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  1. #1
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    Disc vs. Rim brakes... Oh the dilemma!

    Hi everyone,

    After getting all the help I did from all the fine folks on here in my other thread, I've settled on getting a touring bike. Great, right?

    Except now comes the seemingly endless frustration of deciding on a disc brake model or a traditional rim brake.

    The bikes I'm looking at:

    Surly Cross Check
    Surly Long Haul Trucker (standard AND disc versions)
    Kona Sutra
    Salsa Vaya 3
    All City Macho Man (disc version out soon, which I might wait for if I decide for discs)
    Trek 520

    I'm a heavy guy, weighing in at just north of 350lbs. so my main concern really is stopping power with that much weight riding.
    I'm not planning on doing any loaded touring- really will just be riding the bike bare on mainly paved roads (sometimes paved dirt roads, both up and down hill), but under various weather conditions.

    The bike I've been riding for the past few years, a 2005 Norco Wolverine, has a front disc and I immediately "feel" it when I apply the brakes. Kind of like the brakes on a high performance sports car vs. a Toyota or something, for example. That said, I've never had a bike with both classic rim brakes on it so don't really know what to expect.

    I'd appreciate any light that you guys could shed on this matter as I'm still very new to this.

  2. #2
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrkm View Post
    Hi everyone,

    After getting all the help I did from all the fine folks on here in my other thread, I've settled on getting a touring bike. Great, right?

    Except now comes the seemingly endless frustration of deciding on a disc brake model or a traditional rim brake.

    The bikes I'm looking at:

    Surly Cross Check
    Surly Long Haul Trucker (standard AND disc versions)
    Kona Sutra
    Salsa Vaya 3
    All City Macho Man (disc version out soon, which I might wait for if I decide for discs)
    Trek 520

    I'm a heavy guy, weighing in at just north of 350lbs. so my main concern really is stopping power with that much weight riding.
    I'm not planning on doing any loaded touring- really will just be riding the bike bare on mainly paved roads (sometimes paved dirt roads, both up and down hill), but under various weather conditions.

    The bike I've been riding for the past few years, a 2005 Norco Wolverine, has a front disc and I immediately "feel" it when I apply the brakes. Kind of like the brakes on a high performance sports car vs. a Toyota or something, for example. That said, I've never had a bike with both classic rim brakes on it so don't really know what to expect.

    I'd appreciate any light that you guys could shed on this matter as I'm still very new to this.
    I always get in trouble when I say this but a rim brake on a bicycle is a disc brake. It's just has a really large rotor.

    Your weight isn't all that excessive when compared to many touring cyclists. Most touring bike, mine included, come with cantilever brakes and are perfectly adequate to slow down a heavy rider/touring load...even in mountainous terrain. I bomb down any road with any slope to it at all as fast as I can and I've never experienced any kind of failure or fear of failure from my brake system. That includes 50 mph downhills with 300+ lbs of bike and rider on a rain slicked highway.

    I suspect that the reason that you "feel it" when you use the brakes on your Norco is that the brakes are set up like most discs are. The pads are incredibly close to the rotor and the lever pull from off to full on is only a slight movement of the lever and cable. Most rim brakes have been set up (incorrectly) so that the brakes don't engage until half way through the lever pull. This makes the rim brake mushy. You could do the same thing with a disc and get about the same result. I have always had my rim brakes set up so that the wheels are locked when my lever reaches halfway to the handle bars which gives them a feel like what people experience with discs. I have discs and, frankly, don't notice any real difference in braking ability between the systems. But, then, braking a bike is more about ability than the equipment you use.

    You can get hub mounted discs if you like but be prepared to have to make compromises and do a fair bit of macgyvering to get a rack to fit. On many bikes, the caliper is in the way of mounts for racks and fenders. Also, once the racks and fenders are in place, getting to the adjustments for the brakes can be a hassle as well.

