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Hydraulic road disc brake systems inch forward

Published November 15, 2012

TAICHUNG, Taiwan (BRAIN) — Since showing its first set of hydraulic road disc brakes on Colnago’s C59 road bike at this year’s Taipei Cycle show, Formula has been fielding a nearly endless stream of inquiries from potential OEM customers.

“It’s incredible, you can’t imagine,” said Theo-Josef Sandu, CEO of Formula’s Germany subsidiary. Just before Eurobike, Sandu got calls from 15 to 20 interested OEs. 

But Formula is in a delicate situation. Colnago approached the fellow Italian brand to develop the brakes, and paid for many of the molds. As such, Colnago has the exclusive on the system until March 1, so although Formula is in close conversations with several OEs to spec disc brakes, nothing can happen until after that date. 

In the meantime, Shimano has reportedly fast-tracked its fully hydraulic disc brake development. Several product managers here at Taichung Bike Week have said they have already tested Shimano’s system. SRAM has also apparently sent out the first samples of its version made for its mechanical Red group. 

Formula's levers integrate with Campagnolo's EPS drivetrain. The company ended development of a lever that worked with Shimano's Di2 drivetrain after Shimano changed its wiring harness system for its new 11-speed Di2 Dura-Ace group.

Sandu thought that Shimano would not release its brakes until model year 2015, but now expects to see spec on 2014 road bikes.

“Shimano will be right from the beginning the leader of the market,” he said. 

Even if the initial hydraulic road disc systems hit the market next year, Sandu said it would be two to three years before all the moving pieces are solidified. For instance, thru axles could make the most sense for compatibility with the system, but that will require wheel and frame manufacturers to tweak their designs. Disc size is another unknown. Larger discs cool down quicker, but are heavier and not as visibly appealing on a road bike as smaller discs. That’s a challenge because there are lingering safety concerns about the discs overheating with heavy use. Formula used a 140-millimeter disc on the Colnago C59, and Sandu thinks 160-millimeter discs are the maximum for a road application. The boiling point of the type of oil used is also a factor.

Some have voiced concerns over the power of disc brakes on the road, especially with riders who aren’t used to such responsive stopping, but Sandu believes that’s merely a matter of riders getting used to disc brakes. The real key, he said, will be strengthening frames to support a stronger brake system.

He thinks the advantages of hydraulic road disc brakes far outweigh some of the technical questions that may still need answering, and predicts that in five years the setup will be standard on road bikes (despite the fact that the UCI still bans road discs in competition). 

“It’s a safety issue. It’s really, really safe,” Sandu said, noting uniform braking performance in all weather conditions. 

Topics associated with this article: Taichung Bike Week

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