Formula The One Disc Brake
Formula's 'The One' 2011 disc brakes are an attempt to produce a brake with downhill power at cross-country weight. At 782 grams for the complete front and rear set we tested, they certainly hit the mark in the weight department, but does that translate into useable power when descending? Pinkbike spent six months running Formula The One brakes on our Intense M9 in all manner of conditions across Europe and North America in an attempt to uncover what makes them tick, and to discover if they are truly up to the job of stopping heavy bikes and riders from high speeds.
The One Details
Formula The One Disc Brake at a glance
- New for 2011 Feel Control System (FCS)
- New for 2011 Instant Reach Adjustment (IRA)
- Forged one-piece caliper featuring 24mm pistons.
- Forged lever-body and blade
- 388g Front - 203mm rotor, no adapter
- 420g Rear - 203mm rotor, with rear IS adapter
- $326.9 (USD) per brake exc rotor and adapter
- Rotor packages from $40.95-$66.95, FCS: $54.95, IRA: $36.95
Featuring forged lever bodies and calipers, Formula have pared away all extraneous material to create a brake that is both lightweight and strong, and pulling the brake out of the box reveals just how light they truly are. There are a number of rotor options, from the midget 160mm, good for 4x and trail, right up to the full blooded 203mm rotors that we used for the majority of our testing. At first you may think that the low weight means the brakes will never stand up to any real levels of abuse, but that's a fallacy. It's merely after becoming so used to a lot of other brakes it's logical to think that either light equals weak or strong equals heavy. Featuring lightweight aluminium Torx hardware throughout, our brakes also came equipped with a full complement of optional adjusters that enable tool-free reach adjustment. The IRA (Instant Reach Adjustment) replaces the lever's threaded push-rod which is normally accessed with a 2mm Allen key. The FCS (Feel Control System) is basically an in-line bite point adjuster and something that the standard brake doesn't have, but probably should.
The IRA dial on the lever adjusts the lever's reach, while the in-line barrel-adjustment where the hose exits the brake reservoir is the FCS bite-adjustment function. Both are optional.
Formula uses aluminium Torx screws to save some grams. The One levers can be flipped right to left, and there is an optional 'Mixmaster' clamp for those who want direct-mount shift levers.
The One lever assemblies are reversible and feature a two-bolt clamp. The master cylinder and reservoir is radial which makes for a compact configuration. Most of its hardware is lightweight aluminium, and Formula's gram-saving design forgoes most external adjustment features. The standard The One brake has only a simple reach adjustment that requires a 2mm Allen key to set the lever distance from the grip.Choose your lever options:
For those who want a full-featured lever, Formula offers two add-ons: IRA (Instant Reach Adjustment), a machined-aluminium dial-adjust feature that allows tool-free lever-reach changes; and FCS (Feel Control System) a hydraulic barrel adjustment that sets the system's 'bite point'—the point in the lever travel where the pads contact the rotor.
The One Caliper:
The two oversized 24mm caliper pistons clamp the disc hard and a forged, one-piece forged aluminium body keeps the caliper lightweight and rigid.
Formula's forged, one-piece aluminium caliper has a slightly larger-diameter piston than its cross-country brakes use. This is to boost the mechanical advantage between the master cylinder and the caliper. Sintered metallic or semi-metallic brake pads are available (metallic are standard) and the top-loading pads can be changed without removing the wheel if necessary. All Formula calipers are post-mount, with a compliment of adapters available to fit both post-mount or IS frames and forks. Rotor options:
Formula offers the gamut of rotor options (all in six-bolt configuration), from the XC-standard 160 millimeter, right up to the full-blooded 203-millimeter DH rotors that we used for the majority of our testing. Service kit:
Formula's easy to use bleed kit is almost exactly the same as the SRAM/Avid system and the two kits are interchangeable, so Formula brakes can be serviced virtually anywhere in the mountain bike world.
Race-testing The One brakes
Formula Rotors are among the lightest made, and a special stress-relieving process at the factory keeps them running true when superheated.
