Disc Brakes for Road Touring

Feb 6, 2010

You can find disc brakes standard on just about any mountain bike, but slowly, some stock touring bikes are experimenting with disc brakes on a few models. The Jamis Aurora Elite, Kona Sutra, GT Peace Tour are a few companies that are starting to stock touring bikes with disc brakes.

Why should someone convert from cantilever brakes to disc brakes? That's always a difficult question, largely because there are about as many pros for disc brakes as there are cons. In the end, it comes down to rider preference. Here are a few pros, cons, and trade-offs that may help you decide for yourself whether or not disc brakes are right for you.

Pros:

1. Braking power is improved in wet conditions.

2. Braking is unaffected when your wheel is out of true.

3. Better mechanical advantage, so less effort is involved in braking.

Cons:

1. Can complicate installation of racks and fenders.

2. Disc rotors need to be carefully packed when in transit.

3. Replacement parts can be harder to come by, although this is becoming less and less true every year.

Trade-offs:

1. Disc brakes will put an asymmetrical force on your spokes, which can cause wheel fatigue, however, rim brakes can also fatigue a wheel by wearing at the rim.

2. Disc brakes can lock up when they overheat, while rim brakes can blow the tire off the rim when overheated. In either case, it takes a long extended period of braking at high speeds to overheat a wheel.

If you head out looking for disc brakes, be sure to ask for mechanical disc brakes. They use a cable just like your rim brakes. Hydraulic brakes work incredibly well, but as far as maintaining them in the field, they can be very difficult. I have had good luck with Avid's BB5 and BB7 mechanical disc brakes, which also seem to be the most readily available at bike shops.

Photo by Josh Tack.

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TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.

Comments

Sara Huston

What about fork choice? Are disc brake ready forks still somewhat limited, and any drawbacks to these?

February 6, 2010, 3:32 PM
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Josh, Gear Reviews

Hi Sara,

The availability of disc brake ready forks are steadily increasing. They may not be stocked in most shops, but they are an easy item to order in.

One thing to pay attention to when ordering a disc brake compatible fork is to find one that won't flex a great deal. Disc brakes put a little more stress on the fork, so try and look for a steel fork with a small amount of rake (not curved a great deal at the bottom of the fork).

February 8, 2010, 3:59 PM
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