One of the most traditional and storied frame builders is helping to usher in disc brakes for the road.
No road cycling equipment is as likely to stir up lively debate than disc brakes.
Proponents say discs are more powerful, safer because they won’t overheat, and offer better modulation than standard rim brakes. Opponents say they’re heavier, more complicated, and ultimately solve a problem that didn’t exist.
Like it or not, however, disc brakes are coming to road bikes. We tested six complete bikes with discs this year and would have ridden more if it hadn’t been for SRAM’s ill-timed recall. We’ve also heard a growing rumble that the technology is being considered for the pro ranks, and this week the UCI confirmed that it will likely render a decision on discs at the professional level in the next six months.
Though it isn’t brand new, the Colnago C-59 Disc made waves when it launched in 2012 because it was one of the first full-fledged race bikes to take advantage of the technology. Plus, it validated the disc movement to have an esteemed, traditional brand like Colnago embrace the system. And although it took us over a year, we finally got one of the Italian machines to include in our annual test.
The C-59 is far more than just discs. The tubes are carbon fiber and the intricate shaping bears more than a passing resemblance to the Italian manufacturers ace of clubs logo. It's built with Colnago’s beautiful carbon lugs, which set this bike apart visually from the majority of tube-to-tube constructions on the market. The technique also makes it possible for the company to build a ridiculous number of sizes (22 in total), ensuring a custom-like fit for everyone but the pickiest riders.
The rear end of the C-59 disc is beefed up over the standard version to cope with the additional load of the higher braking forces. It’s matched to oversize tubes throughout, which gives the bike a decidedly rooted and sturdy feel. The downside? Built with Ultegra Di2 and a complement of full Shimano parts (including wheels and PRO components), the C-59 weighs a not-insignificant 17.2 pounds.
Our test bike was equipped with the new Shimano R785 brakes, the Japanese manufacturer’s first entry into the disc road market. The system mates an Ultegra Di2 shifter/brake lever to a fully hydraulic caliper that, for all practical purposes, is repurposed from the mountain XT line. As such, braking was precise, nuanced, and extremely powerful, even with the 140mm rotors. Shimano crafted those new smaller rotors specifically for the road, including its trademark cutouts and cooling fins for best heat dissipation. The only drawback we could find with the Shimano system was that it had to be married to Di2, although Shimano has already unveiled its second generation of the road hydraulics that will work with mechanical shifters (R685). As with all new technology, options are limited at first, but should quickly spread across the range.
At the end of the day, the C-59 Disc and its Shimano brakes won over even the staunchest of traditionalists to the idea of road discs. Every tester agreed the quality and predictability of these discs was an improvement over standard rim brakes.
Whether or not the benefit merited the bike’s $8,875 price tag (or $5,700 for the Colnago frame set alone) was a point of more debate. It’s a stupendous ride, but probably one that’s most appealing to Italophiles and Colnago devotees.