A mechanic’s view of disc brakes in the peloton

Last week a number of cycling industry manufacturers unveiled new products that related to the use of disc brakes for road bikes. Shimano has slimmed down its caliper so that, when frame makers are ready, the direct mount will be less obtrusive. And Zipp revealed a wheel with thru-axle compatibility – soon available with a clincher or tubular rim… one of many recent releases that are created for use with disc brakes. RIDE asked the UCI when it would alter its regulations to allow disc brakes to be used in the road racing peloton. “The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is at an advanced stage of discussions with all key stakeholders – riders, teams, manufacturers – to trial the use of disc brakes in professional road cycling,” came the reply. “We expect to be making an announcement shortly.”

That announcement was made just after midday European time yesterday. (See the screen grab of the release, below.) Testing will take place as early as August this year with pro teams allotted two events each in which they can trial the latest wave of braking product developments that have been available to the public for some time now.

It raises a number of questions on how servicing will be managed in road racing events but the industry has been insisting on this change for some time now and it seems that it will soon get what it wants: a range of braking options for road racers.

In January, we sat down with Gary Blem who is a mechanic with Team Sky and asked him about a range of topics, including disc brakes. See our transcript below for his take… as well as his perspective of other UCI equipment regulations, including the bike weight limit of 6.8kg.



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RIDE: How closely do you work with guys like Manabu Tatekawa from Shimano to get the development happening…? [Do you have] sessions with him when you’re giving your input? And how much of that does he take home?

Gary Blem: “We do see the guys on a regular basis especially in the Grand Tours. If there are small faults that we see in the system – or ways we can improve it – we always let them know. And they always do take a lot of notes and they do respond.

“If there are any electronic shifting issues, the beauty about it is that they’ll do a software upgrade for us shortly afterwards. The problem is resolved.

“It’s very difficult now to become more innovative. You’ve got a really good product now and to come up with [more] ideas… there’s not a hell of a lot you can change.

“There is a lot of talk about disc brakes and so we’ll see how that develops in the near future. At the moment it’s still pretty quiet with us [early in the season]. Sure, once we have resolved any issues with the UCI we’ll start testing some products in the near future.”


The latest iteration of the disc brake caliper for road bikes by Shimano...

The latest iteration of the disc brake caliper for road bikes by Shimano…


What are your feelings on disc brakes? You would have had a crack at riding them or servicing them over the years… or not? And, if so, do you think it’s a warranted upgrade or is it just a trend that’s going to come and go? Is it consumer driven…? 

“It does make sense in a [way]. If you see some of the hairy descents that these guys are doing, especially in the Tour [de France] and the Giro d’Italia, it would make sense to use a disc brake. Obviously the guys are talking about safety, how to change the wheel, can they standardise the disc size so obviously the support vehicles can change wheels… but Shimano [is] working on ways to combat that so that if you do get a different rotor size, maybe there’s an adjustor and you can adjust it manually.

“We’ll see. It’s still early stages. When a new idea comes out, everybody is normally a bit afraid and a bit negative. As long as we stay open-minded, maybe it will revolutionise the sport in a way, you know? Or maybe not. We’ll have to see.”


It certainly had a huge impact on mountain biking. 

“Correct. It has. Road [cycling] is all about weight saving, trying to get the bike as light as possible but now the manufacturers have managed to do that pretty easily and I think you could add a disc brake and still be underweight. That’s how light the frames have become.

“That’s one of the options, another option – or way to look at it – is that the UCI is reconsidering the limit of the bikes… the weight limits.

“I hope they do change it.

“All the manufacturers can get their bikes under 6.8kg now and I think that rule is now pretty stale. It’s time to change now… and get together with the times.”


Zipp's 30 Course clincher...

Zipp’s 30 Course clincher…


A lot of consumers would argue that you’re putting the bike into a fragile state, one that’s almost a throw-away after one crash. Would you have that concern? You’ve serviced the bikes. You understand what they go through and what they’re subjected to in a crash. How would they cope if there was no weight limit or it dropped to five kilos…? 

“Realistically, if they dropped the weight by 300 grams, I would say that would be sufficient to keep the strength of the bike. I don’t believe a bike at five kilograms is strong enough to be raced or get through any crash without any damage.”


I was just throwing up a random number. 

“I know, but I’m with you… I mean, 300 grams [less], you can easily race a bike that is strong enough and rigid enough. But once you start tipping under six kilograms you sacrifice the strength of the bike. It’s fantastic: you’ve got a superlight bike but I just think – maybe in the future when technology develops some more – yes we can. But you’ve got to go with the times. At the moment, in the region of 6.5kg or 6.4 is sufficient – 300 or 400g is a lot on a road bike.

“I think there should definitely be a weight restriction. As you know, everybody will try and go as light as possible and that could cause havoc, especially in the peloton.

“That’s the thing with the UCI; the sport needs to develop as well, similar to Formula-One… a sport develops and you need to grow with it.

“There’s great technology out there and sometimes the manufacturers want to show what they can do. It’s nice. Otherwise people will just stop being innovative and ride stock standard equipment.”


– By Rob Arnold




Author: rob@ride

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