I did a bit of digging into rim brake road bikes today, and I am a bit alarmed to see the state of standard. Nowadays, world tour pros are racing on 30mm wide tires, yet rim brake forks, rims, and brakes have not been updated to clear >28mm. The lone fork that can clear >30mm tires has been out of stock for a few years: Whisky 7 RD+
To be clear, I am talking about off-the-shelf, high-performance road bike components. You could always braze up a custom fork or buy a used groupset. But to me, that will doom rim brakes to the niche bike world. I think there are many benefits of rim brakes for the mass market:
much less maintenance
In 10 years, I think all these disc brake bikes are going to be totally trashed. I can’t even look at my Tarmac without the brakes rubbing, and I take good care of my bikes. Not everyone lives in a place that has a lot of descents.
I was really excited to see direct-mount rim brakes come out. I wish I had a chance to own a bike with them, but they got swallowed up by Big Disc Brake. In theory, they allow for a stiffer caliper, more direct transfer of force into the rims, and wider tires.
Unfortunately, no one makes an OEM direct mount fork and they only seem to clear 30mm tires.
Direct mount is a pain for the carbon bike makers which is why it’s being phased out.
Rim brakes work great and I still ride a rim brake bike and am building another rim brake frame as we speak for myself. That said disc brakes are superior in every way for performance but maintenence is an issue for those less mechanically inclined.
Don’t forget the industry is geared towards making stuff for less out of carbon. All the standard interfaces and layouts will be optimised to suit that end. If you want something like 30+mm clearance forks with rim brakes you are going to have to make them yourself. The calipers are available to suit.
I have been playing with the idea of designing and importing a rim brake fork to design some bikes and keep the standard alive. It’s a $15-20k investment for 100 forks and a 6mo project. Not impossible, but it would require a lot of buy-in from the community.
I really like the idea of direct mount, but the standard worries me a bit. Direct mount frames were made for 3-4 years, so compared to the regular caliper, there are so few bikes out there, meaning there is little incentive to keep making calipers.
My other concern is tire clearance. The Shimano direct mount spec is 28mm of clearance. Fancy EE brakes are 30mm. I am pretty sure with a caliper re-design, you could clear more… But I doubt that will happen.
I just finished a new road frame for myself, Reynolds 853 Pro Team, designed around 47-57 reach sidepulls - I will be running Velo Orange brakes. I’m waiting for a Whisky #7 Road+ to go with it. The folks at Whisky told me that their next delivery is slated for May’23 - hope this is true. The Velo Orange brakes will comfortably clear a 35 with room, or a 32 with fenders. They have a little more room than the Shimano BR-R650 and its successor due to their profile. Honestly, all respect to direct mount discs, but I can get a bike on the road with lighter dropouts and lighter wheels and similar weight brakes with sidepulls for multiples of hundreds of dollars less. And more user serviceable by the owners to boot. Retrogrouch? Yup.
I’ve been riding rim brakes on my skinny tire bikes for years, but I decided to try discs on my latest gravel bike build. I spent well over $600 on a name brand carbon fork. And was so disappointed.
It chattered so badly under hard braking I got scared. And I have a high tolerance for risk— according to the safety guys at work
Those direct mount brakes look super cool. Aside from wet weather tides and wearing out rims, I’m all in favor of saving the rim brake.
I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned Paul Racers yet. They have clearance for days and are thoroughly serviceable. Only downside is the price. If they did a 32-34mm clearance version that fit direct mount and/or standard-drop road bikes, I’d be in heaven.
