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We've tried them, they work. But until we properly test them, discuss...

We spent three days in Sicily trying out Shimano's new disc brakes, and Ultegra Di2. The first ride was a bit squeaky but with impressive power from the discs, and on the second day I got to know them a bit better as they started to bed in. And on the third day I didn't use them at all.

Instead I took a bike with full Ultegra Di2, complete with Ultegra rim brakes and Ultegra alloy wheels, back up Mount Etna (note to Shimano: if the press camp is on the side of a mountain you might want to pack some compact chainsets next time). I took a slightly different route further up, and didn't go all the way to the top, but with the last 6km of descending was exactly the same as I'd experienced with discs, in very similar conditions.

And the conclusion? Well, the first thing to say is that the new Ultegra dual pivot callipers, which use the same symetrical pivot design as Dura Ace, are very, very, very good. Those callipers, with good pads, biting onto dry, alloy rims: that's about the best performance you can expect from a cable-driven rim brake right now. They're exceptional.

Did I feel like I was wanting for power? No. Did I feel that the bike was harder to control than with discs? No. They were just the ticket. And they didn't need bedding in either. So on a nice open descent like Etna, in the sunshine, on dry roads, you're really not getting any advantage from a disc-equipped bike. We learned that.

Discs aren't really about increasing the maximum amount of stopping power you have, though. They're about allowing you to make use of that maximum stopping power independent of the conditions you're riding in, and the other equipment you're riding with. We didn't get a chance to test the brakes in the hosing rain, and we didn't try the disc brakes vs rim brakes test with carbon rims, either. Both of those would probably start to tip the balance in favour of discs. Until we have a set for a full test – and that will probably be January – it's difficult to say how much difference having discs will make in less-than-ideal conditions. Having spent plenty of time riding on the road with both mechanical and mechanical/hydraulic hybrid systems I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest the difference in the least optimal conditions – on a carbon rim, in wet conditions – will be substantial. Game-changing, even.

I'm looking forward to giving them a proper test in our filthy winter, because it's my considered opinion that disc brakes are a better solution than rim brakes. In every other application they've been tried, they've soon become the standard. That's not to say that this first incarnation for road bikes is going to be perfect, because it won't be. Discs on mountain bikes taught us that: look at them then, and look at them now. Road hydraulic discs work though, and that's a good starting point. And more than can be said for some of the version-one mountain bike units…

To finish off I'd like to address a few arguments against discs which I believe to be either erroneous or irrelevant, or at the very least unhelpful. Here they are:

1: Disk brakes are ugly.

Dual control levers are ugly. Dual pivot brakes are ugly. Carbon frames are ugly. Compact frames are ugly. Carbon wheels are ugly. Deep section wheels are ugly. Electronic groupsets are ugly. Aero bikes are ugly. Compact drop handlebars are ugly. Clipless pedals are ugly. Wider tyres are ugly.

And now, disk brakes are ugly.

The idea that the modern road bike is beautiful and discs will ruin it is based on the assumption that the modern road bike is somehow the perfect bike, aesthetically speaking. It's not. It's just what you're used to. You'll get used to discs too. I promise. You've probably got 5 years. Even if you don't get used to them, it won't much matter.

2: disk brakes are unneccessary

See list above. Replace 'ugly' with 'unneccessary'.

3: The pros will never adopt them, everyone will lose their fingers, etc and so on

The professional racing scene is an interesting issue, because at the moment you have a support mechanism (neutral service) that's based around a very strict and universally-accepted standard. For the sport to switch wholesale to discs will require a standard for discs to be agreed. That's hardly a deal-breaker, but it'll probably take some time. Years, in fact.

Disc tolerances are much tighter than callipers, and neutral wheel changes will need to work. For that reason, adoption of some kind of accepted thru-axle standard is probably a prerequisite for pro racing on discs, as thru axles work to closer tolerances than quick releases. On top of that they're a much better, and structurally significant, way of attaching a wheel to a frame or fork, and will make it easier to create stiffer framesets to handle the disc forces. Will it mean slower wheel changes? Probably. A bit.

