Get the lowdown on the best disc brake machines currently available.
Disc brake bikes have become a booming sector of the industry in recent years – despite the fact that debate still rages about whether they can be used by professional riders.
The UCI has flip-flopped in the past 18 months over a decision to sanction disc brakes on the pro tour (largely due to allegations they can cause serious injury in crashes), but there is no doubt that amateurs love the extra confidence that comes from the super-responsive stopping power.
Unlike the professionals, weekend riders are less concerned by the added weight of the discs and simply want a system that is widely regarded as offering superior braking – especially when conditions are not ideal.
Nearly all manufacturers now offer disc brake road bikes as an option in their range – and some have gone even further due to public demand by abandoning traditional rim brake bikes completely. Here's our rundown on some of the best disc brake bikes currently on the market.
SPECIALIZED TARMAC EXPERT DISC, RRP: $5,300
The decade-old Tarmac was redesigned in 2014 with disc brakes added into the mix. Specialized were inspired by their collaboration with F1 outfit McLaren (which spawned a limited edition version of the Tarmac costing $27,000) and became determined to improve steering response and also stiffness in the rear triangle.
The result is an aggressive bike with race-style geometry, but also with an element of comfort thrown in. Specialized say: “By coupling the power and modulation of hydraulic disc brakes with the flawless performance of a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed build kit, the Tarmac Expert Disc Race becomes a purpose-built race machine.”
The Roval Rapide CL 40 disc wheels provide aerodynamics in a lightweight package and are capable of rapid acceleration while also being designed specifically with the demands of the disc brakes in mind. Specialized use unique rear hub spacing to keep the chain stay’s short (405mm) for racy handling. Indeed, its nimbleness in the corners make it well suited to those who compete in a lot of crits.
BIANCHI INFINITO CV DISC, RRP: $5,500
According to Bianchi: “The Infinito was designed for the rider who wants to mix it up on Saturday’s fast tempo group ride yet still remain comfortable logging a century on Sunday.”
That has been achieved by something they call Countervail technology, which was developed by aerospace engineers to incorporate viscoelastic, vibration cancelling properties into the carbon fibre layup process. The result, it is claimed, is dramatically reduced road vibration offering a number of benefits such as improved handling, increased peak power output and less rider fatigue over long distances.
Stiffness is not really compromised, but once again weight rears its head when it comes to a disc-brake machine. A 55cm frame with Shimano Ultegra Di2, but minus pedals, tips the scales at around 8.2kg which will be noticeable when going uphill. Around half a kilo of that weight is due to the Shimano BR-R785 hydraulic disc brakes themselves. The relaxed geometry of the Infinito CV disc puts it firmly in the sights of sportive riders.
BMC ROADMACHINE, RRP: $6,999 (for 02 Ultegra Di2 version)
The Roadmachine is slightly unusual in the disc brake category in that it never existed previously as a rim brake version. Instead it was created from scratch taking inspiration from all the best aspects of the company’s existing stable of endurance, race and aero bikes.
Therefore the Roadmachine stands alone without comparison to a previous non-disc version, which perhaps ensures judgement is not clouded by past performance. It is available in 01 (Dura Ace Di2), 02 (Ultegra Di2) and 03 (105) versions, with the frame of the top-of-the-range 01 version weighing in at just 920 grams.
Although the Roadmachine is hailed as an ‘all-rounder’, BMC Racing were scheduled to use this bike in the Tour de Suisse in 2016 before the UCI changed the rules on disc-brakes in pro events. The fact that there is room for up to 30mm tyres also offers something different from many of the other disc-brake road bikes on offer.
CANNONDALE CAAD12 DISC ULTEGRA, RRP: $4,199
The rim-braked 105 version of this bike was highly regarded, perhaps putting the pressure on to live up to expectations. Despite the wide availability in the market of carbon fibre machines, Cannondale continue to stick to their guns with a high quality aluminium offering.
In fact they claim that the CAAD12 Disc is ‘simply the most sophisticated, highest performing aluminum race bike ever made’. With weight always an issue on disc-brake bikes, the company have utilised the so-called SmartForm process to smoothly taper the tube ends to reduce stress points and also shave off as many grams as possible.
As well as that the company have patented the design for their minimalist flat-mount braze-on disc mounts which are ultra light and also incredibly strong. The CAAD12 Disc is available with three drivetrain options; SRAM Force 1, Shimano Ultegra and 105 – and uses Shimano BR785/505 hydraulic disc brakes with quick release skewers front and rear.
LAPIERRE SENSIUM 500 DISC, RRP: $3,599
Lapierre are proud to claim that the Sensium 500 is the “ultimate endurance bike”. They believe their clever design allows it to be lightweight, stiff under power and yet comfortable to ride all day.
And the disc brakes are one of the keys to that. The company state they offer more power, a lighter lever action and superior performance in the wet. The discs also allow lighter wheels with thinner shape-optimised sidewalls that allegedly won’t wear out. And minor distortions in the rim won’t then cause energy-sapping rub.
The Sensium 500 is actually the entry-level offering from Lapierre in their global line-up, and got a complete redesign for 2017 from the old version. And in a real attention to detail, the company introduced a high-TG resin to increase the melting point, and therefore structural rigidity, on the crucial areas around the disc calipers.
