Chris Froome fuelled the disc brake debate when reviewing his new team’s Factor Ostro VAM, conceding that the performance is superior but suggesting the “technology is not quite where it needs to be.”
For Froome, the shortcomings of disc brakes are focussed primarily around the maintenance of the system, but one area commonly cited as a concern is safety.
Froome’s former teammate, Owain Doull, once claimed disc brake rotors sliced open his shoe in a crash. This claim which was later proven inaccurate, but there can be no uncertainty surrounding Matteo Jorgenson’s early-career encounter with disc brake rotors.
Whilst riding for Chambery CF at the 2019 edition of Paris Roubaix Espoirs, Jorgenson was involved in a crash in which a disc rotor sliced through the calf muscle of his right leg, leaving him in hospital needing surgery.
The now-21-year-old American is one of the highest-profile victims of the dangers that disc brakes can pose, and he believes that despite their performance benefits, disc brakes come with a significant safety penalty.
“They are definitely more dangerous than rim brakes,” he told Cyclingnews.
“They’re an exposed piece of the bike that gets super hot, especially in a bike race. They can cause damage if they happen to land on a rider in a specific way, and it depends just by chance, on how they touch a rider. Especially if you’re on that side of the bike and you fall on top of a rider like I did.”
Nevertheless, Jorgenson admits things “get a bit blurry” when it comes to his opinion of disc brakes as a whole.
Speaking on the eve of his departure from his home in Nice to the Tour de la Provence, the 21-year-old explained how he was apprehensive when his then-new Movistar Team committed to disc brakes ahead of the 2020 season, but that he’s since been won over by their performance.
“I didn’t see much problem with rim brakes, I thought they were very good,” Jorgensen explained.
“But last January I switched to a new bike with discs, and I was shocked at how much of a difference it makes. In a bike race, there’s so much to be gained by being able to brake later.
“Disc brakes are very consistent, so when you pull the brake at first, it grabs just as much as 10 seconds later. Whereas with a rim brake, especially in the rain, you pull it and it starts to heat up, and then you get either less or sometimes it grabs more depending on the pad type. It’s very inconsistent, you have to kind of think through it while you’re braking. If you’re braking quite hard into a corner, you have to try and anticipate how much more you can brake.”
“I’d definitely be at a disadvantage [to return to rim brakes]. I notice it in a race where guys have to start braking earlier because they have rim brakes and they can’t slow down as fast and I can come round them.”
Despite the UCI making headlines this week for its new safety measures, in which it has banned the super tuck and subsequently the puppy paws position, Jorgenson wouldn’t call upon the UCI to create additional regulation around disc brakes.
“I’m pretty against making more rules,” he said.
“A cover could be a good idea, but I think we’d have to see more incidents of crashes with disc brakes affecting people. I think there have been so few incidents at this point that making a rule, such as mandatory rotor covers, would be a lot. I think people would be against it and it would be difficult to implement.”
Despite conceding that the UCI’s focus is misguided with regard to those recent bans, Jorgenson spoke praise of something that was buried in the UCI’s announcement: a crash database that will record details of each incident in order to highlight how crashes are caused, highlighting risks and common trends.
“I think that will give us some statistics on what actually is a risk in cycling, and what’s not. Maybe it can show them [the UCI] that these things they’re focusing on aren’t significant at all.”