Opinion - Them's the Brakes

May 22, 2014
by Mike Levy  
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There are a handful of givens for us mountain bikers. I'm talking about facts that have been proven through many years of trial and error, science, and rooms full of super computers running at full whirl. Things like how no one finds your GoPro video interesting, not even you when you actually stop to think about it; you can get bent over the barrel by a fitter and more skilled rider regardless of you being on the "better" wheel size; a cold Bud Light Lime is by far the best post-ride beverage irrespective of how much your buddies laugh at you. I sincerely hope that those points, along with a few other equally important ones, will some day be carved into massive fifty foot tall stone tablets that reside somewhere important, like where Nicolas Vouilloz was born or maybe on John Tomac's front lawn. And while the three facts above are generally accepted as gospel by the very large majority of sane mountain bikers, there is another point that is routinely forgotten by many of us: your brakes are the most important component on your bike.

Trek Remedy 29 Photo by Amy McDermid

Corner faster by slowing down better, even if that doesn't make sense when you first read it.



I know what you're thinking: what about the latest and greatest suspension fork that you just bought? Sorry, there are riders out there who are going to make you look dumb on their rigid bikes, trust me. And some guy with too much facial hair, an anchor tattoo on his forearm, and riding a single-speed is going to step on your balls despite the eleven speed drivetrain that you just installed. Lightweight carbon wheels? Some focused training and not eating an entire bag of cheese Doritos before bedtime is going to make a bigger difference. But brakes really do matter, and a fitter/stronger/more skilled/far better looking mountain biker will struggle if you forced them to mount up a set of original Hayes HFXs. Why am I rambling on and on about brake choice being more important than your colour coordinated handlebar and pedals? I was recently asked by a very nice person which brakes I thought were "the best", and I have to admit that I didn't really have an answer for him. Yes, I made up for it by explaining why GoPros are terrible and that a can of BBL tastes better than some shitty IPA that no one has ever heard of outside of Portland, but I was still really bothered by leaving him hanging on the brake front. It only took a few of those BLLs before I realized that there isn't one type of brake that is truly better than everything else, and that most brake offerings on the market have their pluses and minuses. I know, I know, it sounds like I'm eating a big stack of waffles at the Waffle House, but if there's one type of component that doesn't have an obvious champ, it's brakes. And that's why I'm not going to waffle at all by listing out where I think the major players in the brake game sit relative to each other, thereby letting that guy who stumped me with his question decide what's best for him and let myself off the hook of making any sort of real choice. Waffling is an art.

I should also mention that all of the below is based on countless hours of finger-on-lever time with every brake model that I talk about, including sets that have come stock on test bikes, as well as aftermarket brakes that I've installed on personal rigs over the years. I'm not claiming that my opinion is the bottom line, and I'm sure that there is a guy named Helmut in Germany with lab tests and spreadsheets that prove me wrong on all fronts, but this isn't about lab results or company claims. It's about real world feedback after using a good cross-section of brakes from the major players in the market. I don't mention brakes that I have minimal time on - Hope, for example - because I don't feel like I've had enough experience with them to make the call.



Power
More is never enough, right? Well, not really, but outright stopping power is how so many riders judge whether a brake is a winner or a binner. And when you want brakes that can stop you like a redwood tree, it has to be Shimano when talking about both two and four piston offerings. I'd even go so far as to say that the Japanese giant's minimalist XTR brakes have more perceived power on tap than some of the competition's four piston brakes. On the same token, I'd argue that all of Avid's brakes have enough grunt in them for any rider, so long as they're being used as intended, and that a set of Codes could just about do double duty on both a bike or a small hatchback. Formula have been a bit hit or miss for me when it comes to power, with certain sets being on-point and others leaving me asking for more. Who's bringing up the tail end when it comes to readily available brakes? Sorry Magura, but every set of your brakes that I've used has felt outgunned compared to the major players, especially when they're fitted with the stock organic pads that seem to offer about as much chomping force as you'd find during dinner time at an old folks home. This is somewhat ironic when you consider that the German brand was once known for their four piston Gustav, with the neon yellow brake slowing down old 50LB downhill bikes with all the subtly of a brick wall.

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Interesting fact: Shimano's brakes are used to slow down bullet trains in Japan.