TREK DOMANE SL 5 DISC, RRP: $4,999
Trek claim that there is no need to just endure, because with the Domane SL 5 Disc you can conquer. They say its blistering speed and incredible race comfort make it a machine that can cope even on the punishing pave of Flanders and Roubaix. Whatever Fabian Cancellara can do, seemingly so can you!
The key to the those bold statements are the front and rear IsoSpeed decouplers that smooth out the roughest of roads. And Trek believe the 500 Series OCLV carbon frame on the SL helps riders go stronger for longer. Add to that additional tyre clearance (32mm as stock) for on and off-road versatility and this is certainly a bike that can take you far and wide.
There is variety too, with 17 different versions of the Domane available in Australia, including a rim-brake version as well as the disc option. The SL 5’s Shimano RS505 hydraulic discs feature 160mm diameter rotors and offer plenty of stopping power, while 12mm thru-axles are used at both wheels which adds stiffness.
LIV AVAIL ADVANCED, RRP: $3,299 (for Advanced 1 version)
Liv, the world’s first bike brand dedicated to women, now offers the Advanced with disc brakes for female endurance riders.
The build is designed to smooth out the roughness of the road, while the Shimano RS505 hydraulic disc brakes provide additional confidence when it comes to stopping and cornering. Many women also rave about disc brakes given the fact they require less power to operate from the lever.
In addition, the Avail, with mechanical disc brakes, is also available with a second set of levers on the horizontal section of the bar - in response to feedback from female riders who feel less in control when reaching for brakes on the hoods. Liv’s Advanced-grade composite frame has a geometry that offers excellent comfort and stability.
MERIDA SCULTURA DISC, RRP: $2,799 (for Disc 5000 version)
The Scultura Disc is the bike that the Lampre Merida team used in the 2016 Tour of Flanders - before disc brakes were banned from use in racing by the UCI following alleged injuries to Francisco Ventoso in the Paris-Roubaix.
Merida claim: ‘The principle of physics cannot be denied: disc brakes under certain conditions are miles ahead of the rim brake.’ And the company are proud of their ‘Disc Cooler’ system which utilises aluminium ribs around the chain stay to take the generated heat away from the rear brake. The result is 35 per cent less heat build-up and a faster temperature reduction.
The non-disc version of the Scultura was billed as the lightest production bike in the world, but weight is always a factor with disc brakes and around 700g has been added to the scales compared to the previous incarnation. The fork has been made stronger and the stays have also been reinforced in order to deal with the different forces going through the bike as a result of the disc brakes. That fact alone adds around 150g to the frame.
Merida say the 28mm wide tyres available for the Scultura offer maximum traction and therefore translate the improved brake power perfectly onto the road.
GIANT TCR DISC, RRP: $5,299 (for Advanced Pro version)
The TCR Disc is available in Advanced SL, Advanced Pro and Advanced versions – which are exactly the same as their rim-brake counterparts. The frame and fork have been engineered specifically for flat-mount disc brakes, including front and rear 12mm thru-axles for the most reliable braking and handling in all types of weather and road conditions.
Geometry of the TCR remains the same, even with the disc brake system – which uses Shimano RS805 hydraulic discs with RT81 IceTech Centerlock rotors.
In Australia, the disc brake versions of the TCR cost around $300 more than the comparable rim brake bikes. That’s in stark contrast to consumers in UK and USA who actually pay less for the discs compared to the rims.
FOCUS PARALANE, RRP: $4,899
Touted as an endurance bike, the large tyre clearances (up to 35mm) mean it can also be steered down short cuts such as country lanes and off-road tracks.
Indeed, Fabian Scholz (a German national enduro MTB champion) engineered the Paralane specifically because Focus staff on lunchtime rides would often have to take unusual diversions to get back to the office in time. And Scholz was determined to produce something that was not going to be compromised when it was on the tarmac.
There was also no compromise when it came to the brakes. Focus insist it would have been impossible to design and produce this bike with rim-brakes since the frame would then not have been so comfortable, nor able to offer space for those 35mm tyres.
The Paralane has RAT (Rapid Axle Technology) thru-axles – no surprise given the fact that Scholz was key to creating the system in the first place – but with easier adjustment thanks to a new retaining nut.
AVANTI CORSA ER2, RRP: $4,000
The ER stands for ‘Endurance Road’ – although geometry is relatively racy – and this is said to be the most comfortable road frame from the New Zealand company.
Avanti use the Shimano BR-RS805 hydraulic disc with 140mm rotors on the Corsa, which are smaller than the 160mm that were the UCI’s racing standard when disc-brakes were briefly allowed in 2016.
Shimano say that 140mm is big enough for its system because of their IceTech technology – initially introduced for mountain bikes –which reduces the temperatures going through the brake system. The technology features an alloy brake pad with a cooling fin, while the rotor itself is a type of ‘sandwich’ with steel layers surrounding a central alloy material. Shimano claim the maximum temperatures through the brakes can therefore be reduced by a whopping 100 degrees celcius.
Another interesting feature on this bike is the hinged TranzX vibration-damping stem – which pivots on an internal elastomer to provide increased comfort on the road, although it also adds around 200g to the 8.48kg weight (without pedals) of the bike.