    You also have to consider what the rotor offset does to the strength of the wheel. When you mount a disc at the hub on the front wheel, you've converted a strong wheel without dish into a dished wheel which is weaker. With a heavy load, the front wheel can now be prone to spoke breakage like the dished rear wheel. You've also narrowed the distance between the hub flanges on the rear wheel so that the angle from the flange to the wheel is steeper which can further weaken the rear wheel.
    Stuart Black
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  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    I find that hydraulic disc brakes provide a better feedback at the lever when you're getting close to the limits of traction. Mechanical discs and rim brakes seem about the same in this regard. In the rain, I find that disc brakes provide much more consistent stopping than rim brakes. I, personally, haven't had any durability issues with disc-equipped wheels. Then again, I know how to check the spoke tension on my wheels and do so regularly...

    FWIW, my commute and touring bikes are both equipped with Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes. My mountain bike uses Magura Marta hydraulic disc brakes.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Bent Bill's Avatar
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    Disc brakes work better in wet weather conditions
    Far as I know all serious mountain bikes have them
    MTB's are a different application but they are abused to no end and they still work better
    As soon as the sanctioning bodies legalize disc brakes for road racing bikes
    It wont be long before rim brakes go the way of down tube friction shifters
    I have both on several bikes
    and the discs work far better for me
    your mileage may vary
    Last edited by Bent Bill; 06-10-13 at 09:30 PM.

  5. #5
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    My bikes have disc brakes. They're good, they're fine. I have read endless discussions of disc vs rim brakes, and to be honest, I can't see much reason to pick one over the other. They both have advantages and disadvantages. After a while, it becomes a Ford vs Chevy argument.

    I will say that BB7 brakes are a lot easier to work with than BB5, if that helps any. If you're used to working with one kind or the other, that'd be a reason to stick with it. If a bike you like otherwise comes with one or the other, that'd be a good reason to use them.
    "be careful this rando stuff is addictive and dan's the 'pusher'."

  6. #6
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    I have a number of bikes. In order of preference I prefer

    Hydrolic discs - great in all weather and self adjusting. Stop with one finger and minimal pressure.
    V brakes with cool stop salmons. Just about as good as discs and very little difference to mechanical discs
    V brakes with standard pads
    Dual pivot calipers
    single pivot calipers (loath these things!)

  7. #7
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    I recently installed a front disc brake on my mtb commuter. I went with a shimano xt hydraulic based on reviews and because I found it for a good price ($110 for the brake, $50 for the ice-tech rotor). So far I have no complaints. It is lightyears better than the v-brake in the wet. As for stopping power, it is marginally better than my v-brake. There was nothing wrong with the v-brake though, and it performed as well as was required in every situation it was used.

    If it came down to it on a new bike purchase, all things being equal between two bikes, I would opt for the disc. However, I would be more concerned about a bikes fit and ride as well as compatibility for racks/fenders and drivetrain before I worried about the brake type. In the city, with a lot of stop and go, I suppose the disc is nice. But, on longer treks on open road, I don't think I'd notice or really care which brake I was using.

  8. #8
    Creamy pack filling stevemtbr's Avatar
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    On my tandem I have BB7's with Ultegra levers and our combined weight with bike is about 430lbs. The disc work great once they get broke in after about 300 miles of riding. They are easy to set up and maintain. I do like them better than the hydro's on my off road bike mostly the feel at the lever.

  9. #9
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevemtbr View Post
    On my tandem I have BB7's with Ultegra levers and our combined weight with bike is about 430lbs. The disc work great once they get broke in after about 300 miles of riding. They are easy to set up and maintain. I do like them better than the hydro's on my off road bike mostly the feel at the lever.
    I don't buy the "breaking in" thing about hub mounted disc brakes nor that it should take 300 miles (roughly 25 hours) to do so. Nothing else on a bike has that kind of break in period. I do have hub mounted discs on some of my bikes and haven't needed more than a ride down the block and back to "break in" the brakes. Taking that long to get something to work properly isn't breaking the component in but it's a case of you adapting to it.

    By the way, I feel the same way about Brooks saddles. Never had a "break in" period on them either. They worked just fine right out of the box and none of them, despite thousands of hours of use, is any softer than they were coming out of the box.
    Stuart Black
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  10. #10
    Nigel nfmisso's Avatar
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    I am a rim brake guy.