Initially we weren't that enamoured with the performance of the One's. After coming from brakes which were massively powerful but not particularly grabby it was a learning curve to deal with the bite offered by the Formula's, especially with the stock Sintered pads slotted into the calipers. It did take us a few weeks to get the best out of the brakes, but once there they provided impressive fuss and fade free stopping. The lever action is light, but positive and allows for good modulation of the power right on the point of locking the wheel which is essential for controlling speed. That said, the sharp nature of their power can initially lead to a loss of confidence as it's easy to lock the brake when the wheels are unweighted, for instance as the front wheel drops into a corner when you're leaned rearwards. You get used to the feel though and as with anything in racing, learn to use it to your advantage. IRA in action:
Formula sent our brakes with the optional IRA 'Instant Reach Adjustment' feature. The IRA replaces the stock threaded plunger and is an easy aftermarket fit should you feel that it's necessary. We were sceptical of how tough they would be, but as with the rest of the brake they stood up well to abuse. It took a big crash in one of the Windham rock gardens to take the first casualty, bending the adjuster totally out of shape and preventing any further use of it. Although damaged, the brake lever worked fine. In retrospect, this is an adjustment that's pretty much left alone once set so it isn't a hardship to do without.
FCS in action:
The One calipers use easy-to-replace, top-loading brake pads. The sintered metallic pads, shown here, stop the hardest and wear the longest. Pinkbike tried the organic pads and went through them regularly in wet and sloppy race conditions.
Formula's Feel Control System is a feature that those who have, love, and those who don't have, desperately want. Depending upon where you choose to set your lever reach, the bite point of the standard The One brake can be quite far out. Providing a good range of adjustment, FCS enables you to key the bite point right where you want it. The FCS device compresses a small spring-loaded piston (actually, an O-ring) that diverts fluid from the brake hose. When the piston bottoms out the spring, the remaining lever stroke drives the brake caliper. Turning the FCS barrel compresses the spring, limits the stroke of the piston and thus affects the bite point of the brake system. FCS is simple and effective and tucked where it is unlikely to suffer untimely damage.
(Note: If you have small hands or like the brake to bite upon contact with the bar, you may still struggle as the brake lever design contacts the reservoir body just before the blade contacts the grip surface.) Brake pad options:
We tried The One brakes with both sintered metallic and organic pads (replaceable through the top of the caliper) and found that the organic was our preferred 'go to' pad as it exhibited less bite and more control, although this was at the expense of durability, especially in the wet. Wet conditions at Mont Sainte Anne took the life of several sets of pads thanks to the horrendous amount of mud on track leading up to qualifying and then just two runs of the Garbanzo track in Whistler was enough to take the life of another. We need to point out that, in both of these events, a kayak would have been more appropriate than a bike. Sintered pads are a must in wet, sloppy conditions if you are to expect decent pad-life and stopping power.Set-up notes:
Bleeding the One Brake is easy to accomplish, thanks to using the same fittings as SRAM. This means that a bleed kit is easy to come by, whether from Formula or the aforementioned SRAM. As with all brakes, it takes a little time to get perfect bleeding, but Formula's two-port system is definitely one of the more intuitive to work with – and we only needed to bleed the brakes once.
Pinkbike's take on Formula's The One DH brake
Comfortable lever blades combined with powerful one-finger stopping make The One brakes easy to control your speed with.
The One is a lightweight, elegant looking and very powerful disc brake that is capable of spanning all manner of uses, from trail riding to World Cup downhill. Formula's DH brake is very powerful, yet once you're used to the feel, it is immensely controllable. What we assumed to be fragile instead proved to be tough and reliable. Those features, allied with superb support at the vast majority of large national and international races we've attended, are huge selling points. If you like your brakes without bite then you may struggle initially with The Ones, but as is true with all top downhill brakes, this is merely a case of recalibrating your senses. In fact, the only real criticism which we leveled towards was Formula's The One's inability to bring the bite point in close enough to the bar for riders with small hands, or for those who like the bite point right on the grip. This is especially true if you purchase the brakes without the FCS. We would recommend that, to get the best out of The One brakes, FCS is essential. If you are in the market for a pro-level brake and can afford about $400 per wheel, The One should surely be high on your list.
Check out all of Formula's options for The One brakes, as well as their entire lineup of brakes, suspension and wheels. Pinkbike has a put lot of time on Formula products, and we would enjoy hearing if you have had similar experiences.