Disc brakes are without doubt one of the most important innovations in mountain biking, they really do allow us to ride differently. When I first started riding a mountain bike cantilever brakes were pretty much as good as they got. Getting the best performance out of them was a bit of a dark art, but in hindsight we’re talking about them either being next to useless, or a tiny bit better. Oh, and that was in the dry! Try using them in the wet and all they really did was wear your expensive rims out. Magura made hydraulic rim brakes at this time, and these were seen by many to be the ultimate stoppers, but they still weren’t great. Then everyone thought they’d won the lottery when ‘V-Brakes’ arrived, and yes they were considerably better than canti’s and much cheaper than the Magura option, but they still relied on a rim that was rarely clean, or straight.
Hope were actually making a mechanical disc brake before the introduction of the V-Brake, but it was mainly popular with touring cyclists. There were a few early adopters mountain biking, but the brakes didn’t come cheap and you basically had to work out your own way to mount them because disc brake mounts hadn’t even been invented yet. Luckily though the word started to spread, mounts started to appear on forks and frames, the technology got better, and then all of a sudden disc brakes started becoming common place at DH races. Once you’d tried a set of disc brakes you were never going to go back, and so it’s no surprise that the rest is now history.