Modulation
If power was all that mattered we'd all be using motorbike brakes, and any remotely steep trail would be nothing but a two foot deep rut from top to bottom. That isn't the case, though, because being able to easily control the amount of braking power you want to put out is just as important as how much power you have at your fingertips, and it is here that Shimano loses the battle to Avid. This is most noticeable in low-traction situations where that early level pull control can make the difference between slowing down with grace or landing on your face - picture yourself trying to slow down on ground that's so shiny with slickness that you can almost see the reflection of your terrified mug, or when your trails have more in common with kitty litter than proper dirt. Avid's brakes are simply more controllable than anything else on the market in this department, although Magura makes up a lot of lost points by coming in at a close second in my head, followed by Formula. And Shimano? I'd say that their modulation has a lot in common with a light switch, although I should admit that me constantly riding different test bikes, and therefore different brakes, is not an ideal approach if you really want to get used to something, especially the unique feel of Shimano's Servo-Wave linkage that requires a touch more force on the lever in the earliest stages of its pull. I also have to give a shout-out to the work that FSA has done with their brand new Afterburner and K-Force brakes as well. You'll have to wait for a review in the near future, but the Afterburners offer Avid-esque control combined with a firm lever feel that makes them real contenders in my book. SRAM's new Guide brakes also feel on-point, although the short ride that I've done on them isn't enough time for me to comment with any confidence.

FSA Afterburner brake

FSA's new Afterburner brakes are proving to be the surprise new component of the year.



Adjustment
Pretty much every brake manufacturer out there offers a range of stoppers that begin with low cost options and go up to brake sets that retail for more than some entry level bikes. And as you might expect, available adjustments vary accordingly, but we should all be able to agree that any company's top tier brake should include effective and tool-less adjustments that allow you to tune your brakes to your liking within a few minutes of tinkering. Avid, Hope, FSA, Formula and Magura all get it, with all of their high-end brakes sporting effective tuning options that allow you to go from conservative to really weird by turning a few dials. However, it still blows my mind that Shimano isn't able to, or maybe doesn't want to, design a working bite point adjustment system that would let riders adjust lever free-throw to their liking. What about that little philips screw, you say? You mean the one that is supposed to adjust the brake's bite point but in reality does absolutely nothing? This means that those who want less lever throw are forced to advance their brake's pistons, a technique that is effective but that also means you'll need to reset the pistons when it comes time to install new brake pads. Shimano, please fix this.

<i>Magura is all about those touchy-feely moments on the trail.</i>

Magura is all about those touchy-feely moments on the trail.



Reliability
Shimano and Magura have given me the least amount of headaches over the years, regardless of the abuse and neglect that was dished out. They just work, plain and simple, which is a pretty important point when talking about brakes. Shimano's offerings in particular seem to be able to compensate for pad wear without a change in feeling at the lever better than anyone else, meaning that your levers don't end up pulling to the grip just because you need to wait until payday before springing for a new set of pads. Shimano's brakes have also offered the most consistent performance for me, with not even top to bottom Garbanzo runs able to upset their feel. Avid routinely gets chastised in this regard, something that is likely down to it being tricky to get all of the air out of the system during bleeding, which can then lead to lever pump-up as you drag your rear brake from the top of Whistler all the way to the GLC for a beer. This is compounded by what can only be described as horrendous bleeds from the factory on many sets that probably make most LBS mechanics cringe.


What does it all mean?
The bottom line is that there isn't one clear winner in my mind, and all of the offerings I talk about above have their own merits. In a perfect world I'd combine Shimano's power and reliability with Avid's ergonomics, adjustability, and modulation. That would be a hard to beat combination in my books, but it's also one that's pure fantasy at this point. FSA and SRAM have new models that look promising, but I'll need more time on both before weighing in - could one of them blend those five key points into a brake that stands clear of the others? Truth be told, I'd likely purchase a set of Shimano's XT brakes when it comes down to it, because despite the lack of a functional bite point adjustment feature, and not as much modulation as Avid or Magura, they've caused me the least amount of headaches over the years. There's something to be said for having confidence in your brakes, isn't there?


