Why won't the UCI allow disc brakes on the road?

Paul Lew, the man behind Reynolds wheels, asks why cycle sport's world governing body is resisting change

by David Arthur   September 27, 2013  

Paul Lew 1.jpg

Paul Lew, the man behind the Reynolds range of wheels, has been nominated as the Vice Chairman on Wheel Committee after two years on the board. The committee is a sub-group of the Bicycle Technical Committee and deals with UCI on the issue of wheels.

Why would you care? Well, the committee has an ongoing conversation with the UCI on the approval of wheels for UCI-sanctioned events.

Currently, the UCI requires rupture testing of all “non-standard” wheels which have “rims taller than 2.5cm, fewer than 16 spokes and spoke thicknesses of over 2.4 mm". Here’s the current list. The UCI aims to ensure wheels are safe for racing, while the manufacturers say the UCI testing protocol is unrealistic and hard to reproduce.

The committee met most recently just before the Eurobike show, with a discussion about disc brakes. The UCI don't currently allow disc brakes in road events. Paul Lew has provided his observations coming out of that meeting. We'll print them in full...

 

"The day before Eurobike started, I participated in the most recent UCI disc brake discussion. In that meeting, compelling evidence was presented that indicates the UCI may postpone its approval of disc brakes indefinitely. With most of the industry’s key suppliers embracing the new technology, one might ask: “Why is UCI resisting the technology of road disc brakes?”

For some insight as to why the UCI is resisting the technology of road disc brakes, here is an excerpt from its presentation. Please excuse any typos, misspellings, or grammatical errors — these are the words, spellings and phrases from the UCI’s 27 August 2013 presentation (everything that follows in bold italics comes from that presentation).

 

1 Disc brakes are still considered as technical innovations on the road and have to be submitted to the UCI and approved by the Equipment Commission to be allowed in competition after one or several test events.

Until today no disc brakes adapted for the road cycling was never presented to the UCI. 

3 Challenges on the road are very different from the mountain bike or cx with

• Higher speed

• Longer braking time

• Higher temperature accumulation

• Bigger disk which means bigger issue in case of crashes

• Braking behaviour that may block the wheel and make the bike slip

• Difference of braking performance between disk brakes and rim brakes that may cause crashes inside the peloton

The UCI don’t want to allow dangerous, non-adapted braking systems in competition that may cause even more crashes instead of improving safety

If disc brakes will be allowed on road events, enough time will be given to the industry to adapt to this decision

 

For cyclists who compete in UCI-sanctioned events or sanctioned events that adhere to UCI regulations, the message is clear: disc brakes are not allowed. UCI has made it clear that they have reasons not to accept disc brakes and if we take a historical perspective, UCI is not easily persuaded to adopt regulations that permit new equipment.

For cyclists who don’t compete in UCI events, it’s easier - and also a bit more complicated. Disc brakes are here to stay and they offer many benefits. Certainly, they are “allowed” for casual group riding and tours. Those who intend to compete on bicycles with disc brakes in local events will need to check regulations on a case-by-case basis. 

The UCI attitude regarding disc brakes will influence the trajectory of disc brake technology, which is driven by the willingness of manufacturers to invest in developing and advancing disc brakes, and the consumers’ demand for purchasing them.

Reynolds Cycling has made commitments to embrace the new disc brake technology, and to simultaneously improve our rim brake technology. For example, in 2013, Reynolds has released both an upgraded rim braking system (the Cryo Blue Power brake pads), as well as its first disc brake road wheel, the Assault Disc. As one of the early adopters, Reynolds Cycling will invest a significant portion of their product development budget to lead the market place with innovative disc brake wheels and solutions.

Time will tell where the UCI goes with approving disc brakes on the road. Reynolds and I will remain committed to participating in the discussion, ensuring safety, and embracing innovation. Whatever the outcome, the cyclist and the sport are always better off for having new technology options."

 

So, according to Paul Lew, the UCI isn't in any great hurry to allow disc brakes in competition on the road, and it might never actually approve them.

Now, it must be said that these comments were made prior to today's election of Brian Cookson to the UCI presidency. Our next question to Paul Lew is whether he thinks the new change at the top is going to make a difference on this issue. We'll keep you posted.

