The Short Answer is:
Road bikes do not use disc brakes for several reasons. Firstly, disc brakes add weight to the bike, making it heavier than a rim brake bike. Secondly, disc brakes are more expensive than rim brakes. Thirdly, disc brakes are more complicated than rim brakes, requiring more maintenance and adjustment. Fourthly, the design of disc brakes can create more drag, which can affect aerodynamics and speed. Fifthly, rim brakes have been the standard for road bikes for many years, and some riders prefer to stick with what they know. Lastly, rim brakes can be just as powerful as disc brakes due to their leverage advantage. While disc brakes are becoming more common on road bikes, there are still many riders who prefer the simplicity and familiarity of rim brakes.
Road bikes have undergone significant changes in recent years, with new technologies and innovations disrupting the status quo. One such innovation is the introduction of disc brakes, which have become increasingly popular in the cycling world.
However, despite their advantages, many road bikes still use traditional rim brakes. In this article, we will explore “Why Do Road Bikes Not Use Disc Brakes?”, the reasons why road bikes have been slow to adopt disc brakes, and why rim brakes are still preferred by some cyclists.
Table of Contents
Historical Context: Rim Brakes in Road Cycling
Rim brakes have been used in cycling for over a century. Here is a brief history of braking systems:
- Spoon brakes: The earliest form of bicycle brakes, spoon brakes were simple levers that pressed against the front tire or coaster brakes introduced for the rear wheel. Spoon brakes continued to be used on many adult bikes in the 1930s and on children’s bikes even until the 1950s.
- Rim brakes: The real revolution came with rim brakes that were light, acceptably efficient, easy to maintain, and cheap. Rim brakes have come in many varieties over the years. A common design element in the 1920s and 1930s was to use cork or felted wool pads that would drag on the rim to slow the bike down.
- Disc brakes: Disc brakes are a newer type of brake that has become increasingly popular in recent years. The most fundamental difference between traditional rim brakes and disc brakes is where the braking forces are applied. Rim brakes clamp directly onto the sides of the wheel rim itself, while disc brakes use a rotor mounted to the hub of the wheel.
Despite their popularity, rim brakes have some drawbacks. For example, their efficiency becomes worse when the rim gets wet or uneven as a result of an impact. Nonetheless, rim brakes remain popular due to their low price and light weight.
In summary, rim brakes have a long history in cycling and remain a popular choice due to their low cost and lightweight. However, they have some limitations when it comes to efficiency in certain conditions.
Performance Considerations of Disc Brakes vs. Rim Brakes
Disc brakes and rim brakes are two types of bike brakes that have different performance considerations. Here are some key differences between the two:
- Disc brakes offer better all-conditions performance than rim brakes because they are positioned farther from the moisture and muck that your wheels can spin up.
- Disc brakes generate much more stopping power than rim brakes, meaning there’s less force required at the lever to generate the same amount of deceleration as on a rim brake.
- Disc brakes offer better modulation than rim brakes, meaning it’s easier for the rider to precisely meter out how much clamping power is applied.
- Disc brake wheel rims can be made lighter than rim brake wheels because they don’t need to handle the compressive force of the brake pads, the expansive force of the tire, and the heat generated by braking.
- Disc brake components are more complex and have more moving parts, making them more expensive than rim brakes.
- Rim brakes are lighter than disc brakes because they don’t have a rotor or other heavy components.
- Rim brakes are better for racing because they are simpler and easier to maintain than disc brakes.
- Rim brake designs include side-pull caliper brakes, cantilever brakes, center-pull caliper brakes, U-brakes, and roller-cam brakes.
In summary, disc brakes offer better all-conditions performance and stopping power than rim brakes, but they are more expensive and complex. Rim brakes are lighter and simpler, making them better for racing.
Weight and Aerodynamic Concerns
Weight and aerodynamic concerns are two factors that have been cited as reasons why road bikes do not use disc brakes.
- Rim brakes are lighter than disc brakes.
- Disc brakes require additional components, such as the rotor and caliper, which add weight to the bike.
- Some people believe that disc brakes are an aerodynamic penalty.
- However, this argument is now less relevant as disc brakes and internal routing allow for clean lines, particularly around the front end of the bike, which more than compensates for the rotor.
- There is a debate about the benefits of enhanced braking performance versus the potential aerodynamic penalty of disc brakes.
- It has been assumed that disc brakes are less aerodynamic than rim brakes, but there hasn’t been a lot of data to support or debate this.
- Brake manufacturers will be able to design more aerodynamic disc calipers and rotors in the future.
In summary, while disc brakes offer enhanced braking performance, they also add weight to the bike and may have an aerodynamic penalty. However, advancements in technology and design may make these concerns less relevant in the future.
Compatibility and Standards
Compatibility and standards are important factors to consider when it comes to road bike disc brakes.
