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The Pros and Cons of Disc Brakes on A Road Bike

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Disc equipped road bikes are all the rage today. In case you are thinking of making the switch to disc brakes, it is essential to understand their pros and cons.

The pros and cons of disc brakes on a road bike? Disc brakes are reliable, consistent, sturdy, safer, support fast rides, minimize wear and tear, and provide excellent braking. They are also expensive, weighty, non-transferable, prone to friction, and difficult to maintain.

Recently, bike manufacturers have been supplying road bikes fitted with disc brakes. Although some riders may be against disc brakes, the choice of brake system should be a significant consideration when buying a road bike.

Pros of Disc Brakes

Many bike manufacturers design road bikes with disc brakes. Having a disc brake on a road bike has several advantages.

Braking Power

A considerable advantage of disc brake is their exceptional stopping power. For riders, the better braking power of disc brakes comes with many benefits.

With disc brakes, you will not have to apply so much pressure on the brake levers when braking. It also means you will experience less muscle stress when using the brakes, especially when descending a slope when you have to check your speed.

Consistent Braking

Disc brakes provide more consistent braking than rim brakes. The brakes offer the same level of braking as the force applied.

With a disc braking system, riders can accurately determine the amount of force to apply to the brakes to get the required amount of braking.

Reliable

Disc brakes are quite reliable, especially in wet weather. Unlike rim brakes that may have a slight delay, disc brakes provide instant stopping power.

Disc brakes are well-positioned in a self-contained unit on the bike. Therefore, their performance is not affected by wet weather conditions.

Supports Faster Rides

Many riders believe disc brakes support faster rides than rim brakes. Riders trust the braking power of disc brakes and often ride faster, knowing they can always rely on the brakes to make a stop whenever they want to.

Disc brakes allow you to focus on your ride and spend less time on the brakes. You can always travel at high speeds, knowing your brakes will work anytime you need them.

Reduces Wear and Tear

Disc brakes experience less wear and tear than rim brakes. Therefore, they allow your wheels to last for longer.

Rim brakes may cause wheel surfaces to wear, especially when the brakes are exposed to grit and dirt. Disc brakes do not experience heat buildup on the frames, which reduces wear and tear of the wheels.

Sturdy

The performance of disc brakes is not affected by the alignment of the wheels; the brakes will work even when the wheels are not correctly aligned. On the other hand, rim brakes will not work correctly if the frames are damaged or not correctly aligned. 

Many riders have experienced problems with their wheels when riding. Unlike rim brakes, disc brakes will continue working even when the wheels are not correctly aligned.

Good Clearance

Disc brakes have much better clearance than rim brakes. This allows riders to add wider tires on their road bikes.

Wider tires increase comfort while riding. In addition, the clearance provided by disc brakes allows easy fitting of fenders.

Easy Handling

Disc brakes can add considerable weight to your bike. However, you should not worry about the added weight unless you are a pro.

The weight that disc brakes add to your bike does not affect handling during a ride. You can compensate for the weight in the rims.

Disc brakes eliminate the need for conventional braking surfaces on the rims. This allows you to add aerodynamic and lighter wheels to your bike.

Faster Speeds

Disc brakes reduce the rotating weight of your bike significantly. The slashed rotating weight supports faster speeds.

They’re Safer

One of the biggest considerations riders make when upgrading to carbon rims is the braking system to use. Disc brakes are known not only for their incredible performance but also for their safety.

It can be relatively easier to brake in dry weather than in wet weather. Bike manufacturers are now making pads that distribute heat evenly and are suitable for carbon wheels.

Cons of Disc Brakes

Although disc brakes are known for their exceptional braking power, they also have some downsides.

They Weigh More

A considerable drawback of disc brakes is they weigh more. This is a significant disadvantage for riders who like their bikes light to support high speeds.  Disc brakes, especially hydraulic brakes, are considerably heavier than rim brakes.

More Costly

The purchase and maintenance costs for disc brakes is quite high. Although disc brakes are more durable than rim brakes, they are more expensive to replace and purchase.

Not Easy to Maintain

Disc brakes come in a sealed housing and do not require much maintenance. However, if something goes wrong, and it usually does, repairing the brake system can be extremely difficult.