I think for many riders rim brakes are the best option. How many casual cyclists are riding in the rain/wet weather? Additionally, I don’t believe these same riders are spending the majority of their rides descending mountain passes. Rim brakes are very easy to setup and maintain even for less experienced wrenches. I have never really bought the notion that rim brakes don’t stop well, most of my own bikes are rim brake and they stop incredibly well. Carbon rim breaks and wet weather don’t mix well but in the dry on either carbon or aluminum stopping powers and modulation are great from the likes of Dura Ace or Campagnolo calipers. I have built a few bikes now designed for long reach (49-59mm) brakes, like the Velo Orange or TRP 957, and I can get a 38mm tire underneath the caliper no problem. Taking the wheel in and out my require some finagling but it’s very doable. My hope is that big companies continue making some version of their rim brake, I’m glad Shimano kept a rim brake on the latest 12spd Dura Ace, even though it’s the same as the last model. Lastly, I’m not sold on direct mount, as mentioned above clearance has never really been an issue for me as long as I design the frame/fork well with a sidepull caliper. I can understand how the brake arms would be more stiff but I’m not convinced that makes a real world difference at the lever for the rider.
Nice, thanks for that update. There is clearly a demand for this fork, I bet it outsells their other rim brake forks.
Agreed, they look really cool, especially if the fork has the special boss locations. A bit meaty for pure road bike applications.
IMO, mini V brakes start creeping into gravel/allroad territory, where I feel you can start making good arguments for discs. That being said, I think it would be great to see more rim brake rims that are tubeless and 23-25mm internal for those cross/gravel/all road bikes.
I have been testing a mix of 28 to 32mm tubeless tires (with discs) for the past 6000 mi on my road bike and it has been great. Quick enough for group rides and comfortable and fast on rougher roads. I would love a rim-brake road bike that could “officially” take 30mm.
I think it’s probably a $30k investment for forks, calipers, and rims to modernize rim brake road bikes to take 30-32mm tires. Given the popularity of the Whisky #7 RD+ fork, maybe we should start a go-fund-me to save the rim brake.
Didn’t Paul have a small racer version for a while?
I’m a fan of the old Grand Compe brakes from the early 80s. These work super well when brazed on, have a beautiful pearlescent finish, and are light. They fit 30mm tires with fenders, or about 35s without (the tires in the photo look like 32mm Paselas). Diacompe sold them for braze-on purposes and they were stock on a Centurion model or two. I bought these ones NOS in 2009, complete with the brazeon studs.
Walt: for me it’s the ride quality that you get from thin and light fork blades (and maybe good carbon forks, but I have limited experience with those).
For 38mm and up tires I think disc brakes are a great option.
I’d also argue that they are the right choice for take apart travel bikes. Not having to remove hydraulic calipers and disk rotors saves a lot of time in packing. You can replace a shipping damaged V-brake pretty much anywhere in the world. That is a utilitarian view of course…
I used the Whisky fork on a road bike for myself with 32mm tires and the TRP mid-reach brakes. I haven’t ridden it in over 5 years though.
Based on my memories of riding that bike, the mid-reach brakes were excellent. At the time I lived in a very hilly area, so most of my rides included minimum 1500’ (450m) climbs and descents. I don’t see the point of going to direct mount with these fine brakes on the market. If I remember right, I did have to deflate the tires to get the wheels in and out of the frame.
I agree with @Alex that a steel fork with nice blades has a superior ride quality to the carbon forks I’ve ridden. It’s the reason I stopped riding my road bike. The Whisky fork was too stiff and choppy. Those of you coming from riding carbon race bikes may be used to that feeling and may not notice, but I had only previously ridden steel forks. It was an obvious harshness that I didn’t like.
Same could be said for the rim brake though: what if you need to take the fork off to make it fit in the bag? You have to unbolt the front brake, or bring a spare cable and cutters. I’m not sure removing 1 bolt vs 2 is a big difference.
I haven’t taken rotors off of wheels when flying domestic or international, and just put pad spacers into the calipers.
That being said, I’m more interested in traveling with mechanical disc brakes than hydraulic, but if I pack the bike well there isn’t an issue.
I’d also echo Walt’s points about the trueness / wheel being the weak point in the equation. When I’m on a long tour I 100% prefer discs.