Editor’s Note: Road disc brakes continued their seemingly inevitable march into themainstream late last year when they finally made their way into the pro peloton on a trial basis. More and more new road bikes feature disc brakes, and you’re surely seeing more of them on the road in whatever type of riding you do.
Many long-time recreational riders continue to be perfectly happy with the rim brakes and easy-on, easy-off wheels they’ve used for years. Most arguments heard against disc brakes – until now – have been along the lines of: I just don’t need them; my rim brakes are perfectly fine and produce all the stopping power I need. (Of course, you can also argue against having to buy new wheelsets, etc.)
Now, however, we’ve had our first (and second) disc brake-related injury in the pro peloton – and the element of danger has been introduced into the argument in a new and profound way.
In the Paris-Roubaix race on the 10th, Fran Ventoso, a 33-year-old team Movistar rider from Spain who’s been a pro for 13 years, suffered a gashed lower leg caused by the rear disc brake of a bike he fell into during a group crash. (In the years leading up to the introduction of disc brakes in the pro peloton, the heat buildup in disc rotors was the thing most discussed as a possible safety hazard.)
Days after the race, through Movistar, Ventoso released an open letter describing his take on cycling technology during his long career, detailing the crash, and railing against the use of disc brakes in the pro peloton.
His letter follows in its entirety.
What strikes me about his injury – and the other disc-related gash he describes another rider suffering during the race – is this: It seems just a matter of time before we hear about more of these types of injuries among recreational riders. Crashes happen. We all know that. Especially in close-quarters group riding. And with ever-more disc brakes on road bikes, it stands to reason that the chances of this type of injury are on the rise, too.
Only a day after the letter was published, the UCI announced that is stopping its trial of disc brakes in the pro peloton.
“This decision follows a request to do so made by the Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels (AIGCP) — which represents all professional cycling teams — following the injuries suffered by Movistar Team rider Francisco Ventoso at Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix Classic,” the statement reads. “This request is supported by the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA), which represents riders.
“The UCI will now continue its extensive consultations on this subject by way of its Equipment Commission, which is made up of representatives of teams, riders, mechanics, fans, commissaires and the bicycle industry — via the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) — all the while reaffirming that rider security has always been and will always remain its absolute priority.”
Let’s hope that Ventoso’s letter, and the UCI’s response, resonates with the makers of disc brakes and that future safety features might be in the offing. Francisco Ventoso’s letter follows:
On disc brakes
By Fran Ventoso
I’ve spent thirteen years in the pro cycling peloton and another thirteen moving up the ladder in youth categories. That makes it 26 years on my bike, training every day, enjoying what I like most, my passion. Since I was six, I’ve enjoyed racing, and I continue to do so. I’m so happy to have turned my vocation into a dream job.
Just like in any other sport, cycling has evolved in many technical aspects. However, it has not done so in others in a way we’d all have liked.
Through all these years, I’ve witnessed many improvements on different parts of the bike and cycling apparel. We started off with steel, then aluminum, and later on, carbon. That last one came here to stay, since it was as rigid as we needed while also offering lightness. We’ve also stopped using toeclips for clipless pedals, much more comfortable, effective and secure. Days are long gone when we used hairnet helmets: modern ones are now lighter, beautiful to the eye and offer absolute security guarantees when you use them.
I’ve also seen very important improvements on gearing. My first bike had one chainring and three sprockets; nowadays, we use two chainrings, even three, and 11 sprockets… and I’m certain it won’t end there. Technology evolution has been a sort of trial and error: getting to this point hasn’t been easy. I remember how easily chains were broken when we first used ten sprockets: links that broke, because of materials still not as resistant as it was required… it still happens today. We could also talk about the revolution that has brought the electronic shifting. When it was first shown and used, we all were surprised and made early judgments: it’s not necessary, it might not work well, carrying batteries seems wrong, having to connect your bike to AC is bonkers… And now, we can’t imagine our bikes without it.
My point is: two years ago, we started seeing disc brakes put on cyclocross bikes, and the rumour was that there could be a chance that they be tested in road cycling events.
Beforehand, I want to make this clear: I’m so in favor as anyone else that cyclocross professionals or participants in sportives enjoy the advantages of disc brakes during their rides.
But then, there’s pro road cycling events. Was there really anyone who thought things like Sunday’s wouldn’t happen? Really nobody thought they were dangerous? Nobody realized they can cut, they can become giant knives?
At Paris-Roubaix, only two teams used them. With eight riders each, that makes it sixteen, carrying a total 32 disc brakes into the peloton. Let me take you to 130km into the race: into a cobbled section, a pile-up splits the field, with riders falling everywhere. I’ve got to break [brake] but I can’t avoid crashing against the rider in front of me, who was also trying not to hit the ones ahead. I didn’t actually fall down: it was only my leg touching the back of his bike. I keep riding. But shortly afterwards, I have a glance at that leg: it doesn’t hurt, there’s not a lot of blood covering it, but I can clearly see part of the periosteum, the membrane or surface that covers my tibia. I get off my bike, throw myself against the right-hand side of the road over the grass, cover my face with my hands in shock and disbelief, start to feel sick… I could only wait for my team car and the ambulance, while a lot of things come through my mind.
Just a stroke of bad luck? I don’t thing so: few kilometers later, one of the thoughts I had sitting in the gutter becomes real.
15km after my incident, Nikolas Maes, a rider from Etixx-Quick Step, comes into the very same ambulance I’m sitting in. There’s a deep wound in his knee, produced by another disc, one of those 32. One question comes inevitably and immediately to one’s mind: what will happen when 396 discs get into a race where 198 riders ferociously battle for position?
Disc brakes should have NEVER arrived into the peloton, not at least as we know them right now. I haven’t met any rider who has run out of braking power with traditional brakes; I haven’t known anyone who didn’t see his wheels skidding when you brake with all power you’ve got, no matter traditional or disc brakes. Then: why [are we] using them?
Conversely, there are lots of problems to change wheels after a puncture; added trouble for neutral service, which has to carry three or four different sets of wheels to help you out in case your team car is not around… and the most worrying thing, as I stated before, is that disc brakes in its actual concept are giant knives, ‘machetes’ when crashing against or crashed by them at a certain speed. And in some points, we reach 80, 90, 100 kilometres per hour.
I’ve been lucky: I didn’t get my leg chopped off, it’s just some muscle and skin. But can you imagine that disk cutting a jugular or a femoral artery? I would prefer not to.
All of this happens because the international riders’ association –the CPA–, national riders’ associations, international and national feds, teams and, above all of them, OURSELVES, PROFESSIONAL RIDERS, are not doing anything. We always think that it’s not a problem if it doesn’t happen to ourselves. We always wait for horrible things to happen in order to take measures. Sooner or later, it could happen to anybody: it’s a matter of probability, we’ve all got the same. Pro riders should take a look beyond our own belly. Others tell us what we should do, but we just can’t forget WE’VE GOT THE POWER TO CHOOSE, AND WE SHOULD MAKE A CHOICE.
Disks produce cuts. This time it was me; tomorrow, it can be more serious and happen to others.