Why (if you had the choice) would you stay with cantilever brakes and forgo the opportunity to change to a disc set up for racing cyclo cross?

  • 1
    When disc CX frames first started becoming available (ca. 2005) we used to joke that if you need to use your brakes you were doing CX wrong. Ahh, ignorance! – Rider_X Nov 30 '14 at 17:44
  • Some people argue that disc brakes are more of a hassle to maintain, although for my money it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. – PeteH Nov 30 '14 at 19:49
  • If I get new CX bike it will be disc but it is not enough reason to get a new CX. Tire changes as pointed out by Glenn. If I had 3 sets of tubular wheels - but I guess that is cost. Your spare bike is not compatible - but I guess that is cost also. – paparazzo Nov 30 '14 at 20:35
  • 1
    my guess would be weight, cantilevers are lighter than the braking discs plus calipers – ratchet freak Nov 30 '14 at 21:48
  • @ratchetfreak I am not sure they start heavier and by the time the canti collect the requisite mud for sure not heavier. – paparazzo Dec 2 '14 at 4:55

One good reason to stick with cantilever is easier wheel swaps. Last weekend races, my son flatted and we did not put spare wheels in the pits. Neutral support had spare wheels and if my son had a disc based bike he would not of been able to use them. Even if neutral support had disc wheels, with differences in rotor size they may not work for your bike.

Full Disclosure: my next CX will be disc based, I've been through too many rims with brake surface getting dished from grit and grime.

  • 1
    "Easier wheel swaps" - not sure that is the right phase - if you have a matching wheel, its easier with disc than rim brakes. However, as you state - you need a matching wheel which to all practical purposes means your spare. – mattnz Nov 30 '14 at 20:36
  • I've been through too many rims with brake surface getting dished from grit and grime ohhh yeah. And from my experience it's sooo expensive! Did I really clean those brakes so rarely? – andy256 Nov 30 '14 at 23:23
  • I agree, swapping a disc wheel you won't need to release the brakes and re-connect, but I do find there are many more non-disc wheels available from friends at the races, buddies racing later or before me always offer hand-ups! I do clean my brakes, but still the grit and grime during the race adds up lap after lap. I love the mud, but as far as bike maintenance, CX can be expensive – Glenn Gervais Dec 1 '14 at 0:47
  • 1
    Swapping wheels = doing it wrong. Grab the spare bike and let your support fix the wheel without rushing (fewer mistakes) and without further delaying your race. – Emyr Dec 1 '14 at 9:57
  • 1
    @Emyr Lucky you - a support team and spare bike. – paparazzo Dec 2 '14 at 4:58

Professional cyclo-cross racers choose depending on the type of cross they are riding. On fast tracks or tracks with a lot of climbs they prefer cantilevers. On muddy tracks you see a lot of disk brakes.

I remember there was a huge discussion about this when they first showed up in the world cup (November 2013). Below some quotes from the leading riders in the UCI ranking at that time on the choice between disk brakes (hydraulic system) and cantilevers.

Lars van der Haar (current Dutch national champion)

"Schijfremmen blijven in alle omstandigheden praktisch even goed remmen, terwijl dat bij cantilevers in slechte omstandigheden toch vermindert." (Translation: Disk brakes keep working in all circumstances while cantilevers lose performance in bad conditions).

Niels Albert (Two time world champion)

"Met schijfremmen kun je kort voor de bocht snel afremmen, terwijl je met de klassieke cantilever-remmen al eerder moet beginnen remmen." (Translation: with disk brakes you can brake right before the corners, while with cantilevers you need a larger stopping distance).

Verstraeten, coach of Sven Nys (Two time world champion, current Belgian national champion)

"Mijn persoonlijk gevoel is dat schijfremmen ook een voordeel kunnen bieden in de modder. Met remblokjes wordt de remkracht toch beïnvloed door het vuil, bij schijfremmen niet. Maar het hele systeem weegt toch een halve kilogram extra. Het wordt dus afwegen." (Translation: I personally feel that disk brakes have an advantage in mud. With cantilevers the braking power is influenced by dirt. The disk brake system is about 0.500 kg heavier, so you have to make a check-balance).

On the highest level, the extra weight of the disk brakes will have impact on the performance of the athletes. I think however that on a recreational level, when there is still a lot of improvement possible on your own weight, overall fitness, .. I would go for disk brakes if cost is not an issue.


The superior modulation that most disc systems have is due to the hydraulic actuation not the fact that they are discs. Traditional Bowden cables have a lot of inherent friction. Hydraulic rim brakes such as the Magura brakes (for many years the first choice for trials riders) and the more recent Sram hydraulic rim brakes have better modulation than any of the top end disc setups I have used. Unless deep mud is part of your ride or you need rim flex such as in mountain biking, hydraulic rim brakes are superior to discs in every way. Here's hoping the road disc fad dies quickly.

  • 1
    Welcome to Bicycles @Andy. You don't actually answer the question. As it stands, this post is likely to be flagged as not an answer and removed, so can you update your answer please? Also check out the help center to see how the site works. – andy256 Sep 14 '15 at 0:30

Hydraulic discs self adjust as the pads wear, which may wear significantly during a single race. I have heard that some pros have avoided switching for this reason, however I believe that the main reason they do not is that they are used to caliper brakes.

I would not upgrade to mechanical (cable-actuated) discs since they will not self-adjust, and you may find yourself pulling the levers a lot before the pads engage. I have not ridden a mechanical-caliper bike (cross, MTB or road), so I cannot confirm how they wear.

The improvement in braking performance with discs is too great to ignore. Hydraulic discs have unmatched control, so just go for those.

  • 1
    Hydraulic systems for drop bars are still jolly expensive -- it isn't anywhere near economically feasible for most people. – Batman Dec 1 '14 at 0:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.