BMC GF01 Ultegra Disc Road Bike, review: Road bike brakes are going through a revolution


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The Independent Online

Price: £5,200
Frame and fork: Full carbon
Gears: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Brakes: Shimano disc brakes (mechanical)
Wheels: DT Swiss X-1900 Spline

Trend cycles dominate the bike world just as they do any other fiercely competitive market. Yet, happily, such is the genius of the machine that its basic elements haven't really changed in more than a century. New gears, paint jobs, materials and gadgets: same old bicycle.

This year, however, after a period of building speed, one trend has made a breakaway and shows no signs of slowing. Yes, disc brakes are old news on mountain bikes but are only now rolling on to the road at pretty much all the major marques.

To find out why, I spent a few weeks with BMC's Shimano Ultegra-equipped disc offerings, one of dozens out this year. Handily, my high-end version of the GF01, loaned by Evans Cycles, also features that other major and now established trend, electronic gear shifting (three-word review: cleaner, easier, smoother).

First, aesthetics. The absence of regular callipers brings a new elegance to the forks and seat stays, and the discs only take a small amount away from their position down at the hubs. On balance, I say disc road bikes look nicer, for what that's worth.

What else do you gain? Stopping power, crucially, although not that much more than new, clean, serviced regular brakes. But the GF01 comes into its own in conditions that can challenge regular brakes, not least on rainy descents. The other big advantage: disc brakes don't ruin wheels, especially the more fragile carbon ones that represent yet another established trend (rubber blocks can damage rims, especially when grit gets into the mix). Nor do disc brakes rub or squeal when your wheels aren't perfectly true.

The GF01 is rigid and racy, wasting nothing as you push it on climbs or seek a change of pace on the flat. It's fast and light. But it's also designed with long distances in mind, although my own geometry meant that the reach to the handlebars gave me neck ache after about 100km.

I had no quibble with the bike, and only one with the whole disc revolution: wheel changes. It is more fiddly to remove and replace a wheel in the event of a puncture when its disc slots so tightly into the calliper. Regardless, discs have now taken hold at both ends of the market; Fuji does an entry level disc-braked road bike for £750. There's no stopping them. Wait a minute…