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USAC’s stance on disc brakes in amateur races

The UCI stops disc brake trial in WorldTour, but does that affect the average amateur who's got a new bike with discs?

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With all the rapid-fire changes happening in the pro peloton regarding disc brakes, it’s important to know how it all affects you, the USAC amateur racing in 2016. Since the UCI suspended its disc brake testing at the pro level last week, does anything change for the average American amateur racer?

Quick answer: Only for certain events, but that might change.

Basically, if you’re entering a USA Cycling (USAC) race that’s not on the UCI calendar, you’ve always been able to race disc brakes and, for the time being, can continue to do so. Chuck Hodge, USAC’s technical director, says there have never been any prohibitions on disc brakes at the amateur level. “Our regulations say a working brake on front and rear. We take that to mean any kind of brake. The UCI takes a slightly different stance. They like to specifically allow stuff; we like to specifically prohibit stuff. Basically, [disc brakes] have never not been allowed at amateur USAC races.”

In other words, the disc brake testing program (and the ban before it) never extended to you, the amateur. The testing period applied to WorldTour teams, Pro Continental teams, and Women’s UCI teams. If you’re a club rider at the amateur level, you could have ridden disc brakes at your local race any time you wanted to, and you still can at races not regulated by the UCI.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

This doesn’t mean every race happening the United States allows discs. There are three levels of USAC racing: UCI-regulated events like Tour of the Gila and Tour of California; top-level pro domestic events like USAC’s Pro Road Tour (to complicate matters, this includes Gila; more on that in a moment) and some national championships, as well as Redlands and Northstar Gran Prix; and everything else, like local races you’re most likely to enter. While USAC still allows discs in its own local races, disc brakes will not be allowed at top-level pro USAC events that are regulated by the UCI.

That means if you’re an amateur or club team that wants to ride Tour of the Gila (a UCI 2.2 event) with disc brakes, you’re out of luck. While Gila is a Pro Road Tour event — most of which aren’t regulated by the UCI — Gila is the exception. The UCI regulates this one, so no one taking part in the UCI events at Gila can currently race disc brakes.

To spell it out clearly, here’s the Gila breakdown: Men’s and Women’s UCI 2.2 races: no discs; all other categories are run under USAC regulations and allow discs (Masters, non-UCI pro 1 and 2, Cat. 3, Cat. 4, Women’s 3/4, etc.).

So what about Redlands and the rest of the Pro Road Tour races? “Normally we run these under UCI equipment regulations,” says Hodge, “but we’ve been allowing disc brakes at these events. We decided in February to allow disc brakes, but a reassessment of that rule will be happening this week.”

As for your local races, for the moment you can still race disc brakes, but Hodge says a reassessment of that allowance will also happen in the coming weeks.

Hodge says USAC is exploring options to address safety concerns as well as equipment concerns. “There are potential safety isues, and there are people who have gone out and purchased equipment. We’re going to look at the safety ramifications as well as whether we have to tell people that the $5,000 bike they just bought is still legal or not. This won’t happen in a day.”

Hodge says a decision may be made as early as late April, and if that happened, national championships in May would likely be the first event to be affected. Until then, if you want to race discs, check your race registrations carefully before plunking down cash on a UCI-regulated race.