Dangerous. Frightening. Razor sharp, piping hot.
Burns, cuts, severed limbs.
Spinning metal saws of death.
But they brake so much better!
We’ve heard just about every negative adjective describing disc brakes in road cycling. To get those of you who may not be familiar up to speed – we are in the middle of a push from the bike industry to have the professional peloton switch from rim brakes to discs, but the peloton is a bit wary to do so.
There are plusses and minuses on each side, from stopping power to modulation, weight to aerodynamics. Lately, we have seen story after story, article after article, but no one really knows what we are going to do. Will the peloton make the switch? If so, when?
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I don’t profess to know more than anyone else, inside the peloton or out, but I’d like to share my view on this “disc brake debacle” that we are in the middle of. Agree with me or not, it’s up to you. To be clear and straightforward, I won’t pretend to be impartial either:
I’d prefer a peloton without discs. But, like most things in cycling, it’s not up to me. There are bigger forces out there and no matter how loud we speak, yell, or scream, no matter how much momentum our resistance gains – those forces seem motivated to grab our metaphorical brakes.
It’s why I think this issue goes much beyond what many people think. It’s not about the brakes.
Let me explain: this entire fight we are in the middle of, this push and pull between the riders, the UCI, and the bike industry – it’s not a fight over a braking system. It’s a fight for power. And not of the stopping variety.
For much too long, we riders in the peloton have been powerless. Think a course is too dangerous? Too bad, get on with it. Weather too hot? Too cold? Toughen up, this is cycling. It’s one of the reasons many of us are scared of a switch to discs. Sure, there are thousands, of recreational cyclists who have been riding them on their road bikes for years. But most recreational cyclists don’t put their bikes through the same rigour we do.
Some of it is due to ability, and some just comes down to sheer logistics – on descents, we have an open road, so we use the whole thing, taking corners quicker, braking later and pushing our bikes right to the edge of their capabilities. We put them through paces most equipment testing couldn’t.
It’s not you, it’s me
So, introducing a new technology into the peloton, as they are doing now with discs, is using us as human guinea pigs or living test dummies. It’s not the bike companies who are taking the risk of trying this new technology, it’s not the people writing the rules either. No, when your ceramic piston cracks and you lose your front brake, it’s not the guy at the UCI who goes over the guard rail, it’s me.
When you get brake fade and lose stopping power after a long Alpine descent, it’s not the guy from the bike company overshooting the corner, it’s me.
When you flat and have to sit there on the side of the road for ages until your team car arrives to change your bike because you can’t take a neutral service wheel, it’s not the armchair critic who loses the race, it’s me.
And when there’s a massive pileup, it’s not the disc brake-preferring recreational rider who is flying into a pit of fiery hot, sharp discs, it’s us, the professional pushbikers.
The risk-averse professional cyclist does not exist. We take risks for a living. We participate in one of the most dangerous sports in the world. So when we are genuinely scared to try something, it means we see significant danger in doing it.
This professional sport does not happen without us
When I see much of the disc brake-related content on the web, from articles to videos, social media posts and the like, I see a significant amount of commentary negatively directed at us pros. They poke, prod, make fun of us, tell us we are wrong.
But I ask these same people to think about one thing: each and every rider in our professional peloton is a human being. They are sons, husbands, boyfriends, many of them fathers. They have families to go home to. We must weigh the positives and negatives of every risk we take, and if one of them seems unnecessary, then we must not proceed.
Most of the decisions in this sport have been made without us. Whether it’s on course design, regulations or rules, our voices are seldom heard. Just recently, however, us riders have begun to realise an important point. This professional sport does not happen without us. We are the most important piece of the puzzle – without us, it cannot be complete.
And if we unite, we just might have a chance to make change happen. In regards to disc brakes, the CPA set out some guidelines they would like to see met before opening testing once again. Going from there could be a good starting point, however the testing recently continued without meeting these stipulations of protection.
We are open to progress, to innovation, to any technology that could help us ride our bikes faster and safer, but we are no longer open to our voices going unheard.
The only way this issue will be resolved is when the people in charge recognise that there are two sides to this story, no matter how sharp, hot, or dangerous the dividing lines.
Larry Warbasse is a professional cyclist for Team Aqua Blue Sport.
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