207 Comments

  • 150 12
 I HOPE you will get to try some real brakes someday....
  • 80 7
 Your going to need a SAINT if you ever want to stop with maguras...
  • 68 9
 Everyone has their own perfect FORMULA :-|
  • 72 10
 Are you guys writing in CODES?
  • 54 7
 Yes there is a GUIDE for that.
  • 44 7
 Each believing it is THE ONE
  • 8 53
flag mega-turtle (May 23, 2014 at 0:15) (Below Threshold)
 Nice brake GUIDE
  • 10 47
flag kjl12 (May 23, 2014 at 0:39) (Below Threshold)
 Meanwhile at the SLX airport, the real tippie catches a brake, if ya kno what i mean ;-)
  • 87 2
 What kind of brakes do pirates use?........ Code R's
  • 79 2
 Zee Germans make the best brakes
  • 38 1
 Bud Light Lime is not that great of an ELIXER!
  • 15 4
 Im not an AVID fan of ELIXiR 5. I get trapped air all the time
  • 12 2
 Braking for eXTended periods of time fades most brakes.
  • 4 13
flag chyu (May 23, 2014 at 3:52) (Below Threshold)
 Can't we all just give this brake combo a brake?
  • 31 1
 Gimme a break guys! All these puns are starting to put a lever on my patience.
  • 5 11
flag fullbug (May 23, 2014 at 4:48) (Below Threshold)
 There has to be a better way to stop this or atleast slow it down. Give it a brake guys.
  • 1 21
flag erdadh (May 23, 2014 at 4:52) (Below Threshold)
 brake with your V-brake
  • 16 1
 Bah. I can see that most of you are just mono-jokers of mini-intent. You'll never pull a Julie with these kinds of one-finger-liners. You should bed-in your puns carefully, organically. Unless you are Jhou. You know what the Aussies say about his comment, right? They say, 'Hayes got a blinder!'
  • 6 6
 ACE what you did there!
  • 1 13
flag wuzupjosh (May 23, 2014 at 7:28) (Below Threshold)
 i have formulas and will never go back. all brakes have good modulation you just need to one finger that shit and learn not to panic brake.
  • 9 5
 If your rocking formulas your going to want an eXTRa set of breaks around
  • 6 2
 Way to put the brakes on the pun train
  • 9 0
 I've yet to DISCover the perfect brake.
  • 6 0
 I think you guys have covered every brake there. If not the list must be so thin it's SKELETAL
  • 2 5
 Im a AVID fan of AVID i had Juicy 7, Elexir 5 now's got X9 carbon and i never had any air problems X9 has enough power modulation to keep me fast and on the bike as a pro Wink I know it's is a science how to brake when to brake but once you ve learn it then it's a easy liek a song. There is no ultimate brake all the brakes no matter what brand are they all they fade out under the hard braking or in the hands of an amateur . So learn to brake correctly Smile
  • 12 0
 this is all just a big HAYES to me
  • 8 2
 Where did you get those brakes? The toilet store?
  • 2 1
 MR FITZ FOR PREZ. 3 brick tamland
  • 2 0
 You are really boiling my fluid
  • 2 2
 what the dildo sandwich??? where was HOPE TECH!!!! the brake that can win every category, more power than shimano(opinion) better modulation than avid, lever reach and brake pad contact adjustment from the f*cking master cylinder, this article got me so pissed, i run hope on all 4 of my bikes, because the literally stomp every brake i have ever used
  • 9 0
 Then read again and you should be able to understand why Hope is not in the mix. Any person with decent reading capacities and a good understanding of the english language would get it. So i'm sure you can make it too Tannerstolt! We believe in you! Read again!
  • 1 4
 dont be so affected everyone has a different taste of stopping power HOPE AVID SHIMANO FORMULA don get me wrong they are all good brakes but depends of point of view.... and need and skills... Wink HOPE is good as well
  • 5 0
 Gone are the days of having Louise in one hand, Clara in the other hand and leave Gustav on the doorstep without a Single Pot of Hope.
  • 73 2
 Brakes? You mean the pussy lever?
  • 11 0
 hero
  • 19 0
 That would mean I grab two pussies all the time!
  • 5 0
 I never let go of mine...
  • 6 0
 You saying acids are like woman? Those shits always need bleeding....
  • 4 0
 Shimano ones only like to be touched lightly
  • 2 0
 quick and hard
  • 3 0
 Yeah I removed both my brakes to reduce weight. Even though I'm very well known at the local hospital, almost family now really, my bike is like 800g lighter. Couldn't be happier!
  • 35 5
 "In a perfect world I'd combine Shimano's power and reliability with Avid's ergonomics, adjustability, and modulation." My god, the stars would align if this brake was made.
  • 29 3
 That will happen the same say pigs fly, Al Gore makes out with Dick Cheney, and every 15 year-old on Pinkbike trades in their DH or DJ for a 29er.
  • 5 33
flag drivereight (May 22, 2014 at 23:24) (Below Threshold)
 2010-2013 Avid Code...180/ 160 setup, done!
  • 21 6
 It's called Hope
  • 13 0
 If I could afford it, there would be hopes on All! my bikes Effortless, never ending power with insanely adjustable modulation
  • 13 0
 Hopes are the answer. Great power and modulation and super easy to maintain. once you bleed a set of hope brakes you wonder why all the other companies require stupid syringes and funnels.
  • 9 0
 never found a brand combine power, reliability and modulation like Hope. e4 I have atm simply fantastic. far more useable than anything even saint due to supreme modulation.
  • 3 10
flag wuzupjosh (May 23, 2014 at 7:29) (Below Threshold)
 hope is quite good but verybig and ugly if you ask me
  • 7 1
 I love my Avid Trail X0. Neg rep away....I got a quiet, reliable, powerful set. Don't know how it happened, but it did. And yes, I've used (and love) XTs.
  • 3 2
 avid X0 trail brakes are better than anything i have ever tried, did nothing to mine in 18 months other than replace pads.
made XT's feel like rim brakes that have just been ridden through a puddle and had so much feel you could pull a stoppie on sheet ice. my new bike has formula "the one" brakes but not for long, they are appalling in comparison.
  • 2 2
 @webbe and BeerGuzlinFool: Hopes are not the answer.

