Rim vs. Disc Brakes, Worth While for Buying a New Bike?

I find nothing compelling me to spend money for a whole new bike to get hydraulic brakes. I’m in the camp of one TdF rider that said “no one was complaining about their brakes”. Riding with many of the riders I use to race licensed events with, most still have their rim brakes.

The TdF has a minimum weight requirement (outdated) the allow riders to avoid paying the cost in weight to go hydraulic which makes sponsors happy. Manufacturers are trying to use planned obsolescence to get our money in my opinion. And we have no minimum weight requirement. But publications like Velonews that now depend more then ever on advertisers for revenue suddenly started saying weight is not so important anymore despite saying it was when it drove new bike sales.

Sure they stop a little better but stopping was not an issue. Of course disc brakes require more then just new brakes but frames and wheels also. $$Ca-Ching$$.

If you prefer then that’s cool, but if you don’t, also good.

Similar topic, electric derailleurs.

11 Replies

Jboz, October 7, 2020 at 8:09 pm

Definitely not worth buying a new bike just to get disc brakes. That said, if you happen to get the itch for a new bike, it’s a decent way to rationalize the purchase to yourself or your spouse.

I’ve had rim braking systems, mechanical disk systems and hydraulic systems. There are pros and cons for each. For pure performance, stopping power and modulation, hydraulic wins hands down. But if you like to wrench your own bikes, it will require some new tools and a learning curve. Mechanical disc brakes are a good option in my opinion. They are inexpensive, quite effective and fairly easy to service. For long-distance touring, mechanical discs are a good choice because of the ease of serviceability while out on tour. Rim brakes do the job with little drama, and they are generally lighter than their disc counterparts. But they can present performance compromises relative to discs especially in adverse (rain/mud) conditions. There have also been rare cases of rim brakes heating the rims to the point of failure (blowouts) on long steep descents (high heat expands the air inside the tube, and with fully inflated tires the air has no place to go). Plus, rim brakes (over time) can wear down expensive rims, whereas discs won’t. But rim brakes are tried and true. If you like your current ride, stay with it. When the time comes to replace it, consider all the new technology in the marketplace, match it to your riding needs, and take the plunge.

As far as planned obsolescence, that’s pretty much the nature of innovation in a free market society. Companies compete with one another to come up with a better whiz-bang that people will want to shell out $$$ for. Are they trying to separate you from your money? You bet they are. But they aren’t going to make money for long bringing to market a whiz-bang that sucks. So they strive to constantly improve, which is very good for us (even if we it costs us some dough). Without that profit motive, there would be little innovation in cycling or anything else. Innovation would be isolated to a few weird tinkers in their workshops trying to improve their own personal ride for their own reasons. That means no carbon frames, no Di2, no 11sp drivetrains, no tire variety, no brifters, no SRAM or Shimano or Campy.


mootsman, October 8, 2020 at 2:26 pm

You take the no-innovation too far I think. No one says that should not happen. But heavier equipment for no real benefit? The brakes are a good example. I’ve had all types going back to cantilevers on mountain bikes. All had pluses and minuses but on road bikes the differences are not important even to TdF riders.

And Campy went 12 speed but went from a 12 tooth high to now required 11 tooth high cassettes. Not what many really wanted. Sure they added a 34 tooth low cassette but they could have done that with a new derailleur to their 11 speed stuff.

Velonews was all about lighter=better until disc brakes and electric derailleurs added weight. Then they claimed the added weight is no big deal. The Pro Cycling bike weight minimum now seems more for marketing newer equipment that adds weight. The Velonews writers are now really sales people who lie for a living.


SFC JKL 2, October 8, 2020 at 11:21 pm

I thought about it when I lived in the mountains. The street I lived on was 18 degrees and I would have brake fade by the time I got to the bottom. Even then, I couldn’t justify pulling the trigger. I think the times I would benefit would be too few and far between. With that said, the correct number of bikes is N + 1 so I’ll never say never.


wrj, October 9, 2020 at 6:39 am

The last bike I bought, which I didn’t really need, has rim brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes were not in the budget. I’m a S.O.B. so rim brakes are just fine. One stage of the TDF this year was won on a rim brake bike. I think some of the good points about disc brakes don’t have anything to do with braking and modulation.
1. Disc brakes maybe allow for wider carbon aero wheels and big fat tires, maybe? A carbon aero wheelset could cost as much as my bike.
2. Disc brakes don’t abrade the wheels, no brake track on the rims, no wear on the rims.
3. With no shiny or scuffed up brake track, disc wheels on a bike just look so darn nice!


