A very common question we get from customers is whether or not disc brakes are worth the added cost to a bicycle. Disc brakes used to only be found on off-road bicycles, but can now be found on almost all levels of bikes, making this topic relevant to anyone looking for a new bike. There are many factors that might influence how beneficial you might find discs which we will go over here.
The first consideration for the benefits of disc brakes would be how you are planning to use your bike. Disc brakes are best at improved stopping power in all conditions, but they make the greatest difference in wet, loose, and high speed scenarios. For commuters, disc brakes really shine on wet rides, so if you are planning to ride to work every day regardless of the weather, having disc brakes will help keep your commute safe. If you plan on being more of a fair weather rider, discs might not be a priority for you.
For road riders, everyone will benefit from disc brakes, but some more than others. Customers who like to go fast downhill or ride for long distances will appreciate the higher levels of control, outright stopping power, and reduced effort needed to brake that discs offer.
For touring riders, the benefits of disc brakes are clear. Discs will help control your loaded touring bike on twisty descents. People tend to hang onto their touring bikes for a long time. Bikes with rim brakes will need new wheels when the rim has worn down from years of braking on them, while disc brake wheels will only need the rotors replaced. For tours where bike shops are few and far between, disc brake pads are much more smaller and lighter than rim brake pads, and will last longer.
There are a couple of arguments against buying a disc brake bike, such as higher cost, more weight, and more technical repair. While disc brake bikes do cost more than their otherwise equivalent counterparts, that cost can be negated in the long term when you consider the longer pad life and lack of rim wear that disc brakes offer. In regards to the added weight, most customers concerned with small weight differences are also concerned with speed. Discs will allow any rider to descend with more speed and confidence, making up whatever slight difference their weight will cause everywhere else. In terms of repair, disc brakes are certainly more difficult to adjust than most rim brakes, but are less likely to lose their adjustment over time, and have longer service intervals than rim brakes, with hydraulic brakes extending that interval even further.
While disc brakes will benefit the vast majority of riders, there are a few scenarios in which their benefits might not be felt enough to justify their extra cost, mostly for riders who are not riding quickly and staying out of traffic. For these riders, the money saved by buying a rim brake bike might be better spent on accessories like lights or a rack. For everyone else, disc brakes will be a great upgrade option.