Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past year or two, you’ll know there’s a bit of a trend for disc-equipped road bikes going on at the moment. Well, it's more than a trend really, this is a new direction for the manufacturers and most of them have been quick to release a disc-equipped road bike.
Until now most of the disc brake development has been on endurance and sportive bikes like the Specialized Roubaix because they’re not generally used for racing - with the exception of the Spring Classics - and the common consensus is that these sorts of bikes, and the types of riding they’re used for, are well suited to the benefits of disc brakes. The longer wheelbases and chainstays also remove the chainline issues that can occur on race bikes.
Why disc brakes at all? The promised benefits are great modulation and more power, no fade in the wet, rims that don’t wear out, less maintenance and longer lasting brake pads. On the other hand, disc brakes are currently heavier than rim brakes and there are some concerns about their impact on the aerodynamics, though these are likely technological challenges that will be overcome with more development. We polled some industry insiders and they offer some interesting thoughts on whether disc brakes are a good thing for road bikes.
Here's a roundup of some of the newest road bikes with disc brakes currently available.
The TCR Advanced Pro Disc is built around a disc-specific version of the highly regarded TCR Advanced Pro frame. It shares a lot of the characteristics of it's rim brake sibling, with oversized tube profiles for extra stiffness. Ultegra Di2 delivers consistent and accurate shifting and Shimano hydraulics offer fantastic modulation of the braking power. Giant's SLR carbon tubeless wheels come as standard and help to keep the weight of the medium bike to 7.7kg.
One of the best features is the geometry. It is identical to to the rim version, with even the 405mm chanistays remaining the same. Giant have also, helpfully, stuck with 12mm thru axles to keep with what is quickly becoming the industry standard for road disc bikes.
The Tarmac Disc is one of the few race-ready bikes designed with disc brakes. It has the same short chainstays as the regular Tarmac and uses a specially designed hub that places the freehub further inboard to resolve the chainline issues that can occur with a wider axle and short chainstays - which is why most disc road bikes feature longer chainstays. It’s a novel solution and one that could be adopted by other manufacturers when they start getting to grips with putting disc brakes on race bikes.
Italian company De Rosa have updated their Idol and will now offer a disc brake version for those who want it. The full carbon frame and fork has fully internal cable and hose routing to keep the lines clean, and sticks with conventional axles at both ends. The 2018 version has come dow in price and will have a full Ultegra 8070 groupset.
Canyon's Aeroad CF SLX has been one of the benchmark aero road bikes since it launched in 2014, winning rave reviews and professional races in equal measure. It's now available with disc brakes, as are all of the German company's road bikes for 2017, and the good news is that the Aeroad CF SLX Disc is every bit as good as the regular rim brake Aeroad – fast, comfortable and with predictable handling – but enhanced by the improved braking performance of the hydraulic discs. Yes, there's a weight penalty, but you'll be really hard-pressed to detect that when you're screaming along the road at full chat.
Germany company Focus unveiled the Cayo Disc last year and for 2017 has extended the disc-equipped range with three aluminium-framed bikes starting at a grand. The Cayo sits under the Izalco MAX in the Focus road bike range, and was updated with discs for 2015. With a claimed 880g frame weight, Focus reckon it’s the lightest disc-ready carbon frame currently available.
Now, there’s a bit of debate about what axles these new disc road bikes should be using. Many are sticking with conventional quick release axles, but some are borrowing the thru-axle technology from mountain bikes, lifting the same standards from the knobbly tyre world.
Focus, however, have developed what they reckon is a more suitable thru-axle standard for road bikes. They call it Rapid Axle Technology (RAT) and it involves a T-Pin that turns 90 degrees and engages with a stopper, and the lever closes. It’s pretty simple to operate.
Why have a thru axle, or thru-bolt axle, in the first place? It increases stiffness and security which, given the forces acting on one side of the frame from the disc brakes, seems like a sensible solution. They've long been a feature on mountain bikes and we are seeing more of them on disc-equipped bikes of all sorts.
