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Eddy Merckx: Disc brakes too dangerous for racing

Less than two weeks ago, Eddy Merckx spoke rather prophetically about disc brakes in pro road racing.

“They work for [consumers], but in racing I think they’re too dangerous in crashes,” Merckx said. “If you crash, the brake can be hot, and if you take it in a leg, you can slice a tendon. In mountain bikes and cyclocross, it’s OK. But in a peloton, with 200 riders, I think it’s dangerous.”

Spanish rider Fran Ventoso (Movistar), as we now know, blames a disc rotor for a frightening, bone-exposing gash he suffered at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.

Merckx was speaking two days ahead of the Tour of Flanders, at a small gathering at Palm, a brewery outside of Brussels whose owner, Jan Toye, now owns Eddy Merckx Cycles and is trying to revitalize the brand, which has struggled since Merckx sold it to different owners in 2008.

While Merckx hasn’t been a majority owner since that time, he says he is involved in product development with the new staff, especially with regards to geometry and to his drive for product safety.

“When there are new models, I ride them and give my impressions,” Merckx said, adding that he thinks the drive to lighter and lighter frames has sacrificed consumer safety. “I think the weight of the frame is very important for safety. The UCI’s 6.8-kilo limit is on the bike. But for me, what’s important for consumers isn’t the weight of the bike but the weight of the frame. The most important thing on a bike is safety.”

The conversation inevitably turned to discs. And Merckx, though he was seated next to a production Eddy Merckx 525 road bike with disc brakes, didn’t equivocate.

“I rode a bike today with disc brakes,” he said. “Yeah, they work. But for me, the best is carbon wheels with aluminum rims and rim brakes. OK, a disc is better in the rain. But if the UCI rules said ‘carbon wheels with aluminum rims,’ it would solve everything.”

Merckx is no Luddite. He praised the stiffness and tuneability of composite frames. And when asked which modern cycling technology he most wishes had been around when he was racing, the 70-year-old legend leaned forward in his seat and became more animated than at any other point in the evening.

“Click [clipless] pedals and the shifters in the brake levers,” he said. “I’m sure that if I could have ridden the hour record with click pedals I could have done over 50 kilometers.”

It’s a safe bet to say he would have gone well beyond that, given that he rode 49.431 kilometers on a steel bike with toe straps.