Do the pros want discs? Some do and some don't, probably. Andy Schleck does. I haven't specifically spoken to any other pros about it. I'm guessing there's mixed feelings.

Does everyone have to be on discs? Probably. More because that appears to be the UCI's main concern – that a disparity in braking capability between riders will lead to more crashes in the peloton – than because it's a neccessity. Clearly there's a massive discrepancy in braking capability between professional riders already, which is why Vicenzo Nibali or Alberto Contador can take minutes out of, say, Andy Schleck or the new more cautious Bradley Wiggins, on a long descent in the wet. It's difficult to know how discs will affect that disparity. If anything, it'll make very little difference. Nibali out-brakes Schleck because he's a better descender, not because his brakes work more effectively.

Also, crashes in the peloton, especially at professional level, very rarely have anything to do with braking. Mostly it's people clipping wheels or bars, and going down, taking others with them. Certainly in sprints, where a large chunk of crashes happen, no-one's hauling on the anchors.

And will people's fingers get sliced off? Well, it's a possibilty, in the same way that it's a possibility that someone's chainset could slice their jugular artery. A possibilty, but unlikely to be the top of your worry list in a crash.

And anyway: why does it matter? You're not a professional rider (professional riders reading this excepted), and if you're racing at anything below premier calendar level in the UK it's unlikely you'll have to worry about it for at least the next five years. Probably a decade. We should be making decisions on what equipment we have on our bikes based on whether we think it'll benefit our riding. If your good bike rarely goes out in the wet, then you probably don't need discs. If you think they're ugly, then don't buy them. If you have one bike that gets used all year, you might find them an improvement. Make your choice. And you'll have one for the foreseeable future: rim brakes aren't suddenly going to disappear.

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

33 comments

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mrmo [2094 posts] 4 years ago
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I think that is a fair summation, I have used discs on the mtb and when i was in the position to use them i didn't hesitate, mud, brake cables, rims wearing out etc etc. It does make a lot of sense.

But on the road... I can see benefits, but i don't see them as anything like as helpful as on the MTB. I don't make a habit of riding in crap weather, i do, but.. when it isn't raining rim brakes are generally ok. My rims don't wear out that quickly, so not too fussed on that score. I am not interested in carbon rims (cost/benefit) so not really an issue.

Then if we look at the cost, all the talk at the moment is di2 and hydro brakes, I am unlikely to be using either Di2 or EPS,( cost/benefit). Aside from the cost of replacing the levers if you are unfortunate enough to crash them, i just want a bike to ride with as few batteries as possible.

That would leave mechanical discs, not convinced yet, road salt is not a nice thing, seen it trash things quite convincingly and brakes that don't get used a great deal?

Then there is the standards issue, what dropout spacing? 100mm on front i assume, but on the back 130,135,142? QR or thru axle? The disc mount issue i suspect will be Centre-loc and 6 bolt, i doubt anyone will introduct another standard??? as for discs, 140/160/180 again, hopefully no one will think 165/183 or similar makes sense!!!!

In my opinion my next road bike will probably have discs, but i am in no hurry to buy a new road bike, and getting discs won't be the reason why i get a new road bike.

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beej.a [40 posts] 4 years ago
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kudos... a very honest article "if you think they are ugly, don't buy them"

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russyparkin [570 posts] 4 years ago
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you calling my bike ugly? huh huh? lads hold me back, hold me back.

oh actually yeah, you have a point

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Wooliferkins [50 posts] 4 years ago
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Would be interesting to compare them with SRAMs hyd rim brakes, already UCI cleared and in use in the Pro peleton. The modulation felt really good on these on a demo stand at Eurobike but I'd like to see what "grabbing a panicky handful" does on the road

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fukawitribe [1946 posts] 4 years ago
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mrmo wrote:

[...] on the road... I can see benefits, but i don't see them as anything like as helpful as on the MTB. I don't make a habit of riding in crap weather, i do, but.. when it isn't raining rim brakes are generally ok.

