Hydraulic Road Disc Brakes: Braking

First off, the keywords for the BB Bike o’ the Future: integration; single-purpose components.

So, in Part I of the Bliggity Blog Road Bike of the Future series, I pointed to the upcoming/already released Volagi carbon frames as, to my knowledge, the first instance of a production line of racing and/or sportive-oriented road bikes designed around disc brakes. Just going by what you can see online (I have not touched nor seen a Volagi in person), these seem like about the best option going – at least given the current design and technology constraints. However, I would expect that, once the disc brakes on road bikes ball gets rolling, the Volagi design will quickly be seen as a v. 1.0 attempt at truly leveraging the potential strengths of the disc brake paradigm.

Braking

Right now you pretty much have to use cable-actuated mechanical calipers – probably either Avid or Shimano. Again, I have not used either of these, but I know from endless online debates in the MTB world that mechanical brakes have their proponents. However, mechanical discs are just plain stupid. For one, you still have to monkey around with adjustments, cable stretch and cable degradation over time. Secondly, they just do not seem to offer the power of hydraulics (at least when each is set up to the best of its abilities). Finally, they are clunky…and, overall, likely to be heavier after a few more rounds of hydraulic revision in the next couple of years.

So, what if you wanted hydraulics on your (drop bar) road bike, right now? You are pretty much out of luck. One option is to rely on the the previously discussed mechanical-to-hydraulic converter, which appeared at Eurobike 2010. Although it brings a weight penalty, this would allow for any shifters/brifters you would like. Another minus: it’s ugly. I will say, though, that this is pretty elegant given the fundamentally kludgy nature of what it is doing. I suppose this thing could be further refined, and it is somewhat neat to think it would allow you to swap “brifters” over time, without touching the braking system.

It isn’t hard to imagine how a nice, super lean hydraulic road caliper could look – just think of the new Shimano XTR race calipers with maybe even a bit more taken off. And, how long would it be before some crazy cool composite rotors started to appear for the road market. Like this:

Still, what is really needed is a true, purpose-built hydraulic disc shift/brake option. I would bet good money that Shimano has one or more of these mules buried somewhere on a test bike in Japan or Irvine, probably machined from Alu with Sharpie notations all over it. For now, though, this is vaporware. Why would it be Shimano (apart from deep pockets)? Because, in my view, you cannot address the hydro disc issue without addressing the shifting issue…and Shimano, more than anyone else, has dealt with the shifting issue. Which leads us to….the next episode, which is forthcoming!

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White Bikes of the Future

photo via Cyclingnews.com.

Nice shot here of David Moncoutie in the Vuelta this week. He’s riding the crazy new high-end Look bike (which I believe is the 695). Yes, the bike is white. However, this time I’m highlighting the Look for another reason: it takes us closer to what I believe is the BIKE OF THE FUTURE!

The basic trend is system integration of all sorts. This is not shocking – it has been going on for a number of years now, and Cannondale has even used the “system integration” moniker for quite some time. Look now takes this further, with the combination of integrated crankset/bb, stem, and integrated seat mast.

You buy this bike as a module (which Look calls a “pack”):

What are the next steps toward the kind of bikes we will be seeings ten years from now? As the frequent readers of BB (reader??) might guess, an immediate addition would be hydraulic disc brakes. It cries out for them, in fact. Take a look at the profile shot:

Not very hard to imagine those brake calipers removed from the bike. Maybe a large rear disc caliper mount (large meaning triangulated) down there at the chainstay/seatstay junction. And, picture a fatter, or at least deeper, bladed carbon fork with an integrated caliper mount at the end. Perhaps a shift as well to MTB-style through-axle fork/hub interface (like Rock Shox’s Maxle Lite, but smaller for road)

So, now you just need some very simple, single-purpose hydraulic brake levers up on the bars. And, you still need to buy your own bars…but it’s hard to imagine something that taste-based and unique ever going away.

