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Fuck it, ride anyway

Flying knives banned on French Cycling Tour

The average person reading this headline would probably tentatively say “Yeee-ess ? That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” 

After all, the French are clearly passionate about cycling but chucking knives about is probably a bit much, eh?  SETTLE DOWN FRANCE.

Don’t get me wrong, sharp cutlery has no place in a bike race; but at one level, we’re actually talking about a type of braking system, disc vs rim. At a whole ‘nother level we’re talking about the perceived safety of riders vs the commercial interests of these massive, money spinning tours. Boooo !

It's not often that decisions in pro-cycling have any impact on the real world, but if you're going to be buying a bike anytime in the future, you're going to be faced with a similar choice; I'm building a new bike at the moment and for me hydraulic disc brakes are a must.

Rim brakes are the traditional braking system allowed in pro-cycling races. If you have an older model bike, you’ve got them too. Two small bits of rubber which squeeze either side of the wheel to make you slow down when you pull a level on the handlebars. They’re lighter than disc brakes, less complicated, cheaper. Aside from the slightly worrying issue that they heat up rims and cause tires to explode on long, multiple hair-pin descents they’ve been the standard for a long time for good reason.

Disc brakes are a basically black magic to me, as I don’t understand hydraulics [wut ? you brake with water ?] but I’m trying to in order to write this post. What I do understand is that disc brakes allow you to brake consistently (no overheating on mountain descents) and brake later coming into corners, which means you can confidently ride faster to begin with. They’re not affected by wet conditions; don’t get clogged with snow or mud (how handy in this year’s Spring Classics).

Given that the aim of most pro-cyclists is to ride really really ridiculously quickly; disc brakes with their better braking capacity would seem like a good idea. Especially on those steep and fast descents which no ordinary human would attempt. Non? Oui!

Expense, pffft, money is no object. Complicated? Who cares, you have a support team full of bike mechanics.

So last year the UCI lifted a ban on disc brakes and allowed them on a trial basis, with all sort of conditions and blah blah blah.

And then Paris-Roubaix happened, and boom, crash 130 km in.

Fran Ventoso, a rider from the Spanish Movistar team was involved in the crash and suffered deep, nasty-looking lacerations to his shin which required surgery. There’s a link to the picture rather than the picture itself because it’s not for the faint of stomach.


Fran wrote an open letter blaming his injury on contact with a fellow rider’s disc brake, which he refers to as "giant flying knives".

The UCI immediately suspended the disc brake trial.

Now, everyone is sorry he’s so badly hurt, and absolutely let’s investigate; but pictures of the crash cannot identify a single rider out of the 16 riding with disc brakes anywhere near the crash. So the cause of his hideous injury is not so straightforward; as I've said before, there are plenty of pointy things on a bike that make you go 'oww'.

And as my beloved Sprocketman, cunning inventor of cunning things said straight away, well, why not dull the edge of the disc, even just a bit ? There’s no reason for them to be as sharp as they are. He actually brandished a wheel at me during this discussion.

I stood back in admiration and had a little day-dream about the millions we would rake in as the inventor of the safety-disc brake.

Later that week I was just dreamily buying a luxury private Tahitian island when about 42 other people said the same thing.

So there’s that. A braking system which, with a little modification could improve braking for all riders, remains banned by the UCI.

BUT, race motorcycles, which carry the photographers and camera crews for the live television feeds which bring in understandably big bucks have hit and KILLED six riders over the past 20 years, including Antoine Demoitié, a 25-year-old Belgian killed just last month by a race-moto during the course of Gent-Wevelgem.

Look at the lovely Antoine Demoitie, killed March 2016, aged 25. Just heartbreaking.

Look at the lovely Antoine Demoitie, killed March 2016, aged 25. Just heartbreaking.

The number hit and "merely" injured is ridiculously high. Earlier this year Lotto-Soudal’s Stig Broeckx was hit-and-run by a first-aid motorcycle at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, abandoning the race with a broken collarbone and rib. Oh the ironicalness. That same weekend, at La Drôme Classic, a race moto interfered with the race leaders, sending BMC’s Danilo Wyss off his bike while he was contesting for victory.

In 2015 alone, the list of riders injured by race motos included Tinkoff riders Peter Sagan and Sergio Paulinho, both at the Vuelta a España; Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) at Clásica San Sebastián; and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) at the Tour de France.

Peter Sagan sent flying by a race moto, yes that's an open wound on his leg

Peter Sagan sent flying by a race moto, yes that's an open wound on his leg

Marianne Vos, the most decorated woman in cycling, hit by a race moto and suffered a broken collarbone during the 2012 Valkenburg Hills Classic. A month earlier, Emma Pooley, Olympic medalist and world time trial champion, was knocked off her bike by a race moto at the women’s Flèche Wallonne.

And that’s just the race-motos; this tally doesn’t include the allegedly neutral service vehicles and team cars which also travel the route, weaving in and out of riders. Johnny Hoogerland being hit by an official car and catapulted through a barbed-wire fence, emerging in tremendous pain and with his clothing literally shredded off him, as well as that totally superfluous top layer of skin, is an enduring image.

But no. No talk of banning these. How would we get our live coverage and sponsorship ?

It's a pretty bad state of affairs when you enter a sporting event and the organisers don't do everything they can to ensure you'll be alive at the end of it.

Edit; well the day I published this the UCI announced they would resume disc brake trials in June, pending further modifications. Glad I could sort that out for you, let me know if you have any further issues.

KInd regards