I do ride in crap weather and can't wait for them to become more readily, and cheaply, available.

mrmo wrote:

Then if we look at the cost, all the talk at the moment is di2 and hydro brakes, I am unlikely to be using either Di2 or EPS,( cost/benefit). Aside from the cost of replacing the levers if you are unfortunate enough to crash them, i just want a bike to ride with as few batteries as possible.

That would leave mechanical discs, not convinced yet, road salt is not a nice thing, seen it trash things quite convincingly and brakes that don't get used a great deal?

It's not either-or. We currently have full hydraulic setups with the master cylinder in the hoods, running on electronic and mechanical setups - we have cable pull 'full' mechanical setups - we have cable pull to master cylinder junction boxes mounted somewhere between the hoods and the calipers and we have cable pull to master/slave units built into the calipers.

There's probably stuff i've missed as well.. but even so, the existing road disc solutions allow for good deal of trade-off for complexity, cost, maintenance etc etc and a good choice of lever types. Unless, somehow, road disc technology is completely atypical of any other technology, it should also improve noticeably after the initial attempts.

The bottom line, as the article points out, is that mechanical rim brakes aren't going anywhere in a hurry - if people don't want discs they will still have plenty of choice, no matter what the doom-mongers say. Don't like road discs ?.. don't buy 'em. Those that do actively want them will probably know why they do [0]. The ability to choose should be welcomed, in my book.

[0] However, to avoid crucifixion, they may have to go and buy them whilst the anti-disc groups are out burning tubeless tyre users  3

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mrmo [2094 posts] 4 years ago
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mrmo wrote:

I don't make a habit of riding in crap weather, i do, but.. when it isn't raining rim brakes are generally ok.

Just to be clear, i commute most days,17miles each way, and despite what some think, it doesn't rain that much in the UK. As for leisure riding, if it is riding when i am out so be it, but i can't be arsed going out on the road bike in foul weather.

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vsmith1 [65 posts] 4 years ago
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Having spent time on MTB getting wheels crudded up with mud, grit, snow etc. and having rim explode due to wearing out. I love disks. They alleviate the above problems, and if a wheel is slightly bent then also not faffing about by repositioning cantis to carry on riding.

Hence my tourer is a Kona Sutra - with Avid BB cable disks. This does not have a STI/ErgoPower/SRAM integrated lever set though.

If I had the choice on a new road bike then I'd gladly go disks. Ideal for Northern England what with grit, mud, farmer's dumping slurry and stuff on the road and the sheer lack of road surface maintenance.

But the frame, forks need to be designed specifically for it - no kludges please.

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Ush [990 posts] 4 years ago
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vsmith1 wrote:

Having spent time on MTB getting wheels crudded up with mud, grit, snow etc. and having rim explode due to wearing out. I love disks.

Heh, I've had the same thing. A small rock got wedged in the pad with all the rest of the muck, scored a line on the rim. Luckily I was ascending after a long descent when there was a sound like a shotgun going off and the front dipped. Nice long strip of rim blown out!

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Guyz2010 [304 posts] 4 years ago
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Good to read but very opinionated.
Disc under UCI sanction; possibly not going to happen soon. I not sure Pro's will want them anyway, they don;t care about costs.
For me; yeh I want them, having worn out two sets of rims in three years and 14,000miles riding in all weathers re-rimming a wheel is not economical buy the time the wheel builder scraps the rims and spokes. Wheel rim wear at my current rate costs me 5pence per mile!! I'm sure discs will reduce (with discs at £20 - 30 per disc) that giving me chance to save for the sunday best bike. How long will a disc last I wonder.

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Guyz2010 [304 posts] 4 years ago
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Not to mention brake block misaligning themselves and carving the sidewall out ending in a long walk home.
Yes my fault but not uncommon I would suggest. Perhaps I should spend more of my riding time maintaining instead. Nah!

