Road Bikes: Rim Brakes Vs. Disc Brakes

 

rim-v-disc

The last decade or so has seen some massive changes for road bikes. The mainstream shift from aluminum to carbon fiber in the 2000’s marked the beginning of a new era in bike design, while the introduction of electronic drivetrains in the last 5 years or so has seen a fundamental rethinking of how bikes shift. But what about how bikes stop?

It started slowly. Very slowly, in fact. But in the last year or two, disc brakes on road bikes have really caught on, and are set to create yet another revolution. As always, there are fits and starts, and not everybody is on board (we’re looking at you, UCI), but like most changes, this one is gaining momentum.

Over the last year we’ve had a chance to test ride quite a few disc brake road bikes. Here’s how we thought they fared versus standard rim brakes.

STOPPING POWER

Disc brakes. There is no question about this. Disc brakes deliver incredible stopping power in pretty much all weather conditions. What’s more, that power is easily modulated, which means it’s easier to control how much brake you need at any given time. Often times no more than one-finger  is needed to stop the bike in a reasonable distance.

Rim brakes, especially with carbon wheels, can sometimes take a little bit to really bite into the rim and slow the bike. This is doubly true if your pads are worn or dirty.

The upward slant of the chainstay helps to minimize hits from bad roads, and helps perfectly position the disc caliper

Disc brakes provide superior stopping power and modulation over rim brakes

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COMPATIBILITY

Rim brakes—for now. Disc brakes are still going through growing pains, and in an industry where the term “standard” is pretty much meaningless, that can mean some headaches for consumers. Some disc brake bikes come with standard quick release wheels, some use thru axle. There are all different kinds of rotor sizes out there, and aftermarket wheel options are still fairly limited.

But these are actually fairly minor problems.

This year will pretty much guarantee a bumper crop of disc brake wheel options, and most of those will be interchangeable between QR and thru axle, making them more versatile for consumers.

ridley_helium_06

For the moment, rim brakes have fewer compatibility issues than disc brakes

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WET WEATHER

Disc brakes. This is a no brainer. No matter what is falling from the sky or laying on the roads, disc brakes don’t care. Snow, ice, and rain don’t have much of an effect on disc brakes—regardless of rim material.

Wet weather conditions can severely limit the effectiveness of rim brakes, especially carbon wheels.

DSC_0686

If you’re riding in wet weather, there’s only one way to go when it comes to brakes

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EASE OF INSTALLATION AND MAINTENANCE

Rim brakes. Frankly, these are pretty easy. Make sure they’re facing the right way, bolt them on, make sure they’re roughly centered and go. Every other year or so you change the pads.

Disc brakes…not so much. Mechanical disc brakes can be notoriously frustrating to install and get centered so they aren’t rubbing the disc rotor. Hydraulic disc brakes are easier to install, but maintenance can be an involved and time consuming, since you have to bleed the lines, replace hydraulic fluid, etc…

fenix_03

For all their benefits, disc brakes aren’t always as easy to maintain as rim brakes

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WEIGHT AND AERODYNAMICS

Rim brakes. Because of the simple design, rim brakes are currently much, much lighter than any available disc brake system.

And, because of where the brake is placed, disc brakes are also much less aerodynamic than rim brakes.

Bear in mind though that this is  likely to change in the next couple of years. As disc brakes become more widely adopted and pressure builds to use them in racing, the industry is likely to begin refining the designs to be lighter, and better incorporated into frames for improved aerodynamics.

fuji_altamira_sl_007

What they lack in stopping power, rim brakes make up for in weight savings and aerodynamics

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THE VERDICT

More than any other decision, this is going to be a very personal choice. Disc brakes offer unquestionably better and more consistent stopping power than rim brakes, but at a cost of weight and aerodynamics, and they are still not yet race-legal.

It’s all a matter of what’s most important to you—and we don’t mean stopping power (that’s important to everyone).

What we mean is that if you love racing, fast road riding, and having plenty of wheel options, then it might be best to stick with rim brakes for the time being.

If you’re just looking for a road bike to ride for the love of riding, like to explore gravel roads, bomb big descents, ride in an area that experiences frequent bad weather, or even for racers looking for a second road bike for training and base miles, then disc brakes are probably the better option.

Without question though, disc brakes are the way forward—so love them or hate them, odds are in the next 5 years, most road bikes will be equipped with them.

So tell us your thoughts. What do you think about using disc brakes on road bikes?

Ridden and Reviewed: Lazer Sports Z1 Helmet

The Z1 in action in Belgium

Testing the Z1 in Belgium

Back in April we got a chance to visit Lazer Sports at their headquarters in Antwerp, Belgium to check out their Lazer Z1 helmet. This brand-new helmet is designed to improve performance, enhance safety, and keep the rider cooler.

We first got a chance to try it out during the Ronde van Vlaanderen Sportif, and have been giving it a longer term test drive over the last few months in a variety of conditions.

