Take me for instance. I don't care if you wear a helmet or not, nor do I care if you use disc brakes on your road bike or not. On the other hand you have Outside magazine, who are actually telling people to throw their rim brakes in the trash:
(Via a reader. Thanks reader!)
Sure looks like him--except Bret somehow manages to defy time and space even with rim brakes.
Each time I write about the proliferation and advantages of disc brakes on road bikes, a litany of naysayers parry. Common criticisms: disc brakes are unreliable and finicky, heavier than rim varieties, hinder aerodynamics, fade because of overheating, prevent fast wheel changes, and are dangerous when ridden together with rim brake–equipped bikes because of the differences in cornering speeds and stopping times. Most of these arguments are refutable.
Yeah yeah yeah. Feather your dick breaks there, Aaron. Let's talk about that headline first.
As someone who wades hip-deep in bicycle reviews day after day I have developed a high tolerance for bullshit over the years, but telling people to "throw your rim brakes in the trash" is downright offensive. For many of us, riding bikes is one of our greatest pleasures in life, and the shit you need in order to do it ain't free. Even I, a world famous semi-professional bike blogger, must proffer legal tender in exchange for consumables such as tires, tubes, cables, and sundries*. Keeping my bikes running well is a commitment of both time and money, and I value every minute of cycling time I'm able to fit in between my many responsibilities. Indeed, I don't just value these minutes, I cherish them. Furthermore, I'm grateful for all the bike stuff I have, and I make sure to get as much use out of it as possible.
*[What's a sundry? Do I need one? How much do they weigh? Do they come in crabon?"--Some Fred somewhere, probably.]
Meanwhile, here comes some guy who reviews bikes for a glossy magazine you flip through at the dentist to tell me I need to "throw my rim brakes in the trash." Really? Which rim brakes? The ones that have been stopping me predictably for years? The ones that require virtually no maintenance safe for the odd two-minute pad change and occasional cable replacement? The ones I can visually inspect for pad wear at a glance? The ones I can adjust with the flick of a finger while riding? The ones that let me change my wheels in seconds before heading out for a ride? The ones that have never, ever failed me? Those rim brakes? You want me to throw them in the trash?
And what happens when I do throw them in the trash? I need a whole new bike, don't I? Not only that, but pretty much all the spare parts I've accumulated over the years are also useless, aren't they? Wow, that's a big and expensive commitment!
But you know what? I'm a person who cherishes his riding experience, and maybe that initial outlay of time and money (thousands of dollars at least) will be worth it. After all, this guy writes for an established magazine that publishes the work of respected authors with integrity whose work means a lot to me. He must know what he's talking about when he tells me to throw what basically amounts to my entire bike in the trash. So maybe I'll hear him out:
The other common argument I hear against discs is that they are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist—rim brakes work fine. (Having descended countless wet mountain roads on carbon wheels with rim brakes, where stopping power all but disappears, I beg to differ.) But rather than simply continue to rail on the subject, this year I decided to put the debate to our test team in Sedona, Arizona, by offering up two comparably spec’d bikes—one disc, the other rim—for comparative feedback.
Ah-ha! There's the problem: "wet mountain roads on carbon wheels." Why are you using carbon wheels? Nobody who is not a sponsored full-time professional bike racer should use carbon wheels. Yes, of course they brake poorly in the wet, and disc brakes on road bikes are mostly a solution to the problem of using carbon wheels. Professional athletes must deal with this problem because they must use bleeding-edge equipment in pursuit of those "marginal gains." (Or, more accurately, to distract from what's really increasing their performance.) The rest of us do not, and if we do anyway we're simply spending extra money for absolutely no reason.
Hey, I readily admit there are reasons to use disc brakes, even on a road bike. Maybe you want that extra clearance. Maybe you're a "modulation queen" who simply can't live knowing that there's another system out there that feels a little bit nicer. Maybe you ride in horrendous weather conditions day in and day out and go through rims like the rest of us go through brake pads. Or maybe you just think they're nifty.
I totally get it.
But while there are reasons to use disc brakes on your road bike (not "throw your rim brakes in the trash" reasons, but sure, reasons), there is not a single valid reason to use carbon wheels. Not one! Aluminum rims are fantastic regardless of which braking system you use. If you ding them you can often bend them right back into shape. They last a long time. They're cheap. They're light. And if you do use aluminum rims and disc brakes your rims will last approximately until the end of time.
On the other hand, carbon rims are...what, lighter? You think that makes a difference? Firstly, you need discs to make them stop predictably so there's a chunk of your weight savings right there. Secondly, you're overweight and you suck, and even if you weren't and you didn't (but let's be honest, you are and you do) that weight difference doesn't mean shit.
Oh, wait, I forgot: you can also make carbon rims into the shape of a whale's scranus or something, so there is that.
What can I say? If that's a structural property you value then you're beyond saving.
