Disc-Brakes-vs-Rim-Brakes Pro Cycling Outlet

Nothing causes more friction (pun intended) in the cycling world than the debate about disc brakes vs rim brakes. Here’s an overview to help you form an opinion – or keep you pumping for your favourite braking system.

What are rim brakes?

Rim brakes, as the name implies, clamp down on the rim of the wheel to brake while the caliper is mounted to the fork and frame nearest to the outer diameter. Pre-2018, when the UCI allowed disc brakes for racing, rim brakes were the only braking game in town. They’re the brakes your childhood bike had and you can probably clean, adjust and repair them in your sleep.

Who hates them?

Anyone who’s ever had their brakes fail in wet weather or because their rim was out of true or had a hop. But, to be honest, even they probably still have a nostalgic love for their rim brakes and give them extra props for being lightweight, more aerodynamic and having an overall cleaner look.

What are disc brakes?

Fully hydraulic disc brakes operate within a closed system similar to a car. Using a fluid compressor and hose, pistons force the disc brake pads to clamp. Unlike rim brakes, disc brakes apply the braking force to a rotor mounted directly on the hub while the caliper is mounted closer to the wheel axle. Mechanical, cable-operated disc brakes are a cheaper option with a slight drop in efficiency due to friction and stretch in the cables.

Who hates them?

Prior to 2018, pretty much all road cyclists but particularly any riders who blamed competitors’ rotors for slicing their legs – cue some pretty gory Instagram posts. With SRAM’s safer, rounded disc brakes and the UCI rule change, some pros made the switch but, mostly, everyone apart from bike manufacturers hated them still. Cut to today and most teams in the men’s World Tour are riding bikes with disc brakes, even when they have the option to stick with rim brakes.

Who's right?

While disc brake rotors add unwelcome weight, can look clunky, and the systems are generally more expensive and more complex to maintain, the inconvenient fact is that disc brakes are better at, well … braking. Not only do they offer more stopping power for very little lever force, that stopping power is more controllable and consistent in all weather conditions.

Does it matter?

By now, the debate is almost a moot point since all the major bike makers feature majority disc brake models, partly driven by falling consumer interest in rim brakes. All the innovation in bike design is going towards advancing bike technology around disc brakes and finding ways to make the bikes lighter to counteract the rotor weight. The options for buying a new bike with rim brakes may be getting slimmer every year but rim brake enthusiasts will be happy to know the argument itself is unlikely to go out of fashion any time soon.

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