it. And why not? If you’re going to stop the wheel of time, you’re falling behind. You can’t stop development forever. And why not be open to it? But I do think, if you are going to use disc brakes, you need to have the whole peloton on disc brakes, or not. If you mix them up, I think you change the risk, a lot, especially in the rain. It’s always great to be ahead of the game, and have a prototype out there. I’m always open for new technologies. And it’s pretty cool, that this technology exists. We’ll see what the public demands, what other bike companies join this development. If there is enough demand, then we might see things change. Maybe not in the close future, but maybe three, four years from now, it might be totally normal to see a disc bike in the peloton.

Thomas Dekker (Garmin-Sharp): I think it would be a big change, because now we just kinda brake, like full power all the time. I think when you do that with a disc wheel you just crash. You have to change your mentality completely.

Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing): We’re all just waiting for the UCI, or somebody, to let us race on disc brakes. But I think it’s something you have to do all at once, to make sure everyone is all on disc brakes. Not so much in the dry, but in the wet. … It changes a lot of ability to brake, slow down, and so if you have 30 percent of the peloton without disc brakes and you’re going down a wet descent and you’re braking for a turn and the person in front of you brakes a lot faster, and more efficiently, and you don’t have disc brakes, you’re going to go slamming into the back of them. It’s a safety thing — but I think we’re all ready and waiting for it.

Ted King (Cannondale): It’s a head-scratcher. I’m a fan. I had the privilege of using the [Cannondale] Synapse disc. Loved it. It’s a sweet bike. But ultimately, it has to be universal. You can’t have guys on disc brakes and guys on rim brakes in the same peloton. Sooner or later, hopefully it’s universal. There are some dangerous races out there, and better braking would make a big difference.

Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp): Do you know how hot a disc brake gets under braking? If you crashed on one with your face, your face is going to melt. Keep it out of the sport. It doesn’t belong. Just don’t do it. It’s the dumbest thing ever. The sport’s already trying to go places it shouldn’t. It’s like Formula One. Keep it simple, keep disc brakes out.

Michael Meyer (Trek Bicycles, road brand manager): There’s a big push from the industry. From the media side, it’s a big buzz, especially early on. There’s a big surge from that group. From the riders’ standpoint, we’ve discussed it with them and there’s not too much interest. I was out with some riders, and they didn’t have much interest in it at all. Fabian [Cancellara] rode on the Boone disc [cyclocross] bike, he was interested in it, but not in the racing aspect. The retail shop people, there’s a big push from them, and the media, and the gravel adventure-seeking rider. There’s a big push there as well.

Geoff Shaffer (Garmin-Sharp mechanic): Now we’re already knackered with the front wheels anyways, because of the fork tabs. So it will add a bit more time, whatever, OK, fair enough. But more it’s just what it’ll do to the guys riding the bike, or the guy next to him. I personally have real fears about it. I don’t want to jump out of the car and see a guy with his femoral artery sliced. If there’s 25-30 guys on the floor, there’s not enough medical staff there to deal with the mess. It’s first come, first serve, the guy could bleed out right there.

Dmitris Katsanis (UCI Equipment Commission): I wouldn’t like to comment on any potential rule changes before they are made public.

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