If you’re going to dress to be chic, it will cost you. You already knew that, right? Let’s see—Rapha, Assos, Castelli….or Bike Nashbar, Performance, Decathlon? We all want to be PRO and not Fred, so our closets are filled with physical incantations that will transform us into Those To Whom We Aspire. You should not be surprised that this also applies to your bike. Hence the current obsession with hydraulic disc brakes. Setting up and maintaining hydraulic brakes perhaps becomes second nature after practice. But the learning curve is a lot steeper than with old-fashioned rim brakes. Cutting lines and setting the olive and barb, bleeding lines and making sure they’re free of air, to name just a couple of tasks, are probably unfamiliar to most road cyclists while very familiar to mountain bikers at least those who do their own maintenance and repairs.
Nowadays road bikes are getting more complex and the tradition of DIY maintenance and repair is slowly eroding away. Having your LBS handle routine brake maintenance is going to cost you not just because it’s more time consuming but also because you’ll probably need to have it done more often than you would with rim brakes.
The other dirty little secret of hydraulic brakes is that the replacement parts are much more expensive than for rim brakes. I alluded to this in an earlier post but I was incorrect about the cost. I said that rim brake pads and disc brake pads cost about the same and that is not accurate. Top end Shimano Dura Ace brake pads cost a mere $9 a set—$20 for two sets and you have brand new brakes. Contrast that with hydraulic brakes: Shimano replacement pads run about $25-30 for one set. You will also have to regularly change the rotor, which wears out quickly. Shimano rotors run about $60-75 for one rotor. I run through about three sets of pads before I’ve worn down the rotor to the point it needs to be changed and I run through about one rotor per year. So in a year I’ll be spending about $130 on replacement parts for disc brakes. Another way to put it is the per wheel cost: the average maintenance cost per wheel is about $50 for hydraulic brakes but for rim brakes it’s just $9. For me rim brake pad wear is measured in years but rotors and hydraulic disc brake pads it’s months. Of course the unmentioned cost with rim brakes is that you eventually will wear out your rim. But in my case that’s somewhere north of 25,000 miles so the cost per year is really quite small. Of course the cost is less important if your use case warrants it. When I’m going down fire roads those hydraulic brakes are a blessing!