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We asked road.cc readers if the pros need disc brakes or not

The disc brake debate is heating up. The UCI has confirmed its trial of discs on professional race bikes will be extended for the whole of 2016, the professionals are currently being surveyed for their feelings on using disc brakes, and more and more disc-equipped race bikes are being launched by the big manufacturers all the time.

- 18 disc brake road bikes the pros could be racing in 2016: Cannondale, Specialized, Cervélo and more

It’s clearly a divisive subject, as our question, “Are disc brakes necessary on professional race bikes?” posted on Facebook the other day proved, with hundreds of comments. Most replies fall largely in the Yes or No camp. And some people are quite passionate for and against disc brakes being rolling out in the pro peloton.

Shimano road discs - front disc and calliper

Shimano road discs - front disc and calliper

Asking the road.cc readers for their feelings about the suitability of disc brakes for professional racing cyclists might seem pointless, but it’s interesting because many people still base their buying decisions for new bikes and upgrades on what the pros are riding. So here's a pick of some of the replies the question generated.

For disc brakes in the pro peloton

Paul Blackburn says, “If that's the way it's going then yeah. Everyone should move on from this subject it's getting boring.”

Simon Robinson: “Was there all this fuss when gear shifters moved from the down tube to the brake levers, or when people stopped taking the rear wheel out to swap it around to change gear? It's just the evolution of bikes.”

Mark Bonnes: “MTB's adopted disc brakes 20 years ago, even the lightest of XC race bikes have pretty much all been disc only for more than 10 years. Yes, rim brakes are still lighter, but if that's more important than performance, then you need your head examining!”

trek disc brakes

trek disc brakes

Paul Sturrock: “It’s a pointless discussion as the manufacturers will decide and leave the riders with no choice but to go along with it. I am sure the likes of Shimano & Sram will come out with road specific disc brakes and not use the mtb discs that they seem to be using at the moment.”

Chris Winder: “Anyone who's ridden a hydraulic disc equipped Mtb would vouch for the increased power, modulation and all-weather consistency. Once discs are standard on road bikes, the rims can be built lighter and that will offset any increased weight in the brakes themselves.”

Pete Jones: “Yes. The addition of disc brakes in the peloton will not only improve their performance on road bikes with smaller rotors but will help to improve the technology with frames too. Holding this back now only slows down progress.”

Henry Batten: “I moved to discs this year... Never looking back! 100% yes, why is it even a question?”

Against disc brakes

Rodney Koh: “Disc braked road bikes are certainly not necessary. But as a clever way to get us all to buy new bikes, allowing them in the pro peloton will surely create a demand for them among riding enthusiasts. I would probably succumb to the draw of disc equipped bikes. It's just that the UCI will need to come up with a set of standards that both the pro peloton and the market can adopt.”

Kris Coetzee: “Honestly, no. But bike part manufacturers need to make money somewhere, so why not make new disc road groupsets, which require new wheels, frames, etc... It's all about the money at the end of the day”

Wayne Phillips: “No… for years progress was to make things as light as possible, disc brakes add weight, but do improve stopping power, ultimately resulting in "locking up" the wheel, rim brakes give more "feel" & control, so less likely to "lock up" the wheel, but it is also possible to "lock up" your wheel with a rim brake, if set up correctly with a good set of brake blocks. the limiting factor being "tyre grip" or traction with the road surface. You either skid or go over your handlebars with either brake system”

Bernie Eisel disc brake 1

Bernie Eisel disc brake 1

Wayne Wolfsbauer: “No, of course, they are not necessary - modern standard rim brakes are more than adequate and I have never seen a rim wear out - ever or actually ever met someone who has. But as people have said it's money and marketing driven even at the expense of practical function just like 11-speed clusters and chains - fragile weak or electric shifters expensive and solving a problem that doesn't exist.”

Darren Chapman: “No not necessary at all. However the manufacturers would like us to buy more bikes so it absolutely will happen.”

Jordan MacSween: “No. Pro's bikes are a shop front, though. Whatever the industry wants to flog and showcase will be garnished (in the highest level spec) on team bikes.”

Bob Corbishley: “I think you're all over thinking this. Reread the question- " are disc brakes necessary". The answer is no, of course not. Any type of brake which brings the bike safely to a stop will do. End of. Whether they are a better overall solution is entirely down to your own priorities.

Who do you agree with?

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.