About The Z1

When designing the Z1, Lazer created a whole new line of helmets, instead of just improving on previous models. While the helmet retains Lazer’s signature look and the Roll-Sys basket suspension system, it goes in a wholly new direction from previous helmets. Lazer has traditionally focused on making very lightweight helmets, but with the Z1 they looked at ways they could improve on safety and aerodynamics, while still retaining their fabled lightweight.

The biggest safety improvement is the T-Pro design. The T-Pro is an area of the front of the helmet that comes down further to better protect the temples in the event of a fall, and offer better side impact protection. In studying how cyclists fall when they crash, Lazer’s designers realized that the temples, one of the most vulnerable parts of the head, were under-protected by existing helmet designs.

The Z1 also has a redesigned vent layout that helps channel around the head to keep you cool, the Advanced Roll-Sys adjustment system, and an integrated airfoil wing to improve aerodynamics. The back of the helmet also functions as a “glasses garage” for Lazer-brand sunglasses.

The buckle is also compatible with Lazer’s Café Lock, which lets you use your helmet as a (very) temporary bike lock when you make your coffee stop.

 

Out Of The Box

The Z1 comes in three sizes (S, M, and L), and includes a removable aeroshell covering, which snaps on to cover the vents, offering better protection from the cold and rain, and improving aerodynamics. It also comes with a small plastic piece that inserts into the top of the helmet and protects the Roll-Sys adjustment mechanism from mud and grit—an essential for cyclocross season.

 

The Z1 is the lastest evolution in Lazer's line of helmets

The Z1 is the lastest evolution in Lazer’s line of helmets

The Fit

The Lazer Z1 helmet definitely has a more comfortable fit than previous Lazer helmets, and the new Advanced Roll-Sys adjustment system makes it incredibly easy to fine tune and adjust the helmet. Like previous Lazer helmets, however, the fit isn’t for everyone. The shape of the helmet is similar to Giro or Specialized, which means it should fit those with a slightly rounder head a little better. If you have a more oval-shaped head, you might want to look at a different model of helmet.

Lazer's designers hand sculpted the original helmet mold to ensure the perfect fit

Lazer’s designers hand sculpted the original helmet mold to ensure the perfect fit

The Ride

We initially used the Z1 in Belgium, but have also been able to test it here at our offices in North Carolina. Our first impression is that it’s probably one of the lightest helmets we’ve ever used. For the past few years we’ve been riding the Giro Aeon—one of the lightest helmets around, and the Lazer Z1 helmet feels about comparable on the head. It is also noticeably cooler than previous Lazer helmets we’ve tried, with excellent airflow even on the hottest summer days we’ve encountered yet. Sometimes even the lightest helmets can still feel suffocating on really hot, humid days, but the Z1 has the nice combination of being lightweight and having huge vents, which we find provide excellent cooling options.

Fortunately we haven’t had a chance to test the improved safety features of the Z1 yet, but on the head it definitely feels more secure, and like it provides much more coverage. Just looking at the helmet in the mirror, we can see that it covers more parts of the head, especially on the side, which gives us a lot of confidence in it’s ability to protect if the worst should happen. It actually comes down far enough that you can see parts of the helmet in your peripheral vision, which took a little bit of getting used to.

The Aeroshell definitely helped us stay warm in Belgium

The Aeroshell definitely helped us stay warm in Belgium

The removable aeroshell is a nice addition too, since it turns the Z1 into a four-season helmet. On some shorter, faster group rides where overheating hasn’t been much of an issue, we simply snap the shell on to close off the vents and get some free speed. The aeroshell also provided excellent protection in the colder, windier, rainier climes of Belgium, where it  helped keep our heads warm and dry. We’ll definitely be using it over the off-season. Be forewarned though, with the aeroshell covering on, there is basically no airflow through the helmet, and it heats up quickly. If it’s hot out, we’d recommend leaving it at home.

One very small niggle one of our testers did have with the helmet was glasses storage. He likes to take his glasses off while climbing or when it’s really hot, and in other helmets he’s usually able to tuck them neatly into the helmet vents for storage. The Z1 vents though are only designed to hold Lazer-brand sunglasses, so his shades won’t stay in the helmet.

 

The Verdict

The Lazer Z1  is one of our favorite new helmets that we’ve gotten to test, and certainly the most versatile. The improved comfort and safety features alone make it well worth it. The included aeroshell and Roll-Sys protection plate also really add to the value of the helmet by making it much more versatile. In one package you essentially get four different helmets: a lightweight summer/climbing helmet, an aero helmet, a winter helmet, and a ‘cross/MTB helmet. It’s an incredible value for the money, and we highly recommend it.

We saw this at Lazer's headquarters. No idea what it is, but we thought we should share it with the world.

This isn’t the Z1– in fact we have no idea what it is, but we thought we should share it with the world.

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