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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Death To Discs? : UCI Suspends Disc Brakes from Pro Peloton Following Paris-Roubaix Crash UPDATE


It is now official. Disc brakes on your road bike will again make you look like a Fred--an asphalt amateur without the aura of potentially being mistaken for a pro with pro equipment. 

In the wake of the crash during last Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, in which Fran Ventoso from team Movistar suffered a sever tibial laceration in a crash as the alleged result of landing on an exposed disc rotor, the UCI has suspended the use of all disc brakes in future racing pending an investigation. The culprit is said to be a bike from the Italy/Taiwan sponsored Lampre-Merida squad, which brought their Scultura Disc bikes to the cobbles.

It is rare that the hyperbolic premonitions of technological dangers actually come to fruition. I have been a proponent of disc brakes for a very long time, and it is still early in the investigation. 

Disc brakes have been promoted by manufacturers as both an innovation in cycling technology, and as a means to stimulate sales in a sluggish market. Disc brakes can, but not always, offer superior modulation for better stopping power in less than ideal conditions. Moreover, disc brakes can also help drive the sale of carbon wheels, which are notoriously slick in wet, muddy conditions similar to those faced in the Paris-Roubaix

While manufacturers have been bullish on disc brakes, the luddite professional riders have been far more mixed in accepting the use of discs in the pro peloton. 

2012: Cycling News

At German bike brand Canyon, sponsor of professional teams Movistar and Katusha, the brand's team liaison manager, Andreas Walzer had his own, more rider-orientated concerns over RDBs: a longstanding worry over the mixing of disc and rim brake systems in a single peloton. 
"If you start, everybody has to use disc brakes otherwise its very dangerous," he pointed out. "You have two kinds of standard in braking if it's wet and downhill. Imagine what would happen in the downhill in the Tour or Giro?" 
Walzer also voiced concerns about races where RDB-equipped pros mix with young riders and amateurs. 
Currently only Shimano offer a user-ready system, though SRAM is close and Campagnolo should announce details of a system soon. That will partially mitigate concern over all pros having availability – a key concern of Katsanis – but doesn't resolve the thorny issue of the pro/amateur split. 
Carsten Jeppesen, Team Sky's head of technical operations, brought up another potential issue with disc brakes — pile-ups involving hot rotors. 
"The disc gets warm and in crash could you protect the rotor somehow?" Jeppesen said. "You have to look at that because if it's warm and sharp as a knife it's dangerous."
However Jeppesen doesn't believe current reservations about RDBs will hold up the system entirely. "You can't stop moving forward, you can't stop the industry and the fans – that's what they want and it's what we want," Jeppesen concluded.
2014: RKP
I was on a ride recently where I heard a rider saying he’d never ride a road bike with disc brakes because he didn’t want to get sliced up by the rotor in a crash. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that concern. While it’s true that I’ve heard of people cut by rotors, the injuries in the vast majority mountain bike crashes don’t include damage done by a rotor Ginsu-ing its way into flesh. Most crashes simply don’t involve body parts going into the wheels. Consider how often people are injured by chainrings in crashes; they occupy a far more exposed space than rotors do. RKP contributor JP Partland told me he knows a rider—exactly one rider—who lost a finger when it went into the spokes of a spinning wheel during a crash. Let’s call that an exception. Odds are, should you crash in the future, you’re much more likely to lose skin or break a collarbone than suffer a burn or cut due to tangling with a rotor.
2014: VeloNews

Geoff Brown (Garmin-Sharp mechanic): Now we’re already knackered with the front wheels anyways, because of the fork tabs. So it will add a bit more time, whatever, OK, fair enough. But more it’s just what it’ll do to the guys riding the bike, or the guy next to him. I personally have real fears about it. I don’t want to jump out of the car and see a guy with his femoral artery sliced. If there’s 25-30 guys on the floor, there’s not enough medical staff there to deal with the mess. It’s first come, first serve, the guy could bleed out right there.

