Getting to grips with hydraulic disc brakes (on a road bike)

A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to invest in some hydraulic disc brakes for my road bike – Genevieve, the Genesis Equilibrium 10. This was not a decision to be taken lightly as, at £500 for the set, this was not a small investment. But with ongoing grip-strength trouble in my left hand after a cartwheel-induced ligament injury last year (don’t ask), and a desire to do a whole lot more road riding this year, it seemed like a logical step.

Why logical? Well, hydraulic brakes are far more efficient than their cabled counterparts. While cables rely on pulling power – hampered by friction and stretch – to force the pads closed on the disc, hydraulic brakes push fluid through the system to close the pads. This means that very little (if any) power is lost through the system and braking is a more efficient task. So if you’re someone whose grip strength leaves a little to be desired, they’re well worth considering.

The brakes I went for were Shimano ones (eek, I don’t know which model!). While Genevieve came with disc brakes as standard, my only experience of hydraulic brakes on a road bike up until the point that they were fitted was feeling how easy it was to grab the brakes on a stationary bike in the shop. So I started to get a little nervous about what I’d just spent my money on when people began to tell me that I’d need to be careful and make sure I didn’t go straight over the handlebars when I first rode with them.

As always, I received great service from Nathan at The Independent Bike Co. in Weston-super-Mare. He fitted the brakes as soon as they came into stock and did so to the precise measurements that came out of my recent bike fit. And then it was just a case of finding a day to go for a bike ride. That day turned out to be yesterday, when my husband and I decided to go for a pedal over to Wedmore and back, with coffee and carrot cake in the garden of the Pumpkin Delicatessen and Café at the half way point. At just under 30 miles, this seemed like an adequate test for my new brakes.


A shot from the ride. Living up to my ‘Turquoise Girl’ nickname here 🙂

So how were the brakes? I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that I absolutely love them! The main reason for this is that I can pull them on using just two fingers on each hand, leaving my other fingers free to continue to grip the bars. This is a massive win for me, as previously it would take a whole hand on each brake as I was descending to feel confident that I would be able to stop should I need to. This left me feeling like I didn’t have enough control over steering and like I might just wobble off in the wrong direction, into a patch of nettles or under the wheels of a passing car!

And my fears about going over the bars turned out to be misplaced. At no point did I feel at risk of doing so. Obviously it was important to remember good braking technique, to ensure that my front brake wasn’t over used, but that’s common sense, whatever braking system you use.

So the outcome of this investment appears to be a good one. I had no problems with grip strength, no over-the-bars experiences and I had a much greater feeling of control and, therefore, confidence.

Hydraulic disc brakes for the win!

P.S. I highly recommend the Pumpkin Delicatessen and Café – it’s well worth a coffee stop if you’re ever cycling through Wedmore. There are some racks just over the road and a pretty good size garden for bike-watching duties. Plus the cake is excellent, so there’s nothing not to like really…



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