After a faltering start, it's clear that disc brake
race bikes now dominate bike manufacturers' ranges, even if the 2020
Tour de France was won on bikes with rim brakes. Here are the 2021
disc-braked race bikes that have got us most excited.
If you can control your speed better, you can go
faster, which can make disc brakes a racing advantage
Separating braking from rim integrity means you can
carry on riding with some forms of rim damage
The weight disadvantage comes down every year as
manufacturers slim down disc calipers and mounts
Bike makers also claim they're solving any aerodynamic
issues disc brakes pose
Why would you want disc brakes on a road race bike at all? The promised
benefits are greater modulation and more power, especially in wet
conditions, no fade on long descents, 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 aerodynamics, although
Giant, for example, claims that its Propel Disc has less drag than its rim
Toward the end of June 2018, the
UCI (cycle sport’s world governing body) announced that disc brakes
would be allowed in road races, after a lengthy trial period that
was marked by occasionally acrimonious debate about the safety of discs.
The UCI first introduced a trial period for using disc brake race bikes
in the pro peloton at the end of the 2015 season, but suspended it
following injuries to riders in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix that were alleged
to have resulted from disc rotors.
Read our story from last year: Have
disc brakes really led to injuries in peloton?
The trial was later resumed with slight modifications to disc rotors
demanded, and riders such as sprinter Marcel Kittel competed on disc brake
race bikes throughout the 2017 season.
Since then it's been open slather. Some teams have switched entirely to
discs, some have stayed with rim brakes. Pro racing, though, is
notoriously conservative: it took a while for indexed gearing and clipless
pedals to completely take over the pro peloton even when regular riders
were fully on board.
But almost all mid-to-high-end road race bikes now sport discs, and
improving the weight, aerodynamics and ride feel of disc-braked bikes has
been the main focus of every large bike maker's development effort for the
last couple of years.
Orro's Venturi STC is an evolution of the brand's well-liked Venturi, now
with an integrated bar and stem that routes all the cables directly into
the frame. The 'STC' stands for spread-tow carbon, which Orro says allow a
much larger number of fibres in a smaller space, reducing weight while
maintaining stiffness and comfort.
Tester Stu loved the 2020 version of this bike, writing in his review: "Orro
has quite simply nailed it with the Venturi Ultegra Di2 Wind 400.
Comfort, speed, handling, feedback and stiffness – you can have it all.
And the icing on the cake? It's a looker too!
"I've ridden a lot of bikes over the last 20 years, especially in the
10 that I've been with road.cc (41 in 2019 alone), and while a lot of
them have been very good, there are probably ten or so that really stand
out as brilliant – and the Venturi is one of those.
"I like a stiff bike. I want that feeling of performance, and if that
sacrifices comfort, I can deal with it. I like a frame that feels alive,
a bit on the edge, I want to feel everything that is going on from that
tiny rubber footprint on the ground, and if I need to take a little bit
of a battering to get that then so be it.
"The Venturi delivers that in spades, but the carbon lay-up used means
it manages to do that while being very comfortable too, without taking
The Vitus Vitesse Evo Disc offers a helluva lot for your money. It’s a
carbon fibre, disc brake-equipped road bike built around a race-focused
geometry. Previous versions have offered superb performance and it seems a
safe bet this latest incarnation will too. Vitus says the new Vitesse Evo
is "lighter, stiffer, more aerodynamic and more comfortable" than the 2020
version. It boasts on-trend dropped seatstays, a new carbon lay-up and
increased tyre clearances.
And it might be the cheapest bike you can buy with SRAM's 12-speed
wireless Red eTap AXS shifting, though we're not claiming a bike that
costs the thick end of five grand is cheap. It rolls on Reynolds AR29 DB
Carbon wheels and Schwalbe ONE Performance tyres.
It was a bit like the moment in Mike Oldfield's first album where Vivian
Stanshall breathes "Plus … tubular bells!" Canyon
finally released a new version of the Aeroad in late 2020 after a
period of anticipation so intense some
Canyon fans resorted to stickering-up generic aero frames as the 'new'
It was worth the wait, according to road.cc technical editor Mat Brett
who says "this aero road bike is an absolute belter whether you’re
flat-out sprinting, haring down your favourite descent or tackling the
steepest climb in your area, and you can’t say that about every bike of
The top model has Canyon's new Aeroad 065 frame, of course, plus a full
Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset and Campagnolo Bora One wheels, but
that's not all. Canyon has introduced a width-adjustable handlebar for the
top models of the new Aeroad that also allows the bar to fold for easier
packing into a flight case. Clever stuff.
Specialized's stunning new Aethos is an apparent contradiction: it's a
race bike that, in its lightest version, you can't actually race because
it comes in under the UCI's minimum weight limit of 6.8kg. Of course
that's nothing you can't fix with a few carefully deployed weights.
With a 588g frame (56cm version), Specialized says the S-Works Aethos is
the most technologically advanced model it has ever made, with an aim of
improving ride quality rather than weight — that it barely troubles the
scales is apparently just a nice side effect.
The latest iteration of the Trek Émonda focuses on aerodynamics more than
ever before, which makes this SL6 Pro one very quick and efficient road
bike. The stiff frameset offers a firm yet fun ride, while the component
choice keeps the weight down to exploit that stiffness on the climbs. It's
a very good all-round package.
