Inside the Tour : What caused the crashes?

Posted: July 14, 2011 in 2011, General

Inside the Tour with John Wilcockson: What caused the crashes?.

This article has some interesting insights into the reason for all the crashes this year with input from riders and management alike but…hidden away near the bottom they raise an interesting question that could be the thin end of a vary large wedge as far as road bike design and or configuration is concerned. Disc brakes… why don’t you see them on road bikes?

The UCI have allowed the introduction of disc brakes on CX bikes but have resisted the acceptance of this technology on road bikes. As a mountain biker, I love disc brakes, they are predictable, they save on rim wear and they (largely) work in the wet. In the days of V Brakes (and before) I always had a problem… I was frequently unable to stop. Brakes would be hauled on, brake pads would grip the rim in a vice like manner yet the bike and I would glide serenely on with barely a mile per hour being scrubbed off my speed. I tried different brakes, different compounds and even different rims to no avail. My first set of (Formula) disc brakes changed all that and I was sold. Braking off road is now as predictable as Cameron making a policy ‘U Turn’ and I love it.

So how would it apply to road bikes? The braking power on tap is awesome; there is little doubt that a disc brake could lock up a road bike’s wheels but what then? The contact patch on a road tyre is considerably smaller than on a mountain bike, the surface (tarmac not mud) is less conducive to stopping in a rush and in damp or wet conditions the result would surely be a road full of racing snakes wiggling all over the place. I have raised this question with lots of people, roadies, mtb riders and riders who function at a high standard in both camps. In a totally non scientific piece of analysis it is fair to say that the consistent answer is that disc brakes would be unlikely to make a lot of difference, particularly in a racing environment.

One option would be to have smaller discs, to reduce the braking forces or increase modulation in order to moderate the available power but if you do that, aren’t you missing the point of disc brakes altogether? As long as road racers use slick tyres, I believe cantilever brakes will be more than adequate. The limiting factor seems to be road grime; the prevalence of diesel and petrol deposits on the roads does inhibit braking control so maybe someone ought to find a way to overcome that as an issue, or maybe run road races on closed or pre prepared surfaces just in case it rains… but that would be just silly.

As may of the riders in this years Tour have said, ‘it’s just racing’.

If we see the introduction of disc brakes in the next few years, and I doubt we will, remember – you saw it here first, well after lots of other guys had written about it and talked about it but in these days of media meltdown, who is going to worry about one little factual inaccuracy?

  1. PeterH says:

    Maybe they just need to slow the riders down. Insist on weight handicaps or wider (25mm?) tyres? Although reading that analysis it seems it’s not so much about the speed they’re doing – more that the roads just aren’t wide enough. So they should reduce team size?

  2. clemo says:

    “smaller discs,… increase modulation … if you do that, aren’t you missing the point of disc brakes altogether?”
    – IMHO the main benefit of disc brakes is consistency in all conditions. Modulation is about increasing the operational range of the brake lever and doesn’t affect overall power.

    • slowjo61 says:

      The thing is, you can tune or detune disc brakes as much as you like but the limiting factor is the grip the tyre has on the road. Canti brakes are strong enough to lock your wheels out pretty much all of the time and then you just skid. I suppose you could always build in ABS 😉

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