Disc brakes on folding bikes: do they make sense?

Posted by Yan Lyansky on Jun 19th 2015

Folding bikes, these days, are more improved than they were a decade ago. In the retail market today, it is very difficult to purchase a ‘bad’ folding bicycle. For the purpose and intention of this article, we will make the assumption that everybody has a nice folding bicycle. We will talk about upgrading disc brakes and when they are sensible to have on folding bikes. We will also make a comparison on the most inexpensive, fully disc-ready folding bike in the United States, the Downtube 9FS (MSRP $549). 

Disc brakes are considered very popular and trendy upgrades. Still, they are not something for everybody. You are going to have to get disc hubs to use those disc brakes. The standard ones are fitted with six bolts. Additionally, you also are going to need certain features such as disc tabs on the fork and back frame in order to do a caliper installation. Not many folding bikes below $1,000 are fitted with disc tabs on their frames and forks. Even fewer of them are built with disc hubs. However, one bike, the Downtube 9FS folding bike, is fully disc ready and fitted with all of these: the tabs on the frame and fork, the disc hubs as well as cable routing for the hubs.

Folding bikes that do not feature disc hubs will need to be upgraded with a wheel that cost about $250, an upgrade of the fork that may run you more than $100 and disc brakes for roughly a hundred bucks per wheel. For that reason, the economical cost to install a disc brake is usually more than $550 in comparison to the Downtube 9FSm, which doesn’t need any upgrades to its components. It is already fully disc ready and for only a low price of $549.

Many riders don’t require disc brakes. Bikes will stop very quickly with rim brakes on machined-sidewall rims. However, for bikes with non-machined rims, the brakes won’t stop that quickly. The machined-sidewall feature on the brake pads, gives it a jagged surface to grip, resulting in more efficiency on the brakes. Furthermore, there are risks associated with disc brakes. Once there is a bend in the rotors, the bakes are going to squeak loudly. This can be extremely irritating. More than likely, rotors will bend on a portable folding bicycle because there are increased risks every time you fold the bike. Consequently, many customers should continue with the more inexpensive V-brakes with its machined-sidewall rims. Never accept the non-machined sidewall rims since they do not engage the brakes. If you do settle for this, your brake shoes are going to slide on a rim surface.

Bike riders living in mountainous terrain will need disc brakes. On a zigzag mountainous descent, you will find that trim brakes are going to melt generated from the heat, especially over a long period of time in the sun. They don’t usually get the chance to cool off. Once the disc brakes melt, there will no longer be brakes on your bike. Therefore, you can do two things: engage the brakes while making the descent and allow them to melt at the bottom of the descent or you can take the risk of not using them while on the descent so that they will work when you get to the base of the mountain.

In 2003, I used to live in the Virgin Islands, which has the same mountainous descent. I would usually decide to only engage the brakes when I needed them at the base of the mountain, which was already a dangerous commute each day. I would highly suggest that you use disc brakes in any mountainous territory. For example, you need disc brakes on large hills like the Appalachian Mountains as well as volcanic islands. Otherwise, it is best to settle for rim brakes since this will save you money and you will be more pleased with the long term results. If you do choose to use disc brakes, we encourage you to take a closer look at the Downtube 9FS folding bicycle. It is the best folding bike in the United States that is disc ready. And, on top of that, the cost is under $550!