Are Disc Brakes Worth It?

Are disc brakes on bikes worth it

Disc brakes for road bikes have become increasingly available in bike shops over the past few years. The use of disc brakes in cycling technology has been a topic of much discussion.

While some praise the advantages of disc brakes, others reject the idea. Despite this, equipment manufacturers are still developing new solutions, but are not completely abandoning traditional brakes.

Although initially popular in mountain biking, disc brakes have gained support from a majority of new road cyclists.

So, are disc brakes a revolution or just a marketing tool? In this article, I will provide an objective overview of the key points of using disc brakes on a road bike.

best road bike disc brakes


Disc brakes have become a recent addition to the road bike market as bicycle brands are always looking for new technologies. However, the disc brake system is not a new invention. Let’s dive into its history!

The evolution of bike braking dates back to the 1800s when balance bikes were used. Backpedaling and jaw brakes made cycling easier in the following years. The disc brake system was invented after the introduction of mountain biking in the 1970s, where pad braking had its limits during competitions. Manufacturers then thought of a more efficient method to stop bikes on any terrain.

The disc brake system was first adopted in the 80s and was initially used in cars and motorcycles. However, when it was introduced to road bikes, it raised questions and was controversial, especially among professionals. The UCI banned the use of disc brakes in competitions in the early years. It was only in 2018 that they allowed the use of disc brakes after three years of testing.

Professional cyclists have gradually adopted the use of disc brakes, and the FFC validated them for the 2019 season. It is understandable that the amateur cycling world may have reservations about disc brakes due to a lack of perspective.

are disc brakes better than rim brakes


Disc brakes operate using both mechanical and hydraulic systems that activate the pistons.

When you pull the lever, the pistons in the caliper move and press the brake pads against the metal disc that is attached to the hub. This method is an alternative to braking with rubber pads, which can lose their effectiveness on carbon or aluminum rims.

There are three main activation devices for the braking system:

Mechanical activation:

This system uses pistons that are actuated by conventional brake cables and levers. It is an entry-level model, but technicians find it less effective because stretched cables are easily damaged, requiring regular lubrication of the sheaths and cables.

Hydraulic activation:

This is the most commonly used technology in the industry. A hydraulic hose filled with oil activates the caliper pistons. The pressure of the oil in the ducts causes the braking on the pistons when the levers are requested. The circuit is closed, protecting it from humidity, mud, or other dust.

Mechano-hydraulic activation:

This is a mechanical-hydraulic hybrid principle where brake cables actuate the hydraulic caliper. This method allows you to benefit from the braking power of a conventional system, but it is rarely used in traditional bicycle brakes.

disc brakes vs rim brakes road bike

The Process of Installing a Disc Braking System on Your Bike

Installing disc brakes on your bike is a sophisticated process that requires specific modifications, which can be expensive and restrictive. However, there is a radical solution, which involves changing the entire bicycle.

Impact of Installing Disc Brakes on Road Bikes

Adapting your bike for disc brakes involves modifying elements on the frame, fork, wheels, brakes, and levers. The process requires a change of hubs and the placement of transmission controls with appropriate levers and brake calipers. You also need a frame kit with brackets on the fork and rear shrouds. The wheels must have compatible hubs that allow the discs to be attached.

Types of Disc Brake Module Fastening

There are three main techniques for fixing the disc on the hub of the wheel:

6 holes: This is an international standard for disc fixing that attaches to the hub with six screws.
Center lock: This is the most common system found on road bikes. It is easy to use and converts to 6 holes with a clamping nut if needed. The disc is placed on the hub using splines and held in place by a locking ring.
AFS (Axial Fixing System): Resembles and adapts to Center Lock, such as the one used to connect the Campagnolo AFS disc.
Caliper Fixing on the Bike

You can use several technologies to fix the caliper on your bike:

International Standard (IS): The screws for fixing the cycle are positioned perpendicular to the caliper.
Postmount (PM): The screws are parallel to the caliper, and the threads are located on the frame or the fork.
Flatmount (FM): The screws go through the frame of the bike and connect to the caliper.

You can switch from one standard to another without difficulty. Adapters can also be fitted between the frame or the fork and the caliper, which facilitates the installation of the latter depending on the type of attachment or the size of the disc.

converting road bike from rim brakes to disc brakes
Road Disc Brake Calipers

These elements ensure the power and safety of the braking system without weighing down the bike. There are two subjects to choose from:

In carbon: This is more rigid, and the material is efficient.
In aluminum: This is the most widely used material. The aluminum disc brake caliper system allows advanced configurations such as cold forging or orbital adjustment of the pads, for example.
Discs Suitable for Road Bikes

Specialists generally recommend adopting a material measuring 160mm at the front and 140mm at the rear to define the diameter of the brake system disc. However, if you have a heavier template, you can opt for 160mm on both configurations. If you have a featherweight bike, go for 140mm on both.

The larger the disc, the more effective the braking will be. Ventilation of the brake discs also reduces the temperature and conserves the braking power. Shimano has developed Ice-Tech Freeza technology to lower the heat of the disc in intensive use.

Brake Pads: The Buffer Element

Disc brakes used in road bikes consist of two parts: the lining in contact with the disc and the wafer support. The component of the lining must be of high quality to provide safe braking. There are several coatings available, including organic, metallic, semi-metallic, and ceramics.