    Discs are heavier; and result in weaker wheels.

    Disc advantages: braking down a very steep hill - no worries about rims overheating (not are real concern for 99.9% of us); lower forces (downhill riders/racers, rest of us not a concern).

    I find linear pull (aka V brake) and dual pivots to be equal.

    We are a 500+lbs team on our T50, with Avid SD 3 linear pull brakes, stock pads, Velocity Dyad rims - never had any issues, or even slightest concerns.
    Nigel
    Mechanical Design Engineer

  11. #11
    aka Phil Jungels Wanderer's Avatar
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    Disc brakes are the wave of the future.

    "Retirement is the best job I ever had!" Me, 2009


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  12. #12
    Senior Member c_m_shooter's Avatar
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    On the road it doesn't matter much. Both can have enough power to stand the bike on it's front wheel, disk will take less efort at the lever to do this. If you ride in the rain a lot, rim brake pads will wear out faster. The disk may be easier to accidentally lock the front wheel in the wet and put you on the ground. On trails over actual mountains disks are the way to go for sure, once forearm pump starts to set in it can be tough to have the hand strength to pull on the brake lever of canti's.
    May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member skilsaw's Avatar
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    Good cross section of touring bikes to choose from.
    My personal choice would be the Surly Long Haul Trucker with the disc brakes.
    I'd choose disc brakes just because I've never had them. Millions of Mtn. bikers can't be all wrong. They've had disc brakes for over 10 years. One of my bikes has cantilever brakes, and the other has V-brakes. No complaints with either.

    When you choose your bike, get it from a local bicycle Store because they will provide free adjustments and a minor tune-up in the first 2 or 3 months. Also pick a bike store that answers your questions and is interested in getting you a good fit on the bike you choose.

    Welcome to the club! I'm a big boy and I'm very happy on a touring bike.
    The one who has the most bikes wins.

  14. #14
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    Thanks for all your input, guys.

    I'm of a similar stance and think both have their place. Coming from a 2005 (when it was popular to "mix") Norco Wolverine, I've been exposed to a bike with both a V-brake and a disc; rear and front, respectively. I mainly brake with the rear and find significantly more power in it. Today I had a tech look at it and establish that the discs on the bike (Hayes IIRC) weren't the best and I'm taking it back tomorrow for a little tune up while I wait for my new bike.

    skilsaw, I just got back from my LBS where I tried out the Disc Trucker and fell in love with it (see my long post in the other thread).

    The particular LHT disc I tried was very new and the discs weren't broken in yet apparently. I say this because I was getting extremely minimal stopping power and at one point had to drag my feet to help it come to a stop. This had/has me very worried, but hopefully after a couple hours they'll be better. Tried a Moonlander with the same BB7's and it was stopping great, so am convinced it's just a matter of break-in time.

    I hope to in the future upgrade the bikes BB7's to hydraulics.

  15. #15
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    In case no one mentions it, hydraulic disc brakes are not compatible with road brake levers designed for cables... There are some new road levers out there designed specifically for hydraulic discs, but I doubt that they're as cheap as the ones designed for cables.

    I've never heard of disc brakes needing a "break in" period more than a squeeze or two. It might be that they weren't set up correctly, or that the rotor (or pads) had some oil contamination.

  16. #16
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    I love the cantis and dual pivots on my road bikes... But the disc brakes on my mountain bikes are light years ahead of those in terms of power and feel. The Hope X4's on my FS MTB would stop my diesel truck--and provides absolutely superb feel at the lever. I can't lie. The Record Delta's on the ol' De Rosa were the most beautiful brakes I've ever laid eyes on, but there has been been significant progress in that area since...
    "I had this baby hand made in Tuscany, from titanium blessed by the pope. It weighs less than a fart, and costs more than a divorce..."