2015: The Roar
But let’s step back here before we dismiss the idea of disc brakes on the grounds of safety because of the potential of an innocuous looking disc transforming into a ninja throwing star of death. 
A crash in the peloton is rarely a pretty thing when you consider riders only have a millimetre of breathable fabric and a foam esky with a polycarbonate shell on their head for protection. In a crash, there are many different elements that can cause bodily damage, so if we want to get serious about safety perhaps we should eliminate forks, spokes, derailleurs, handle bars, chain rings, other riders, and the road. 
After all that the safety risk posed by brake discs is small beer in comparison.
2015: Cycling Weekly
Against: Philippe Gilbert – pro rider, BMC Racing Team: 
“For me it is a question of safety. I know in cyclo-cross they use disc brakes, but when we crash we can land on 10 bikes. If you crash and land on a disc, which is warm having braked before the crash, it can open you. Then, if you get it in a vein somewhere…
“You will never have every team on discs, but you couldn’t have some with and some without because that would cause crashes. The ones with discs will brake in 10 metres and the ones without 20 metres.”
It will be interesting to see where this investigation leads. Clearly, the brands and manufacturers that have spent fortunes on adapting will be in full damage control mode. This probably means nothing to the amateur cyclist, except a little deflation of the ego if looking "pro" is important,  and will only have an impact if the pro ranks quit using discs at the competitive level for an extended period of time while the amateurs follow the pros (imagine the hit to retailers). Most amateurs don't regularly end up tangling with other cyclists in mass pile-ups. If this decision has an impact on the availability of disc related equipment (which is why I chose not to go disc with my current bike), then there will surely be an impact... maybe it could spur sales as everyone switches back...who knows. 

I rode a set of Shimano mechanical road disc brakes 2007-2011 and I enjoyed them for the varied riding Taiwan has to offer. Now that I am on a well balanced bike, I have never felt going back to rim brakes have ever been a hinderance, even at very...bold...descending speeds. I also don't use composite wheels, so I don't know what I am missing. I can surely see them as valuable on Taiwan's steep, narrow descents.

It will be interesting to see where this leads in the short to medium term as the cycling industry is really looking to invigorate sales in high-end machines. 


The legendary Eddy Merckx prophetically commented on discs two days before the Paris-Roubaix.
“They work for [consumers], but in racing I think they’re too dangerous in crashes,” Merckx said. “If you crash, the brake can be hot, and if you take it in a leg, you can slice a tendon. In mountain bikes and cyclocross, it’s OK. But in a peloton, with 200 riders, I think it’s dangerous.”
Here is a rebuttal from Schooler's Cycling Stuff.

Update 2:

Meanwhile, the manufacturers have adroitly kept their distance from the events of the Paris-Roubaix and the UCI's official response by treating the allegations as a minor political  annoyance in the niche world of professional cycling, far from the realities of cycling enthusiasts. This is probably a very wise course of action from the industry as an anachronous echo of an earlier message:


It seems, for the time being, the bicycle industry will continue business as usual with their plans to integrate disc brakes into a wider range of frames, forks and wheelsets. 

But it doesn't matter so much what happened to Fran Ventoso in the midst of Hell last Sunday. What matters more is what people think happened to Fran Ventoso. If both pros and consumers feel that disc brakes are somehow a legitimate danger, wrongly or not, the invisible hand will remove them from road cycling despite how badly the bicycle industry wants to promote them. 

On social media, one friend observed that the UCI had taken such a hard line on disc brakes, but had done little to nothing in regard to the motorcycles that dog the peloton after a crash between a moto and a rider resulted in the rider's death just a few weeks ago.  

The greatest impact may very well be a UCI that is even more resistant to introducing "new" technologies. We may have to endure another round of bottom bracket standards as a solution in search of a problem to sell bicycles. 

Stay tuned....  

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