The carrier materials help reduce the temperature of the disc brakes. They are made of either steel or aluminum, with the latter being more efficient in terms of heat dissipation.

disadvantages of disc brakes on road bikes

Top Disc Brake Brands for Road Bikes

When it comes to road disc brakes, several top brands dominate the market. Here’s a rundown of some of the leading names in disc brakes:

Shimano: The Premier Disc Brake Brand

Shimano is known as the flagship brand for disc brakes. Although Shimano is well-known for “forcing the disc,” entry-level groupsets are still available in both rim and disc versions. Within Shimano’s range, the Dura-Ace hydraulic disc brake systems are very powerful, as are the Ultegra, 105, and Tiagra models. Both Dura-Ace and Ultegra disc brakes incorporate the oil reservoir in the handle. Additionally, Shimano has developed Free Stroke technology, which is already used in their MTB disc brakes. For triathlons and time trials, the Dura-Ace R9180 shifters are a more suitable option.

Campagnolo: High and Mid-Range Road Disc Braking

Since 2017, the Italian manufacturer Campagnolo has been present in the road disc brake market. The brand distributes groups classified at the top of the range, including Super Record, Record, and Chorus. Intermediate level groups include Potenza and Centaur. In terms of disc brakes, Campagnolo has developed H11 DB and Potenza DB sets, utilizing Disc Brake technology to reduce weight gain. Among the unique features of Campagnolo’s equipment is the magnetic configuration, which allows for the return of pads after braking or the wear indicator thereof.

SRAM: The American Disc Brake Standard for Road Bikes

SRAM’s disc braking equipment for road bikes has been designed around several groups, including Rival, Classical Force and AXS, and Classic Red + AXS. Users appreciate the aerodynamic design and brake modulation of the SRAM Red range.

Rotor and Magura: The Brake Specialists Association

Spanish equipment manufacturer Rotor has partnered with Magura, a leading disc brake manufacturer for mountain bikes, to offer hydraulic systems. Products sold include the Uno group, covering both the pads and the discs. Magura MT8 disc brakes are easy to adjust and allow for quick wheel changes.

hydraulic disc brakes road bike


When considering disc brakes for road bikes, it’s important to take into account the cost of the various components including levers, rotors, and calipers. Here’s a breakdown of average prices for some popular brands:

Shimano: The Tiagra disc version is the most affordable option starting at $500, while the high-end Dura-Ace Di2 is priced at $1400.
Campagnolo: The Potenza is the most affordable option at $950, while the Super Record EPS is priced at $1400. For those on a budget, the Centaur 11-speed can be purchased for $250.
Sram: The Rival is priced at less than $700, while the Red eTap AXS is priced at over $1500.
Rotor: A full set of components for Rotor brakes, including the derailleur, will cost around $1800.

It’s important to keep in mind that the cost of disc brake groups can vary based on factors such as the level of technology, materials used, and brand reputation. It’s worth considering your specific needs and budget before making a decision.

disc vs rim brakes stopping distance


The brands compete in imagination to improve the feelings of cyclists on road bikes. But, in reality, it must be recognized that adopting disc brakes on your cycle has both advantages and disadvantages. OK, I’m not helping you on this one!


Cycling brands constantly strive to enhance the riding experience of road cyclists. However, it is important to acknowledge that adopting disc brakes for your cycle has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore the benefits of road bike disc brakes:

Increased power: Disc brakes offer better stopping power and enable delayed and relaxed pedaling. Riders no longer need to grip the levers tightly or worry about rear-wheel slides during sudden stops. In addition, disc brakes shorten stopping distances by 40% compared to pads, making them highly suitable for wet roads and mountainous terrain.
Versatility: Disc brakes are compatible with different surfaces and do not require different support for aluminum or carbon rims.
Overheating prevention: Disc brakes prevent overheating when descending passes or when there are regular variations in rhythm. This makes riding in a peloton safer as the risk of falls is reduced.
Improved aerodynamics: Integrated components in disc brake systems improve aerodynamics.
Durability: Road bike disc brakes are generally more resistant to wear and provide stronger wheels and modules. The disc is directly impacted instead of the rim, making it easier and cheaper to replace the disc instead of the entire wheel.
Easy maintenance: Disc brakes require less maintenance than brake pads, which deteriorate faster and lose efficiency when stressed. Removing the wheel is also easier.

Despite the advantages, road disc brakes also have some drawbacks:

Increased weight: Disc brakes add weight to the bike’s equipment, weighing between 500 g and 1 kg, which is contradictory to the trend of lightweight bikes.
Loss of performance: Disc brakes require wider tires with a minimum section of 25 mm and ideally 28 mm, which can result in a loss of performance.
Maintenance: Although maintenance is less frequent than with brake pads, disc brake systems require oil to be drained and hoses to be maintained once or twice a year, depending on use. This process can be technical, and the intervention of a professional is often required.
High temperatures: Without a cooling system, intensive use of disc brakes can cause disc warping.
Noise: Metal pads on pads are noisy on wet roads.
Price: Road bike disc brakes are generally only available for medium and high-end equipment and come with high prices.

In conclusion, the balance for road bike disc brakes is evenly weighed. Although sales are increasing, brake pads still dominate the market share. Ultimately, it is up to the individual cyclist to decide if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and if the purchase is justified based on their needs and type of practice.

Hi, I’m Jason Tie

I have been passionate about electric scooters and bicycles since they came on the market, but I really took to skateboarding when I was young.

I started with the skateboard at 7 years old when my dad taught me how to ride. Since then, I have mostly owned freestyle skates and longboards- even if they were difficult for some people in our town.

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