In many cases, disc brakes may require bleeding to get rid of trapped air bubbles, which is not easy to do considering the setup of the brakes. On the other hand, repairing or maintaining a rim brake is much easier.

Non-Transferable

It is almost impossible to transfer a disc brake that has been used on a road bike that was designed for rim brakes; the wheels and frames are incompatible. To transfer a disc brake onto a road bike designed for rim brakes, you will need a compatible wheel hub and brake mounts of the forks for the disc brakes.

Can Be Dangerous

Disc brakes can be quite dangerous, especially when riding in a group. Some riders in a group ride may brake more effectively than others can due to the different braking systems on their bikes, which may cause injuries in race incidents.

Traps Dirt and Water

Disc brakes may trap dirt and grit between the disc and brake pads, which may damage the brakes. In addition, the trapped dirt causes the bike to produce an annoying sound when riding.

Doesn’t Handle Wetness Well

Although rain and moisture may have little effect on the effectiveness of disc brakes, the brakes can be extremely noisy when wet.

Disc brakes are undoubtedly more effective than rim brakes even on wet surfaces. However, they are also prone to skidding and locking, especially on slippery surfaces.

Not Necessary

Many people believe disc brakes do not satisfy a need for riders. They believe this is an unnecessary product being pushed onto consumers.

Many people often end up buying disc brakes simply because many professional riders prefer to use them.

May Not Be Compatible with Many Road Bike Frames

It is quite difficult to design road bike frames that are compatible with disc brakes. The positioning of the fork and brake must be precise, which is something that only experts can do.

If you are shopping for a bike with disc brakes, consider buying from reputable and trusted manufacturers.

Rubbing of Pads

Disc brakes are prone to friction between the pad and the disc because of the small clearance. The sound of the friction can be quite annoying when riding a road bike.

Parts of a Disc Brake

Disc brakes require several components to work effectively. The main elements of a disc brake are the cable and hydraulic system.

Hydraulic Systems

Hydraulic brakes are becoming increasingly common in many road bikes due to the consistency and ease of maintenance. A significant benefit of hydraulic disc brakes is they are sealed systems, which minimizes the chances of dirt, water, and debris from affecting the brake system.

Another considerable advantage of hydraulic brakes is they self-adjust, which minimizes wear and tear of the brake pads. In addition, this type of braking system is lightweight and is not affected by the tightness of the cable routing.

Hydraulic disc brakes are known for their smooth braking and feel. They are incredibly easy to control and do not require much hand effort.

Mechanical Systems

This type of braking system works through a cable to apply the braking force. A considerable drawback of this braking system is they are prone to cable stretching, which affects the performance of the brakes.

Mechanical brake systems require regular adjustments as the pads wear with time. It is worth knowing that problems with mechanical brake systems can be avoided by sticking to a regular maintenance schedule.

Rim vs. Disc Brakes

The main difference between a rim brake and a disc brake is how they work. As the name suggests, a rim brake system applies brakes directly to the rim or sides of the wheel.

On the other hand, a rotor at the center of the wheel provides stopping power in a disc brake. In most cases, the rotor is mounted on the hub of the wheel.

Calipers

This part holds the brake pads. It can be either a post-mount or flat-mount.

A post-mount caliper is one that has been bolted directly onto the fork. The design of a post-mount caliper allows side-to-side adjustments to eliminate brake rub.

A flat-mount caliper has a much cleaner low profile designed to handle the tight clearance at the rear of a road bike. This type of caliper sits flat to the frame of the road bike.

The Axle

A disc-equipped road bike does not feature thru-axles. Instead, the wheels of a road bike feature quick-release skewers.

Removing a thru-axle is a difficult task that requires you to unscrew it first before you can pull it out.

Although the thru-axle makes it relatively difficult to remove the wheel of a road bike, it holds the wheels sturdy in position and ensures the wheel is tightened more consistently.

The Rotor

The two main aspects of a disc-equipped road bike are the calipers and the rotors. However, the rotors are not a one-size-fits-all road bike accessory.

Generally, larger rotors dissipate more heat and have a more powerful braking force than smaller rotors. However, this rule does not always apply because rotor design and materials also affect the performance of your braking system.

Centerlock vs. Six Bolt Rotors

A critical consideration to make when shopping for a road bike equipped with a disc brake is whether to choose one with a center lock or a six-bolt rotor. Although the two rotor designs have the same function, the main difference between the two is how they are mounted to the hub.

