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Discs or cantis? Different teams take different approaches at USGP-Derby City Cup went all disc to cut costs, while Raleigh-Clement is still making canti-equipped bikes available

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (VN) — Discs or cantilevers? The team has committed itself to the newer braking system, but Raleigh-Clement is still hedging its bets.

“We made the decision to go over 100 percent to disc brakes,” said Cannondale manager Stu Thorne, who had just hidden Tim Johnson’s bike, with its new, fully hydraulic SRAM disc brakes, before a journalist could snap a photo of it.

For Thorne, the decision was a simple one.

“We have 40 sets of wheels, and each rider has six bikes — two in Europe, three on the truck, and one at home,” he said. “I couldn’t have two kinds of brakes. To have some cantilevers and some discs would have increased our inventory costs by 50 to 60 percent.”

There is a slight weight penalty — the disc-equipped Cannondale team bikes weigh 16.5 pounds in size 52cm, which is approximately half a pound heavier than last year’s bikes.

“I think we could get back to 16 pounds, but we’re running the S900 crankset instead of the Red crank,” Thorne said.

This is because SRAM does not make chainrings in cyclocross sizes for the hidden chainring bolt (the fifth spider arm is built into the back side of the crankarm itself, a la Campagnolo) on the new Red crank. The S900 crankset is 795 grams, whereas the Red crankset is 557 grams — and there’s that half pound (238 grams is 0.53 pound).

Extra grams aside, Thorne says the team’s Avid BB7 cable-actuated disc brakes work great, and that the riders love them. He points to the super-muddy World Cup October 28 race in Plzen, Czech Republic, as one where discs really shone.

His riders changed bikes every half lap, and in that time the cantilever-equipped bikes had mud clogging their brakes, front derailleurs and the area above the tires. His team’s brakes, meanwhile, were mud free and “the rotors were gleaming in the sun.” His team didn’t even replace a single brake pad after the race, Thorne added.

However, his team does use double chainrings and had the same mud-packing around the front derailleurs as the other teams in Plzen. When asked about why they didn’t run single chainrings, Thorne said that the weather report had looked more favorable going into Plzen, and when it took a sudden and nasty turn for the worse, there was no time to make a change.

In general, Thorne is averse to chain guards and the like, but is looking forward to a future crankset with the cyclocross equivalent of the SRAM 1 X 11 system. The tall chainring teeth would allow running a single ring with no chain guards.

Black bikes with both types of brakes

The Raleigh team has taken a different tack and has a mixture of cantilever- and disc-equipped bikes. Ben Berden’s bikes are all disc-equipped; Caroline Mani’s are all cantilever-equipped; and Allen Krughoff has one of each.

The disc bikes use Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic drivetrains, while the cantilever bikes have Dura-Ace mechanical shifting. All of the disc-brake bikes are hydraulic, using the TRP Parabox system with a satellite pod under the stem with two master cylinders inside it.

The Parabox system adds more weight yet to the disc-brake system, which already cannot compete on weight with cantilevers. Where Mani’s cantilever-equipped bikes tip the scales at 16.5 pounds, Berden’s single-chainring Di2 bikes are just under 18 pounds, and Krughoff’s disc-equipped bike with Di2 derailleurs front and rear weighs a full 19 pounds (for a small rider who looks to be around 5 feet 6 inches and maybe 130 pounds).

While acknowledging the weight challenge, Raleigh mechanic James Sullivan says that the riders really love the extra stiffness of the disc frames and wheels. He personally built the Cole carbon-rim disc-brake wheels and says that the riders like their “stiffer, more solid feel.”

Berden’s bikes have standard Di2 left levers on them despite having no front derailleurs.

“The lever isn’t that heavy, and I’ve talked with Shimano about setting them up so that the left lever shifts the rear derailleur (as well as the right lever),” says Sullivan. “Some Wounded Warrior bikes are set up that way.”

He’s not sure when or if this might be an advantage (“Maybe while dismounting,” he says), but he feels that Di2 in general certainly is.

“Ben loves his bikes because he can brake later than everybody else, and he can brake and shift at the same time,” says Sullivan.

Disc brakes are undoubtedly here to stay in cyclocross, and while it may be ideal to have discs for muddy races and lighter, canti-equipped bikes for the kind of dry conditions that this weekend looks to bring to the Derby City Cup, that may not be realistic.

Chances are that sponsors as well as budgets may mandate making the wholesale switch to discs, which puts Thorne ahead of the curve.