In the most simple of terms, brakes make you stop. However, somewhere between coasting and skidding is a midrange that most of us ride – that is, if we’re riding with any sanity and skill – employing varying pressure on our front and back brakes in unison, in what is aptly called “modulation.”
Modulation, or “a regulating according to measure or proportion,” as defined by Websters Dictionary, is what keeps us from loosing it on a loose downhill line, skidding out in a dusty corner or sliding around a tight switchback. The varying pressure transfers weight and thus grip to the front or back of the bike, enabling the tire’s tread to hook up with the dirt and maintain delicate friction with rock or wood. When brakes work well, they have the “feel” that allows you to modulate through any nasty section, keeping your rubber side down and, in turn, allowing you to ride better. Simply put, good breaks make you faster.
I have had the opportunity to try some of the finest new brakes on the market over the last couple years, and it’s no surprise that many, myself included, thought Hayes was loosing its once-strong foothold in the market. This was due in part to Hayes’ most recent incarnation, The El Camino, which pretty much sucked, and a list of remarkable new products from Avid, Shimano and Formula, just to name a few. It’s no surprise that Hayes (www.hayesdiscbrake.com
)decided to scrap all their previous models, go back to the drawing board, and what they’ve come up with looks good both on paper and on the trail, but the question remains, how will they perform?
Old reliable brake set
New Hayes Stroker offerings
I received a pair of “striking pearl white” Stroker Trails, the middle in a three-model range, with carbon fiber levers being the top dog. The Stroker Trail is likely the model you’ll see on most freeride and downhill bikes. I mounted them on my trusted and true SX Trail, taking off an older set of Hayes Mags that I’d ridden for the past couple years largely due to reliability and ease of maintenance. The new Strokers certainly looked the part:
Stroker Trail Master Cylinder and Lever
Stroker Trail Caliper
Design wise, the all-new Stroker is significantly different than it’s earlier siblings. Most notably, the new Stroker features:
•A radial master cylinder that can be mounted on either side of the handle bar for those who like to ride moto-style (front brake on the right)
•Small handlebar footprint allows trigger shifters to be mounted on either side of the master cylinder
•A long master cylinder, resulting in a lever placement that provides better leverage with less effort
•Ergonomically optimized lever blade
•A master cylinder that contains 33% more fluid to help with fading due to high heat and, they claim, minimizes wear
•The slickest tool-free lever reach adjustment ever (can be dialed as you ride, carefully)
•Larger pads (largest Hayes ever) with tool-free placement
•Same standard Hayes post-mount so it can be used with 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 inch rotors
•Claimed weight of 14 ounces
Out of the box there was no bleeding necessary and the new ergonomics were clearly an improvement. Typically, new brakes feel a little strange until you get used to them, but not Strokers. A few turns of the blue lever reach adjuster (light years beyond the small allen key screw of yore), even as I set them while pedaling from the lift at the top of my first descent at Whistler, had them engaging precisely where I wanted.
After a few runs on the mainstays of A-Line and Dirt Merchant, the brakes began to seed in nicely. I decided a prolonged DH run was in order and I headed to the top of Garbanzo. Nothing can get a pair of brakes more red hot than a non-stop charge of Original Sin, and I was amazed these brakes held the same supple yet powerful feel from top to bottom.
And that brings me back to my original comment – these are the finest modulating brakes I’ve ever felt. If there could be a fault to some of Hayes’ competitors it's that they’re too all-or-nothing. They have tons of power, but in that mid-range they seem to lack feel, which is what I had in spades with the Strokers. Simply put, the confidence and feel of these brakes allowed me to – or at least made me feel like I could – charge harder thanks to the modulation that keep the knobbies that much closer to the brink of cutting loose, which, ultimately, means faster.
Of course, the Strokers must stand the test of time, but judging from my early impressions, I’d have to say that Hayes has pulled out all the stops to make some damn good stoppers.
Some Strokers (Ryde and Trail, not Carbon) went out with inadequately greased master cylinder o-rings. In some cases, this causes a slow lever retraction. We've created a service kit that consists of a small dish of DOT-4 compatible grease and a lint-free applicator swab. All you need to do is to remove the pushrod from the master cylinder, apply grease to the top of the master cylinder (with the piston pushed into the cylinder), allow the piston to rise and apply grease to the o-ring. If done correctly (it's a piece of cake), there's no need to re-bleed the brake. From start to finish, it takes about ten minutes, tops. And one kit contains enough grease to service about five sets of brakes. Owners of affected brakes should take them to an authorized Hayes dealer to have the service performed.