A recent Cycling Weekly interview with Rochelle Gilmore and Wiggle High5 team members sees the hugely respected team manager state that she doesn't think the women's peloton is 'ready for' disc brakes. We understand the arguments made, but wanted a second opinion on the topic - so we spoke to Stefan Wyman - Matrix Pro Cycling Team Manager and manager for nine time National Cyclocross Champ, Helen Wyman.
The UCI granted permission for all male and female professional riders to use disc brakes from January 1 2016, with the expectation that they'd be legal across the sport in 2017.
Concerns have always been the differing braking speeds, the discs becoming hot over long descents, injuries caused by the sharp edges of the disc in the event of a crash, and the complications created for neutral service wheel providers when swapping a wheel for a punctured rider.
Gilmore and Wiggle High5 riders Emma Johansson and Lucy Garner highlighted neutral service concerns, and also worries over members of the peloton being too eager to jump on the brakes during races as their key concerns.
The actual point here is that the women’s peloton should be using all of the same things the men’s peloton can use, at the same time.
Wyman positions himself very clearly on the other side of the fence, telling us: "The actual point here is that the women’s peloton should be using all of the same things the men’s peloton can use, at the same time."
Wyman, who managed his wife Helen through the period when cyclocross riders began to adopt disc brakes, had a lot to say on the issue. He explained: "Disc brakes themselves, as an item of equipment are not dangerous. They’re not heavy. They do not cause crashes. They provide a solid braking performance, with great modulation, and a fantastic range of adjustments to ensure they work perfectly with all sizes of hands and bars; which is actually a huge bonus for some women riders with small hands - and some men I’m sure.
Teams who don’t currently have access to a disc bike are going to fear this change; the reality is you can still win on a rim brake bike, as generally you aren’t braking going across the line.
"There seems to be an inherent fear of change and I think this comes from several places. Firstly, it comes from a lack of knowledge and experience. This really means people aren’t being educated on this new technology, and any pros and cons. Wheel changes are fast, bleeding disc brakes is quick and simple, pads last a long time, disc equipment can be very light. Secondly, it might come from protectionism when product isn’t available. In this particular example, of course teams who don’t currently have access to a disc bike are going to fear this change; the reality is you can still win on a rim brake bike, as generally you aren’t braking going across the line. All that changes is riders get an increased braking performance during an event."
Almost all riders getting a flat are passed immediately by neutral. How many times have you seen a rider in a women’s race finish on a neutral bike, with toe-clips and straps?
Regarding neutral service, Wyman was quick to kick back on the arguments offered- saying: "Sitting in the team car in pro races all of last season, I had the conversation with my mechanic about why we still have neutral cars in women’s races. My conclusion was about 90% of it related to the historical look of the race, seeing Mavic or Shimano roll by just before or just after the peloton. Almost all riders getting a flat are passed immediately by neutral. They are rightly left to the team to deal with. A flat tyre is unfortunate, but it’s also an opportunity to speak to a team rider, to hand up bottles, food and instructions. How many times have you seen a rider in a women’s race finish on a neutral bike, with toe-clips and straps? These bikes are being carried around to every race on neutral cars to create a look, they aren’t ever being used.
"Largely, neutral service is redundant in UCI Pro level racing. There are exceptions [such as Flanders and Strada Bianche] - but developments in the way teams operate now have even potentially reduced that, with teams having staff members at all key points with spare wheels.
"I read one argument yesterday that women’s teams only have 1 team car at races; so why are we campaigning to stop the introduction of disc brakes, when we should be campaigning to have parity in the rules for men and women and for us to be able to have 2 team cars in women’s cycling at WWT level?"
They offer a hugely consistent braking function, they continue to work with buckled wheels, they avoid the build up of grit and mud that sits on the rim surface, and they continue to work in all conditions. These are things that make them safe and advantageous to use
Asked if he though disc brakes could cause pile ups - Wyman told us: "On the road, in the pro peloton, experience is limited, but historically we have experience from the change over in MTB and more recently in cyclocross where there is a mix of braking options used all the time. I’ve got first hand experience of being part of that change over in cyclocross. When working for Helen, she was one of the first riders to switch over to disc brakes in cyclocross. Before having used them, I assumed the braking would be so powerful you’d stop immediately and I saw one particular area where there might be a problem of mixed brake types - at the end of the start straight, where riders transition to off-road elements. So far, in 5 years, my initial fears were totally wrong.
"I’ve been more and more impressed over the 5 years I’ve been working on disc brakes with the modulation they provide. They offer a hugely consistent braking function, they continue to work with buckled wheels, they avoid the build up of grit and mud that sits on the rim surface, and they continue to work in all conditions. These are things that make them safe and advantageous to use."
Regarding the 'jumpy' peloton, Wyman had a lot of insight to give. Last year, his team made the huge step from domestic to professional. This year they'll focus on European races. He said: "The women’s peloton can be jumpy, so can the men's. If I were a women rider, I’d be trying to make the peloton less jumpy, and at the same time be able to embrace new technology and equipment without fear. The answer in my mind is to reduce the number of teams in women’s races in the WWT, to ensure the quality of riders.
"[Currently] we have situations where 'Pro' races for women have a huge number of non-pro teams. These races therefore are not fully professional races, they can be jumpy, hard to predict and to be honest a little scary. That hasn’t changed for this coming season. It opens up a much bigger and different argument about why small UCI team’s bother to register as a UCI team, when it appears any club team that want to can race a UCI race with no control whatsoever on their rider ability, financial capacity or staffing.
"My team last year got very lucky and gained invitation to some huge events that we wouldn’t have got without being UCI registered, but the majority of our races were bread and butter UCI events in Belgium. These races commonly had more club teams than pro teams. We also have a huge amount of national team’s racing throughout the season, something we don’t have in World Tour Men’s cycling. These small teams aren’t generally paying rider salaries, but are paying money to register as a “pro" team, when it’s not required for races that actually hit their ability level. That registration money could be going into salaries, development and coaching.
"I really hope that on it’s full introduction in the 2017 season, we can see a WWT, where there are no national teams, no club teams, parity in regulation with the men’s side of the sport, and a group of strong teams that form the WWT that drive our sport forward, and we can all push to join them."
Wyman has raised a lot of interesting points - not just related to disc breaks, but to the women's pro peloton as a whole, and we'll be following up on some of them soon.
The good news is, dear reader, that unless you're after a bike for racing, you can use disc breaks any time - here are the pros and cons of having disc brakes on the road.