Words: Alasdair MacLennan, Pics: Ian MacLennan & Alasdair MacLennan
The new Tech lever
With all the hype surrounding the return of the legendary Napalm, it seems fitting to use him as a marker of how things have changed in the thirteen years since he stormed on to the scene with second place at Cairns in ’96 against the great Nico. Back then, it was the all-new V-Brakes from Shimano and the Magura Racelines that shod most bikes but it was soon to change. Back in the late nineties, discs were on all the World Cup bikes and more often than not, they were from Lancashire based Hope; Palmer, GT World Cup Team, Giant World Cup team to name just a few. Simple affairs, they had large, MX inspired levers and large, two piece, two piston calipers. Discs were 165mm or 185mm on the front and 165mm on the back. And then along came the DH4 at a huge £250 per end...and £150 each just for the caliper! But they were worth it, if a little heavy, and the list of top riders lining up to ride them was testament to their performance. Fast forward to 2009 and whilst the monopoly which Hope once had has now been split among many, they still stand at the top of the game with their latest offerings.
Hope team rider, Tom Braithwaite, in action at Fort William
Last year, Hope, had a number of brakes on offer, including the V2 with the Moto lever and the M4 with the Mini lever. For 2009, it’s all changed with a new lever called Tech used across the range and, in the case of the M4, a redesigned caliper to make the most of this new lever. So what exactly are these brakes?
First of all we’ll start with the new lever which is a common denominator across the 2009 Hope range. Replacing both the Moto and Mini levers in one fell swoop, the Tech lever is much improved over what has gone before. Lighter than the Moto and only slightly heavier than the Mini it offers easy, on the fly adjustment for both reach and bite point as well as being of a cam design like many of its rivals. This means that the lever isn’t directly connected to the master piston as with older brakes and is instead operated by a sprung cam so that when the inevitable happens and you crash, the lever can get pulled out from the bar and you won’t suffer the age old problem of a now useless lever thanks to the piston having been ripped out. It’s been an increasingly common feature on the brakes released over the last few years and so to see it on the new Hope offering is certainly welcome. The new adjustments are also welcome. Some skepticism must be admitted to when these were first pulled from the box as the small aluminium dials sit rather precariously on the front of the lever and seem very vulnerable to damage. However, over six months on, and many crashes later, whilst grazed, both the threads and adjusters remain in perfect working order.
V2 Front Caliper with 205mm Floating Rotor
Also handy with these is their floppable, ambidextrous design which means that, no matter whether you ride with your brakes on the left or right, you will be able to pull these out the box and use them straight away without fuss. None of these features are particularly new, having been seen on other brakes before but they are all neat and slick executions. Feel wise, these levers are right up there, even though it is a very subjective thing. Much more solid than a lot of the competition, even with normal plastic hoses installed instead of the braided offerings, the bite point is firm and definite at the lever. With all that adjustment on offer, it’s easy to get the lever (which has been drilled to give a bit more grip on your gloves) attuned to suit your preferences. The downside to these is that there is still quite a distance from lever tip to bar clamp which means that if you're running narrow bars and like your levers inboard then there isn't much space to play with. It's much improved over the Moto however, and with most bars now surpassing 700mm, it's doubtful that any riders will have real problems getting it all to fit. Also available are replacement lever clamps for those running either the new style X9/X0 shifters or which are along the lines of the Avid matchmaker and allow you to bolt the shifters directly to the split brake lever clamp. A version to suit Shimano 3 bolt shifters such as the Saint, XT & SLX has been recently announced too. Why doesn't every manufacturer use split lever clamps? It's so much easier than faffing with sliding grips off and on when you just need to change you brake quickly before your run.
Tech lever - Front view
For many years, all of Hopes brakes have featured monobloc calipers and the current offerings are no different. What this means is that they are machined from a single piece of material rather than two then held together by bolts. The theory behind this is less weight and generally greater stiffness which in turn leads to more power. Some manufacturers still opt through two piece in a belief that they offer a better compromise but Hope's single piece offerings are neat, tidy and well executed with their three offerings catering for three different markets: The V2 for those downhillers seeking the ultimate power, the X2 for those seeking the lowest weight and the M4 sitting somewhere in the middle. Also featured across the range is the option of floating rotors. These feature your normal steel braking surface held to an aluminum carrier via rivets which allow for expansion between the two parts. The reason? Less weight and better heat dissipation whilst also allowing for the braking surface to expand separately to the carrier and help guard against warped discs. We spec’d these on both the test V2’s and M4’s.
