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by James Huang
May 3, 2016
Photography by James Huang
Professional road racing’s tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship with disc brakes is set for another interesting twist after last month’s abrupt halt to the trial period that was originally scheduled to run for the entire 2016 season. CyclingTips has learned that discs will once again be in the pro peloton beginning in June — albeit with some key safety modifications expected to be put in place.
Last month, in an open letter, Movistar rider Fran Ventoso very publicly claimed that the gruesome injury he sustained at Paris-Roubaix was caused by a disc brake rotor. The sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, reacted just three days later by immediately halting the disc brake trial that had originally been scheduled to run throughout the 2016 season.
“The test was suspended following a request to do so made by teams and riders through their representing bodies,” said UCI press officer Louis Chenaille, “after the injuries suffered by Movistar Team rider Francisco Ventoso at Paris-Roubaix.”
That decision has been viewed by some as a knee-jerk reaction. Although Ventoso’s injury was indeed serious, his account of the incident was uncertain from the outset, and could not be verified. There have also been wide-reaching trickle-down effects outside of professional road racing, with both the French and Spanish national cycling federations banning the use of disc brakes in amateur events, such as gran fondos and sportives, and the future of entire manufacturer product lines left in doubt.
Three weeks after that initial decision, the UCI has taken the time to more thoroughly evaluate the situation. CyclingTips has learned that plans are in place to restart the trial beginning in June — most likely at the Critérium du Dauphiné and/or Tour de Suisse.
The UCI Equipment Commission held a private conference call last week with key cycling industry members of the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) — essentially an industry lobbying group for Olympic sports — during which several key findings were shared. CyclingTips has obtained notes taken during that call.
Perhaps the most impactful finding is that a forensic medical doctor — albeit one commissioned by the WFSGI — has concluded that Ventoso’s gruesome injury was most likely caused by a chainring, not a disc brake rotor. CyclingTips has not obtained a copy of the forensic report.
(Ventoso’s Movistar team replied via email, saying neither Ventoso nor the team “had any interest” in continuing the discussion about his crash. “He explained pretty clear what and how happened,” a team spokesman wrote, “with the unique objective of helping our beloved sport to continue progressing.”)
Nevertheless, in last week’s private conference call, the UCI Equipment Commission did acknowledge athletes’ lingering concerns of sharp edges on disc rotors, the possibility of contact burns from rotors that have become hot after braking on long descents, and the effects of a ‘two-tiered peloton’ where some riders are on rim brakes and others on discs.
June’s restart of the disc brake trial is said to include at least one key modification to existing equipment in order to address at least one of those issues — rounded edges on rotors, so as to minimize the chance of laceration (something CyclingTips proposed last week).
Moving forward, other changes are also being evaluated, such as round outer rotor profiles without saw-like cutouts or notches, and protective rotor covers.
June’s restart of the disc brake trial in professional road racing will likely incorporate discs with chamfered and/or radiused edges. Future considerations include rotors with more rounded outer profiles (shown at right) as opposed to ones with more polygonal shapes or cutouts.
During the call, the UCI Equipment Commission expressed a willingness to modify longstanding design rules, such as the ubiquitous ‘3-to-1’ guideline that dictates aerodynamic limitations as needed to allow for the safe operation of disc brakes within the peloton — potentially a nod toward covers with aerodynamic shapes. The UCI also outlined plans to continue investigations with a forensic doctor to empirically determine the human risks of disc brakes.
Another issue raised during the call between the UCI Equipment Commission and the WFSGI members was a request that the UCI help alleviate the concerns of the French and Spanish national federations, in order to open amateur events to disc brake use, with WFSGI members pointing out that no major accidents or injuries in amateur road events, due to disc brakes, have been reported.
An internal follow-up meeting with the UCI Equipment Commission is scheduled for September to evaluate the effects of these changes, as well as determine the direction of disc brakes in road racing in general.
In the meantime, it seems that disc brakes have won a reprieve — for now.
An official press release is expected later this week from the UCI but in meantime, Chenaille would only state officially that the situation was still uncertain.
“We are continuing to evaluate the situation in close collaboration with riders, teams, and the industry.”