27 comments

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KiwiMike [1307 posts] 1 year ago
9 likes

Sigh. Let's dissemble some of the arguments being made against dics:

 

"This will force me/someone to buy a new bike"

No, it won't. No-one from Giant, Merida or anyone else will come round your house with a cudgel, access your bank account or force rim-brake pad manufacturers out of business.

 

"I have never seen a rim wear out - ever or actually ever met someone who has"

A statement so patently ridiculous the commenter must be trolling. I have three sets of wheels hanging from my garage roof, with rims so badly worn they are unsafe. This is using soft-compound pads, cleaned and picked free of embedded metal/flint etc after every ride. The laws of physics say if you rub something against something else for long enough, something's gotta give.

 

"modern standard rim brakes are more than adequate and work just as well as discs"

Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHFSSXOSnxs - rim brakes are subject to water, needing clearing, then a sudden transition to effective grab. Not opinion, fact. Discs stop you sooner, more predictably, with better modulation. Fact.

 

"It's all about the industry making money"

So a technology that will see wheel life massively extended and will greatly reduce the need for pad/cable purcases is a money-making exercise? Really? Discs should deliver wheelsets that last the life of a frame, cheap, long-lasting and easily-replaceable bearings not withstanding.

The introduction of tapered headsets wasn't greeted with howls of 'it's all about Marketing'. No-one claimed to being 'forced' to upgrade to STI shifters, or LED lights, or internal cable routing. It's called progress. If you don't like it, there will always be manufacturers to cater for you. 

 

"It's dangerous"

...ignores the existing danger of street furniture, vehicles, chainrings, spinning bladed spokes, splintered carbon, etc etc. Professional mountainbiking has had discs for decades - much larger, more exposed discs. We don't see them being an issue. In densely-packed pelotons brakes will be at ambient temperature - riders are going flat out, not using the brakes. On descents they are only braking in the corners, and are much further apart, so pileups aren't a significant risk. 

 

 

 

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ItsHuddo [7 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Do disc brakes offer better performance? Absolutely.

If I were a pro rider, I'd want the best brakes on my bike - and that's disc brakes. However, I'd also be wary about having the entire peloton on disc brakes due to the changing in brake power.

The main issue for me, is the wheel replacement issue. It might be OK for the very top teams on the big events when if they get a puncture they can just change the whole bike, but as it trickles down, it's a real problem for those on the tiers below, it's difficult and slower to change punctures.

Are they a good idea to make racing better for the viewer? I suspect not.

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DaveE128 [919 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
KiwiMike wrote:

Sigh. Let's dissemble some of the arguments being made against dics: (snip)

This. I wouldn't completely disagree that there is a partial profit motive from manufacturers offering new technology, but that doesn't mean it isn't win-win for riders too, just as with all other technological improvements.

I personally think you can divide the opinions broadly into two camps.

1) never used recent hydraulic disk brakes

2) want hydraulic disk brakes

The one that really makes me laugh is the safety one. Are people concerned about cassettes or chainrings? They are really far more pointy and chainrings stick out from the bike far far more. No.  The fact that they get hot on descents is, as pointed out by KiwiMike irrelevant as pileups don't generally occur on descents. I also think that they might actually reduce the number of riders involved in pile-ups slightly, due to better braking.

So much rubbish about how they make you skid more easily. These people would seem to have never used the brakes in question. I'd say they are much harder to skid with.

As for the neutral support question, yes a common standard would be handy, but actually, how often are neutral support wheels actually used? Not very much. How about we just go for neutral support bikes instead of wheels? The changeover would probably be just as quick as fitting a non-preset QR wheel - just the seat height to do, and the last time I recall seeing a neutral support wheel used, it was so close to the finish that I wouldn't have even bothered with setting the seat height right. In that case, a whole bike swap would have saved a lot of time as it was a really slow wheel change.

Now the original question is silly. Are they necessary? No. Racing could continue as is without them. Would it improve safety and rider performance to move to them? Yes. Would it be stupid to keep them banned? Yes.

 

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Mungecrundle [866 posts] 1 year ago
5 likes

My experience, actual, real world, first hand experience of using rim brakes v disc brakes on mtb and high end road bikes.

1. I like carbon wheels. Rim brakes and carbon wheels do not mix. The sound of road grit grinding paste between block and carbon rim is the second most horrible noise in cycling. The worst noise in cycling being the pitiful wimpering as you fail to slow down whilst descending a long steep winding hill in the wet. I have seen a carbon wheel that delaminated due to heat build up and I have personally worn out rims, though I wouldn't count this as a major reason to move to discs.

