Rim Brakes: It’s been fun

The other day I was reading a cycling article and ran across an offhand comment about how these days it was nearly impossible to find a top-range road bike without disk brakes. I stopped, re-read it, then started frantically searching bike maker sites. It turns out that the writer is right and I’m still reeling from it a little.

It was only a few years ago that there was a big controversy over disk brakes in the peloton, with some riders crashing and claiming that they were sliced by the rotor. Here’s one I just found, which only comes from 2016. We’ve gone from that to probably not one World Tour team using good ol’ rim brakes and now – I suppose this is the natural progression – you and I can’t even buy an €8,000 bike without going to disk.

I’m not sure how I feel about this…no, not true, I do know. I personally don’t need disk brakes, even if they are better, safer, nicer in crap weather, or whatever else all my disk-riding friends tell me. Would I be happy riding a bike with disk brakes? Probably yes, but I’d also be happy with electronic shifting and maybe even a motor hidden in the down-tube, but I still don’t want a bike equipped with that stuff. At my weight (okay, my usual weight) I don’t need better braking and I am a little nervous about the ‘new technology’ involved in disk brakes. I think disks are heavier than caliper, too, which would erase all the gains I’ve made buying €50 water bottle holders. I also hate hearing that tin-against-tin sound when the rotors are rubbing, not to mention the ‘scream’ of the braking from time to time.

But I might be just getting old and set in my ways. Even Alberto Contador, a devout rim-brake believer, has gone to the dark side, according to his Instagram account.

I’ll finish with some good news. I can always count on Ernesto to do the right thing, and so it goes for brakes. At least Colnago’s ‘queen’ – the C64 – comes in both disk and rim versions. Ernesto is 88 years old, though, so I guess I need to be quick and snap one up. You never know what the next whippersnapper owner will do.

Do any of you know of other makers who haven’t gone full monty with disk?

26 thoughts on “Rim Brakes: It’s been fun

    • I’ve heard that more than a few times, Niall! I had the idea to maybe move to Ireland in the future, so that might be the time to change to disk 😉

  1. Disk brakes are ok in dry weather but in wet weather they grate and squeal like stuck pigs. They are heavier and more complex to maintain than rim brakes. Their saving grace is carbon wheels, they are made for each other and take away the worry of braking in the rain and rim wear.

    • Interesting comment about the wet, since many people hail disks for their braking qualities when things get humid. I guess there are two sides to that story. I do admit that my carbon wheels are a little tricky in rain, but this is so rare that I don’t even consider it an issue.

  2. I did notice that a couple teams in the TdF were still running rim brakes. (Quick Step, for one, as I recall.) That’s over now?

    Anyway, I relate to what I imagine are your feelings about lost simplicity, but, having spent the season on discs, I don’t see myself going back.

    From an amateur mechanic’s point of view, rim brakes are easier to deal with in some ways. At my level of (in)competence, the outcome of a rim brake tune up is at least deterministic: I have high confidence in a positive outcome and in the steps to get there. As a MTBer, I’ve been working on discs for over a decade and still find perfect pad/rotor alignment elusive, bordering on mystical. That is frustrating.

    There are up sides, too, though, like no cables with their damn dirt and moisture infiltration points at each end.

    For you, as a mechanic, you have to deal with discs regardless of your personal bike choices anyway, right? Because your clients have them?

    From a design perspective, doesn’t it appeal to you that discs separate the braking function from the ideal rim construction for rolling? You move all the friction and wear to a dedicated device – the rotor. I like that, intellectually.

    From the rider’s point of view, your comment about your weight reveals that you still think discs are all about power. They’re not. They’re about beautiful, subtle, reliable, consistent, effortless modulation and control. I would have LOVED to have discs before some of those Cevennes corners!

    How much time have you spent riding discs?

    • I like that you think I’m a mechanic, Tony. Obviously you never had much wrong with your bike in the Cevennes 😉 I’ve actually done a mechanics course, but don’t have a lot of confidence with new fangled technology. Luckily our clients usually know how to handle their gadgets.

