Disc Brakes for Road Touring

February 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Craig April 14, 2016, 1:22 PM

Touring bike: Specialized tri-cross Disc (2013 i think)

Wheels: Velocity Dyad 32 spoke front ,36 spoke rear, DT Swiss Butted spokes, Shimano XT disc hubs

The reason for going for a disc brake bike for touring was a trip that i took with some friends in 2013. one friend owns a Cannondale T2000 that he bought sometime in 2004. It had Shimano STI 9 speed shifters and cantilever brakes. when the brakes are set, the pads ride maybe a couple of millimeters off of the rim due to the mechanical advantage that is designed into the STI brake levers. During the ride he started falling behind alot and we could not figure out why because he rides to work all year long and for him to fall behind caused us to worry. we arrived at our trip destination on day 2. my friend was making adjustments to his bike and he spun the rear wheel and it came to an abrupt stop. as it turns out his rear wheel was out of true and because the brake pads had to be so close to the rim, they were dragging in the spot out of true.

as for a front lowrider rack, I had to make a brace to fit near the mechanical disc caliper to force the front bag to stand off on that side to prevent interference with the caliper mechanism. And this rack was supposed to be compatible with disc brake forks.

As the article sites, I went with a disc brake bike to manage wheel true issues that come from loaded touring

Josh, Gear Reviews February 8, 2010, 3:59 PM

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).

Sara Huston February 6, 2010, 3:32 PM

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

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