In a surprise announcement Tuesday, cycling's governing body, the UCI, said that it will initiate a trial period for road disc brakes later this summer, with an eye toward full adoption by 2017.
All Pro Tour teams will be given the opportunity to test disc brakes in two sanctioned events of their choice between August and September 2015, followed by continued testing at all UCI events in 2016. The aim, according to the UCI, is to introduce disc brakes to all levels of cycling.
The announcement comes after a year of speculation that the UCI’s technical advisors were considering the technology. When talk of the possible adoption of the new brakes surfaced last year, it caused division among pro riders, with some racers expressing objections over the added weight, reduced aerodynamics, and safety in case of crashes. Perhaps the two most compelling arguments were over concerns about compatibility for neutral support and the variable braking capabilities if the peloton split between rim and disc brakes.
The UCI hasn’t addressed any of the specific issues, and though the announcement sounded an optimistic tone, the organization was careful to say that the implementation of discs wasn’t a forgone conclusion.
“Although disc brakes have been used for around a decade in mountain biking and for the last two years in cyclo-cross, their introduction to road cycling must be carefully studied in collaboration with all those who are directly concerned. That includes riders, teams, and manufacturers,” wrote UCI President Brian Cookson. “This step is part of the UCI’s desire to encourage innovation.”
Still, given the move toward disc brake-equipped pro level race bikes by manufacturers in recent years, there has been a feeling that it’s not a question of whether the technology will be adopted, but when.
For instance, after Specialized, which sponsors three Pro Tour teams, unveiled the S-Works Tarmac in a disc model last May, the company hinted that changes were afoot. “It’s not a forgone conclusion,” Chris Riekert, the media manager for the company’s road brand told me at the time. “But it’s a big investment to open disc-specific molds, and we didn’t make that decision in a vacuum.”
Since then, most major bike companies, including Giant, Cannondale, Trek, and many of the smaller manufacturers, have also begun releasing top-end race bikes with disc brakes as an option. Based on Tuesday's announcement, it’s looking more certain than ever that the industry bet right that discs for pros are all but inevitable.
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