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David L. Stanley

Disc Brakes on Road Bikes:
Tech Change and the Agony that Always Comes Along

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo,, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. His latest book is Melanoma; It Started with a Freckle. Just click on the Amazon link on the right for the print, Kindle eBook or Audiobook versions.

David L. Stanley

This year, it is disc brakes in the peloton:

Those things are going to slice the S*^& out of someone they spin so fast. Plus, they get frickin’  hot, someone’s gonna get a branding.

Marketing hype with no real benefit... more issues with bleeding brakes and possible loss of brakes... no real aero advantage as a matter of fact aero bikes with non aero wheelsets, no real axle lock standards... its a bloody mess for no real reason... the cycling industry is forcing the road cyclist to adapt

“It's pure bullshit. Disc brakes do NOT provide a shorter braking distance!!! When I pull my caliper brakes full power, wheels are blocked in the same moment and I start flying over my handlebar. How can this time even be shorter? Be aware, the industry always will sell us their new stuff. If it makes sense or not. And changing wheels with discs fast is a pure mess. Please GOD don't send us disc brakes!!!”

Like the Olympics, every four years there’s another version of this, accompanied by much gnashing of teeth and waving of hands. How many years? Travel back through the mists of time…

In 1972, I was 14. The waffle-stomping granola-crunching culture of the post-Woodstock era had grabbed me hard. I saved my lawn mowing money and for $89.99, bought a Sears Freespirit. With Shimano Eagle components and a chunk of J-shaped metal as a “derailleur guard,” my first ten-speed weighed in at 31 lbs. In cut-off blue jeans and canvas deck shoes—they worked better with my rat-trap pedals—I rode a bunch of centuries, a couple of Belle Isle 24-hour marathons, and I was hooked worse than Charlie Sheen.

I rode the hell out of that bike.

In 1974, a catalog from Gene Portuesi’s Cyclopedia appeared in my mailbox. I sold that Sears for twenty bucks and bought a Doniselli: twenty-four pounds of straight gauge Columbus steel gas pipe, Campy Valentino, and Clement Elvezia sew-up magic. The plastic Unicanitor saddle taught me the value of cycling shorts: Kucharik wool shorts with a real chamois no thicker than a washcloth.

I rode the hell out of the bike.

In 1979, I was a student at Michigan State and Dale Hughes brought his Madison track to Demonstration Hall. My bike racing friend Scott Miller fitted me up with a track bike and six laps later, I realized that I knew nothing about cycling and I wanted to know everything. I sold the Doniselli and bought my first proper racing bike: a secondhand CCM Tour du Canada with Campy Record 72 parts. With a five speed 13-21 Regina freewheel, I began to chase the rolling circus.

I rode the hell out of that bike.

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That is why, every few years, I laugh, guffaw even, when a new product is brought to market by Campy or Shimano or SRAM to chorus of “whaaaaaaaaaaaaa?”

It must have been around 1984, clipless pedals are seen on the feet of Hinault and LeMond.

Nope, never gonna use ‘em. Can’t get my feet out in case I crash.

Too easy to pull my foot at a sprint.

Too heavy. I’ll change when Sean Kelly changes.

In 1985, it was index shifting.

Real bike riders know how to shift.

Too noisy, everybody will know when you’re getting ready to attack.

In 1986, it was hidden brake cables.

That sharp bend in the cable’ll kill good brake performance.

I can’t tell you how many times the cable has stopped me from bouncing off the bars on a bumpy road.

In 1990, it was STI shifting

Too heavy.

If you can’t handle reaching to the downtube, you don’t belong in a peloton.

Shimano just wants to force us to buy new crap.

In 2009, it was Di2 electric shifting.

Nobody needs that stuff. Plus, it’s too heavy.

Real bike racers know how to shift the front ring right.

What happens when the battery dies?

And today, it is disc brakes in the peloton.

In the early 1800s, I suspect ‘real cyclists’ flapped their hands at the introduction of the spoon brake. It is certain that when John Dunlop re-invented the pneumatic tire in 1888, he was derided by many ardent cyclists of the time.

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There is no getting around the human tendency to confirmation bias. Heck, I remember when automobile seatbelts were mandated in the early 70s, my grandfather Sam said he’d never use them; it was better to be thrown clear.

The odds are good that no federal agency will mandate disc brakes for bicycles anytime soon. It’s a simple issue. Don’t want disc brakes? Don’t buy bikes with them. But don’t try to sell the idea that they are dangerous. Don’t deny that they function near-flawlessly in the widest range of riding conditions. As prices fall, don’t deny that they will make cycling safer and easier for a wide variety of riders.

Whether you’ve got Universal 68, Campy Delta, Scott Mathauser Superbrake, or like me, standard issue Ultegra, just get out there…

And ride the hell out of your bike.

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