When going fast, it seems self evident that one would need a safe, reliable means by which to slow down and come to a stop.
No Formula One race car driver would ever consider taking to the track without good brakes, right, and yet this is a regular practice for time trial cyclists and triathletes whose bikes are often equipped with questionable braking systems. If what you do entails going fast, it only stands to reason that you should have a reliable mechanism for controlling your speed and stopping when you need to.
This is exactly why disc brakes matter. When riding a bike that is designed to maximize speed, the last thing you need to consider is whether your brakes are going to do the job you expect when you pull the levers. Rim brake technology hasn’t improved appreciably in generations, and yet disc brakes have evolved quickly in the last ten years to deliver indisputable performance across all conditions.
The debate was laid to rest years ago in the mountain bike world. The early doubters said rim brakes were lighter, they had enough power, and so on. Looking at performance driven mountain bikes today however, you will see nothing but disc brakes. Why?...Because they simply work way better than the technology they replaced and any negatives are far outweighed by the safety and performance benefits gained. Disc brakes offer superior modulation and way more predictable performance than any rim brake. That said, no one at this point would even consider switching back to rim calipers on mountain bikes.
The debate is still ongoing in professional road racing, but this is primarily a function of UCI politics and on course logistics rather than addressing the performance of the brakes themselves. The massive task of aligning equipment suppliers, teams and neutral support has slowed the ultimate adoption of disc brakes in the pro peloton, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. And moreover, the consumer road market, which isn’t beholden to the UCI, is already on the march as more and more people switch to better performing disc brakes when purchasing new bikes.
Triathlon is historically a sport in which equipment designers and athletes have challenged preconceived notions with some radical concepts. It’s certainly a sport that has pushed the development of aerodynamic frames, in part because there are no UCI imposed restrictions. As evidence, we can look at some of the new ‘Superbikes’ launched this year that depart entirely from a traditional double-diamond design, and just as compelling as their aerodynamic forms is their integration of disc brakes.
The gauntlet has been thrown down and it is all but certain that more triathlon frame manufacturers will take up the challenge of incorporating disc brakes into their offerings. It’s part of triathlon’s ethos to continue questioning the norm and always to seek improvements where they can be found. The gains in braking performance and overall rider safety are things that cannot be ignored, and they will make disc brakes the next big revolution in triathlon technology.