Hopes used to be one of the best brakes on the market, until they went weight winnie on everything.
The brakes work well as before, but saving grams here and their have made their product fragile.
One crash and my lever is broken, or a knob is broken on my hope brakes. To replace the broken part will set you back $35.

Shimano Zees on the other hand have taken quite a few falls and no damage!
Also, they cost me half of what Hopes cost.
  • 3 1
 I have to say, Zees look like the best bang for your buck out there, especially for people like me who only spend 1hr a month doing maintenance to their bike
  • 1 0
 I run avid elixer 1 and only time they have broken for me was when I hit a tree and the mount for the lever snapped $65 to replace whole front brake could just buy a lever
  • 1 0
 I run elixir 1s on my 2012 trance x4 and dont have too many great things to say about them... not sayin that all of 'em are trash, just that mine werent very nice, Guess avid is a bit of a gamble, ive heard people with no problems that love their brakes and others that cant find a single positive thing to say about them
  • 1 0
 @abzillah the experiences of everyone I know have been contrary to that. Perhaps you got unlucky? No product will withstand certain impacts from freak crashes. You should have phoned Hope direct, I'd say there's a fair chance they'd have shipped you out a replacement part free of charge.
  • 29 1
 As a lbs mechanic I like this honest tail of brakes:-),I have used HOPE brakes since I could afford to dump the xt Vs! '98 I think,that's a lot of brakes!,Hope are awsome and that's FACT!.
New shimano brakes are awsome!Fact!
I have Zee s on by Froggy I use as a DH bike and simply amazing !tons of modulation and buckets of power!.
XT and slx are so good may one day tempt me off hope on my trail bike.they can be a bit grabby if you have fists of ham though,not a prob for me,just so reliable!.
Avids well just a bad design! A rubber sac dose not make a good resivour for the fluid.xo and cr types seam better,my wife has xo ones and no probs as I bleed them propely with new fluid every time she gets pads(a lot)and hers work great!.but every day we see avids that leak ,spongy,shit seals,corrided ,bits just falling apart!don't get me started on those stupid washers that crumble as soon as they sniff a bit of salt!.just very poor! Fact.
Formula s go wrong and bits are expensive as hell and leaves not good for small hands a feel wooden why bother? Hayes?lol!magura reliable,lack power and expensive again why bother?.
It really is HOPE,SHIMANO,as the only options!,or maybe XO Avids and code if you have a personal mechanic and get your brakes bled monthly change the washers to shimano v block ones,never ride in winter or near salt,wash them as soon as you get home,second thoughts just don't bother !
  • 2 1
 Amen to that. I'll might look into Hope after I destroy the 2 sets of XT i have. But for now it looks like they're in for the haul.
  • 1 0
 So right, exactly what I would say !
  • 1 0
 Agreed on the avid front but I do seem to be forever bleeding them
  • 1 0
 my rear elixir kept leaking (countless bleeds) and was never powerful, a friends one was the same (bled it a few times for him), another friend had both of his fail (bike upside on chairlift doesn't help) and dislocated his shoulder... All of us have moved to shimano (slx for the two others, slx and zee for me) and they are so much better in every way ! easy to bleed and powerful. Not much modulation I find but I like my brakes that way.