Taking that a step further, will the new regime be changing other equipment rules any time soon? The best known rule, of course, is that complete road bikes aren't allowed to weigh any less than 6.8kg, but many maufacturers we speak to feel that other restrictions currently in place are also limiting the progress of bicycle design. 

Wouldn't now be a good time for a wholesale review of the rules and regs?

Post script

We now have a reply from Paul Lew. Here's what he says...

"It's important to know that neither I, nor anyone else [on the committee], had any input [on UCI's position] - this was a word-for-word recap of UCI's position at that moment. That's not to say that in the future I and other committee members won't have input.

"In my position as a representative of manufacturers and cyclists, as well as a fair-minded ambassador for UCI, it is important that I stay balanced in my perspective. This means that people who have an opinion for or against disc brakes may from time-to-time find frustration with my opinion on the matter, which is to try to walk a narrow line, halfway between welcoming innovation while also working to see the UCI perspective.

"This IS a negotiation and taking a hard position from either side will stall progress. It is my job to try to find an agreeable way to encourage innovation while respecting the traditional attitudes of UCI. There is a gap and we must build a bridge, not stand on one side of the gap or the other and sling arrows."

The issue of disc brake use in road competition looks set to be a big topic of debate for the forseeable future. Whatever the eventual outcome, it surely needs to be addressed properly with serious examination of the facts, because right now nobody really knows how it would influence road racing or whether oft cited safety concerns are well-founded.

49 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Tregouet wrote:
Wow. I mena ...,.just, wow.
Does anybody proofread this? Does the editor or proofreader have a command of the English language? How about grammar? Agreement? Blimey and crikey and cr@p... And whatever other expletivees one may wish to use when perusing such a poorly constructed piece. Dear lord man, learn to write.

"Mena"? "Expletivees"?

Well, you have to remember that not everyone is as well-educated as you, Tregouet.

Did you not read the bit where Paul Lew said, "Please excuse any typos, misspellings, or grammatical errors — these are the words, spellings and phrases from the UCI’s 27 August 2013 presentation"?

Or did you purposely ignore it for reasons of irony?

posted by Mat Brett [2012 posts]
27th September 2013 - 18:35

6 Likes

I dont know why most of you are getting excited!! its not going to affect any single one of you, not unless you,ve had a call From David Brailsford saying your in the team!!
You can all go out, purchase a disc braked roadbike & road race!! whats the problem, some have to moan about something!!

D A Brett

posted by darenbrett [19 posts]
27th September 2013 - 18:37

5 Likes

How hot does a rotor get if you're not descending an Alp? Genuinely curious.

I can see them being mildly more dangerous that a caliper brake in the event of a pile up, but not exactly the death trap they're made out to be.

I wish they'd decide because I'm deciding what bike to get and there aren't many disc road wheels yet.

posted by chokofingrz [350 posts]
27th September 2013 - 18:42

7 Likes

I would love to be on a Wheel Committee

posted by Some Fella [857 posts]
27th September 2013 - 19:08

3 Likes

chokofingrz wrote:
How hot does a rotor get if you're not descending an Alp? Genuinely curious.

I can see them being mildly more dangerous that a caliper brake in the event of a pile up, but not exactly the death trap they're made out to be.

I wish they'd decide because I'm deciding what bike to get and there aren't many disc road wheels yet.


youve had the call from team sky then??

D A Brett

posted by darenbrett [19 posts]
27th September 2013 - 19:23

4 Likes

When dual pivots were introduced but only some teams had them there were indeed numerous crashes due to the differential in braking performance - and that with the world's top pros.

Why do people think there are no brakes on track bikes?

And to D A Brett: you can't actually buy a bike with discs and go out and road race, not even as am amateur, certainly not in the UK. The UCI rules apply to all member governing bodies.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [273 posts]
27th September 2013 - 19:36

7 Likes

and to Shay!! how many UCI road races do you enter??

D A Brett

posted by darenbrett [19 posts]
27th September 2013 - 19:46

7 Likes

At first I was all for disc brakes, but I've changed my mind. I would certainly be buying them for a winter bike though as they are much better in the wet.