V2 Rear Caliper with 185mm Floating Rotor
The V2 is probably that which is of most interest to the gravity guys, offering as it does the most power. The V stands for vented rotors which are an extra cost option not tested here and the 2, well that‘s for the two pistons. The caliper itself is a carryover from last year’s offering although work is afoot to lighten it up a bit and these are currently undergoing testing with some of their team riders. When we were speaking to the guys at Hope about getting these brakes on test, it was decided to spec them with a 205mm floating rotor on the front and a matching 185mm on the back. Why the 185mm? Having used Codes for the past few years with a similar setup I felt no need for more power and anyway, the bigger rotor’s main benefit on the back is heat dissipation rather than power – just look at Minnaar’s set up with the larger rear rotor for just that reason. So how have they performed? Superbly. Like the rest of the range, they come stock with organic rather than sintered pads and manage plenty of bite without any inherent snatchiness as well as lots of power, certainly up there with the best offerings from the other manufacturers. Throughout the test, from short UK tracks to half hour descents in the French Alps, the brakes performed well, the original pads even lasting the best part of 6 months. And in those six months, no issues of overheating made themselves known, neither at any point did the brakes lack power, despite testing them on the steepest and fastest tracks we could find. Perhaps the indicator of their performance is that in use, you never actually notice them doing their job; you inherently know that you are able to brake later and later, harder and harder, and the brakes will not let you down, no matter what the conditions. If you’re a big rider and find that you cook brakes for a hobby then go for 205mm rotors front and back, otherwise the 185mm on the back will be fine. And whilst we’re on the subject of smaller rotors, I reckon that with these, most riders would actually get away with a 185mm on the front too – perhaps something that, in time, Hope will offer.
2009 M4 Caliper with 185mm Floating Rotor
That’s the V2’s done, so time now for the M4’s. These were tested on a Cove Stiffee hardtail which gets used for everything that the V10 doesn't. So that means trail centers, long distance XC epics and also downhill trails. A mixed bag of riding then for Hope's all round brake. And, just for good measure, we threw them onto the V10 for some of the same punishing downhill that their bigger counterparts had to put up with, both at Fort William and also in the Alps. Last year, the M4 came with the Mini lever and a 4 piston caliper with two differing sizes of piston to help create a more progressive brake. This year, the M4 comes with the Tech lever which itself is more progressive than the outgoing unit and, as a result, the caliper has been redesigned to help generate more power by matching all the four pistons to the largest size found on the predecessor. This ups the leverage somewhat on the unchanged pads and allow the brakes to remain just as, if not more controllable as the old M4 but with more power to suit bigger bikes and trails.
2009 M4 Caliper with 185mm Floating Rotor
The pads remain unchanged from the original M4 many years ago and are actually compatible with the old Shimano XT 4-pots so spare pads should be easy to track down when you need them from a variety of aftermarket manufacturers. On the Cove, these brakes in 185mm guise front and back never felt like they were being pushed, despite doing our best to thrash them but they performed well, being progressive enough to keep hard and narrow XC tyres from locking on the loose trails yet had easily enough power to control the sticky downhill tyres on the steeper courses. So fitting them to the V10 seemed a reasonable way to see what they were really capable of when being pushed. Did they struggle? In a word, no, despite Hope suggesting that these are aimed more towards freeride than downhill race. After using matching disc sizes to the V2's, the power was within a hair of the bigger brakes although they had noticeably less initial bite. Again, no issues with heat made themselves known and they were happily raced on several steep and punishing tracks in Europe without anything to suggest that they were struggling. Even some of Hopes team riders such as Joe Barnes from MTBCut and Will Longden from LaPierre choose to run the slightly lighter M4 on their bikes which see use right up to World Cup level.
2009 M4 Caliper with 185mm Floating Rotor
Overall these rate highly indeed. Many seem to get tired of reading endless positive reviews but, when it comes to spec'ing a bike to race for a season, you generally are only interested in products which you know will more than likely work or, at the very least, have a high chance of being worth the gamble – regardless of any test/reviews intentions. With these, I will be sticking with them for the foreseeable future as their well placed compromise between weight and power suits me perfectly. As for what you should choose if you're looking at these? If you're a downhiller then the V2 is definitely the main one to consider with its blend of power and is certainly my preferred brake for that purpose. However, if you're lighter or ride predominantly shorter, less heavy going courses then there is a lot to be said for the M4 which weighs less and also has the benefit of being marginally lighter on your pocket too. www.hopetech.com
www.nrgenterprises.com in Canada.
Tech M4 £170
Braided Hose upgrade £10
203mm rotor upgrade £5
($460 CDN - floating rotor, braided line)
Tech V2 £189 including floating rotor and braided hoses
Vented rotor upgrade +£46
($470 CDN - floating $ 580 vented - both w/ braided line)