Next step – and this is the BIG one – is a move to internal gearing. Electrically actuated internal gearing. Think Shimano’s Di2 wires and battery, but only running to the rear hub. You’ve now dropped the front and rear derailleurs, cables/housing, cassette and double rings from the equation. You have a single cog on the rear (attached to the Rohloff-like internal hub…with maybe 16-18 gears eventually), a single chainring mounted to the integrated crankset, and a couple of tiny shift actuator buttons OR maybe integrated buttons like on Di2. But, even Di2 now has the “remote shifter” button option – that is, a shift button that can be placed on top of the bars.

In this new bike purchasing paradigm, you have two major costs:

1. Frameset module/pack like you see with the Look 695. You buy the correct rough size and then custom tune the stem and integrated seat mast to your size and comfort level.

2. Wheelset. These are complicated, but integrated. Big ass hubs for large axle (in the front), disc brake rotors and mounts and a very expensive rear hub with the internal gearing. Deep carbon rims, designed without a braking surface (you’ve got disc brakes, remember), probably tubular (because you don’t have to worry at all about overheating rims and melting glue from braking).

What else do you buy?

3. Handlebars

4. Hydraulic calipers, levers and rotors

5. Saddle

6. Chain

7. Shift actuators, wires (if not built in to the frame), battery

Maintenance is almost nill – clean the chain, but that only involves spraying it with solvent, wiping clean, and re-lubing. You want to change bikes? Basically you only need to buy another module/pack from a different manufacturer; wheels and minor parts just shift straight across.

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Good Parts

First off, Soma Fabrications is importing some amazing Suzue hubs from Japan. These are cassette hubs with HIGH flanges and the totally cool styling from Suzue’s original freewheel and track hubs familiar to those of us who were into bikes in the 80s. Amazingly cool….although super expensive.

Suzue Hubs

For those who have been subjected to my “future bike” rant at some point, you will recall my firm belief in the future dominance of internal gearing – both on mtn (less controversial) AND on road (more controversial) bikes. Internal gearing has many advantages (no “wasted” gear ratios through redundancy or impossible chainlines, cleanliness, no need to change chains and use super expensive ones, quick shifting independent of pedaling, and general adaptability to system integration of the bicycle). I think that real ticket will be for internal gearing that is electronically actuated – allowing for placement of “shifters” anywhere/everywhere needed on the bars (a la the original Mavic Zap system).

The internal gearing options got much better with Shimano’s release of the Alfine 8 speed internal hub. The Alfine internals were apparently beefed up significantly over the original Nexus system, and another gear was added. It even appears that Shimano made a running change to the model (going from 500 to 501 in the model number) that further improved shifting quality. Most important, the Alfine 8 is disc compatible (I believe it takes Shimano Centerloc rotors), making it hip to the modern mtn bike. Internal gearing really has the potential to revolutionize full-suspension mtb design because it eliminates (with front internal gearing – like the hammerschmidt system) differential suspension performance based on chain positioning.

One drawback to trying Alfine on road has been the lack of shift actuation options. Alfine at least brought with it a high quality trigger shifter, so flat bar performance was fine. Jtek is making a bar-end style (what we used to call “bar-con” shifters back in the day) Alfine shifter as well for drop bars, but this was about the only mainstream option.

I have just seen on the Soma Fabrications site, however, that a real brifter style option now exists for Alfine. From what you can see on their site, this appears to be based on the body of the Dura-Ace 7800 knockoff shifters badged by, amongst others, Nashbar. They have probably just started with that and then modified the cable pull to fit the Alfine shift indents (this is why electronic actuation is such an obvious advantage). Soma has these listed for some totally insane price….but that can’t last long. There is likely one factory in Taiwan or the PRC stamping these things out and selling them to all these distributors/marketers.

Good stuff, all of it!

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PS — Come to think of it, I should put my “future bike” outline up on the blog soon anyway. This way it will be saved for posterity and future “visionary” cred.