  17. #17
    Senior Member squirtdad's Avatar
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    There are some potential issues with the combination of disc brakes, road bikes, small caliper, and excessive heat

    this link that has caused a lot of discussion about over heating http://www.bikerumor.com/2012/02/14/...ill-they-work/

    interesting in this link manufacturers talk about disc and Shimano does not think for road bikes the rims can be made lighter..... not all mountain bike learnings will translate to road bikes

    my synopsis: There is a potential oveheating leading to no brakes issue with smaller diameter rotors on road bikes in certain conditions. 'simple" answers like bigger rotors start to require design changes due to things like fork and stay clearance. Maybe road bikes will have to go to double front rotor. My prediction is that once heat dissipation issue is solved for smaller rotor sizes you will see a lot more disc brakes on road bikes

    Interesting discussion of design issues in frambe builders

    http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...ions-and-traps


    see http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...scs?highlight=
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  18. #18
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Magura HS 33 are the hydraulic Rim brake, to fit instead of V brakes.. modulate smooth as Buttah.

    some folks call them rim crushers for their ultimate power, if grabbed hard.

  19. #19
    Gears? CliftonGK1's Avatar
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    I got to play around on a trials bike outfitted with a mullet brake setup, using an HS33 in back and a hub-mount disc up front, and they felt the same to me. That HS33 is smooth as silk, with a single-finger tension to it that can lock the wheel up to do all that crazy stuff you see trials riders doing.
    "I feel like my world was classier before I found cyclocross."
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  20. #20
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    That HS33 looks like exactly what I need for the rear brake on my commuter. I Have disc front, v-back. The V-brake is ok, but the feel is so different from the front disc that I find myself hardly using it. I don't want to put a disc on the back because I know it will spell big trouble for my rack/pannier setup.

  21. #21
    Senior Member meanwhile's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bent Bill View Post
    Disc brakes work better in wet weather conditions
    Far as I know all serious mountain bikes have them
    Koolstop pink brake pads virtually eliminate the wet weather penalty for rim brakes. Unless you are dealing with actual mud, this shouldn't be a factor.

  22. #22
    Senior Member squirtdad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by meanwhile View Post
    Koolstop pink brake pads virtually eliminate the wet weather penalty for rim brakes. Unless you are dealing with actual mud, this shouldn't be a factor.
    I can attest to koolstops working really well....maybe too well. I managed to lock my front wheel fast enough to go over the bars, but missing a car, with a set on circa 1984 universal single pivot brakes.
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  23. #23
    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrkm View Post
    Thanks for all your input, guys.

    The particular LHT disc I tried was very new and the discs weren't broken in yet apparently. I say this because I was getting extremely minimal stopping power and at one point had to drag my feet to help it come to a stop. This had/has me very worried, but hopefully after a couple hours they'll be better. Tried a Moonlander with the same BB7's and it was stopping great, so am convinced it's just a matter of break-in time.

    I hope to in the future upgrade the bikes BB7's to hydraulics.
    Just FYI, that sounds 100% like an adjustment problem, not a wear-in issue. They say in the instructions how to "wear in" the pads, and it does NOT involve riding around with no brakes hoping you don't kill yourself.
    "be careful this rando stuff is addictive and dan's the 'pusher'."

  24. #24
    Senior Member tergal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenH View Post
    Just FYI, that sounds 100% like an adjustment problem, not a wear-in issue. They say in the instructions how to "wear in" the pads, and it does NOT involve riding around with no brakes hoping you don't kill yourself.
    I have to agree with this, my stock hyrdo discs took 1 large hill .... was interesting but you could feel the difference as you got further down the hill . At no point did it feel like i had no stopping power .

    Make sure the store sets them up correctly and if you are not happy take them back and have them check , while they are at it get them to show you how to adjust them .
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  25. #25
    Senior Member meanwhile's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by squirtdad View Post
    I can attest to koolstops working really well....maybe too well. I managed to lock my front wheel fast enough to go over the bars, but missing a car, with a set on circa 1984 universal single pivot brakes.
    Once you go past a certain point, increasing brake power is just silly - either because you'll go into a front skid or endo. For my experience is that vees/cantis and kools achieve this level of performance.

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