Disc Brakes or Cantilevers: Which are Better?

Words by Mark

on 23/12/2014 19:28:00


It's an increasingly common question: are the new disc brakes appearing on 2015 road and cyclocross bikes better than traditional cantilever or calliper brakes? Wiggy and Adam took two Specialized Crux Elites, one with hydraulic discs and one with cantilevers, to a muddy Rutland field and tested them head to head.

�I have always found cyclocross bikes to be the most versatile and most fun to ride. Bouncing down rocky descents, or sliding across a muddy field on a 'cross bike is not only a great way to increase your fitness, but also massively improve on your bike handling skills. During 2014, I have already competed in the iconic (and hardest!) cyclocross race in the world, the legendary Three Peaks. I completed the notorious race on my Specialized Crux Elite (aluminium with cantilever brakes) and was more than impressed with how it performed.

During recent discussions with customers, who have come in to buy a new 2015 bike, we often find ourselves debating around two issues. There is of course the age-old question of whether carbon is better than aluminium, but more recently another question has entered the fray, whether disc brakes are better than the traditional cantilever brakes.

So, the easiest thing for us to do was to put both questions to the test, by comparing my beloved Aluminium-framed Specialized Crux Elite with cantis (check out the 2015 model here) with Adam's new 2015 Specialized Crux Elite Carbon (special order from any of our stores), with TRP HY/RD hydraulic disc brakes, in a nice, muddy Rutland field.


Wiggy's 2014 Specialized Crux Elite aluminium cyclocross bike, with cantilever brakes

It is fair to say that because my aluminium-framed Crux Elite is fitted with cantilever brakes, some of the big descents during the Three Peaks were a little scary to say the least. But for me, it's all part of the cyclocross fun. The very fact that it isn't possible to stop on a sixpence every time you brake, does wonders for your skill and level of courage. Aluminium frames came about over steel in the first place because of their lightness and stiffness, but unfortunately they have the tendency to vibrate every now and again. Therefore, the Crux Elite is fitted with Fact carbon forks to aid comfort through the handlebars.

Full carbon bikes, like Adam's Specialized carbon Crux, are in comparison to aluminium bikes a lot lighter, a lot stiffer and above all they are a lot more comfortable. The whole bike acts like a huge shock absorber, soaking up the bumps and ruts in a far better way than Aluminium. Then when you add in the new Specialized Zertz seatpost, which flexes to aid comfort up through a riders spine, you have a very comfortable all-round riding experience indeed.

The Shimano 105, 11 speed groupset on the carbon Crux Elite works like a Swiss watch if set up correctly. Similarly, the disc brakes work well by combining 105 levers with TRP hydraulic calipers. So, by combining the use of cable and hydraulic the carbon Crux Elite has a smooth, slightly spongy overall feel.

So in conclusion, which one is better?

Well, I honestly think it's all about the individual's preference between out-and-out performance, versus level of comfort. I love how the canti brakes work on my aluminium Crux Elite, and if you have the right brake blocks set up on them correctly then they are a perfect combination. However, if you are doing a lot of miles, or commuting, then disc brakes would be the way to go - but I would advise a completely hydraulic version to give you the best feel and performance.

Both bikes are great fun, you can take them anywhere and they will improve your skills no end. So, get out there and have fun on the mud, roads and trails this Winter!�

Lee �Wiggy� Wigginton

Bike Sales & Ride/Events Co-ordinator