The classic argument in road bikes used to be Shimano or Campagnolo, eventually SRAM was added to that fight. Now, we have moved onto rim or disc brakes.
You’ll find people arguing passionately for both sides of this argument, and as most of these arguments happen online, there will be no consideration for the points made by the other side.
We’ve decided to try and cut through these tales and show you the pros and cons of both.
Let us start at the first point many disc brake purists will start their argument using. There is a truth here, and it is an accepted one. Disc brakes will offer you better braking in the rain that rim brakes.
That doesn’t mean that if you run rim brakes, you’re going to crash into the first corner, you come across in the rain, well, you might, but it isn’t because of your brakes.
You can help your rim brake performance in the wet. You can change to pads designed for wet weather (generally softer pads) use, and you can definitely take those carbon wheels off your bike.
Carbon rims will not allow as much grip for your pads in wet weather as a good set of aluminum rims will. You can also learn to feather your brakes; this will allow you to remove the build-up of water and crud on the rim.
There is also the advantage that disc brakes will not cause wear on your wheel rim when braking in bad conditions. Wheels can wear down faster than you would think due to mud and water making a lovely grinding paste on your wheel rim, especially with lightweight aluminum rims.
Talking about rims, one of the other comments people make about disc brakes is that you can run them when your wheel is out of true. This is a statement of fact.
Hitting a pothole may knock your wheel out of true and with rim brakes you might have to loosen the brake off just to get home, whereas you’ll still have full braking with the disc brakes.
The interesting thing is that people forget you can take disc rotors out of true. If you buy a bike over the internet, the front rotor will not come attached to the bike. It will be in the box beside the pedals or instruction manuals.
The reason for this is so that the rotor doesn’t get bent during shipping. You can then realize that rotors can be bent. You can do this when they are on the bike by knocking them against something, or by using the brakes so much, they heat up and warp.
The good news is that with a disc brake tool you can easily straighten them again, but you can as easily end up with a disc brake out of true as a rim out of true.
Fluid or cable
Home mechanics will generally not have any problems setting up a set of cable-actuated rim brakes. Hydraulic hoses still cause a little bit of worry for people working at home, especially if your brake uses corrosive DOT fluid.
DOT fluid you don’t notice has spilled on your frame or fork will quickly take the paint off these materials and leave you with a less than perfect looking bike.
You can also find it is an irritant to your skin and you very probably don’t want to rub it in your eye accidentally. You more than likely won’t have to worry about these issues with a cable rim brake.
You can, of course, buy cable disc brakes and not have this worry. Many feel that they don’t offer the same power as hydraulic disc brakes.
For many people, this is because they have not set them up or bedded them in properly. Bed them in well, and you’ll have more stopping power.
Consumables, such as pads, will be a little bit cheaper for rim brake bikes. That though is not the full story, as if you see the bit above where we talk about bedding in. Properly bed in your disc brakes, and you’ll be a while between needing to change pads.
One of the mistakes many people make with cyclocross or gravel races is that they fit in new pads for big races.
The problem is they then they might not have been bedded in properly if you take an old set of pads to a wet and muddy 200-mile gravel grinder, they’ll more than likely still have pads at the end. If you sue new pads, they might just be destroyed by the conditions.
You may have noticed over the last few years that wider tires are becoming the way forward. Bikes are now advertised by how much tire clearance they have.
Disc brakes make going wider easier; being sit down at the hub, they don’t affect tire size at all.
Rim brakes only offer so much width, and after that, you’ll not be able to fit a wider tire. You could change to V-brake for more room but that would mean we’re looking at even more frames on the market.
Yes, some cyclocross frame offers V-brake mounts, but they have limited frame and fork clearance due to the UCI rules about the width of cross tires for racing.
If you want really wide tires on your road bike, gravel bike, or adventure bike you’ll be needing to look at disc brakes if you want a lot of clearance.
You also need to remember it is not just clearance for the rubber but also for mud and grit. These can easily clog up in narrow gaps and bring you a few new issues.
As you can see, there are good and bad points to both rim brakes and disc brakes, and the simplest answer is to pick the one you prefer. You don’t need to listen to internet arguments just decide which one suits the way you ride and go with it.
I’ve spent way more time in the bike trade than anyone should reasonably want to. In that time I’ve wanted to make cycling jargon and marketing easier to cut through to help people get the bike of their dreams.
When I’m not writing about bikes, I can be seen out bikepacking on single speed bikes or teaching kids how to ride.