formula are unreliable (sent back) (I had the ones), real pain to bleed and not very powerful and noisy (also due the shit formula rotors, don't get me started on them !!!! (yes, very light but flimsy, crap brake surface, noisy))

Would love to try hope but v expensive.

Basically shimano brakes = the best for the best price ! (zee much better than slx or xt; heat uup a lot less)
  • 21 1
 I do still prefer Hope over any other brand I have tried since 1994, plenty of power, good modulation, very easy bleeding, great adjustment, good quality build, and if you should be so unlucky to have som issues with brakes, a customer service that no other brand is anywhere near.
  • 2 0
 I agree, while my Shimano brakes never let me down and had ample power going for them, there's nothing like closing the caliper on a pair of V2s. They basically are the moto brakes he is talking about above. Combined with great pad-life, good modulation, superior ease of maintenance and a bikeload of bling they're only thrown back by how expensive they are in comparison.
  • 8 0
 Lots of Hope love in here. I'll have to make a point to get a set in ASAP.
  • 1 0
 Please do... i have a pair of xt 2011, xt 2013, xtr 2014 and i am about to build up a new "enduro" bike and i just want to know how they go...
  • 15 2
 Nice article, Mike. A well-rounded argument for and against the readily available brake offerings. Love my Code Rs, BTW. Great value. I'll take all the Portland IPAs for the record, you can keep your Bud Light Lime.
  • 8 0
 Yeah man. My respect for Mike's taste in things just went out the window. Bud Light Lime for the FAIL.
Good summary on the brakes though, even if missing some key players.
We need more of these articles that compare the pros and cons of current market options, as the options can make your head spin if you haven't tried them all yourself. Just don't bring beer into the equation ;-)
  • 1 0
 Agreed. love the head-to-head
  • 4 0
 You'll see more in the near future.
  • 2 0
 From now on the saying will be "don't compare brakes and beer" instead of apples&oranges.
  • 11 0
 Great, honest, straight to the point article, this is what I always hoped pinkbike would do; comparatives between brands of a similar product segment. You guys have so much experience with a lot of different components, it would be quite a waste to not give the readers an idea of where products sit when pit against eachother... as even a good review doesn't mean much without comparison, especially in 2014, where most products are now at least decent. A similar article on forks, shocks, tires and the such would be great. There are only 2 "major" players in the brake world so it's not to hard to know what's what but not many of us get to long term test multiple 1000$ forks, especially when OEM builds mostly use the same stuff.
  • 4 2
 however, reviews are entirely subjective and the only scientific brake tests produced the results mentioned. subjective products reviews are worthless. this is a general problem with the MTB industry/media mafia, but it works ok for an audience of 12 year olds
  • 3 0
 I would have to agree here, except on the 12 year old part.
  • 1 0
 That's why the first word of the title is "OPINION". While they can't say what will work best for everybody, their subjective appreciation of, let's say, tires, is probably a lot more objective when you compare it to the minion fanboys that never rode anything else. As someone who rides both shimano and avid brakes, I found this "opinion" quite spot on.
  • 11 3
 Well, it's a bit pointless to have such a good summarized brake article and not involve Hope in it. Do some tests on their brakes, and write the article after, so you can have the whole picture. I mean the article is good, but without one of the biggest brake manufacturers, known to produce great brakes, it's something really missing here. Also I'm interested if Formula R0 and The One has been tested because in Bikeradar's dyno test results they got the best ratings when it comes to power.
  • 3 0
 RO's are monstrous powerful and well modulated. subtle design, sturdy, and easily maintained. good backup service. zero fade on massive descents. never boiled a brake line. win. I don't have a brake drama and never have. The Ones for several years then onto RO's means I have had solid brakes with no hassles and no interest in a brake debate. very satisfied customer right here. makes my MTB life easy never worrying about brakes
  • 3 0
 We'll get some Hope brakes in ASAP. Part of my hesitation to wait until I spend enough time on Hope brakes boils down to me feeling like I need to have ridden a good cross-section of a company's brakes for a solid amount of time. If I got one set of Hope brakes in and rode them for a month, I'd still likely not include them in this article. However, we'll do a review of Hope brakes soon, as well as the new FSA and SRAM models. As for Formula, I've used maybe five sets in the last few years and wasn't overly impressed.
  • 1 0
 hey mike I realise what you do for a job but im just curious as to how much you ride.in a week how many kms would you do and whats your variation in disciplines because I would love to be able to go through five sets of brakes in a few years just one brand plus other brands that you are riding,just after some perspective as to your time on gear.chur
  • 8 1
 It's a shame you missed Hope from your write up. Their reliability is second to none. I've had nothing but trouble with acids.
  • 9 3
 Personally ive always found them to be pretty basic
  • 4 0
 simmo I'll give you a +1 simply because you worked me from disagreement to delight as your puntelligence crystallised...
  • 1 0
 I found his comment quite corrosive
  • 12 2
 Hope, hope and hope...
  • 5 1
 Modern Shimanos do have modulation, but they don't have lever feedback. When you pull Avids slightly, the lever is moving lightly. The more you pull, the more power you should put through your finger. That does not happen with Shimanos. They are always very light and almost linear to pull, so I had to modify my habits to not to rely on lever feedback. Because when you feel feedback from Shimano, the front wheel is already locked up and you are eating dirt. And you still have some lever travel to pull even harder, lol. Right now I can't ride with Avids. Lever feedback stops my finger, but the brakes are not stopping me enough yet.
  • 2 0
 I know what you mean. My first ride on Saints scared the shit out of me. I was used to Codes and Elixirs. Although, now that I've gotten used to it, I don't notice the lack of feedback anymore.
  • 5 1
 A well written article.