I also can't see a problem in pro races where every rider could easily ride discs, the real problem is in amateur racing. Although not inherently more powerful, the modulation of disc brakes makes it feel easier to apply more power. Going into a corner in a race the guy in front of you on discs may think he is only feathering for the corner while you are pulling very hard on your rim brakes so you don't go into the back of him. You never usually brake that hard as you don't want to be rear ended, guess whats going to happen.

To whoever wrote about disc brakes in motor racing the analogy doesn't apply, in motor racing corners are taken on the limit of a cars traction and drivers have a predetermined braking point on track, if you have worse brakes you already know your'e braking earlier to get down to cornering speed. In cycle racing you brake when the guy in front does to stay on his wheel and unlike car racing you will be 2 or more riders wide and it's bad form to 'race' in corners.

posted by cub [71 posts]
27th September 2013 - 19:54

5 Likes

Is it me, or is all this 'difference in braking power' the biggest load of absolute fucking shite I've ever heard?

Let's take a hypothetical bunch coming around a sharpish corner. If no-one in this bunch had EVER ridden that bike with that set-up before, then perhaps yes, you may get people jamming the brakes on, locking up, not pulling hard enough etc. and the resulting pile ups. However, assuming that everyone in this hypothetical bunch will at the LEAST have ridden around the car park before starting, I imagine that they will all have a reasonably good idea of the modulation and finger-pressure:braking effect ratio of their particular set up. This means that while an individual bicyle's braking power may differ from that of its neighbour, that old walnut the human brain will be able to ascertain differing and even rapidly changing speeds and distances between bicycles, much as it always has done, and allow for braking as required by the individual.

Rant over, and excuse the hyperbole - isn't it just the WORST thing EVER?

posted by jellysticks [92 posts]
27th September 2013 - 20:34

8 Likes

Isn't swearing in internet forums exciting?

posted by jellysticks [92 posts]
27th September 2013 - 20:37

6 Likes

chokofingrz wrote:
How hot does a rotor get if you're not descending an Alp? Genuinely curious.

i can blue them up and make the air all wavy on the descent into town (160m descent in 3km). so pretty hot. but that's braking to deliberately heat them up.

pile-ups happen in races because people don't have enough time to brake.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7597 posts]
27th September 2013 - 21:10

4 Likes

darenbrett wrote:
I dont know why most of you are getting excited!! its not going to affect any single one of you, not unless you,ve had a call From David Brailsford saying your in the team!!
You can all go out, purchase a disc braked roadbike & road race!! whats the problem, some have to moan about something!!

nope, you really can't. it's not allowed. british cycling are bound by the UCI rules for road races

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7597 posts]
27th September 2013 - 21:14

9 Likes

Tregouet wrote:
Wow. I mena ...,.just, wow.
Does anybody proofread this? Does the editor or proofreader have a command of the English language? How about grammar? Agreement? Blimey and crikey and cr@p... And whatever other expletivees one may wish to use when perusing such a poorly constructed piece. Dear lord man, learn to write.

I see you're adhering strictly to Muphry's law there...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7597 posts]
27th September 2013 - 21:15

5 Likes

Reply to D A Brett,

Well all of the road races I rode over a period of about 15 years, in the UK and Ireland, were actually held under the rules of the UCI as we're the hundreds of races on the track.

The UCI does not only govern professional races.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [273 posts]
27th September 2013 - 22:07

6 Likes

It's a well-known phenomenon in risk management: that people consistently underestimate familiar risks and overestimate unfamiliar ones, hence all the talk about the hypothetically risks of superheated rotors slicing off limbs.

Example: if you are seeing some guy doing 50 mph on a motorcycle in shorts and t-shirt, with a light, open-face helmet, you'd be completely right to think he's a idiot with a death-wish. But a cyclist doing the same speed in the mountains in lycra, that's totally normal!

What I want to see in the pro tour is triathlon style changing stations on top of all the big climbs where the riders slip into motorcycle suits and helmets. Also the police should be able to stop and fine you if you are going faster than say 30 mph and not wear MC style protection. You know, for safety.

posted by Shanghaied [41 posts]
27th September 2013 - 23:03

7 Likes

Quote:
3 Challenges on the road are very different from the mountain bike or cx with

• Bigger disk which means bigger issue in case of crashes

Erm, they're not bigger. I have 200mm rotors on my mountain bike. I thought road discs were typically smaller, at 140mm or 160mm?