Jboz, October 9, 2020 at 7:34 am

[quote quote=1324180]You take the no-innovation too far I think. No one says that should not happen. But heavier equipment for no real benefit?[/quote]

Not sure “no real benefit” can be broadly applied. Ultimately, the market decides. A slick marketing campaign for a useless product might get a few suckers, but it will be a very short-term proposition and the product will eventually fade away. For a product to stick around, consumers weigh the pros and cons and deem it a good thing. Consumers in general are better informed now than ever before, and thus are highly critical and can be a tough audience. Consumers in the cycling world are even more so. Any individual cyclist may or may not see the benefit based on their circumstances and riding style, but the market obviously sees the value.


mootsman, October 9, 2020 at 10:11 am

If I were in the market for a new bike I’d likely go disc but I would not get a new bike to go disc. Electric derailleurs, disc brakes, 12 speed: not much incentive to replace my bike. Rims?, I did go tubless and have nearly eliminated flats as long as I replace worn tires.

The value on road bikes is to the manufacturer’s sales numbers. Road bike sales have slowed in recent years and they are trying to boost them. If you fall for the marketing which includes Velonews ads that maquerade as news articles, buy a new bike.


Luv 2 Ski, October 12, 2020 at 4:23 pm

I just took 2 plus years building a new Lynskey Helix Pro road bike with disk brakes that I finished in early 2020 and have a fair amount of miles on it. Previously I rode a 1999 LiteSpeed Vortex rim brake bike.

Here is my take on this subject.

I have Shimano Ultegra 8070 DI2 Hydraulic Disk set up on my new bike. I love the disk brakes for many reasons. They stop much better in every condition, and in some conditions like damp or wet, vastly better. In addition, if you ride carbon rim brake wheels the difference is even greater. I never liked the stopping power of my carbon rims, especially in wet weather. Really bad in that scenario. Never have to worry about blowing a tire because of a heated rim. With disk, you are not wearing out the rim as you do when using rim brake with Carbon wheels. With alloy not as much of an issue. I also have thru axes which seems to be much more solid in the front end for sure. Can’t speak for quick release disk though.

The downside for me would be if I raced. I think I would definitely use quick release and probably rim brake if I raced. Much easier to change a tire quickly with Rim and quick release. Another downside is the disk can go out of true and then you have adjustments to make that are more delicate than adjusting a rim brake. Additionally, a downside is none of your old perfectly good wheels will work on the new bike. All in all, I would not go back to rim brakes on any road bike I buy from now on. With that said I would not buy a new bike just to get them.

As for Electronic shifting, I really like what that has to offer. Even though it brings in an element of potential breakdown with the electronics I still would put electronics on any new bike. Here is what I have experienced. The shifting is so crisp and solid. Super quick and especially under load. You can be out of the saddle on a climb and touch and you are in the new gear instantly. Mechanical just can not compare there. In addition when on the drops shifting is so easy with a touch. I have never shifted so much on the drops in my entire life as I have in the past few months. Another little thing is that the front derailleur trims up on its own depending on what gear you are in in the rear. This is a little thing but added to all the other mentioned advantages I see it just makes it better. Now I will say that I do ride with groups that are very strong, we ride fast, some days are drop rides so even though it is not a race we ride hard and push ourselves as well as each other. That is when both disks and electronics really show their differences. If I road at a leisure 12-13 MPH around town pace I am not sure the added cost would be worth it. Additionally, if you do encounter problems along the road it may be much more difficult to diagnose and solve the problem than with mechanical. According to my local bike shop, both Shimano and Sram have worked out the kinks on this stuff. Lastly, I am an old school 62-year old who listened to my 20-year-old when I built my bike. I am glad I did.

So to answer the question “No not worth buying a new bike just to get disk”, but if you buy new
bike absolutely buy a disk brake bike and get hydraulic.


