The Tour of Flanders is only two months away and sources indicate one major delay — the UCI is waiting for the industry to decide on a rotor size standard. One roadblock presented by this lack of standard relates to the logistics of neutral support.

The two major brands who this applies to are Shimano and SRAM. Shimano has adopted a 140mm disc rotor size while SRAM uses a 160mm rotor. There are currently a number of wheel variations required to accommodate all the neutral spares needed (namely the moto) and the lack of rotor size standard complicates logistics further.

Currently the neutral spares motor can carry four wheels on the rear, and possibly two in the hand of the support person on the bike. The neutral spares moto carries the following wheelsets as a minimum:

  • One standard sized front/rear rim width
  • One wide front/rear rim width.

Both rim sizes are required because of brake set-up. Note that only 11-speed Shimano/SRAM cassettes are carried but these work fine with Campagnolo running gear.

If disc brakes were to come into the equation, and if two variations of disc brake standard were thrown into the mix (i.e. 140mm and 160mm rotors), neutral spares would require two more wheel sets, plus the two listed above – too many for the neutral service moto to carry. Let’s not get into the complications that through-axles could present.

Safety Concerns

One common argument made against the safety of disc brakes is the suggestion that the whole peloton needs to be equally equipped in order for everyone to have the same stopping capacity. We spoke to Yves Möri from the WFSGI, the forum that represents the bike industry and has been dealing with the UCI, over the use of disc brakes and asked him about their views on the various safety issues:

“There are concerns that when the rotor gets hot that it it might burn somebody in a crash. Also the difference in performance of disc brakes versus traditional rim brakes.

“These were mentioned by the UCI and we tried to speak to the UCI and explain why these issues are not really that dangerous as they see them.” said Yves Möri. “We stated our position and we are still waiting for feedback from the UCI on that.”

When asked if the forum felt as if the entire peloton needs to be using disk brakes, Möri explained, “No, I think it is not a secret that…it was mentioned by the UCI themselves that they want to have an open introduction and have both systems in the same peloton.

“I am not a technical expert but we learned from many others that the difference in performance between good and bad rim brakes is already high. So the performance of the disc brake which is maybe a little bit better than the best rim brakes doesn’t really bring a big effect to the total difference.”

Tour of Flanders a realistic deadline?

If a trial of disc brakes were to happen in two months’ time, is it possible for sponsors to assemble the equipment required to outfit the teams? The short answer is yes, but it would be a scramble. Whatever rotor size is decided upon, SRAM and Shimano manufacture both sizes of rotors and could be taken from existing road, mountain or cyclocross product lines.

Many of the bike brands who sponsor a team in the peloton also have a frame and fork variant that can accommodate disc brakes. The only team that SRAM sponsors in the WorldTour this season is Ag2r-La Mondiale, and while Shimano groupsets are on 13 of the WorldTour bikes, only eight (that we’re aware of) are actually sponsored by Shimano.

It’s reasonable to assume that those teams (perhaps fewer) would be the only ones to showcase Shimano’s disc brakes. Perhaps even only select riders within the team may use them.

Even with a disc brake standard being agreed upon, there are still the logistical complications with neutral spares and the question of how to get more wheelset variants on to the spares moto.

We asked the UCI’s Technical Collaborator Johan Kucaba about whether the Tour of Flanders is a likely trial for disc brakes.

“We cannot confirm this information for the moment because nothing is decided officially for the moment. So I can’t confirm. We try to plan the better solution.

“It is not decided for the moment if we will allow the brakes this year or next year. Perhaps more next year, but for the moment it is not decided.”

We also put this question to Yves Möri from the WFSGI industry forum: “I think they have meetings in the beginning of February where they will also check our documentation and they will come with feedback on this. However, honestly, I don’t believe it will be this season, or at least not in the Spring. It is up to the UCI to take the final decision.”

Möri added, “We think the industry is ready. I don’t know if it should be brought in as soon as possible, but we feel it would be good to at least not wait too long. Maybe in one or two years. That will depend on what the UCI decides.”

In summary, while industry sources inform us that discussions are taking place to trial disc brakes at the Tour of Flanders, it’s yet to be confirmed how realistic a possibility it is.

UPDATE: (Feb 13, 2015) The UCI has confirmed that disc brakes will not be trialled as soon as the Tour of Flanders 2015.

Further reading: Disc brakes: what does the future hold?