Disc brakes will make their reappearance in the professional road peloton in 2017, with the UCI set to begin a second trial period with modifications designed to address the safety concerns that led to the halting of the original introduction.
The UCI is yet to officially announce the new trial, but Cyclingnews understands it will begin at the start of the 2017 season with new discs that are 'rounded'– or blunted – to mitigate the danger of the sharp spinning edges, which some have described as 'blades'. There are also plans for a protective casing for the discs, which could protect against burns of the kind Orica-BikeExchange rider Sam Bewley complained about on Twitter recently.
The UCI originally trialled disc brakes in road racing at the end of the 2015 season, and allowed widespread use in 2016, but they were abruptly re-banned after Fran Ventoso suffered a deep gash to his leg at Paris-Roubaix in April.
Since then, negotiations have been taking place between the UCI, the Cyclistes Professionels Associés (CPA), which is the riders' association, and the Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP), which represents pro teams and called for the ban after the Ventoso injury.
While the associations have expressed reservations over the use of disc brakes, the UCI is under intense pressure from a cycling manufacturing industry hungry for progress and – as key sponsors of many pro teams – with not a little influence.
Fruitful talks took place in Bern on the second rest-day of the Tour de France this July, where the UCI's technical manager Mark Barfield showed off a prototype of the new, rounded disc. A prototype of the protective housing should be ready in the coming weeks. In August, an independent study commissioned by the UCI was made available to the sport's stakeholders, detailing the safety improvements of the proposed system, and there were further discussions in Milan on the eve of Il Lombardia at the end of September.
One condition of the new trial, in addition to the new safety features, will be a working group that will see representatives of the UCI, AIGCP, and CPA come together on a monthly basis to discuss how the trial is progressing and how suitable the new discs are.
"We are happy to give this another try," AIGCP director Javier Barrio told Cyclingnews, saying the association was convinced during the summer.
"We saw the independent study, and there was a reaction, a commitment, from the industry, and with the monitoring process on top, we were satisfied."
The disc brakes issue has been a divisive one, with some riders defending their use and some teams using them, while others have spoken about about the dangers, and also the needlessness of the discs given the effectiveness of current caliper brakes.
The CPA represents opinions on both sides of the divide but told Cyclingnews that the 'majority' of pros have been against them.
The association has been critical of the UCI in the past over this issue, saying the governing body "clearly wanted to continue the planned tests [in 2015] without taking into account the CPA remarks and despite the numerous red flags". This time, however, they are satisfied with the planned 2017 trial under the proposed conditions, and are pleased with the UCI's recent levels of communication and engagement.
"We talked to many people – we were very concerned about the use of disc brakes. We know someone very knowledgeable who is very critical, and we asked the UCI to listen to the concerns, and they said 'yes, we will'," a CPA spokesperson said on Friday.
"We are happy that the UCI is now listening to us."
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