      I just watched Stage 18 of this year’s Tour and I saw both Ineos and Jumbo Visma riding rim brakes. The weather was good all day, so maybe they have two sets? DQ was disk, or the couple of riders who I saw anyway.

      I have all the stories of the beauty of disks and will probably become convinced once I ride a bike equipped with them for any period of time. I think I’ve probably pedalled a disk brake set-up, but nothing serious. I will say that my Campy brakes have great modulation and I usually only use a finger or two even on technical descents. In the wet it’s a different story, mind you.

      I haven’t thought very ‘intellectually’ about any of this, but from a visual standpoint I don’t like the look of the disk on the hub. Rim brakes are basically invisible to me. That being said, I guess I do like the look of the top of the seat stays on disk brake bikes. Nice and clean.

      I guess I’d just like to know that I have a choice with this stuff, which doesn’t seem to be the case with some makers.

  3. Look still do rim bikes, giant and canyon in frameset only.but i think within a year or two, it will be disk only. I ve too many hi end wheel sets to move to disk. Personally, i have no issues descending on rim, a point proven when a mixed grp is racing downhill to the line in the TDF, wet or dry… neither disc or rim have any sort of adv, its the rider.

    • I took a quick look at Canyon this morning and didn’t see any rim brakes, but I probably didn’t click on the framesets to see options. That’s good to know. Look is on my list of ‘next bikes’, too, but like you said, I guess I should be quick.

      Good point about the TDF (or any mixed group, I guess).

  4. Two friends of mine recently bought top-end Canyon bikes with rim brakes. Tempcyclist is one, my buddy, Kurt is another. Funny thing is, it surprised me that they chose rim brakes!

    • If it were a bike I’d ride in the rain or on wet roads, I would have gone disc for sure, but as it’s my dry weather sunny speed machine (and I hardly brake at all) rim brakes were perfectly fine. I did toss and turn over the decision for ages beforehand though!

  5. I have a MTB with disc brakes but I seldom ride it. However, I’ve toyed with getting a gravel bike and I would definitely get discs on that. For the pro riders in races it appears that the main issue is when they have to change the wheel with a flat. I saw several mechanics struggling to replace a wheel after the pads closed.

  6. Everyone knows carbon rims suck in wet weather but you only have to descend a hill at 70km/hr in perfect weather on carbon rims with rim brakes and your front wheel delaminates and blows up the front tire because they overheated, and the rim brake doesn’t work because the wheel has delaminated and you too may start thinking about disk brakes. This happened to me a few years ago here in Arizona. If you want to use old rim brakes, make sure you find a good set of light weight aluminum rims. I was lucky that I managed to bring my bike to a stop without a serious crash, but it was pretty tense. I retired both my older bikes with rim brakes to my indoor trainers where I know I can’t suffer serious injury because the rims delaminate. Carbon is a great material for weight savings and can be shaped for better aerodynamic characteristics, but has never and will never be a good braking surface due to the frictional heat no matter what the rim manufacturers say.

    Both my last two bikes have SRAM HDR Hydraulic brakes, which I’ve been riding for two years and two months respectively and I haven’t experienced any of the issues expressed in this thread. I build all my bikes from scratch and the disk brakes were easy to install and after the initial setup, they’ve required no further adjusting, unlike rim brakes that always need minor adjusting.

    In a few years, or less, there will be no rim brake bikes, so you can hold out if you want, but I wouldn’t purchase a new bike that’s obsolete before you ride it.

    • Well, Primoz Roglic nearly won the Tour this year on rim brakes, following up with an overall win in the Vuelta and LBL. I wouldn’t call rim brakes obsolete just yet, but I get your point about the future.

      I doubt I’ll ever be riding in Arizona temperatures and needing to brake that much, but of course it’s possible. From a safety perspective I think the ‘rain/dirt’ argument is better, simply because I’ve experienced the precarious braking of my Mavics in these conditions. I could see this tipping the scales if I thought I’d be riding in a lot of bad weather, which obviously is possible in my job.

