Love or hate them, disc brakes are here to stay and at this year’s Tour de France they were a much bigger presence than in any previous year.
Disc brakes have been in and out of the pro peloton for the past few years though, with the UCI proving indecisive and running a 'trial' for a number of years. For 2019 it finally made up its mind and rubber stamped disc brakes and as a result, we've seen a much bigger interest from teams in using disc brakes than any previous season.
Disc brakes are still far from dominating the peloton, but there are an awful lot of disc-equipped bikes. We roamed the team trucks ahead of the Grand Depart in Brussels last week to get a closer look.
Six teams have completely switched over to disc brakes for the Tour. Deceuninck - Quick-Step, Alpecin - Katusha, Dimension Data, Bora-Hansgrohe, Trek-Segafredo, Mitchelton-Scott and Wanty–Groupe Gobert have all fully committed to discs. In some cases, it's not just for this race but from the beginning of the season. Discs haven't appeared to do Deceuninck - Quick-Step any harm, this Belgian team has racked up 48 victories at the time of writing!
Other teams are flirting with disc brakes. EF Education First, CCC, Sunweb, Astana and Arkéa–Samsic are clearly letting riders choose their brakes. We spotted André Greipel riding a disc-equipped BH G7. Some of the Sunweb riders are using disc brakes. Sometimes it's dependent on the bike, the Cervelo S5 Disc aero bike (above) only being available with disc brakes so that removes the brake choice, while the R5 all-rounder comes with rim or disc brakes.
Then there are teams with no disc brakes to be seen at all, including Team Ineos, Movistar, UAE Team Emirates, Team Jumbo Visma, Groupama-FDJ and Cofidis. Team Ineos haven't shown any interest in disc brakes, though we did spot Dave Brailsford's Dogma F12 with disc brakes as he was joining the team on a pre-race training ride.
The choice of disc or rim brakes is clearly down to the team managers and their bike sponsors. and how much sway the bike sponsor has is up for debate. We can presume Specialized have encouraged Quick-Step and Bora to ride disc brakes, but Pinarello doesn't seem to mind which brakes Team Ineos use.
Some people may feel manufacturers are forcing riders to use disc brakes, which may or may not be true. In some cases that is evident as certain new bikes - like the Cannondale SystemSix or Wilier Zero SLR - are only available with disc brakes. Let’s not forget the Tour de France is a huge marketing opportunity and was originally conceived to sell newspapers so it's obviously conceivable that the brands want the riders to ride the latest equipment.
Are disc brakes really such a big deal that some people make out though, or are they just the latest in a long line of technological advances like derailleurs, quick release axles, carbon frames, carbon wheels, aerodynamics etc?
One observation from roving around the team trucks ahead of the Grand Depart in Brussels is that there was a lot of disc brake bleeding going on.
We chatted to a team mechanic from Dimension-Data, while he was bleeding disc brakes funnily enough, and he revealed that disc brakes do mean more work for the mechanics. He said that they only bleed the disc brakes when they need to, based either on feedback from the riders or based on their own inspection of the bike during the daily cleaning process. I expected him to say daily, weekly or another set interval, but as is needed was this mechanics view.
Asked if he had any good advice or tips for setting up disc brakes, he said time and patience were the key skills. He also showed us this Birzman Clam, a small metal sleeve that you fit between the brake pads and disc rotor to space the calliper centrally over the rotor. He said it really helped with setting up the brakes. We’ve never seen one before so we’ll definitely be getting one in for review.
It must be a logistical nightmare for the teams that support rim and disc brakes though, as these two piles of rim and disc brake wheels at the EF Education First team truck show. We wanted to get over to see the Mavic neutral service cars and bikes to inspect their selection of spare wheels but sadly ran out of time before we had to leave.
What do you think of disc brakes in the Tour de France peloton? Here to stay or just a fad?
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.