2. Hydraulic disc brakes (I've never used cable operated) allow consistent 2 finger braking, they are easier to control, it's easier to approach the limits of adhesion and not to lock the wheel in a skid. They allow me to stop faster than the people that I ride with, and in the wet by a wide margin. This is the only drawback in that you have to resist using them to maximum effect in a mixed group.

3. A wheel with a disc is absolutely no more difficult to remove and refit than with rim brakes. Disc brake maintenance ranges from not doing any to an occasional bleed if you really need something to keep you busy (my commuting mtb is 11 years old, used daily and I have never felt the need to replace the fluid though admitedly it's well overdue). Changing pads is a 5 minute job requiring no special tools and very modest technical ability.

4. I have no issue spending money on my hobby and I can afford to buy nice kit without leaving the children hungry. I'm also not heavily invested in a certain Italian manufacturer's products who just happen not to be able to offer a disc setup at the moment. Which is where I suspect most of the remaining opposition comes from.

I also wear a helmet, so suck on that!

As to the question - "Are they necessary in the pro peleton?"  If they give an advantage then yes, if they don't then no. However this has as little relevance to me and my cycling as different front wing designs on F1 cars have to my works van.

If you are in the market for a new bike, and with bikes like the Pinacle 5 featured elsewhere on this site offering hydraulic disc and a decent spec for other components for £1000, and assuming you don't have a selection of old fashioned rim brake wheelsets that you are desperate to keep using, you really should try discs for yourself and make up your own mind.

 

HTH

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mattsccm [358 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

What a pointless discussion. I doubt that there are any pro riders spouting off here. How the hell would anyone who isn't know what those riders want?

 

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davel [1720 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I'd echo some of the earlier comments about not all disc brakes being equal - and watching for the appropriate application for them.

If you're going to make the jump on a bike that might need it (MTBing, or a carbon-wheeled road bike for fast descending), get a decent (preferably hydraulic) set and it'll pay off. This might be the luddite in me, but one of my commuters came with cheap, poor-performing cable disc brakes that need constant meddling - a false economy, and I wish I'd had basic rim brakes. I'll be upgrading to a decent (hydraulic) disc set.

On bottom-end bikes I'd trust the longer-established rim brakes more for their lack of maintenance - for now.

TLDR: crap rim brakes are crap. Crap disc brakes are crap and a major PITA.

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gazzaputt [232 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I've been using hydraulic disc brakes for 4 months now. As an ex mtb rider it was a no brainer for me to adopt them into my road cycling.

I feel some of the negative comments have never ridden a disc equipped road bike.

Far superior stopping power wet or dry and modulation far far better. As for weight come on please. Slight weight increase for the bike. Heavy braking is unaffected with heat build up.

Cannot see a negative at all.

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adam900710 [67 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

3~4 years ago:

Manufacturers:

Here is our new aero bikes, 500~700grams heavier, faster flat.

Oh, don't ride it on raining days. And don't break too hard on descending.

And anti-disc-brake guys: Shut up and take my money.

 

Now:

Manufacturers with Shimano&SRAM:

Here is our new disc brake bikes, 500~700 grams heavier, faster descending and cornering.

And you can ride it whenever you like.

And anti-disc-brake guys: Shut up and get away.

 

So, all the reasons to anti disc brake can almost apply to aero bike, but why no anti-aero bike guys?

 

At least, I'm very happy with my current RS685 setup. And can't wait to buy Canyon Ultimate disc version in 2016.

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BikeJon [190 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
gazzaputt wrote:

I feel some of the negative comments have never ridden a disc equipped road bike. Far superior stopping power wet or dry and modulation far far better.

I would agree with you. the following sounds like someone who doesn't understand what the benefits are:-

"..disc brakes add weight, but do improve stopping power, ultimately resulting in "locking up" the wheel, rim brakes give more "feel" & control, so less likely to "lock up" the wheel, but it is also possible to "lock up" your wheel with a rim brake, if set up correctly with a good set of brake blocks. the limiting factor being "tyre grip" or traction with the road surface. You either skid or go over your handlebars with either brake system”

I absolutely disagree that rim brakes provide more 'feel' and control. I think it's the opposite and the main benefit of disc brakes - the control they offer. This is actually proven as this is the main reason why you can stop quicker in the wet, because you can control the power better (the rotors also displace water more effectively). Disc brakes are only actually slightly more powerful than the best rim brakes but the control and even braking they offer in all conditions is the main plus point. I use hydraulic ones on my commuting bike, which I think is the best use of them. It makes no odds to me if the pros use them or not, other than it should accelerate the adoption standards and make the market mroe competitive. This is good for the consumer looking to buy some as the prices should come down.