Focus recently announced 2016 Cayo models with aluminium frames and disc brakes, which will bring the features of these bikes down to a lower price range.
The CAAD12 is the latest in a long series of well-received bikes from Cannondale, most recently its predecessor, the fabled CAAD10. The CAAD12 is lighter, stiffer, more comfortable and available with or without disc brakes. Showing the company's commitment to disc brakes, the disc version was actually designed first, and the new frame is a whopping 206g lighter than the CAAD10 Disc that came out a couple of years ago.
Following the popular and likeable CAAD10 was always going to be a tough act, but Cannondale has succeeded not only in retaining the key qualities of the previous model but also improving the ride quality. It's nothing short of marvellous. The 2017 model gets a fancy new paint job and rolls on the new Hollowgram wheels.
The CAAD12 is a finely honed bike with a level of comfort and refinement that makes you wonder why you would buy anything else. It's so smooth that it outshines many carbon fibre road bikes we've tested over the years.
The Colnago V1-r Disc is based on the regular V1-r , with the same aero shaped tube profiles. Colnago have developed a new fork with a 15mm hollow thru-axle thru-axle, while out back the V1-r Disc uses a regular quick release rear axle. You can read the review of the regular V1-r which this bike is based on here.
The Focus Izalco Max Disc is based loosely on the regular Izalco Max carbon fibre race bike, as used by the Ag2r professional outfit for the past couple of seasons. This one's got disc brakes, though, as well as SRAM's extremely clever wireless eTap shifting. It might just be the ultimate disc brake-equipped road bike.
The majority of disc-equipped road bikes being produced at the moment are sportive/endurance bikes. Why? These aren't bikes being bought to be raced, so they can be free of the restraints of the UCI's rulebook, and because the bikes have longer wheelbases (and chainstays), there are no chainline issues with the wider rear axles that disc-equipped road bikes have to accommodate the disc rotor.
For 2017 BMC morphed its Roadmachine race bikes into a line of disc-braked fast endurance machines with room for at least 28mm tyres. The range includes aluminium and carbon fibre frames, with a range of equipment from Shimano Tiagra to SRAM Red eTap Wireless.
The Paralane is a new endurance platform for Focus, with a 12-bike range from the £1,299 Paralane Al Tiagra up to the £5,699 carbon-framed Paralane eTap. Long-ride features include comfort-enhancing carbon layup and tube profiles, along with skinny seatpost and 28mm tyres, that together provide a smooth ride that is up there with the best in this category. It isolates you from the worst road buzz but without completely detaching you from the road surface passing beneath the tyres. It's a really nice balance and rewards the cyclist that wants some involvement in the ride but without being shaken to pieces.
Fast and sporty, with all the practicality and dependability of hydraulic disc brakes, wide tyres and space for full-length mudguards, the brand new Whyte Wessex is a bike that is up to the task of taking on the roughest roads and toughest weather.
Racing aside, it's all the bike you really need for year-round riding in the UK, fast enough for sportives and pacy training runs, comfortable and reliable for grinding out winter miles, and at home on longer commutes. Only a British company could design a bike that is absolutely, perfectly, 100 per cent suited to the demands of year-round UK road cycling.
The 2016 Pinnacle Dolomite 5 was something of a watershed, with hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike at the key £1,000 price point. The 2017 version bumps up over the £1,000 mark. You can blame Brexit, or Trump... It's a pretty likeable machine, though, which could certainly serve as a commuter or winter bike, and rides well enough to be an enjoyable companion for all-day outings.
The Giant Contend Disc features an Aluxx SL frameset, D-Fuse seatpost, Giant Conduct hydraulic disc brakes and a Shimano Tiagra groupset. You get mechanical Tiagra shifters with a cable to hydraulic converter at the front of the stem. It's a nifty solution to avoiding the (more expensive) Shimano ST-RS505 shifters but the jury's out on the aesthetics of the converter.
