Are Rim Brakes Dead? The Last of the Rim Brakes


There’s a bit of a myth that professional cycling sets the tone for what the type of bikes and equipment the rest of us will ride. While the professional peloton is certainly on some cutting edge stuff, they aren’t the forerunners of tech and trends that people think. In fact, brands put pros on bikes that the rest of us want, and that’s why there is just a single WorldTour team on rim brakes in 2021.

Rim brakes have been on the decline for nearly a decade. Cyclocross bikes were the first to make the switch, largely adapting and improving disc brake technology proven on mountain bikes and putting it to use in the muddy, torrid conditions of both European and American cyclocross circuits. As the lines between cyclocross and gravel began to blur, and the need for wider and wider tires grew, more bikes saw disc brakes options. As a rule, brands would almost always offer one or two rim brake models, and a token disc model, often near the high end of the price point.

When the gravel scene exploded, the line blurred on the other side of the spectrum, with all-road bikes offering riders more tire clearance, which was made possible by eliminating the rim brake arch. Still, these bikes were often billed as adventure or touring bikes, like the Salsa Colossal; its “Eat A Big Breakfast” tagline conjures up the long haul, not exactly the ability to win sprints or take KOMs.

As much as the industry talks about braking performance as the driving factor in the move to disc brakes, the real reason is tire clearance. More and more amateur and professional riders are on 28mm, 30, and even 32mm tires for every day road riding, and many love the ability to swap out 28mm tires for something as wide as a 45mm. While those are still more of a gravel bike, the technology and design to accompany wider tires has meant that even race-ready rigs are clearing a lot of rubber. Trek’s Domane line-up, a frameset that has battled over the cobblestones of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, now clears a massive 38mm tire, and by looking at it, could probably clear a 40mm.

Trek might be the best example of even all-out race bikes going all-disc. Their Emonda model is billed as the ultimate climbing bike, with a light, minimal frame designed for going uphills. When it’s Madone model went disc, the Emonda stayed with rim brakes. This year, however, instead of 10 rim brake options two years ago, there are exactly zero on offer.

All that attention has meant that other components have all but ceased designing and manufacturing rim brakes, hubs, and rims themselves. Even as rim brake diehards hold out, there’s little chance the industry will see a return to the technology, leaving behind a long tradition in the sport.

So, that one holdout in the pro peloton? Last year, two squads were on rim brakes. For 2021, Bianchi moved its sponsorship from Team Jumbo-Visma to Team BikeExchange and is putting the team on disc brakes bikes for the first time. The final holdout is Pinarello, the long-time bike partner of Team Ineos. For years, they didn’t even make a disc road bike until they finally relented and made a Dogma F10 with discs. Team Ineos will reportedly stick exclusively to disc brakes for the 2021 season, though it’s hard to imagine that being the case beyond this year.

Are you a rim brake holdout? Let us know!