We’ve been predicting disc brakes on road bikes for years, but with the arrival of not just one, but two hydraulic systems in the last few months, the time has finally come. SRAM launched its Red 22 Hydro units earlier this summer, and we’ve found them to be excellent.
Now Shimano unveils the R785 levers, which are optimized to work with Ultegra Di2. Because they are electronic and not mechanical, the R785s are trimmer than their SRAM equivalents, with sleek ergonomics that closely match Dura Ace and Ultegra feel. The calipers are reappointed XT units, which means they should be simple to bleed and excellent in terms of durability, and the discs are finned 140mm Ice Tech rotors to prevent overheating (with 160mms also available).
The advantages of discs include more stopping power, better modulation, and less hand fatigue, all of which we found to be true on a 1.5-hour test loop at Outdoor Demo. And uncoupling the braking from the rims eliminates issues with overheating, rim failure, and poor performance in wet conditions, all of which are especially problematic on carbon wheels. Prices are still to be determined but should be in line with the other Ultegra options.
The UCI has yet to approve discs for pro racing, but dozens of companies are already showing enthusiast level bikes with R785s for 2014. Like it or not, the disc road revolution has begun.