Have you tried the XTR Race levers Mike? They don't have servo wave so they have amazing modulation. I paired those levers with XT calipers and 203/160 rotors and I swear that it is the best setup I have used to date. They only have lever reach adjustment though, and it ain't tool free, but I'm perfectly fine with that.
  • 1 0
 I just paired the old non servo wave Saint levers with the SLX calipers. Same concept, without the flash. I'm a big fan of it as well, and there's not the initial 'clunk' or breaking point that makes it more difficult to modulate.
  • 1 0
 I'm on a similar setup but ended up pairing xtr race levers to shimano zee calipers, really nice setup but as Mike said you need to advance the pistons to get shorter lever throw which isn't too bad but more hassle than I'd like. I had avid x0 levers on code calipers before the x0 trails came out and they had a brilliant feel to them but just couldn't maintain the reliability I'd come to know with older avid brakes I owned.
  • 4 1
 Shimano for me as well. Just get used to the modulation. Avid's best brakes are the BB7 for me. Had nothing but pain and misery from their hydros (bleed, rebleed, rebleed ....), together with formula (impossible to set up drag free). I share the observation that Maguras are weak, but their new 4 piston brakes seem very promising.
Next to Shimano, I'd go for Hope which have excellent modulation, easiest to service at home, all parts available, and they look great. They only lose out to shimano because of lower power.
  • 1 0
 6 years on Formula, all drag free, indicates you are verbalising out of your arsehole
  • 6 1
 All opinion here is rendered utterly invalid when you say not just Budweiser, or even Bud Light, but that Bud light lime is a worthwhile beverage, post ride or otherwise!
  • 1 2
 Lol yes any bud is gay but bud light lime hahahha not even sold over here we wouldn't have it!
  • 2 0
 Bucky post-ride, for health
  • 3 0
 Lost all credibility at Bud Light Lime.. Tecate is THE sport beer.
  • 1 0
 Bud light lime is great (after a long night of drinking (when you need to come down slowly)).
  • 3 0
 My experience on brakes in order of appearance:
Avid Juicy three: All around crap.
Elixir CR Mag: too weak construction, lack of power.
Code 5: Solid structure and lots of power, a bit "on/off".
Hope Tech V4: All good so far, maybe a bit heavy. Got them as used, otherwise I could never afford em Smile
  • 5 0
 New slx's here and couldn't be happier, good power, good price and reliable
  • 1 0
 I have slx on my bike and in my opinion I think they work just as well as xt
  • 4 1
 Awesome writeup. I couldn't agree more with the points made about Shimano and Avid. The others I am admittedly unfamiliar with. now let this episode the pubescent internet wars begin on the subject.....
  • 7 0
 cheers to helmut, haha
  • 5 0
 Pinkbike gives us an article with the truth..... NSMB gives us the Brolympics..... Nuff said
  • 2 0
 Is the truth serum really bud light lime Kelly?? Really??
  • 1 0
 i mainly meant about brakes.... we all know mike likes some questionable shit outside of biking....
  • 2 0
 I have two bikes that need disc conversions, I'll probably just run BB7's again, I used them everywhere with no problems but I'm leaning towards the new Shimano CX brakes for my XC hardtail. You can do things with mechanicals that are impossible with hydraulics of course. Good article, and yes, lime is good, like Old Spice Lime, classy! Lemon is for peons BTW.
  • 1 0
 Dunno. SLX is certainly a contender for a BB7 killer.
  • 1 0
 Well, without actual metrics to compare stopping power how would one know what brakes are better? Even then the performance is subjective, as in lever feel, modulation or even ease of maintenance. I highly doubt there's modern disc brakes of reasonable quality that won't stop a bicycle. I'd say what really matters is how good a mechanic you are and how much you have to spend. Sure, it's fun to be a "Bench Racer" but it doesn't add up to much.
