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Disc brakes for road bikes has the potential to make millions of high-end bikes obsolete, argues Carlton Reid. But is over-reliance on enthusiasts all that healthy?

“DESPITE THE millions of dollars pumped into cycling advocacy over the years we’re still selling roughly the same bikes we were 15 years ago. Sure, the market split of types of bikes sold is all mixed up but the all-market numbers are little changed.” That was an observation from a long-in-the-tooth

trade commentator, speaking to me at breakfast before the first day of the Taipei Cycle show. “We’ve built a load of bike paths [in the US], and they

get well used, but how many of the people using them are brand new to cycling? It’s not that much.” A couple of hours later I tweeted a pic of Ernesto

Colnago from the show-floor. He was pointing to a disc brake rotor. On a road bike. This went viral. Some ‘Nag fans’ loved Colnago’s leap of faith, others accused the 80-year Italian of “selling out” and “uglifying” road bikes. On the whole, I think disc brakes on road bikes is a

good thing. Good for safety and good, let’s face it, for the bicycle business. New is better, new is money in the till. As the long-in-the-tooth US commentator had pointed out earlier in the day: we’ve got an enthusiast pool that’s doesn’t grow as much as we’d like. Newcomers to cycling are the cream, but the bread and butter tends to the existing number of keenies. It’s critical to keep selling the next big thing to these keenies. Remember the early days of MTB suspension? Look at the sector now. Relatively quickly, enthusiasts traded in their old stuff for the new stuff. Now, MTBs without suspension are retro, and niche. If the bike industry gets this one right, millions of high-

end road bikes could soon become retro. This is an enticing prospect. Existing frames can’t be retro-fitted with road discs, people will need to buy new frames. Now, this won’t make caliper brake road bikes obsolete overnight but there’s potential for an awful lot of upgrades as MAMILs will feel they need to have the same kit as the pros. And here’s a potential stumbling block. Will pros want to ride with road discs? (Not all CX pros are on discs yet). Some pro road riders will jump at the chance, others will prefer the kit they’re used to. The same

happened when some upstart pros started riding with click-in pedals. Other pros said: “Who needs them? Cleats and toe-straps do the job just fine.” How big is your toe-strap business? For a while road discs will be confined to high-end

machines. Carbon rimmed wheels are poor at dissipating heat, which can cause tyre failure (just ask Joseba Beloki: his tyre blow-out in the 2003 Tour de France wouldn’t have happened if he was riding discs). Phil White of Cervelo has said the smaller rotors on road bikes will be less able to deal with heat and will fade and warp more easily. The Formula engineer I talked to at Taipei Cycle, and who developed the rotors at the request of Colnago, said this was not the case. Nevertheless, there may be many technical issues to

iron out before road discs become a settled category. Perhaps road discs will remain a specialist bit of kit?

Maybe pros will only use them on their bikes for climbing – and descending – mountains? If so, consumer take up will be likely to remain fairly niche, although there’s clearly scope for equipping fast commuter road bikes with discs. But road discs have the potential to be big. All eyes will be on the UCI’s tech innovations department: will road discs be made race legal? There are many companies hoping that they approve.

EDITORIAL: 01992 535646 | ADVERTISING: 01992 535647 | FAX: 01992 535648 Finance Director: Hilary Cole

Executive Editor: Carlton Reid

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Managing Editor: Lisa Carter

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