      As for issues with the machinery, everyone has their stories and here’s mine. A client, who raves about disk brakes, was trying to sell me on them one morning and by the afternoon his front brake had given out and needed to be bled. He thought about bringing the bleed kit to Europe, but had never had the problem before. This was solved with a visit to a bike shop after our day was done, but we were lucky that the town had a shop. Of course rim brakes can fail, too, but they are a much simpler machine.

      Anyway, like the title of the article says, I see rim brakes disappearing, so I’m sure I’ll be following the trend at some point.

      • Yeah, and I don’t see anyone riding bikes with toe straps or bull horns in time trials either. The toe strap, bull horn, and now rim brake trains have left the station and although most people didn’t board them, there are always a few that did and hats off to their determination to honour the old ways.

        And just to spice up the discussion, I’m now running 26mm Pirreli PZero Race TLR tubeless tires. I’ve had them for almost three months on my new bike. Certainly a learning curve to get them initially inflated. Very frustrating at first. I still haven’t had a flat that I know of (they have that sealant inside). So, I’m still in evaluation mode. I can say for sure they roll smoother than inner tube tires and they weigh less when you compare the combined weight of the tire + inner tube + rim tape (I have carbon tubeless rims – no rim tape required). I’d be curious what other people think?

        • Tubeless. That’s another blog article!

          I’ve actually got ‘2-way’ wheels on the Bianchi and I have the bits a pieces to convert it to tubeless. I’ve been meaning to try it for years, but haven’t. Do you need to use an air compressor to get them inflated? That’s another client challenge that we had in Alpe d’Huez a few years ago. Two guys came with tubeless and needed to find a shop with a compressor to do their tour.

          I’d like to try this out at some point, so good to hear about that sweet ride is everyone talks about.

  7. First… carbon rim delamination probs are long over….if Nibali can descend like a banshee and bunny hop a wet spot at 70kph on carbon rims and rim brakes, I think they’re ok. Both my bikes are hydraulic discs and I love ’em. There are a few things to learn to maintain them, but if I can master them, anyone can.
    Bike tech will always be evolving and trying to keep up with it is very expensive.
    Moral of the story: ride the bike you want, rim or disc…as long as you ride! (just stay away from oval rings..jeez!) LOL

    • I’m nearly an oval ring convert. Too late! And my Mavics, teemed with Swisstop Yellow pads, offer very, very good braking, even decent in rain. Who knows, maybe the Ridley gravel bike I just saw will make me switch to disks!

  8. I’ve had problems with two applications concerning Rim Brakes.

    One was when we were on Tourmalet with that frigid weather during Etape, the second etape on Tourmalet Gerry! That one i over heated my rim brake pads on an aluminum braking surface due to heat dissipation, hot/Cold surface from wet surfaces. Melted the pads.

    The second time I had Carbon wheels in the Alps on one of the hottest days in memory and I grooved my brand new wheels. They were replaced free of charge and have stood up really well since but have never been exposed to that kind of weather since.

    I am still a believer in Rim brakes as I will be stuck with them for a while as I build my bike from the frame up. I am now running Mavic Krysillium Aluminum wheels with the Exalith surface. Love the braking surface and I would trust them in any kind of weather. There is something to be said about aesthetics of Rim Brakes, sort of old school which never seems to go out of style. Cannot really comment on Disc but I do see the point especially in the Mountains but lets be honest, I don’t see much of a point for the kind of riding most of us do on our home bases. Sort of overkill in my opinion.

    • Sort of sounds like you shouldn’t be a believer, but I guess if you just stay away from Tourmalet you’ll be good on rims!

      Was the Alps the Marmotte? That was probably the hottest big ride I’ve ever done.

      I’m with you 100% on the aesthetics, at least for now. I suppose we can get used to anything.

      Also, very good point about normal people in normal riding conditions (unless you live in Ireland!). Many people will buy way too much bike for what they use it for. I think I smell another blog article coming…

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