  • 1 0
 I'd say ultimate power and modulation are similar.. I prefer the SLX feel (subjective, granted) and they are without doubt much quieter (objective).
  • 1 0
 Well, I do have SLX cranks on the Kona XC, it's really a nice gruppo, inexpensive and it works. I'm trying to get the Kona around 20lbs. and might ride easy trails with it, kind of a trailer queen as the frame is one of a kind. On my dually I'll need some I can be on quite a bit for the Shore, looks like I'll have to do my homework and stop wasting money on beer...
  • 3 1
 Newer XT and Zee have been mind blowing for me. The performance is better, the lever is perfect and there are next to no headaches. Avid, formula and hayes all required bleeds every 6 months or less, and constant lever/caliper tuning. The shimanos just feel exactly the same all the time, despite massive days in the alps and regular racing. The best components are the ones you dont need to faff around with!
  • 6 0
 That was very well written Mike, I enjoyed reading it.
  • 2 0
 I've had a pair of hope mono 6 brakes for almost ten years amazing reliability only have bought 2 sets of rotors and I think I'm on my 4th pair of pads they last forever. And the only thing I've had to do is change the dot 5 fluid every other year. I've never riden another brake with as good of modulation either I couldn't be happier with them. Oh yeah and loads of power they were well worth the almost 700$
  • 2 0
 Pair XTR Trail levers with (last-gen) Saint 4-pot calipers, and bridge the gap with Goodridge hoses and fittings, and you have some brakes that modulate BETTER than the 3 or 4 sets of Avids I have owned, while still keeping the "pine-tree" stopping power of the original Saint set I have. It's a win-win setup
  • 3 0
 So what I've taken from this article is that he has horrible taste in beer, and he really doesn't realize that xtr's are the clear winner here. Yikes Mike Levy, step up your game!
  • 3 0
 What about them HFX's ? Still rockin' em on my FR bike after all these years. Ain't "struggling" with the adjustability either- just ridin' and saving my dough for better post ride beers than BLL !
  • 2 0
 I run BB7 on my Intense Spider, with SD-7 levers. They're smooth, reliable, bomb proof, ultimately adjustable and ZERO maintenance other the changing the pads occasionally. I haven't even changed the cables (Full Metal Jacket) in 10 years and they're a reliable now as the day I installed them. They may not be quite as "buttery" or quite as powerful as hydros, but they also require far less maintenance and as the article says, there's a lot to be said for reliability and low maintenance. By comparison, I'm on my second shock and 3rd fork.
  • 1 0
 if you admitted that the bite point adjustment is useless on the xt, why don't you simply recomanded the slx? (both brakes on the key points are totally the same: caliper, master cylinder, leverage ratio...) (by the way, the slx's plugged "bite point hole" fuctions as a fully screwed in xt)
  • 9 6
 Sorry.. if you have not ridden Hopes and you give avid any credibility then this review is worthless.. And by the way.. bud lite lime is for pansies..and that's a fact.
  • 3 0
 This is not a review, its an opinion. Read the title
  • 2 5
 His opinion is then incomplete and should not have been written without all of the necessary information..
  • 3 0
 What credability do you have? You're a BeerGuzlinFool.....Wink
  • 2 0
 Insight, Opinion AND Humour
  • 3 0
 You know the moment in some video edit when you can hear 'the sound' and when instantly you can be sure they're riding Avids? Big Grin
  • 2 1
 I have a set of MT6's on my C'dale, and am really not impressed. Power is lacking, and the rotors.... Noisy, and sounded warped after the first ride. On a Carbon 8k bike I expected more. I'm already looking to upgrade pads and rotors.

