Shimano Zee Brakes
Shimano's Zee gruppo has been touted as Saint's little brother, and for good reason. Many of the features from Shimano's high end freeride/downhill group have made their way onto the Zee line of components, but at a lower cost. The Zee hydraulic disc brakes are no exception, sharing the same four piston caliper design as the Saint brakes, but without the tool free lever reach and stroke adjust, and priced $70 less, at $229.99 for the caliper and lever (rotor not included).
• Dual diameter, four ceramic piston equipped caliper
• Short, textured lever blades
• Mineral oil
• Weight: 306 grams (front brake, caliper and hose without mounting hardware).
• MSRP: $229.99 (single caliper and lever)
The Zee brakes use a short, textured lever blade designed to maximize stiffness. The texture comes from numerous small circular indentations, a feature intended to improve grip in wet, slippery conditions. A split clamp design allows the levers to be removed without taking the grip and shifter off the handlebar, and the lever reach is adjusted via a 2mm hex key located at the front of the lever.
The Zee brake's levers are compact, with a slim mineral oil reservoir and a dimpled lever blade to prevent slippage during wet weather.
The brake caliper uses four ceramic pistons, with a larger diameter pair located towards the front of the caliper to improve modulation. Ceramic is used because of its insulating properties, which helps protect the system from overheating during periods of extended hard braking. Shimano has made heat management one of their top priorities for their brakes, with the ultimate goal being move heat away from the caliper as quickly as possible, helping to prevent the possibility of brake fade caused by an overheated system. The use of radiator fins integrated with the brake pads is another step Shimano takes to keep things cool and controlled. Since Shimano sells their rotors separately from the lever and caliper, riders could choose to use the Saint-level, three layer ICE rotors if they wanted even more heat management technology. We tested the brakes with Shimano's two piece RT66 rotors, rotors that fall in line with the more budget conscious intent of the Zee gruppo.
Four ceramic pistons, with a larger pair in the front, provide the brake's stopping power.
Installation was quick and easy, aided by Shimano's excellent pad clearance, which makes getting a rub-free setup a no-fuss affair. Because of the short lever design, we ended up running the levers positioned closer to the grip than what we're used to with offerings from other manufacturers, but there was still enough room to position a shift lever or dropper post lever in between the grip and lever if necessary. On The Trail
The Zee's full power doesn't hit you over the head immediately; rather, it remains in reserve towards the end of the stroke for those emergency, full stop moments. Sure, give 'em a good pull and you can skid to your heart's content, but it's not as immediate as on other brakes we've tried – there seems to be more of a delay between when the pads contact the rotor and when the full power arrives. Don't get us wrong, the power is there, it just occurs deeper in the lever stroke. We've spent extensive time on Shimano's SLX and XT brakes, and where those brakes can feel almost grabby from the start, the Zees seem to have more of a ramp up to their power, with more modulation available before full lock up.
It was on long, committing rock faces and extremely steep sections of trail where speed needs to be controlled without losing traction where the brakes' excellent modulation was most apparent. On terrain such as this the ability to find a balance between locking up the rear tire and careening wildly off into the bush is a must, and the Zee brakes more than earned their keep, remaining fade free even after extended periods of brake dragging. In wet weather the metallic pads were relatively silent, with only the occasional squeal, and the stopping power remained consistent.
As far as overall durability goes, we did manage to have a couple over the bar moments during our time on the brakes, usually caused by stuffing the front tire where it didn't belong, but the levers emerged unscathed, without any bending despite having several solid encounters with the ground. There were only a few cosmetic scratches on the reservoir cover bolt to show for our less-than-smooth moments.Issues
We've had an excellent track record with Shimano brakes being low maintenance, but we did end up needing to bleed the rear brake after a month or so of use. It started acting up when we traveled to Whistler, exhibiting an inconsistent lever feel, and lacking the power we had come to expect. Luckily, bleeding is a simple procedure, and the fact that Shimano uses mineral oil makes it a much more skin and paint friendly procedure compared to dealing with DOT fluid. How did air work its way into the system? We're not sure, but it's entirely possible that there was still an air bubble or two remaining from when we shortened the line during the initial setup, and that going up 4000 feet in elevation caused it to change position and affect the brake's performance. Again, bleeding was quick and easy, and fixed the inconsistent lever feel.
The only other quibble we had with the Zee brakes is that a tool free lever adjust would be much appreciated. For riders who are particular about their brake lever position, it's especially nice to have the option of quickly turning a dial as opposed to digging for a multi-tool. Pinkbike's take:
|Choosing a set of brakes can be a difficult decision, with numerous factors to examine, including price, ergonomics, mineral oil or DOT fluid, two pistons or four... the list goes on. Shimano's Zee brakes strike a good balance between power and modulation, and we'd say their lever shape is the best on the market right now. The use of mineral oil also makes our inner mechanic happy, as does the excellent pad clearance that reduces rotor rub. At this price we would like to see a tool free lever adjust, but barring that request Shimano's Zee brakes are powerful, reliable stoppers that would make an excellent upgrade for riders looking to ditch their two piston stoppers and step into the world of powerful four piston brakes. - Mike Kazimer|