For 2021 the Emonda has morphed from being a platform focused solely on
low weight to having some aerodynamic impvements in the mix too, the aim
being to make the fastest bike up the legendary Tour de France climb of
The Emonda SL 6 Pro takes Trek's learnings from the high-zoot Émonda SLR
and brings them to a more sensible price with a Shimano Ultegra groupset
and Bontrager Aeolus Elite 35 carbon wheels.
Giant was one of the first bike makers out of the blocks with 2021
models, announcing the new version of the TCR Advanced in April 2020,
getting us all excited about a bike with a claimed 140g weight reduction
in the frame thanks to new materials, new layup and even a reduction in
the weight of the paint. Tube shapes have been tweaked for improved
aerodynamics too, Giant says, though the TCR remains the range's
weight-focused platform and the Propel the true aero bike.
Road.cc technical editor Mat Brett is impressed by the results. "The
Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc's understated looks disguise a stunningly
good performance," he says. "This lightweight bike is hugely
responsive and handles precisely. Add in aero features and excellent
components and it's a real winner."
Cervelo's new Caledonia platform straddles the divide between pure race
bike and endurance bike — and there's a very good reason for that. This is
a bike aimed squarely at racing, but one race in particular:
Paris-Roubaix. The cobbles of Northern France make very different demands
of a bike and rider from the slopes of the Alps or Pyrenees. Compared to
bikes tailored for the mountains, Cervelo says the Caledonia has longer
chainstays, a lower bottom bracket and increased trail, all changes that
Cervélo puts the Caledonia into a category that it calls 'modern road',
meaning that it's intended to tackle tarmac, broken surfaces, potholes and
There are actually two different platforms: Caledonia and Caledonia-5.
They're both carbon fibre and disc brake-specific, and they share the same
geometry and levels of stiffness but the Caledonia-5 is lighter and has
completely internal cable/hose routing on models with electronic shifting,
whereas the Caledonia's cables/hoses are external between the handlebar
and the frame/fork.
The range starts with the Caledonia 105 at £2,700 and peaks at £9,699
with the Caledonia-5 Dura-Ace Di2.
Merida’s updated Reacto aero road bike is available in both disc brake
and rim brake models.
Merida has slimmed down the Reacto’s tubes to improve aero efficiency,
introduced a lower seatstay connection with the seat tube and added a one
Merida also says that it has improved comfort through the redesigned
seatstays and given its S-Flex seatpost a slimmer cross section and a
bigger ‘window’ – the notch that’s cutaway to add more downward movement.
The disc brake Reactos come with cooler technology like Merida uses on
its Sculturas. There’s a forged aluminium component between the brake and
the frame/fork that’s designed to allow heat to dissipate through
CNC-milled cooling fins. The idea is that this reduces the amount of heat
that gets transferred to the carbon-fibre on long descents.
The CF4 version of the disc brake frame uses the RAT (Rapid Axle
Technology) first introduced by Focus for quick wheel changes in race
situations, while the CF2 version has threaded 12mm thru axles.
BMC claims a weight of just 820g for the latest version of the
Teammachine's carbon fibre disc brake frame, but while that's actually 5g
up on the previous model, the fork and seatpost have shed 50g and 10g
respectively. A new version of the ICS integrated bar and stem also shaves
weight and improves aerodynamics.
This latest Teammachine looks quite similar to previous models, but you
wouldn't expect BMC to just abandon the distinctive visuals they've spent
a decade tweaking. Nevertheless, BMC says every part of the new
Teammachine SLR01 has been improved or refined, from tube shapes and
bottom bracket junction to cabling — there are even integrated bottle
cages to smooth the airflow.
Scott’s Foil Disc has a very similar frame to the existing rim brake
model but the fork has been completely redesigned to manage the
asymmetrical forces of disc brakes and to control the airflow around the
front brake. Most notably, the lower sections of the fork come with aero
tabs to smooth airflow over the calliper.
That fork comes with internal cable routing and enough clearance for 30mm
The Foil Disc uses 12mm thru axles front and rear. The front axle’s head
is 25mm in diameter, the idea being that this larger than normal contact
surface between the fork and axle is better able to handle the load coming
from the front brake.
The CAAD13 is the latest in a long series of well-received aluminium
bikes from Cannondale, with a more refined ride than the CAAD12 and
available with or without disc brakes.
Ask most cyclists about aluminium and they’ll probably tell you it’s
stiff, and if they’re being really unfair they’ll say it’s harsh. But
advances made by companies still willing to invest in aluminium like
Cannondale have produced aluminium bikes that are anything but, and
instead offer genuinely smooth and compliant rides.
The new CAAD13 is on another level though. Our one criticism of the CAAD12
Disc was that the front-end felt too firm. There was too much feedback
coming through the handlebars and it wasn’t matching the smoothness
present at the back of the bike. Cannondale has remedied that criticism
and in the CAAD13 produced a bike that is wonderfully smooth all-round.
we expected, Bianchi
unveiled a disc brake version of the Specialissima toward the end of
2020. Bianchi claims a frame weight of a feathery 750g, the same as the
rim brake version, and aero improvements carried over from its Oltre aero
road bikes, including internal cable routing, an integrated seat clamp,
and tubing that’s shaped to reduce drag.
As well as the inevitable celeste blue and black the new Specialissima is
available in a rather lovely greenish blue option that Bianchi describes as
“greenish blue”. Straightforward, those Italians.
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Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.