Disc brakes have spread rapidly in road cycling. The vast majority of professional peloton bikes already ride them, reporting benefits for power and modulation of braking and greater efficiency and safety in rainy conditions.
But is there still an alternative to discs? Is it worth buying a bicycle with brake calipers or brake shoes? In this article, we answer these and other questions, focusing mainly on the amateur cyclist who doubts what braking system his next road bike should have.
Advantages of discs without shoes
The main advances brought by the discs for the bicycle’s braking can be summarized in two: modulation of the braking itself and efficiency in the wet. The first refers to the fact that the bicycle does not stop abruptly, especially if the braking system is hydraulic (brake fluid) and not mechanical (tensioned cable)—a very useful quality when controlling the bike on steep descents.
As for the second advance, the disc solves the problem of braking in wet conditions, especially if it is hydraulic. In a shoe brake, the braking track gets wet, and efficiency decreases, making the bike more uncontrolled and less powerful and requiring more handling skills.
Advantages of shoes that do not have discs
But these two great advantages of disc brakes overshoe brakes for a road bike are not decisive to retire the second. Currently wins the album in the series montages of the brands. But both systems coexist perfectly, and it cannot yet be said that classic brakes are obsolete.
They are not for two simple reasons (the first is even more important than the second): weight and maintenance. The first factor is capital for road performance, not mountain biking. For this reason, in this modality, its implementation has been much slower and has had more detractors. The disc brake system is heavier. The increase is estimated, generally, between 200 and 500 grams. A significant increase that ends up noticed when riding could make a difference in racing.
A model with shoe brakes is still a very attractive lightweight bike option.
In the maintenance chapter, the bridge or shoe brake wins the game. In addition to being more affordable if you buy the whole kit (or the components separately), it is less expensive to maintain in the short and medium term. It does not need to bleed the circuit like hydraulics every year. A simple periodic check of the tension or the condition of the shoes is sufficient in many cases. In addition, for a beginner cyclist or not used to mechanics, they are easier to maintain or adjust at home.
Integration and aerodynamics: the underrated virtue of discs
Aerodynamics is one of the factors that most amateur cyclists hardly value in disc brakes, but it ends up being very important in terms of performance. Several aerodynamic studies of brands in the wind tunnel have shown that mounting with disc brakes contributes aerodynamic gains to the bike that compensate for the increase in weight of the system.
This is achieved, above all, by dispensing with the front brake bridge, which hinders the front airflow (the one that produces the greatest resistance). At the same time, the disks allow manufacturers to make cable routing more effective. It is proven that cleaning the bicycle frame of cables provides aerodynamic benefits that impact increasing watts and improving average speed.
Is it still worth buying a bike with shoe brakes?
So, having seen the main advantages and properties of disc and shoe brakes, it is time to answer the question we posed in this article. If we have to give a quick answer, we have to say yes, it is still worth buying a bike with shoe brakes. But this answer needs some development.
It is worth it, and it depends, like many other aspects of cycling, on the profile of cyclist you are, level, type of route, bicycle you use, and budget. If you are a new rider who goes out from time to time for simple routes, your purchase should probably be a bicycle with shoe brakes: cheaper, easier to maintain, and with enough stopping power to ride safely.
A bike with shoe brakes should be your first choice if you are a beginner rider.
On the other hand, if you have experience in road cycling and like to climb ports (and lower them) and prioritize performance over anything else, a bike with discs can be very interesting. At this point, however, there are some exceptions, marked by the greater weight that the discs bring. If climbing is your forte and you take the descents in stride, your bike should be light, and the discs add weight.
Likewise, if you want to take the step to competition and have a good level of technique, choose to get a good bike with shoe brakes, in which the rest of the components are not conditioned in quality by the discs. In addition to keeping the weight down, you will save even a few euros in the final price and subsequent maintenance.