Is there a rotor in your biking future? Credit:

Disc brakes are the hot new trend for 2012 bikes for the rest of us.  For example, the 2012 Felt Verza City 1 comes standard with disc brakes, front and rear. 

The Verza City 1 – it’s got all the latest gadgetry. Credit Felt.

Many other ’12 models, especially cargo bikes, come with front only disc brakes (your stopping power is in the front).  And for the first time, Surly is offering its venerable Long Haul Trucker with disc brakes – the Disc Trucker.

A look at the Disc Trucker’s rear rotor. Credit: Surly.

Of course, disc brakes have been around for awhile now on mountain bikes.  But for transportation bikes, this is something new.  In the midst of this change, Tyler at Bike Radar has raised some important questions, one of which is whether the trend toward disc brakes is driven by consumer demand or actual performance gain.  Interestingly, in introducing the Disc Trucker, Surly said it was responding to consumer demand, and said nothing about improved performance over rim brakes.

Here are a few reasons why, even though you’ve been getting along just fine all these years with ordinary rim brakes, you might want to consider a bike with disc brakes:

1. You ride in a place with a wet climate. Ordinary rim brakes don’t work as well when wet.

2. You ride in a place with hilly terrain. Disc brakes should help you stop better on a steep descent. “Should” is the key word. More on that in a moment.

3. You ride quite a bit off-road.  Mud and dirt can come between your rims and brakepads and diminish caliper brake performance.

4. You will be carrying heavy load and could use help bringing your fully-loaded rig to a halt. This is why we’ve been seeing front disc brakes on 2012 cargo bikes.

OK, but what about safety? That brings us back to Tyler at Bike Radar, whose disc brakes failed on a steep descent (scratch off reason #2, above?).  The first thing you’ll see when you click the link in the next sentence is a photo of Tyler lying in a ditch with 5 broken ribs.  So…  Read Bike Radar first.  Then decide if disc brakes are for you.

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  1. Tom


    On a touring bike I would be concerned about being able to fix the brakes in the field.I thought this is why most touring bikes don't have disks.

    Two useful features ofdisk brakes (or roller/drum brakes)
    1.) You can fit really fat tires on your bike b/c you don't have to worry about making room for the brakes

    2.)If you bend a wheel it doesn't impact the brakes.You can be a little more lax with maintenance on your city bike if you have roller or disk brakes.

  2. Freewheel


    Tom, I think the maintenance issue is a big one, and not just for going on tour. I like cantilever brakes because they're easy to maintain and adjust, and they allow for wide tires and fenders.

  3. Bob B


    I live in the Pacific Northwest. Discs are okay. I wish more US bikes would come outfitted with Shimano rollers or Sturmey drums.

  4. Anonymous


    Tyler from BikeRumor was riding prototype hydraulic road brakes and was (he willingly admits) riding them incorrectly (holding down the levers for an extended period of time, boiling the hydraulic fluid) Most disc brakes for commuter or urban applications are still cable actuated, eliminating this problem.

    Brakes are brakes. If you use them correctly, they will just slow you down.

  5. Anonymous


    one other point to make is that with disk brakes you'll now need more maintenance like hydraulic oil and better brake pads.

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