Vitus has expanded its disc braked range again for 2017 and with that comes a new, lighter, more comfortable frameset for the Zenium SL over the pretty damn good VR model we reviewed last year. Offering a Shimano 105 11-speed groupset, full-carbon fork, Shimano BR-RS Hydraulic disc brakes and a Vision Team 30 disc wheelset, there is a lot to like for your £1,125 outlay — and the pic doesn't do justice to its intensely ORANGE! paint job.
The Wilier GTR SL Disc features a full Ultegra 6800 groupset and Shimano hydraulic discs. The full carbon frame is coupled with a carbon fork to keep the overall weight down to 8kg. Not too shabby for an endurance bike with discs.
Trek have doubled up on decouplers. The Domane is Trek's go-to endurance and sportive model, and raced successfully by the likes of Fabian Cancellara in the early season Classics. Trek have adopted thru-axle technology on the Domane Disc, yet the axles can be converted back to regular quick releases if you want. The big change for 2017, however, was the inclusion of the headtube decoupler. It's designed to take the sting out of your hands at you ride, at speed, over the Carrefour de l'Arbre. Well, it's more likely to be a poorly surfaced B-road but one can pretend.
Cannondale went into disc-braked endurance bikes with both boots when it launched the 2015 Synapse range with a full range of carbon Synapse disc-equipped bikes. Cannondale also offers aluminium-framed Synapse Disc models.
The Solace 20 Disc is one of four disc-braked versions of the company's endurance/sportive bike. The disc model uses the same basic carbon-fibre frame with a tall head tube and short top tube, and uses thru-axles.
Rose's road disc lineup is based on the Xeon Team endurance frame, so you get the same geometry with a focus on long distance comfort. That means a taller head tube, longer wheelbase and shorter top tube.
Rose do a tidy line of mountain bikes and the thru-axles show their influence: 15mm at the front and 12mm rear, with 142mm rear wheel spacing. Frame weight is a claimed 1,040g. All gear cables and hydraulic hoses for the disc brakes are routed internally, including through the fork, which makes it a very clean looking bike.
Building on last year's brilliant introduction of the Mustang range, the Mustang Elite is Raleigh's 2017 gravel/adventure bike and looks like a great example of the now well established category. Its 6061 double butted aluminium frame is designed for both on and off road riding so if you're getting tempted by your local dirt roads and trails, or a canal towpath commute, it'll take it in its stride.
Along with an all-carbon fork with through-axle and TRP HY-RD Semi Hydraulic disc brakes, it has SRAM's Rival 1X transmission with a single 44-tooth chainring and wide-range 10-42 11-speed cassette. It's the ultimate Keep It Simple, Stupid derailleur gear system and should be just the thing for a do-it-all bike.
The Sensium 600 Disc is based on Lapierre's regular Sensium, a bike for endurance and sportive cycling, but adds disc brakes.
Lapierre say they have modified the carbon fibre layup on the disc Sensium with an alteration to the resin (the glue that bonds the carbon fibres together) by using using one with a higher heat resistance, supposedly to cope with the high heat levels a disc brake has the potential to produce. We’ve not heard of any other company doing this.
An Ultegra 6800 groupset hangs from the frame (the cassette and chain are 105, but we doubt you'll be able to tell) and the rest of the spec is equally racy, with 25mm Continental Ultra Sport 2 tyres sitting wide on the Shimano rims.
Audax/versatile do-everything bikes
Yea, you could have carbon, but in some people's eyes, it will never look this good.
There is also something fantastic about having a bike built just for you, your riding style and what you intend to use the bike for. With custom head badge options, eyelets and shot blasted graphics on top of that, the J.ACK becomes part bike, part work of art.
J.Laverack also works with the likes of Hope, Hunt and Brooks to make the bike brilliantly British.
The Grade is another of the new breed of bike that blurs the traditional lines between a road bike, cyclo-cross bike and touring bike, and includes elements of each. The Grade is billed as a bike that can be used for any of those disciplines. With big tyre clearance, relaxed geometry and rack and mudguard mounts, this is a bike that can do just about everything. If you have space for just one bike, and want one without limitations, this could be the choice for you.
[This article was last updated on August 7, 2017]
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.