But the brakes I could do with are hydraulic cantilever (mini v-brakes) for roads bikes for my carbon cross bike.

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Ciarán Carroll [41 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I haven't got all the money in the world so discs wouldn't be a deciding factor on which bike I buy. For me brakes are low on the list after frame, group set ect. Since a disc brake model bike is generally a few hundred quid more I'll keep my standard brakes for now. I'm not against discs I just feel the disc size needs to be standardised so all discs work hand in hand, something that should be sorted soon with the UCI lifting the ban.

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Ghisallo [38 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I haven't seen any discussion on how putting the "pros," meaning the top-tier WorldTour teams, on discs will affect the much larger group of racers encompassing the Pro-contis down to the amateur levels. These racers are much more limited financially. I don't wish to speculate on the matter myself; I'd like to hear some knowledgeable opinions from amateur and lower-level pro team racers and managers. Seems like introducing disc brakes may be harder on these guys, but let's hear what they have to say.

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Chris James [439 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes
KiwiMike wrote:

Sigh. Let's dissemble some of the arguments being made against dics:

etc.

Going off the title of this article, you appear to be answering a diferent question to the one asked.

The question was 'are disc brakes necessary on pro race bikes'.

The answer to that is clearly 'no' as pro bikes have been managing fine for years. Whether the road cc readership find discs desirable is a different matter.

The inner ring website has an interesting article today speculating on the possible tactical considerations of removing the UCI minimum weight requirement, which also discusses disc usage.

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KiwiMike [1307 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Chris James wrote:
KiwiMike wrote:

Sigh. Let's dissemble some of the arguments being made against dics:

etc.

Going off the title of this article, you appear to be answering a diferent question to the one asked.

The question was 'are disc brakes necessary on pro race bikes'.

The answer to that is clearly 'no' as pro bikes have been managing fine for years. Whether the road cc readership find discs desirable is a different matter.

The inner ring website has an interesting article today speculating on the possible tactical considerations of removing the UCI minimum weight requirement, which also discusses disc usage.

 

It's even easier than that: just read Keira's article form a few weeks back: debate closed  1

https://keirabronte.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/disc-brakes-will-kill-us-all/

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levermonkey [682 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Are disc brakes desirable? Yes. Are they better than rim brakes in the wet? Yes. Are they better going downhill? Yes. Are they better on poor road surfaces? Yes. Overall, are disc brakes better than rims? Yes, yes, yes and yes again!

But are they necessary? No! But there again are electronic gear shifters, derailleurs, clipless pedals and free-wheel hubs? These things are all desirable but not necessarily necessary. If we rule out developments that are desirable but not necessary then the pro-peleton will be reduced to riding Fixies. Without constant development and innovation our sport will ossify and die.

However, due to the difference in performance as conditions deteriorate then I think they must be introduced (or not, as the case may be) across the peleton without exception. Having riders with vastly different braking capabilities is a recipe for disaster.

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tramontane34 [3 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

err, no not all necessary just marketing telling people what they used to have is today not as good as it was yesterday.

The reality is the effectiveness of any braking system is subject to the grip of the tyre on the road surface.

all it means is manufacturers have an opportunity to sell to people easily convinced by what the pros ride,the fact is the peloton is almost told what to ride by commercial interest.

 

I guess in a few years time these 'sheep' will be told that hub braking is the new 'better' and spend accordingly.

 

 

 

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kil0ran [492 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Regardless of whether the pro peleton need them their eventual enforced adoption of them will improve the safety of road cycling, particularly for, err, "portly" middle-aged cyclists like me. The QE2 stops quicker than I do on rim brakes in the wet. In comparison I had a (cable) disc-braked CX bike for a while and I could do endos on that in the wet. Also made two-finger braking on the hoods possible for me, whereas on my rim-braked road bike I have auxiliary levers for commuting (can't generate enough power on the hoods). I do a lot of cycling on shared-use paths with plenty of distracted pedestrians and oncoming cyclists and having reliable braking in all conditions would give me more confidence than I have currently.

Of course that might result in more risk-taking and higher speeds...

 

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kie7077 [926 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Disc brakes fail horribly when worn out - gripping the disc, potentially leaking oil, and it's hard to tell when they should be replaced.