Niles, October 13, 2020 at 12:13 pm

[quote quote=1324289]Super quick and especially under load. You can be out of the saddle on a climb and touch and you are in the new gear instantly. Mechanical just can not compare there.[/quote]

Exactly the reason I wanted Di2 over upgrades on other components. If you have ever had panic shifting on climbing, you’ll thank for electrical shifting.


KenH, October 15, 2020 at 10:07 am

I’ve had hydraulic disc breaks on my primary ride for two years now. The rim brakes on my previous bike would lock up the wheels under any condition so discs have no power advantage over them because your stopping power is limited by your tire adhesion in both cases so it is exactly the same. I don’t ride a lot in mud, maybe discs have a power advantage in muddy conditions. Rim brakes do wear your rims which is a big concern the more expensive your rims are. Many people do not realize this but disc brakes put more stress on your spokes so there are concerns there. Disc brakes modulate very well, so do the V-brakes on my hybrid. So on the whole there is little to no advantage between the two for my type of riding. My impression is that discs really came to the fore in mountain biking and I presume the advantages are more telling in that kind of riding.

There is one disc advantage for people who travel to rides like RAGBRAI. If you need to remove your front wheel to pack your bike for the trip you generally need to “release” rim brakes to get the wheel off. Some people remove both wheels. You do not need to do that with discs and so you never have the terrifying experience of having no brakes when you take your first ride after putting the bike together because you forgot to re-attach them!

I bought the new bike because I wanted a different type of bike. Discs were on my list of “must haves” for no reason other than I wanted to try them. When I started looking at my bike options there were a huge number of them out there that fit my initial short list of must haves. So, I kept adding to that list until the number of bikes that had them all and fit my budget got small enough to decide between. I was down to a handful of bikes to choose between but I had totally ignored Trek simply because it is oh so common a brand in this country. Then on a whim I looked at their website and realized that their 920 was the only choice that actually had everything I wanted and it was on end of season sale at the time. So, 920 it is!

It’s a great bike and the hydraulic brakes are great too but I would not feel bad at all if I were “stuck” with rim brakes. In fact I am thinking about putting a 1X drive train on my old Fuji, stripping it down to fighting weight, and having a great flat bar road bike for local centuries where the weight advantage might actually mean something as I struggle to keep up with my much younger riding partners! I don’t worry about that on RAGBRAI.


rickpaulos, November 29, 2020 at 10:42 pm

Hydraulic brakes can fail at cold temperatures. But that’s mostly happening to winter ultra riders on fat bikes in the snow who are not going all that fast so brake failure and a possible crash in to snow isn’t lethal.

Disc brakes best use is for extreme conditions. Tandems, down hill mountain bike racing, heavy touring loads in the mountains mainly to avoid blowouts from overheating the rims. (been there done that but fortunately I was at a stop sign when the tire exploded in shreds). Another advantage of disc brakes is you can bugger your rim or spokes and keep riding without brake rub slowing you down. We saw this as a plus on the 1960s JC Pennys’ department store bikes with shimano disc brakes and really lousy steel rims. You only had to keep the rims straight enough to keep the tires from rubbing on the stays.

I’m working on a bike now that was put away wet. The disc is fused to the caliper. No problem, just replace the disk and caliper. 4 of the rotor bolts came out okay, the other 2 would not budge. Drilled them out and tried to tap new threads and the tap snapped off in the hub. So now it’s $250 for a new hub (SA 5 speed) or just run with 4 rotor bolts.

I used to repair bikes on Ragbrai (about 15 years worth), most of the mechanics would charge extra for replacing spokes on disc wheels as it takes more tools and time. So many disc equipped bikes are made in China with cheap black spokes that break so easily. I’d fix about 10 bikes every day with broken spokes and 9 of the 10 had black spokes from china. Sounds like I’m drifting off topic but most new bikes are made in china so plan on a spoke upgrade if you want a reliable new ride.


mootsman, November 30, 2020 at 9:38 am


I was of the opinion I’d get disc (hydraulic) brakes only if I was buying a new road bike anyway. But thinking over your post there may be reasons to avoid them since I don’t need them. Which makes for a cheaper upgrade anyway if I want to go with a 12 speed groupo. Just buy the groupo and keep the rest of the bike.


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