- Road disc brake compatibility and standards: The switch to disc brakes means that bike makers have designed frames that are generally incompatible with rim brakes. You can’t fit disc brakes on a frame designed for rim brakes. Mounting adapters for bicycle disc brakes are essential when changing calipers with different standards or rotor sizes.
- Mounting standards: There are different standards for fixing disc brakes on road bikes, but Shimano’s road-specific Flat Mount system, announced in 2015, is becoming dominant. However, it could be that different manufacturers continue to use different systems.
- Disc size: Discs are available in different sizes. All other things being equal, a large disc will slow you down faster than a small disc. Shimano’s road disc brake system has been designed for use with 140mm or 160mm rotors, the idea being that users can choose the size to suit their weight and intended use.
- Brake pad compatibility: There is no standard brake pad across bicycle disc brakes. Even brake manufacturers will have vastly different pad types across their brake systems.
In summary, road bikes do not use disc brakes because they require frames that are designed specifically for them, and they have different compatibility and mounting standards compared to rim brakes. Additionally, there are differences in rotor size and brake pad compatibility between different manufacturers and systems.
Maintenance and Cost Factors
Maintenance and cost factors are some of the reasons why road bikes do not use disc brakes.
- Bleeding hydraulic systems requires special tools, with a full home kit running about £45 / $55 (plus a few extra for fluid annually).
- Repairing caliper brakes yourself will cost you between $80 and $150.
- Adjusting and maintaining rim brakes is generally easier than disc brakes.
- Disc brakes are a costlier option both from the point of view of initial purchase and maintenance.
- Having a professional bike mechanic fix your disc brakes is going to cost you anywhere from $80 to $100, which is usually about the most you would pay for a standard type of brake repair.
- Repairs for road bikes, as well as for children’s bikes, are known to be less expensive than for other types of bikes for around $80 professionally.
While disc brakes offer better stopping power and modulation, they require more maintenance and are more expensive than rim brakes. This is why many road bikes still use rim brakes, especially in lower price ranges. However, disc brakes are becoming more common on road bikes, even on budget models.
Disc Brakes on Road Bikes: Emerging Trends
Disc brakes on road bikes have been a topic of debate for many years. Here are some reasons why road bikes have not traditionally used disc brakes:
- Expense: Disc brakes are generally more expensive than traditional rim brakes.
- Weight: Disc brakes, especially hydraulic disc brake systems, are generally heavier than rim brakes.
- Complexity: Disc brakes are more complicated than rim brakes, which can make them more difficult to maintain and repair.
- Compatibility: The switch to disc brakes means that bike makers have designed frames that are generally incompatible with rim brakes, so you can’t fit disc brakes to a rim brake frame.
- Tradition: Road bikes have traditionally used rim brakes and many cyclists are resistant to change.
However, in recent years, disc brakes have become more popular on road bikes due to their superior stopping power and performance in wet conditions. The bike industry sees the road disc movement as a way to advance bike technology forward in a meaningful way in one big step.
Bikes equipped with brakes that work better are safer, and full stop (pun intended). While there are still some disadvantages to using disc brakes on road bikes, the benefits may outweigh the drawbacks for many cyclists.
Frequently Asked Questions Related to Road Bikes Brakes:
Can I upgrade my road bike to use disc brakes?
Yes, it is possible to upgrade a road bike to use disc brakes. Here are some things to consider:
- You can use your existing brifters if you choose a cable-actuated disc brake caliper.
- It is possible to convert a standard rim brake road frame to a hybrid disc/rim brake setup.
- There are videos available on YouTube that show how to convert a road bike from rim brakes to disc brakes.
- Before upgrading, it may be worth trying other maintenance options first.
Are there any advantages of rim brakes over disc brakes in road cycling?
Yes, the biggest advantage of rim brakes over disc brakes in road cycling is weight. Although disc and rim brake components themselves aren’t very different weight-wise, once you add the rotor, the system weight of a disc brake setup is typically a few hundred grams greater.
What type of brake is better for road racing: disc brakes or rim brakes?
Disc brakes are better for road racing than rim brakes in almost every category, including braking performance, especially in wet conditions. However, rim brakes are cheaper, easier to maintain at home, and often lighter than disc brakes.
Conclusion: Why Do Road Bikes Not Use Disc Brakes?
In conclusion, the introduction of disc brakes to road bikes has been a controversial topic in the cycling world. While disc brakes provide better stopping power, especially in wet or muddy conditions, they are not necessarily faster than rim brakes on a road bike.
Additionally, UCI’s 6.8kg minimum bike weight limit for racing has made it challenging for professional teams to adopt disc brakes. However, with major bike makers offering disc-equipped bikes covering all sectors of the market and the UCI now allowing them in the professional peloton, discs are becoming an ever more familiar part of the road riding landscape.
Ultimately, whether or not road racers are ever fully won over by disc brakes, brands will almost certainly encourage teams to use them as a way of legitimizing and validating the technology in the eyes of the bike-buying public and ultimately selling more disc brake-equipped bikes.