Disc brakes safety in the peloton v commercial interests 11 May 2019

Last week a professional cyclist had to have surgery after his leg was slashed open in the Paris Roubaix allegedly by a disc brake in a crash. The professional cycling organisation the UCI immediately suspended the use of disc brakes in cycling events. However the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) has leapt to disc brakes defence and demanded that the suspension be lifted as soon as possible. Is this money overriding safety?

The accident

Movistar rider Fran Ventoso was racing in the ‘Hell of the North’ Paris Roubaix race last weekend when there was a collision in the peloton. Ventoso says that the bike in front of him had a disc brake. Though he felt no pain after the crash he looked at his leg when he stood up and saw a massive slash in it. The Telegraph reported that he said, “I have a glance at that leg: it doesn’t hurt, there’s not a lot of blood covering it, but I can clearly see part of the periosteum, the membrane or surface that covers my tibia.”

Ventoso wrote an open letter about the experience where he said that disc brakes should never be used in peloton cycling. He said that they are too powerful and that cyclists lock their wheels up regularly and this can cause skids and crashes. He then wrote of the dangers: “The most worrying thing, as I stated before, is that disc brakes in its actual concept are giant knives, ‘machetes’ when crashing against or crashed by them at a certain speed. And in some points, we reach 80, 90, 100 kilometres per hour.”

“I’ve been lucky: I didn’t get my leg chopped off, it’s just some muscle and skin. But can you imagine that disc cutting a jugular or a femoral artery? I would prefer not to.”

Dangers raised before

Before the UCI permitted disc brakes, the idea that they could end up slashing legs open was one of the more extreme but worrying issues raised by professional road cyclists. They are used in mountain biking races but because of the nature of this riding you don’t get pelotons of them and the problem of collisions just isn’t that much of an issue. Peloton riding however is core to road cycling as the aerodynamic effect means that cyclists go far faster for longer with less energy output than cycling alone as with many mountain bike disciplines.

Commercial pressures

Mamils spend a lot of money getting bikes that are like their heroes on the Grand Tours. Disc brakes being a lot more complicated than vee brakes, they are seen as a way to add to the cost of the machines and with the Grand Tour professional riders using them so there will be a lot of demand for the more expensive versions. Even though they make the machines heavier they are seen as a money spinner.


One of the outcomes of the fact that disc brakes make the manufacturing industry more money is that they are pushing professional cycling hard to take on disc brakes. This is why the World Federation for Sporting Goods Industry lashed out at the UCI last week over the suspension of disc brakes in the peloton. They said in a statement, “the WFSGI asks the UCI to immediately start the collaboration with all stakeholders on the future of disc brakes and safety in road racing.”

There will be an investigation into whether Ventoso was in fact slashed by a disc brake. Safety must come first and if there is a danger – which is a very high probability – then disc brakes must be reviewed for safety reasons. Anyone who has seen close quarters racing even on ITV4 during the Tour de France will see how frequently there are wipeouts among cyclists – Chris Froome had to drop out of a Tour de France recently and this shows how crashes can change the overall standings. Having what Ventoso referred to as ‘machetes’ spinning in the peloton could seriously injure or even kill professional cyclists.

Safety needs to be put above all commercial interests in road cycling. Yes, a Mamil may pay £1000 for a new disc brake because Chris Froome has the same set, but I’d rather Froomey didn’t have an artery cut just so those who followed him spend that extra cash!

Share this article