I recently received a question regarding brakes that went something like this:
Been winter commuting for the last five years on an old Norco mountain bike and it is time to get a new ride. My question is about disc and rim brakes. Have asked around and get mixed reviews. Thought that I would ask you since you seem to use disc brakes in the winter. What do you find the advantages are and what are the disadvantages.Your help in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
My response was as follows:
I don't see any disadvantages to disc brakes in the winter. During extremely cold weather (-25F and below) they don't modulate as well as they do in warmer weather, but other than that I have no complaints. I have heard that on extended snow rides, the calipers can become clogged with snow and start to drag, but haven't experienced this with the brands of brakes that I use (Formula). Again this is something that really seems like it would only be a problem in extremely colder weather. On the upside, the advantages are many. First and foremost, disc brakes just stop better. Second, disc brakes will continue to work in some conditions that rim brakes don't, like when you have a layer of ice and snow built up on your rim. Lastly, if you switch between summer and winter width rims on a commuter, you don't have to fiddle with disc brakes to make them work like you do rim brakes.
Anyone that doesn't think disc brakes are better than rim brakes raises some doubt in my mind. I have heard what I consider rational opinions against disc brakes that I don't agree with (mainly that disc brakes are somehow too complex to work on), however, I still haven't heard a good argument for claiming rim brakes were better than discs. They are less expensive, but you generally get what you pay for in any situation. I have a slightly angry rant on disc brakes that can be found here. To add an update to that post, I still have that set of brakes on the same bike and they still work. Four years of summer and winter riding, commuting and they still work great. They still have the original pads. And recently the rear got loaned out to do a 135 mile winter race in February in Minnesota. It worked so well that the loanee won the race and asked Formula to start sponsoring him.
My end statement is this: If you are riding in the snow, or doing technical mountain biking, then I think disc brakes are a must because their extra performance is necessary. If you are doing mellow/light trail riding and commuting only during the summer, or someplace where it doesn't snow, they they are a luxury that you need to decide if you can afford.
Thanks for the letter and I hope I have been some help.