Firstly, the UCI has only suspended the trial of road disc brakes, until an enquiry into the injuries allegedly caused by disc rotors in the recent edition of Paris-Roubaix is completed. So it’s quite feasible we could see those blades of death back in the peloton come the Giro roll away in Apeldoorn on the 6th of May.
But for the purpose of sensible war-gaming, let’s assume the UCI accedes to the wishes of the CPA (the professional cyclists’ union) and goes against the push from the major component and bike manufacturers and bans the use of disc brakes in road racing.
What does a UCI ban on road discs actually mean for bicycle retailers?
Partly that depends on what hemisphere you’re in. If you’re lucky enough to retail in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ve pretty much concluded your selling season for road bikes and should only have a skeleton range left in store. The 2016 season was the first year of multiple options featuring road discs, so you probably dipped your toe in the water with a few disc models, but likely didn’t go too deep with them. With Taipei only just out of the way, your local bike distributor is still working through its 2017 ranging, pricing and sales programmes; which will be presented to you from around June/July onwards. So, you’re probably not too fussed either way, as long as there’s a clear decision made by the UCI in the next couple of months.
Conversely, for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, you are likely far more concerned. You’re right now, hot and heavy with your 2016 stock and smack bang in the sweet spot of the road bike selling season. You likely have plenty of 2016 road disc models on your floor and in your stock rooms, with plenty more on your suppliers’ back order books. You’re quite possibly on the phone to your bike, wheel and component suppliers right now trying to cancel those road disc indents.
But hold up, it would just be a ban on road discs in professional bike races?
Sort of... remember that a UCI ban would also affect any road cycling events conducted by affiliate members of the UCI as well. That means you’re local club racers would also be prohibited from using road discs. So, not just the pros would be affected by this ban.
Whatever. ‘Racers’ only make up a small percentage of people actually buying road bikes. There’s a big market of potential buyers still out there for road discs?
This is probably the real heart of this deliberation. In theory, retailers shouldn’t be overly concerned by what the UCI does and doesn’t do with their rules and regulations. Not just because ‘roadies’ who actually pin on a number each year, make up such a small percentage of the overall market, but moreso because disc brakes on road bikes actually make an awful lot of sense to a high percentage of the real market.
We know disc brakes work and they work very well (arguably too well). They’ve been refined and honed by millions of mountain bikers for decades. They’re smoother, lighter and better modulated than ever. Road discs don’t care if you have a buckle or a loose spoke. Road discs make more sense for long or technical descents, where heat build-up in rims; especially in the increasingly ubiquitous carbon clinchers, in which heat failure can be and is, a genuine concern. Discs are better in the wet and more effective for bikes laden with baggage. And with the growing women’s market in mind, discs also require less effort to engage.
Whether your customers are weekend warriors, weekday commuters, randonneurs or cyclists who just like to stop when it matters most; road discs should see plenty of interested and pertinent consumers being presented with salient sales pitches.
And doesn’t the influence of the major bike and component companies hold some weight here?
Yes it (normally) does. The major component, wheel and bike manufacturers really, really, really, really, really want road discs to become the norm. Their respective lives (and profits) would be vastly improved by a uniform uptake of road discs. Component OEMs manufacturers would benefit from the simplification of manufacture, R&D and sourcing. Wheel and rim manufacturers could employ cheaper production processes and materials. And bike manufacturers have already made a not insignificant investment in frame and drop out moulds and marketing expense. They will collectively lean on the UCI very heavily for these reasons.
So, a storm in a teacup and nothing much to worry about then?
Yes and No. I still think a ban would definitely affect the sales of disc specced road models; all be it primarily amongst the ‘lightweight’ market dominated by weekend warriors and ‘monkey-see’ MAMILs.
Imagine if Formula One announced this week it was cancelling its contract with Pirelli because of safety concerns. Surely that wouldn’t affect the purchasing behaviour of regular drivers, as F1 tyres are highly specialist and used under extreme conditions by the world’s fastest and most cutting edge racing cars? Of course it would affect Pirelli’s general tyre sales. Faced with a choice of brands at your local tyre centre, tell me it wouldn’t affect your purchasing decision. Rightly or wrongly, consumer decisions would be tainted by safety concerns; on top of the extra weight and ease of wheel change anxieties already tweeted over by the weight weenies and local bunch heroes.
Equally critical is the fact that the bikes used in high profile events like Paris Roubaix, the Giro or the Tour de France serve as the high points for road marketing drives by all of the biggest and most influential bicycle brands. If their pinnacle machines can’t feature road discs in the most high profile events, watched by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, how do you think that will flow down into planning meetings in Taichung, Sakai, West Loop or Vicenza?
That said, bike retailers; DON’T PANIC! You have little to really worry about in the grand scheme of things. A UCI ban on road discs might be some concern for northern hemisphere retailers in the immediate term, but one that can’t be worked through with some proactive selling and supplier coordination. For those south of the Equator, it’s a case of ‘ne pas de probleme’. You have plenty of fresh air between now and your 2017 commitments to watch and wait.
The bike companies, distributors and component manufacturers on the other hand, will have their principals, lawyers and engineering consultants camped outside Brian Cookson’s office in Aigle, pushing for the reinstatement of rotors ASAP. There will likely be some fairly serious bottom-clenching going on in those particular suit pants as I write.
Let me know your take on the road disc issue and whether a ban would be a serious blow to retailers, or whether its just more bike industry fish and chip wrapping and Henny Penny hand-wringing?