What are the virtues of disc brakes?

by bikeboy76   March 15, 2013  

So British Cycling's latest email gives 20 top tips for commuting and one of them is:
Get disc brakes – “If your commute includes lots of cars discs will stop you in no time whatever the weather.”

I have noticed that a lot of new designs are making a big show of disc brakes and saying they are the next big thing (along with electronic shifting.) However, I have never had a bike with disc brakes. The last mountain bike I had cost £150 from Halfords in 2005 and is now long gone.

What are the actual virtues of disc brakes? Are they heavy? Easy to clean or maintain? Do they wear out? They still um 'clamp' on the disc but is there more torque/stopping power as it is closer to the hub? Can they be damaged/bent easily as they are sticking out? To upgrade or not to upgrade, that is the question.

12 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

It's about reliable stopping power, whatever the conditions, I think. It adds a bit of weight but you're not affected by road gunk on your rims. Your brake pads won't wear out as fast, and rims won't be subject to wear.

I'll definitely consider discs next time I get a new winter bike.

posted by bashthebox [638 posts]
15th March 2013 - 11:05

like this
Like (2)

Are they heavy? Yeah but only a tad heavier than u-brakes or v-brakes. You won't notice the weight change unless you have a featherweight bike.
Are they easy to clean/maintain? Yes you only have to change the pads once every 8 months to a year. Other than that, they self adjust as they wear and are fully enclosed in the caliper so never get dirty/wet..
Is there more stopping power? Yes. When you have a cable system the cable will always stretch a little when pulling the lever thus taking away some of your power. Hydraulic systems use mineral or dot fluid which compresses the pads against the disc. Whichever you use you will not have that issue..
They can only be damaged in a serious crash. They are as likely to take an impact as your cassette..
Hope this helps you.

SpeshRider7287's picture

posted by SpeshRider7287 [75 posts]
15th March 2013 - 11:09

like this
Like (4)

I think "cable stretch" is overemphasised by people with something to sell. My old Ducati motorcycle had cable operated brakes, and I never had any problems.

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
15th March 2013 - 16:14

like this
Like (6)

'cable stretch' isn't actually the cable stretching, it's just the ferrules and such settling into their locations properly. once that happens things generally stay as they are.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7312 posts]
15th March 2013 - 17:09

like this
Like (1)

You can't upgrade to disc brakes unless your frame has bolts for the callipers. The fork also needs to be stronger which means you get less flex.

Anyway not sure I see the point on road bike tyres, if you can pull a skid you have as much stopping power as you can use. With decent pads callipers are fine in winter on a road bike. I had discs on the last bike and they were great but I had 32mm touring tyres and panniers so could jam the brakes without skidding or the back wheel lifting. The only time I've had an issue with callipers is during really wet weather and riding through puddles that must have been full of diesel or oil. The rim gets covered and it takes a full revolution to clean the rim. I just ride a little slower in the wet and leave bigger gaps.

posted by musicalmarc [51 posts]
15th March 2013 - 22:20

like this
Like (3)

musicalmarc wrote:
You can't upgrade to disc brakes unless your frame has bolts for the callipers. The fork also needs to be stronger which means you get less flex.

That is rubbish, all you need to upgrade is an n+1.

posted by drfabulous0 [293 posts]
15th March 2013 - 22:37

like this
Like (3)

Though much care and ingenuity have gone into the development of callipers and pads, the rim brake is fundamentally a flawed idea. Maintaining the structural integrity of the wheel under the loads imposed by spokes, tyre pressure and potholes is the rim's primary task: grabbing it to slow down is an afterthought. The rim wears (even with Salmon pink pads) - until it fails. And physics and Sod's Law agree that it will fail under maximum load - ie when you hit a pothole hard or slam on the anchors just before the hairpin.

And when the rim fails the wheel collapses.

(OK this is all a bit melodramatic but it does highlight the main reason for disc brakes, in my opinion.)

posted by OldCog [7 posts]
15th March 2013 - 23:07

like this
Like (4)

Reliable and very easy to maintain.

If I could put discs on my road bike, I would.

posted by paulfg42 [374 posts]
15th March 2013 - 23:28

like this
Like (3)

I have found this previous discussion:
http://road.cc/content/feature/72743-disc-brake-revolution-coming-indust...
There is one horror story but generally people see enthusiastic. I am still a bit concerned about the fact that the brake becomes a component of the wheel, which reduces the chances of swapping wheels quickly (a slow flat in the morning before work can be costly.) I will have to sneak into Harry Halls and examine an example if possible and look like I might actually buy something soon.
I think this is something to consider with a new bike. It would depend how much I have to spend at the time and whether discs come down the range over time.


Leviathan of Riderstate

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1239 posts]
16th March 2013 - 15:42

like this
Like (1)

just to add to the mix, the downsides.

Discs do rub, how ever you set them up you find the odd ping ping noise.

Inserting wheels can be a real ball ache, the gap between the pads isn't great, it is very easy to insert the wheel with the rotor trying to go behind the pads. This is far worse for the back wheel where your also fighting chain and rear mech.

Disc pads do where out, and some rotor pad mixes wear extremely fast!

Banshee like howling!!! if you thought squealing callipers was bad, wait till you have a set of disc brakes that want to squeal!

This is from my experience of running discs for the last 5-6years on the MTB. Whilst there are benefits on the road, there are downsides, would i use discs, well i suspect my next road bike will have discs because that will be what is available, would i buy a new bike to get discs? no.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1064 posts]
18th May 2013 - 9:09

like this
Like (3)

You need a new frame and fork or a new bike, I wonder why the manufacturers are pushing this !!

posted by dreamlx10 [137 posts]
18th May 2013 - 16:58

like this
Like (3)

and disc breaks screech unless you maintain them regular, very unpleasant sound lol.

I was a mountain bike user for 2 years and loved my disc brakes, when I got my first road bike I swear to myself my next road bike would have disc breaks but now I love my break blocks I feel I have more control over my breaking, the disc breaks are very good at stopping you suddenly something that is needed on a mountain bike, not as necessary on a road bike, but that is just a personal point of view.

posted by billyman [122 posts]
18th May 2013 - 17:13

like this
Like (3)