March 7, 2012
The Disc Brake-Equipped Road Bike War

I want to begin my post by first talking about the Colnago C59.

The Colnago C59 was first unveiled in March 2010. Not only was it light (frame weight is approximately 1000g), it was also stiff where it mattered. The C59 could perform double-duty for the sprints, as well as for the climbs. Hence, my interest was piqued when Bike Radar broke the news that Colnago had launched their first disc brake-equipped road bike called the C59 Disc.

While the C59 Disc has received a lot of attention from the press, many have forgotten that a small fledgling company called Volagi, based in Cotati, California, had already spec-ed disc brakes on a high-end performance carbon bike, the Liscio. I first heard about the Liscio from Volagi’s much-publicized trial with Specialized Bicycles, but I was more intrigued by the disc brakes (and the LongBow Flex stays) on the Liscio. While disc brakes have been around the cycling world for a while now (see this article written by James Huang and Matt Pacocha), it was only in September 2010, that the Liscio, the first “high performance carbon road bike with disk brakes”, made its debut.

Volagi had a significant first-mover advantage when it released the Liscio. While all the other major bike companies were keeping their cards close to their chest, Volagi took the risks of designing, manufacturing, and selling a product that had not been mass-produced before, and prayed that their product would catch on. In doing so, they acquired significant know-how relating to the design and manufacture of disc brake-equipped road bikes. Designing and manufacturing a disc brake-equipped road bike isn’t as simple as “slapping on disc brakes”, there is a lot of testing and calibration of the frame and components to ensure that you don’t perform an endo when pulling on the brakes. In addition, you don’t want to haul an otherwise 16 lb carbon bike with 2 lbs of disc brake components. In the process, they also collaborated with Avid and Tektro.

While I haven’t ridden the Liscio or the C59 Disc, I wonder if the C59 Disc offers a better ride and braking experience than the Liscio, given the significant resources that Colnago has at its disposal. Granted, the Liscio is aimed at the ultra endurance cyclist, while the C59 Disc is aimed at the…well, I don’t know who Colnago’s target customer is, but the C59 line is Colnago’s flagship line, and I would expect some competitive dynamics, especially if Colnago markets the C59 Disc towards the ultra endurance cyclists and prices it competitively.

Now that Colnago has responded to Volagi with their C59 Disc, what is Volagi going to do? I certainly don’t expect them to sue Colnago for patent infringement (sorry, I couldn’t resist), but I’d like to know how they will respond as the C59 Disc certainly represents a credible threat to their position in the market segment for disc brake-equipped road bikes. I’m also interested in learning how the other bike manufacturers, like Trek and Specialized, wheel manufacturers, and component manufacturers are going to respond.

This may just be the genesis of an entirely new product category.

Note: As of today, I’ve also learned that Volagi is planning to debut the TRP Parabox (hydraulic disc brakes) and Di2 on their Liscio at Interbike in 2012.

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