Disc Brakes: Don’t Let Your Bike Stop You

The mechanics of disc brakes are pretty impressive.
The mechanics of disc brakes are pretty impressive.

Mother Nature decided to dump a load of snow on us in Boston this weekend, and since my polo bike is the only bike I have with disc brakes (i.e. brakes that are functional in the snow), out of necessity I started riding it around town. It’s such a comfortable ride, I doubt that I’ll go back to my single speed commuter. Someone mentioned that trying to convince everyone to switch to disc brakes is “such a 2011 thing to do,” but I think it is worth repeating: disc brakes are awesome.

The most enduring sound byte that has come out of Boston Bike Polo in my time has been the adage, “GET A NEW BIKE!” And while that generally rings true (people are still playing on shitty old steel road bikes), the only update to my stallion that I really felt was worth the price of admission was a disc brake. All the pros have them.  I’ve been through four polo bikes, and I could go down the list and explain how each one went from assembled to demolished, but I don’t want to bore you.  Your internet minutes are valuable, and you have porn open in other browser tabs— don’t worry, I understand.  Suffice it to say, I destroyed many bikes in a spectacular fashion. The one thing that could have ultimately saved me a lot of money and time was a system of proper brakes.

Now, I’m not saying you should go out and buy a new disc fork and an Avid BB7, but I can say with some authority that it would be the best money you’ll ever spend upgrading your piece of shit bike.  The advantages are innumerable, and the most important one is stopping power.  I am 200 lbs. and I can stop on a goddamn dime.  Fuck it, I could stop on any currency you put in front of me.  My disc brake makes me a better biker and a better polo player.  I can do more maneuvering with less momentum, and when it rains my brakes are still as sticky as maple syrup on your fingers at IHOP (except in this case, it’s desirable).

Would you try this with a tektro caliper brake? That would be fucking terrifying!
[Click on pic above to watch .gif] Would you try this with a tektro caliper brake? That would be fucking terrifying! This famous .gif does more for disc brakes than Avid’s copywriting team ever could.
I don’t know that I would ever go back to caliper brakes, and I don’t care which brand it is, they wouldn’t be as reliable as my disc brake.  That would like being upgraded to first class from coach, and then being told halfway through the flight that you have to get up from your heated blanket, put down your complementary champaign, and sit between two morbidly obese garbagemen with glandular issues and uncontrollable flatulence.  Caliper brakes just can’t stop me as fast or as soundly as my current setup, and a brake arm would certainly slam into my downtube when I jack-knife.  And really, when all is said and done, the only thing I want from a brake is a consistent and reliable deceleration.

I will grant you that V-brakes have their appeal, especially when your front and rear are paired up with a dual lever.  You can skid and slide, which can be useful skills if you have good balance.  Tobi uses this setup with great success; despite having a knee that was ripped to shreds and repaired with rubber cement and play dough, he’s very fast and super agile.  I just hate thinking that a V-brake is so reliant on having wheels that are very straight and true, which mine rarely are due to my playing “style.” I don’t care how many spokes you have, rims are still made of aluminum, and nothing lasts forever in polo.

Javier's setup: Fixcraft 48h disc hub, Velvet fork, Avid BB7, L'Esperance BonerGuard (w/ speed holes)
Javier’s setup (similar to mine): Fixcraft 48h disc hub, Velvet fork, Avid BB7, A L’Esperance BonerGuard (w/ speed holes)

Having sung all these praises for disc brakes, I will admit that the price could be a prohibiting factor for some people.  When I switched to a disc brake setup, I had to buy a new fork, a new hub, rim and spokes, and the BB7.  It took several months of scrimping, saving, and eating ramen noodles to pay for the parts and labor, but it instantly upped my game.  And I will admit the most infuriating thing about the Avid BB7: the red knob that controls the distance of the pad from the rotor– it gets lost constantly.  There is no replacement knob, only sadness.  The pad spacing is still adjustable, but it requires needle nose pliers and patience. Besides that, there are very few maintenance issues with the brake.


I’ll leave you with this thought: bike polo is a game of speed and quickness.  Decisions are made with a hair trigger, and you have to have the equipment to match your reflexes and reaction time.  Acceleration and deceleration are crucial, and you don’t want the weather to slow you down.  If you really want to take the game seriously, get a new bike– just make sure the new fork has disc mounts. -ZS