Marcel Kittel’s success on a disc brake bike at the Dubai Tour sparked curiosity, debate and some doubts in the peloton this week. Most riders now believe disc brakes offer excellent braking, but the debate regarding if they are really needed continues unabated, with several issues still to be resolved.
Kittel won stage 1 and stage 2 at the Dubai Tour riding a custom-coloured Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS disc. With Friday’s queen stage to Hatta Dam cancelled due to high winds, Kittle is now favourite to win the Dubai Tour for a second year and could also win Saturday’s final sprint stage. Kittel rarely needed to touch the brakes on the flat and dry stages he won, but he is convinced disc brakes offer an improvement on rim brakes. He is the only rider using disc brakes in the Dubai Tour.
"What I can say from all the training sessions I did already in training camps now is that it's a very strong improvement," Kittel said.
Tom Boonen also used and won a sprint in the Vuelta a San Juan on a disc brake bike, with Quick-Step Floors and Specialized keen to promote the new braking technology in the peloton.
However, other teams and riders are not as keen. Some teams are expected to use disc brakes for the spring Classics but others may avoid testing disc brakes throughout the whole test phase instigated by the UCI.
Elia Viviani told Cyclingnews that Team Sky currently have no immediate plans to switch to a disc brake equipped Pinarello.
"Everyone seems happy to use disc brakes, but perhaps we should wait to see what happens when there are the first crashes. The first problem emerged at last year’s Paris-Roubaix when about 30 riders were using disc brakes," Viviani pointed out.
"For sure we’ve got to get used to them because they’ll be used more and more going forward," Viviani said. "Disc brake are definitely an improvement on rim brakes, but we’ve got to see if we really need them and also find the right compromise between safety and the improvement in braking. For example, the changes they’ve made to the discs by flattening the edges is a good idea. We’ll see what happens going forward and how the UCI rules evolve."
Bennati tested Campagnolo disc brakes but concerns remain
Daniele Bennati (Movistar) revealed to Cyclingnews that he tested the Campagnolo prototype disc brakes for a spell while training at home over the winter. He likes them but has concerns about a mixed peloton of riders on discs and others without them. Campagnolo is still to present and put on sale its final disc brake design.
"I’ve tried disc brakes on a bike at home for 20 days and I’ll be sincere, they do work really well. But let's be honest, we’ve never really had any major problems slowing down with rim brakes. You can’t say disc brakes works better then rim brakes because they’re two different things,” Bennati explained Cyclingnews, carefully considering his thoughts.
"I’ve got a lot of respect for the riders who have accepted to use them during this trial year," he said. "It’s right that Boonen and Kittel test them in the early season races, because if you don’t try them, you don’t know if and how they work. However, I think it would have been better if either everybody or nobody uses them. Discs allow you to brake much later before a corner and so there could be a danger due to the different braking times of riders. It’s also not easy to switch between and have the same feel for the brakes."
Bennati's biggest doubt concerns bike changes and wheel changes after punctures, especially in the major Classics, when punctures are far more frequent. He suspects the time lost due to changing a disc brake wheel with a thru-axel could outweigh any braking advantages.
"The only issues I can see are punctures and bike changes. In the major Belgian Classics you often puncture more than once," Bennati pointed out.
"But there’s only room for eight spare bikes on the roof of the team car, and so we can’t have two bikes for each rider. If you need to change a wheel, it takes a lot more time than a traditional wheel. I’m curious to see the time needed to change a wheel in a major race and how that impacts a rider’s race and results."
Matt Brammeier (Aqua Blue Sport) has often put himself on the front line to defend rider safety and unity. He took to Twitter when Tom Boonen became the first ever to win a men’s professional races using disc brakes, writing: “What we asked for... . Rounded rotors . Covers . Consistency in the Peleton What we got... nada.”
He confirmed his view to Cyclingnews.
"I’m all for disc brakes. I think they’re better. It’s a big innovation. I’d be happy to use them whenever they’re available for me,” Brammeier
"It’s more about the principal and the decision-making process. I think things are going in the right direction, but it’s like the issues with the race radio a few years back; it’s being forced on us. As riders were trying to give our opinions and thoughts, we want to be listened to and be part of the process.
"Things aren’t very clear about the trial as far as I’m concerned. We were all expecting the first bikes to have rounded rotors and to have (protective) covers. The first ones that have been used aren’t the rounded ones that were promised to us. I think they’re going to be introduced, but when, we don’t know. It’s something that is going to rolled out in the next few weeks, I hope."