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step-hent [725 posts] 4 years ago
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5p per mile? So over 14000 miles that's £700 on rims? Pricey!

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russyparkin [570 posts] 4 years ago
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well if he insists on running Enve rims all year round its his fault

my winter wheels are 16'000km old and still fine, maybe his pads are jammed on?

step-hent wrote:

5p per mile? So over 14000 miles that's £700 on rims? Pricey!

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Guyz2010 [304 posts] 4 years ago
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yep, no lies, standard Ambrosio rims on the Bianchi worn out over 5500miles, replaced with Miche Syntium AXY's £280 . I ride all year round day or night back lanes in Devon hilly, gritty, muddy wet, steep decents in single track lanes with brakes on all the way and not your pretty high street Surrey on sunny sundays. Pretty easy arithmatic that a child could do. £280/5500miles = £0.0509, if I replaced the Syntiums with Syntiums again the cost would reduce to 3.5p/mile as they lasted longer. No poseurs Enve's for me at that rate. So many aggressive tossers around these days.

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mrmo [2094 posts] 4 years ago
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Guyz2010 wrote:

yep, no lies, standard Ambrosio rims on the Bianchi worn out over 5500miles, replaced with Miche Syntium AXY's £280 . I ride all year round day or night back lanes in Devon hilly, gritty, muddy wet, steep decents in single track lanes with brakes on all the way and not your pretty high street Surrey on sunny sundays. Pretty easy arithmatic that a child could do. £280/5500miles = £0.0509, if I replaced the Syntiums with Syntiums again the cost would reduce to 3.5p/mile as they lasted longer. No poseurs Enve's for me at that rate. So many aggressive tossers around these days.

Maybe you should be looking at changing the rims not the wheels, that would save you a fair chunk to begin with. Personnally i managed to get c5 years out of a set of Open Pros, c30000miles??? replaced them with Ambrosio Excellights, new rims cost £100.( If i had stuck to Open Pros i wouldn't have had to change the spokes.) works out at c0.3p a mile. My riding is a mix of Devon, the Cotswolds, the Vales of Evesham and Berkley and the FoD. Plenty of crap roads, plenty of not so crap roads.

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Ginsterdrz [88 posts] 4 years ago
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I had never seen disc brakes on a 'road' bike until a recent sportive.
Rotund rider dismounted and opened his full length, under top tube, frame bag to reveal his fags.
His mate then asked what he wanted to drink. "Guinness thanks mate".

I think that's the target market.

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Super Domestique [1619 posts] 4 years ago
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Good overview Dave and addressed lots of the current talking points.

Also, interesting first comment from mrmo. Likewise, my next bike may well have discs but purely through the time that will pass before I need my next bike.

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thebungle [104 posts] 4 years ago
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Ginsterdrz wrote:

I had never seen disc brakes on a 'road' bike until a recent sportive.
Rotund rider dismounted and opened his full length, under top tube, frame bag to reveal his fags.
His mate then asked what he wanted to drink. "Guinness thanks mate".

I think that's the target market.

Totally off-topic but road biking at the moment is starting to feel like mountain biking as the whole trail centre thing started to take off, replace trail centre with sportive and it may ring a bell for some of you.

I'm not saying it's good or bad, it just []is[/i]..

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matt_fantastic [87 posts] 4 years ago
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"...it's a possibility that someone's chainset could slice their jugular artery"

Actually, it's the jugular VEIN, and the CAROTID artery...

#Pedant

 16

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KiwiMike [1307 posts] 4 years ago
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So this 'marketing-driven' hype turnsout to deliver real-world benefits that people are happy to pay for?

Who knew?

Methinks some pundits owe some marketing depts a few bevvies.

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mrmo [2094 posts] 4 years ago
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KiwiMike wrote:

So this 'marketing-driven' hype turnsout to deliver real-world benefits that people are happy to pay for?
.

Discs do offer benifits, but...