Yes, discs can get very hot on long descents - hot enough to hiss if water gets on them. And yes, I have burned myself on them during a crash. And it hurts. But I've hurt myself far worse on rocks and other things I've fallen onto. I hit my balls on the stem once during a crash. That was no fun at all. In a road race situation, I'd be far more concerned about chainrings, spokes and just generally hitting the tarmac at 45kph.

There can no longer be any justification for the ridiculous 6.8kg weight limit, so that should be lowered immediately, but it would be nice to see the UCI at least looking at discs seriously, rather than just seemingly dismissing them out of hand as some kind of new devilry.

posted by ashfanman [58 posts]
28th September 2013 - 0:59

10 Likes

Shanghaied wrote:
Example: if you are seeing some guy doing 50 mph on a motorcycle in shorts and t-shirt, with a light, open-face helmet, you'd be completely right to think he's a idiot with a death-wish. But a cyclist doing the same speed in the mountains in lycra, that's totally normal!

For truth. Did a cake run through the Pennines and back the other week, was glad I'd taken a bowel movement before I'd set off on some of the longer and more twisty descents. Having grown up with a variety of motorbikes in the driveway/garage/on the kitchen table, I kept on longing for the full leathers with bits of kevlar. Glad I had disc brakes though.

posted by Argos74 [312 posts]
28th September 2013 - 6:35

2 Likes

chokofingrz wrote:
How hot does a rotor get if you're not descending an Alp? Genuinely curious.

There are a few cases of Shimano Icetech rotors melting, warm enough?

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1544 posts]
28th September 2013 - 7:04

6 Likes

ashfanman wrote:

Erm, they're not bigger. I have 200mm rotors on my mountain bike. I thought road discs were typically smaller, at 140mm or 160mm?

Most MTBs aren't 200mm the odd DH bike ,more likely 160 or maybe a 180 on the front or on out and out XC race bikes 140 on the back.

It is very unlikley that road bikes can safely run 140s, CX bikes no issue, but on long road descents small discs are not a good idea. Road descents are longer and faster than MTB descents, higher speeds mean bigger rotors to deal with the extra heat generated.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1544 posts]
28th September 2013 - 7:17

3 Likes

mrmo wrote:

It is very unlikley that road bikes can safely run 140s, CX bikes no issue, but on long road descents small discs are not a good idea.

i've ridden on the road with a 160/140 setup with no issues. you wouldn't get away with a lightweight rotor but standard weight kit should be fine

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7597 posts]
28th September 2013 - 7:21

5 Likes

Le Man's 1955:

"Hawthorn's Jaguar, with the new disc brakes, decelerated much faster than other cars using drum brakes, such as Levegh's Mercedes. The sudden, unexpected braking by Hawthorn caused Macklin in the Healey to hit his brakes, throwing up a small cloud of dust in front of Levegh, who trailed close behind"

Results: 84 human beings died in one fiery crash!!!!

posted by Mr. Romeo Delight [1 posts]
28th September 2013 - 8:59

5 Likes

One of the nice things about regulation of the bicycles is that it keeps the playing field somewhat level, and the costs to be competitive down.

Once they allow disc brakes, if there's an advantage to them, every amateur racer is going to have to upgrade to them in order to stay competitive. That will effectively mean a new bike - which is not an insignificant cost for some. There will also be a transition period, where there'll be some in the bunch with discs and some with rims. I'm pretty sure the disparity in braking will cause problems.

Then you have to ask, what are the advantages to the racing exactly? Who benefits? The racers don't - particularly amateurs - cause they have to fork out for new kit. The spectators? Not really, the racing will be the same.

The only people who'll benefit are the manufacturers.

Of course, this UCI rule doesn't stop you buying a disc brake road bike for non-UCI sporting use, if you want.

So what's the fuss?

posted by Paul J [716 posts]
28th September 2013 - 9:17

7 Likes

shay cycles wrote:
Why do people think there are no brakes on track bikes?