Rim brakes - it's easy to tell at a glance that they need replacing and they're dead easy to replace and far better value overall than discs, and they feel a lot nicer, riding a bike should be enjoyable, I find discs rather unpleasent, ceramic on metal just isn't the same.

 

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The _Kaner [1144 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

more to the point....are 'ping-ping' bells necessary in the pro peloton....

I am purchasing a bike that has cable operated discs, because it is at the pricepoint of what is within my budget, will I upgrade to hydro brakes at some point...I don't know (I've a full sus MTB that has hydros, they work really well and are damn effective at stopping the 80+kg bike/rider combo)

...and I couldn't give a flying fig if anyone else cares, looks down upon me or thinks I am jumping on a bandwagon. I am doing it to please myself...that's why I cycle...for me, my physical and mental health is so much better when I do.

I am also not bothered if José Bloggs uses a bike with/sans disc brakes for his job.

Will it make it safer for him/others (possibly/probably). Only one way of finding out, let them all have access to the technology.

I don't have £6-10K (ish) to spend on that sort of (pro) bike, nor would I spend that amount if I could afford to...I'd rather spend that on a car (which is a neccessity for transporting the family, getting to work etc)

'Debates' such as this serve no real purpose: as many have stated - you're either for/against...if you haven't tried disc brakes...then it is only an opinion, if you have tried disc brake then it is 'anecdotal'...not everyone has the ame experience

GO RIDE...enjoy this 'mild' winter weather we're having and be safe (use dic brakes...TFIC)yes

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kcr [153 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

It's another type of brake. That's it.

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oceandweller [75 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

DaveE128 is spot on. The whole debate sounds like a straight split between those who've never used modern disc brakes & those in favour of them. It's like power steering in cars - you never missed it till you tried it.

I would, though, argue against the idea that we don't need disc brakes on road bikes. We do. The rim brakes on current road bikes are totally inadequate for controlled slowing, especially where grip is compromised (steep hill + muddy/oily slick road + rim brakes = OHMYGODIMGOINGTODIE!, but same circumstances with discs is more like ohmygodthisisdiceyineedtobecarefulhere; at least that's been my experience...).

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mattsccm [358 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Of course we don't need them. We don't need gears either.

Whay you actually do if you have ineffective brakes is ride within the limits of your kit. so the end of the above post  is not actually true.

Weight is irrelevant .At top pro level or even lower, other items can be used to get the bike below any UCI level, whatever they change to. If you are not at that level weight doesn't really matter. I bet a huge proportion of the riders who whinge about the added weight could save that extra few grams by going on a diet for a week or two.

I can see no validity to any comment that is from some one who hasn't tried disc brakes. You don't actually know.

There is minimal value in any comment that says that hydro discs are fragile. Millions of MTBers have proved this not to be the case.

 

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KiwiMike [1307 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
kie7077 wrote:

Disc brakes fail horribly when worn out - gripping the disc, potentially leaking oil, and it's hard to tell when they should be replaced.

Rim brakes - it's easy to tell at a glance that they need replacing and they're dead easy to replace and far better value overall than discs, and they feel a lot nicer, riding a bike should be enjoyable, I find discs rather unpleasent, ceramic on metal just isn't the same.

 

 

Excuse my French, but: 'UTTER BOLLOCKS'.

It will take the average rider *years* to get through a decent set of pads. And you'll know well in advance unless you are a complete idiot that they need swapping. At which time it's £30-ish at your LBS or £20 DIY. 

My Shimano Deore discs have been on my MTB for *11 years* including three seasons Adventure Racing. change dthe pads twice. Fluid is orginal. And this is a mountainbike, that's been thrashed for days in very shitty conditions.

Whereas in a year's decent riding on quality rim brakes, using top-spec Kool-Stop Salmon pads on good rims, cleaned religiously after every ride, the wheelset is shot after 5k miles.

 

Oh. You're trolling. You actually don't believe that. Silly me. As you were.

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andygravett@gma... [9 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Zzzzzzzzzzz

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HalfWheeler [653 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

White peoples problem's.

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il sole [86 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Not wanting to sound like a luddite, may I just say that I'm not keen on discs just because they don't look nice??!!

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Carton [389 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
il sole wrote:

Not wanting to sound like a luddite, may I just say that I'm not keen on discs just because they don't look nice??!!

Actually, if you're not racing and you don't have a ton of extra wheels you don't want to bin, that's pretty much the one and only logical objection.

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Daipink [9 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Are disc brakes on pro bikes necessary?

No, next question?