If we say that a set of discs brakes are at least £150 calipers and discs, a set of wheels £200, new frame and fork, £500ish. I know the numbers can be different.

Do discs offer £700+ of benefit?

For a MTB in my opinion after clipless pedals, discs are a great invention and even running one on the front as i did for a while makes a real difference, for me if i had to give up suspension or discs, suspension would go.

Looking at the road bike for a moment, if i had £700, what would i buy? I don't actually think discs would be that high up the list.

If i had to buy a new frame today, i doubt i would get a disk one due to the lack of frames I like, if i was looking to buy in a few years then i would probably get a disc frame to future proof my purchase. I do see the market going to discs in time, afterall they do work, they do cope with rain better, etc. I just don't regard discs as a must have in the same way as i do on the mtb.

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dave atkinson [6317 posts] 4 years ago
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mrmo wrote:
KiwiMike wrote:

So this 'marketing-driven' hype turnsout to deliver real-world benefits that people are happy to pay for?
.

Discs do offer benifits, but...

If we say that a set of discs brakes are at least £150 calipers and discs, a set of wheels £200, new frame and fork, £500ish. I know the numbers can be different.

Do discs offer £700+ of benefit?

that's a bit of a straw man argument. very few people will be upgrading an exisiting bike to discs. they'll just be buying a new bike with them on. that bike will be more expensive for the same spec than a calliper bike, but nothing like £700 more.

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mrmo [2094 posts] 4 years ago
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Dave Atkinson wrote:

that's a bit of a straw man argument. very few people will be upgrading an exisiting bike to discs. they'll just be buying a new bike with them on. that bike will be more expensive for the same spec than a calliper bike, but nothing like £700 more.

Just trying to get to the point, that discs may offer benefits, but i certainly don't think they are a must have, or even a would like lots thing. As i tend to upgrade rather than buy in one hit it may be a while before i start using discs. I would have to take the hit for wheels, frameset and brakes, rather than the usual bits as and when.

On your other point, if you have a budget of £1000 something has to give if you want discs. So the buyer can buy discs and for example Sora, or they can have 105 and calipers. For me i would take the 105...

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Guyz2010 [304 posts] 4 years ago
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I don't really see the upgrade being and economical point. Buying bits to build a bike cost more than twice as much as buying a new bike. Customised bike route maybe if you got the cash, otherwise buy a whole new bike.
One would only save the bars/stem, duerailiers & seat, the rest is scrap/ebay-stuff.

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mrmo [2094 posts] 4 years ago
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Guyz2010 wrote:

I don't really see the upgrade being and economical point. Buying bits to build a bike cost more than twice as much as buying a new bike. Customised bike route maybe if you got the cash, otherwise buy a whole new bike.
One would only save the bars/stem, duerailiers & seat, the rest is scrap/ebay-stuff.

It costs more, but the way i work and i am sure others do, wheels wears out buy new better wheels, chainset wears out buy new chainset, frame looks tired, buy new frame.

You never have a big bang, i have new bike moment, but it is cheaper to buy as and when rather than buying a totally new bike.

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dave atkinson [6317 posts] 4 years ago
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mrmo wrote:

Just trying to get to the point, that discs may offer benefits, but i certainly don't think they are a must have, or even a would like lots thing. As i tend to upgrade rather than buy in one hit it may be a while before i start using discs. I would have to take the hit for wheels, frameset and brakes, rather than the usual bits as and when.

On your other point, if you have a budget of £1000 something has to give if you want discs. So the buyer can buy discs and for example Sora, or they can have 105 and calipers. For me i would take the 105...

It's a valid point, too. Something *will* have to give, and we see that with 'cross bikes. But i wouldn't buy a 'cross bike with cantis now

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Critchio [230 posts] 4 years ago
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I have a Lynskey titanium road bike and I opted for the disc variant in the end. The frame is made for hydraulic disc brakes but is currently running on top of the range BB7's until I decide which hydro version to install, maybe next year.