There are no cars? Or lorries? Or junctions?

posted by paulfg42 [382 posts]
28th September 2013 - 9:42

5 Likes

mrmo wrote:
[
I have to say what the UCI is saying does make some sense, if we were all disc brakes no issue, all on rim brakes again no issue, mix and match...

Seen enough calves tattooed by hot rotors to be aware there is an issue there, Spinergy got banned because there were definite issues. Quite how we go from no discs to discs being acceptable is going to be an interesting one. Imagine cat4 races with very different brakes...

I don't think there will be much (if any) mix & match, EVERYONE will adopt disc brakes as they have definite advantages, I'm pretty certain of that. Why would you want to be at a disadvantage?

Regarding the question of rotor burn, yes this is an issue - but then again so is gravel rash. Rims can also get extremely hot, but no-one seems to worry too much about rim burns. I think the danger is outweighed by the safety gains in braking in general... just my thoughts.....

posted by caaad10 [143 posts]
28th September 2013 - 11:44

5 Likes

caaad10 wrote:

I don't think there will be much (if any) mix & match, EVERYONE will adopt disc brakes as they have definite advantages, I'm pretty certain of that. Why would you want to be at a disadvantage?.

Now think about Amateur racing where people are buying there own bikes.

Are you expecting everyone to buy a new bike?

The problem is that you will have a transition period caliper to disc and how do you manage it?

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1544 posts]
28th September 2013 - 18:23

5 Likes

mrmo wrote:
caaad10 wrote:

I don't think there will be much (if any) mix & match, EVERYONE will adopt disc brakes as they have definite advantages, I'm pretty certain of that. Why would you want to be at a disadvantage?.

Now think about Amateur racing where people are buying there own bikes.

Are you expecting everyone to buy a new bike?

The problem is that you will have a transition period caliper to disc and how do you manage it?

I agree and even when it comes to buying a new bike who's to say a bike with discs will be worth it. You are likely going to pay hundreds of pounds more and pay a weight penalty. Not to mention many won't like the look of the shifters.

posted by cub [71 posts]
28th September 2013 - 20:47

4 Likes

Good points indeed Paulfg42.

The main reason in addition is that track bikes are ridden in very tightly packed groups, at very high speed and on banked tracks and the use of brakes would enable sudden slowing meaning that either the riders would need to ride further apart (and consequently at lower speeds) or there would be many more crashes.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [273 posts]
29th September 2013 - 8:33

6 Likes

Remember Mario Chippolini? A quote of his was 'if you brake you don't win' On a long ride today we had some really fast descents, top speed was 82kph, I didn't really have to brake very much at all, disk brakes wouldn't have made any difference. Some of our companions were a little over cautious and were on their brakes a lot, maybe it's just inexperienced riders who think disk brakes will make them a better rider Wink

I have no interest in using disks on my fast road bikes, in the wet or dry (just learn to anticipate) However, a touring bike with disks, belt drive Rholff hub, drop handlebars, etc could be quite tasty Smile

Keith57's picture

posted by Keith57 [3 posts]
29th September 2013 - 19:28

6 Likes

Having ridden and raced mtbs for a quiet a number of decades, comparing mtb to road event is quite a silly thing to do. Apart from the start you are unlikely to get a bunch of more than 20 at anyone time. Most of the time these will be in single file unless passing. Crashes tend to take one or two out but not masses like road race can. I'd hate to think of the possible burns caused by discs if there was big crash the poor sod at the bottom of the pile would suffer after being in contact with a hot rotor for upwards of 30 seconds.

I agree with the UCI banning discs for simply keeping the costs down for both teams and support along with keeping the weight limit. Anyway it's no different to F1 for the last few years. We the general public can drive turbo charged engines yet F1 hasn't for a while. I'm sure that ABS is also banned from F1 along with traction control.

There is another possiblity, that of keeping rim makers and wheel builders going. I've not worn out one rim on any of my mtb disc wheels and therefore never needed to buy another set. So if everyone is riding on the same set as they did several years ago......

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [384 posts]
30th September 2013 - 8:53

6 Likes

just accept the relentless advance of technology instead of fighting it. The sport must keep up with the times (and therefore technology) it it will be left in a wayside ditch

posted by jarredscycling [457 posts]
30th September 2013 - 16:23

4 Likes