The Best Upgrade for Aluminum Gravel Bike is the ATR
Outside Magazine upgraded the wheels of a Diamondback Haanjo Trail to Reynolds ATRs dur...
The humble road brake caliper has been with us for generations and save for the occasional modest update, it has gone largely unchanged over the years. This stalwart component was introduced back in the days of steel bikes and has continued performing its primary task right through into the carbon era.
As bikes have changed, however, so has the form of the simple rim brake caliper. Carbon fiber manufacturing methods have allowed designers and engineers to create shapes never before imaginable. Some of this is done with strength and ride quality in mind, but more and more, carbon’s amazing adaptability is being utilized to create more aerodynamically efficient bicycles. It is this evolution that has forced changes to rim brakes.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the sport of triathlon. With its well-earned reputation for early adoption of new, ground-breaking technologies, any given triathlon race can serve as a showcase of this aerodynamic evolution. A tour through the transition zone will reveal amazing bikes displaying any number of aerodynamic features and fit options. They are all meant to shave drag from the bike-rider system, helping the racer go faster and more efficiently than their competitors, and certainly faster than they themselves would ride a regular road bike.
Some of these speed-enhancing designs have changed the nature of the seemingly ageless rim brake caliper. In seeking incremental aerodynamic gains, designers started repositioning brakes out of the wind. Finding space for calipers while at the same time seeking to optimize frame and fork shapes necessitated changes to the calipers themselves due to space restrictions, or redesigning the brakes altogether. This was common practice as triathlon bikes continued evolving, and in many instances lead to proprietary calipers made to fit specific frames.
All this was done in the name of gaining additional speed, but in the process something unintentional happened, something arguably counter productive to overall performance. By prioritizing aerodynamic optimization, every effort was made to limit the aerodynamic liability of brakes, and ensuring that they work well or being easy to set up and service was relegated to a lower position on a list of design objectives. The job brakes are meant to do, namely slow and stop a bike safely, was put in jeopardy in the race for more speed.
The emergence of disc brakes in triathlon this year is a game changer and will effectively mark the next tick on the sport’s timeline. The safety and reliability gained by moving to disc brakes should be a no-brainer even for the casual observer, but the advantages go beyond this. While some express reservations over the aerodynamic attributes of disc brake equipped bikes, they actually give designers greater latitude to accomplish their goal of creating more aerodynamic machines.
On no part of the bike is this more true than the wheels. As the aero carbon wheel wars continue amongst manufacturers, the removal of the brake track from the rims circumvents one of the largest obstacles remaining in seeking to aerodynamically optimize rim shapes. It will change the conversation in the next phase of wheel development and will also help provide aerodynamic benefits that erase any added drag incurred by disc rotors and calipers. Preliminary testing already shows parity between current rim and disc systems, and the future improvement in rims will almost undoubtedly tip the balance in favor of discs in the coming years. So as we look to the future of braking systems on triathlon bikes, the trend will soon become evident. Gone is the era of manufacturers spending inordinate amounts of time and money trying to develop aerodynamic brakes that don’t work well. Instead what we’ll see is the move to disc brakes that both work and beg designers to do what they do best– innovate fast bikes.
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.
Reynolds Cycling believes in craftsmanship and building nothing but the finest quality wheels. The process of creating a new wheel set starts at our facility in Sandy, Utah, where our team defines the goals for every project before any design work takes place. Only with clear direction do we set forth on the journey to deliver you, our valued customer, with durable, lightweight carbon fiber wheels that you will enjoy for years to come.
Once we have identified the goals for any given wheel, our group of aerospace engineers sets out to define the optimal rim dimensions and carbon layup to support the objectives of weight, durability, aerodynamics, stiffness and ride comfort. Only after designs have endured all scrutiny in computational software do we set about opening the first mold to build the perfect rim for the ultimate wheel.
When the molds have been meticulously machined and finished in our own facility in Utah, the next stage of the process begins. Our hand picked, and in-house resin impregnated carbon fiber from Mitsubishi, Japan is laid out and painstakingly cut according to the layup schedules defined by our engineers. Special care is taken to ensure that every last piece of fiber is correctly oriented and applied by hand into the mold utilizing our proprietary process before curing. The resulting rim that comes out of the mold fulfills all the initial usage guidelines, requires little finish sanding and is ready to be laced into a full wheel.
The wheel assembly process is the final step and equally important in producing the premium quality wheels for which Reynolds is known. In the case of our RZR wheels, all the carbon components including hub shell, aero spokes and finished rims are mated by our team of trained builders to exacting specifications. Even our steel-spoke wheels our tensioned by hand to ensure that the wheels that bear the Reynolds name are true to within .02 mm and that they will provide excellent durability and an unmatched ride.
Every wheel that is boxed and shipped from Reynolds stands up to our rigorous standards of design, engineering, durability and ride quality. We stake our reputation on it, and trust that you will enjoy the ride. Gearjunkie.com toured the Reynolds’ factory recently to see just how the best carbon wheels on the planet are made. Check it out! You'll get an exclusive look at the original pizza oven that was used to bake Reynolds wheels in the early days, too.