My thoughts? Feckin brilliant and better then my other two bikes with Shimano rim brakes and Swisstop pads. In the wet the discs are awesome. Going out with other cyclists who don't have disc brakes the performance difference is in your face noticeable. Even in the dry sprinting downhill I can leave my braking much, much longer coming to a stop or going into a corner than I can on my other rim brake bikes. I dont have competition grade rim brakes and wheels so concede that will of course make a difference, but for me discs are a big thumbs up.

I have noticed that the rim brake surface on the my front wheel on one of the non disc bikes is very worn. Those wheels weren't cheap either.... but on my disc bike I have handbuilt DT Swiss wheels on Hope hubs which also were not cheap and I am pleased the rims will never wear out on them.

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dodgy [231 posts] 4 years ago
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mrmo wrote:
Guyz2010 wrote:

yep, no lies, standard Ambrosio rims on the Bianchi worn out over 5500miles, replaced with Miche Syntium AXY's £280 . I ride all year round day or night back lanes in Devon hilly, gritty, muddy wet, steep decents in single track lanes with brakes on all the way and not your pretty high street Surrey on sunny sundays. Pretty easy arithmatic that a child could do. £280/5500miles = £0.0509, if I replaced the Syntiums with Syntiums again the cost would reduce to 3.5p/mile as they lasted longer. No poseurs Enve's for me at that rate. So many aggressive tossers around these days.

Maybe you should be looking at changing the rims not the wheels, that would save you a fair chunk to begin with. Personnally i managed to get c5 years out of a set of Open Pros, c30000miles??? replaced them with Ambrosio Excellights, new rims cost £100.( If i had stuck to Open Pros i wouldn't have had to change the spokes.) works out at c0.3p a mile. My riding is a mix of Devon, the Cotswolds, the Vales of Evesham and Berkley and the FoD. Plenty of crap roads, plenty of not so crap roads.

He gets 5500 miles on the rims where he rides in the way he rides, you get more miles on the rims where you ride in the way you ride.

It's not a valid comparison.

FWIW, my rims tend to last 5000 miles or so on my bad weather bike. There's also the several hundred miles leading up to that point where you're thinking "am I pushing my luck on these rims".

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dodgy [231 posts] 4 years ago
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My next bike will have discs, I don't care if people think they're ugly (I don't happen to think they are ugly anyway). For me, the benefits are;

  • Rim wear is a thing of the past
  • Puncture repair a whole lot more pleasant without the grey sludge getting everywhere
  • Consistent braking
  • Quieter braking once bedded in, none of that gritty graunching sound which is the sound of £££ being machined away
  • No picking alloy shards out of brake pads every few rides to lengthen the life of rims
  • No regular measuring of rim depth/thickness with a dental gauge (tyre off, blah blah, it's not a quick 2 minute job)
  • Carbon rims become a possibility for a winter machine
  • Eventually, rims will be optimised with not brake track etc to mean possibly same overall weight, but not as much of it on the extreme outer edge of the rim

If I was a competitive racer, I'd probably stick with rim brakes even if discs were approved.

I bet there's some downsides, but I think most people who ride in all weathers who pay for their own kit will eventually choose discs.

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kcr [153 posts] 4 years ago
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I didn't realise there was a debate to be had about this, and have been running discs on my commuting road bike for 10 years in blissful ignorance. It's just another braking option, but one that has significant advantages for utility/non competitive road use.

I am actually right in the middle of replacing my BB7s with new Hy-Rd mechanical/hydraulic hybrids. Looking forward to even easier maintenance and set up with the self adjustment of hydraulic pads. I'm also hoping they are going to be less prone to corrosion than BB7s, but will need a proper winter of testing to confirm that.

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the_mikey [163 posts] 4 years ago
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I will buy into it either when there is no choice or when there are standards that mean I can easily replace wheels/bearings/discs, without it becoming a massive technical assault. Currently I buy a road wheelset and all I have to do is check that the freehub is compatible, how many other options will disc brakes bring? I really just want to enjoy riding my bike!

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