As the names suggest, six-bolt rotors use six bolts to attach to the hub. On the other hand, centerlock rotors are attached and locked directly to the hub with a special key.

Materials and Construction

Many road bike rotors on the market are made of stainless steel. However, road bike manufacturers have started manufacturing rotors using alternate materials.

Performance of Rim and Disc Brakes

A notable advantage of disc brakes is its incredible performance. This does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with rim brakes.

Both disc and rim brakes use the same amount of force to lock wheels. However, it is much easier to modify the brake modulation of a disc brake.

Brake modulation is the ability to control the brake force without locking the wheels altogether. The greater brake modulation offered by disc brakes makes it ideal for riding in wet conditions. 

Another advantage of a disc brake is its larger wheel and tire clearance. This gives bike designers greater freedom when designing the bike frame, fork, and wheel.

The larger wheel clearance of a disc-equipped road bike allows designers to create aerodynamic, lightweight, and comfortable road bikes. It also allows the designers to develop road bikes with sturdier wheels and frames.

Disc brakes provide powerful braking forces. This means bike manufacturers have to design road bike forks and chains with sturdy materials.

Disc equipped bikes often feature a higher spoke count that other types of bikes. The high spoke count allows disc-equipped road bikes to handle their weight and the force that the bikes generate.

Maintenance

Like any other type of bike, disc-equipped road bikes require regular maintenance and servicing. Unlike rim brakes that require a regular change of cabling, disc brakes need bleeding or oil change.

Manufacturers recommend disc brake bleeding every year. In addition, disc brakes require regular inspection of the rotors.

Like rim brakes, disc brakes are made of different materials with varying durability and braking power. However, disc brakes typically cost more than rim brakes.

Disc brakes also last relatively longer than rim brakes. It is advisable to check the pads regularly for signs of wear; otherwise, a worn pad may cause the rotor to wear out prematurely.

Be sure to use the right lubricants and cleaners for your disc brakes. Some oils can affect the performance of your disc brakes.

Travel Tips

There are several factors to consider when traveling on a disc-equipped road bike. First, avoid pulling on the lever without the presence of the rotor or spacer.

When pulling on the lever, make sure the spacer or rotor is present between the pads to prevent fluid leakage. Disc equipped road bikes are self-adjusting to account for wear.

Pulling the lever in the absence of the rotor or spacer will pull the pads out of position, which may lead to fluid leakage.

Pads and Rotors

Be sure to bed in your pads and rotors before you take your first ride on a disc-equipped road bike. Bedding in the pads and rotors will make your road bike less noisy and deliver optimum performance.

To bed in your pads and rotors, get up to speeds of about 15 miles an hour and then make a hard stop. Repeat this process ten to 15 times.

You may hear a squealing sound when taking a wet ride. This should not alarm you because the sound is caused by the presence of water between the pads and the rotor.

A few rides and the rotor will heat up, causing all the water to dissipate. You should not hear the squealing sound after a few trips.

Upgrades

If you want a better braking system, you will be spoilt for choice by the options available on the market. Many manufacturers are now designing lightweight disc brakes using stronger, alternative materials.

Modern disc brakes provide many of the benefits of traditional disc brakes while being significantly lighter. You can also upgrade your brake system by increasing the size of the rotor and investing in sturdier multi-piston calipers.

Although two-piston calipers provide great stopping power, investing in a six-piston caliper provides much better-stopping power. A six-piston caliper will improve the braking system of your road bike significantly.

Choice of Brakes to Use

The type of disc brake to use is ultimately determined by personal preference. Some riders will swear by rim brakes while others think disc brakes are the ultimate road bike braking system.

Rim brakes provide great stopping power. In addition, they are lightweight and much cheaper than disc brakes.

Disc brakes are incredibly appealing to people who ride for fun because they provide more consistent braking. In addition, disc brakes offer excellent braking even on wet surfaces.

As manufacturers come up with more innovative disc-brake technologies, riders will continue to look for road bikes equipped with disc brakes. The main appeal of disc brakes among riders is their excellent braking performance on all types of surfaces and riding conditions.  Disk brakes work well on both dry and wet surfaces. 

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