Column: Disc Brakes For The Win

As time goes by, I think we’ve all experienced to some degree how things become outdated. These days things are replaced by newer, better, and even safer versions at a rapid rate. What’s new today might be old in just a year from now. Cycling is not immune to this as over the years helmets have gotten lighter, lights have gotten brighter, and a few key components have been upgraded to reflect the need for safety. 

However, for more than a century, calliper brakes were the norm on bikes. You pull a lever by hand, and a cable is pulled, and it squeezes rubber blocks onto the rim of your wheel to slow you down. These are still very widely used, even by professional teams in races like the Tour De France. However, these brakes have always had a great weakness: Water. When the brake pads get wet, it reduces the available friction, and it becomes much harder to slow down, or even stop at a safe distance.

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Some years ago, mountain bikes took a cue from motorcycles and started to use disc brakes. These are the same brakes used on your vehicle. And for a good reason. The stopping power is miles above rim brakes. Also, the construction of disc brakes makes them much more reliable in all weather types, and it’s been proven that disc brakes will always stop faster, and even smoother than rim brakes. These are now starting to be fit on every type of bike.

When the weather starts to get wet, and the daylight gets shorter, stopping quickly and safely is more important than ever. My friend was recently involved in an accident while riding on a reasonably dry day by UBC, but then there was a sudden downpour which instantly made for a dangerous braking situation. He was riding down a hill at the time, and a truck turned in front of him. On a dry day, he would have just been able to stop in time. With disc brakes, he would have stopped with room to spare. With his now wet rim brakes, he hit the side of the truck, fell off his bike and the truck rolled over his bike. If things had been just a little different, his legs or feet could have been going under those wheels too.

Bike shops are always happy to let you test ride a bike. If you’ve never used disc brakes on a bike, I recommend trying them at a bike shop. I’ve switched to disc brakes myself over the past year and can’t recommend them enough. They truly are safer. You will see and feel the difference, and it will increase your chances of getting home safely, which is what we all want.

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