Still, as a cyclist looking for the best riding experience I can get my scranus on I'm willing to hear this guy out to the end of his article It's a bold claim after all, and there's still time for him to back it up. (Also the dental hygienist isn't ready for me yet, and the only other magazine is about golf.) So let's hear his rigorous testing protocol:
On one side, we had the Trek Domane SLR 8. Since the new Dura Ace 9100 wasn’t available at test time, this is not a stock build, but a one-off we received earlier this year. It’s equipped with Dura Ace 9000 parts (including rim brakes), upgraded Bontrager carbon Aeolus 3 clinchers, and stock 28-millimeter Bontrager tires. The bike weighed a feathery 15.3 pounds.
On the other side was a stock Trek Domane SLR 7 Disc, which comes with Shimano Ultegra Di2 components, Shimano RS805 hydraulic flat-mount brakes (which were the company’s top model prior to the release of the new Dura Ace 9120 and 9170 models), alloy wheels, and 32-millimeter Bontrager tires. It weigher more than two pounds heavier at 17.6 pounds.
Okay, so the rim brake bike has the carbon wheels and the disc brake bike has alloy wheels. Isn't that backwards? Didn't he already establish carbon wheels don't stop well with rim brakes? OK, here's an idea: switch the wheels. Oh yeah, you can't! The wheels aren't compatible. So let's proceed with a test that's already doomed to failure:
Despite the SLR 8’s clear weight advantage, testers unanimously preferred the SLR 7. “They are both comfortable, quick, and super fun to ride,” one tester said. “But I feel more confident on the disc version.” Testers found the modulation on the discs more nuanced and subtle, with just a slight touch of the brake providing microadjustments, while the rim breaks took much more effort and were less predictable. Most people commented on how much less hand pressure it took to stop with the discs than the rim variety. Several testers even swore that disc brakes made them faster, saying they could hold speed longer into a bend on the SLR 7 because the brakes’ responsiveness and finesse allowed them to slow later, which meant coming out of the turn quicker.
"Clear weight advantage?" The "heavier" bike is still sub-18lbs. Also, I've ridden disc brakes on the road and yes, they do feel nice. Still, the rim brake bike has those carbon wheels. Did you try it with different wheels? Of course you didn't. But you did spell brakes "breaks" at least once, so there's that.
And let's talk about that perception of "confidence." Sure, the discs might have contributed to that. But what about tire size? The rim brake bike had 28s, the disc brake bike had 32s. That's a significant difference, and certainly one that would affect your perception of "confidence." (And I'm not even going to ask #whatpressureyourunning.) For fuck's sake, this "test" has more holes in it than my knee warmers!
But let's press on:
Even though all testing was in a big group, we had no collisions or accidents due to the mix of rim and disc brakes. You simply learn how each performs and adjust your riding accordingly.
Miraculous. A bunch of magazine Freds managed to ride in a group and not crash. Also, I'm shocked that each type of brake does have its differences in feel yet ultimately performs well--even rim brakes on carbon wheels. Too bad I already threw my rim brakes in the trash.
As for durability, the discs have held up fine for four months of testing without a bleed or an adjustment. We also had zero days of inclement weather, which I imagine would have amplified the preferences for the SLR 7 given that the carbon rims on the SLR 8 feel far less confident in the rain. (A fact I discovered subsequent to the test.)
I should damn well hope the discs held up for four months. Only a magazine reviewer would find this worth mentioning. Also, good thing you had those discs so you could experience their superior performance in the foul weather you never experienced. Meanwhile, given that the SLR8 feels less confident in the rain due to those carbon rims, are you ever going to try it with different rims?
Of course not.
While this isn’t a scientific inquiry, it did convince me again of disc brakes’ advantages. They won over our group of testers, too. Even the hardcore road racers in the group preferred discs. On the day we took on Mingus Mountain, a 4,000-foot hill climb west of Sedona, there was a morning scramble for bikes with disc brakes. The only models that weren’t chosen were rim varieties. “A long, winding descent like that? You definitely want disc brakes,” said one avid road racer and tester. And I heard no reports of brake fade on that long descent.
You're damn right it isn't scientific. It's a heap of anecdotes from a bunch of maga-bros, which I guess is pretty much the definition of Outside magazine.
As for that rim brake bike?
That’s not to say that the SLR 8 is a bad bike. I rode it for the better part of six months as my primary road machine, and it is absolutely fantastic. I’m sure I would have made easy work of the Mingus descent on it. As critics say, rim brakes work fine, especially the high-end versions on this model. Discs simply work better.
It was your primary bike for almost six months, which is pretty much an eternity by maga-bro standards? It is "absolutely fantastic?" Well why the hell are you telling people to throw their rim brakes in the trash then? I had a really great meal at a very expensive restaurant not too long ago and you don't hear me telling people to throw away the contents of their refrigerators.
Do I think disc brakes work well? Yes. Do I think eventually most performance bikes will have them? Yes. Do I acknowledge that one day even I will probably have a road bike with disc brakes? Yes. Do I enjoy posing rhetorical questions? Emphatically so.
But come on, this review was even dumber than that New York Times story about the daddies in Montclair who had to look after their own kids.
We should demand an apology from Outside.