On the wifes C'dale, it came equipped with XTR's. Power power power, reliable, beautiful floating rotors, no noise. However she locks the brakes up easily, possible lack of modulation. Turn the bike upside down for a tire change/ etc... Be prepared for no brakes for a while. That pisses me off enough to wish we had something else all together.
  • 2 0
 sounds like your wife's brakes need a serious bleed!
  • 1 0
 Had the same problem, would lose o pressure til I pumped the levers for a good few minutes. I had mine replaced by warranty, try askig the shop where the bike came from.
  • 2 0
 @cstishenko - Start with a switch to sintered brake pads for your MT6s and go from there.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy Do you think this will also eliminate the odd sounds coming from the rotors? It almost sounds like they are warped, but the bike is new... Like 10 rides old new, and i'm not hard on the brakes.

They are not warped in the way that you hear them when you are riding flat and not on the brakes.... It is when braking at slow speed down a technical descent, they sound garbley.. Almost like every second fin is warped. odd.
  • 1 0
 I just bought new XT brakes and I cant seem to get the back brake to stop having a weird vibration. Any Suggestions??? I have properly bled the brakes and burned them in. The front brake is flawless, the back on has some weird vibration to it. However I do love the feel and the power.
  • 2 0
 I had the same problem after installing "less expensive" rotors. The few dollars saved by being cheap wasn't worth the annoyance of noise and vibration.
Also verify the rotor is installed directionally correct.
  • 1 0
 I definitely did not cheap out on the rotors. I bought the XT ice tech 203 front and 180 rear. Rotors are directionally correct. I will have to try to realign the caliper again. I was really picky with the alignment and I have tried several times. I am more just aligning by eye though to get everything not to rub. Maybe I should just grab the brake like you are saying and see if that helps even if there is a little bit of rubbing between the caliper and the brake pads. Thanks for the advice!
  • 1 0
 I again centered the caliper and I'm still experiencing the same vibration. So frustrating!!!
  • 2 0
 @left-to-fate: please expiriment with different combinations of calipers, pads, and rotors and summarize what you find out?
  • 2 0
 It is a constant vibration under braking. At this point I think that it would have to be something with the caliper. Recently I took the pads out and extended the pistons out a bit and cleaned them off with some alcohol. I must have overextended the pistons slightly and some air must have gotten in the system. The lever was still had enough pressure for braking so I took it out for a ride. Even thought the lever felt a little squishy, it worked and there was no vibration. Went home, bled the system and now the vibration is back. WTF! These XT brakes are only a couple of months old and I have had this vibration in the rear the entire time. I have also tried swapping the pads from the front to the rear and that also did not help. I also put on an old Avid HS1 rotor and still had the vibration. I feel like the only thing that I have not tried is a different caliper/lever.
  • 1 0
 Just not seeing any issue with Shimano brakes. They don't have adjustments because when you get them set, you leave them alone - unlike Avid brakes that never seem to stop howling. Zee brakes and the best value on the planet! Don't know how they can be beat for value.
  • 1 0
 I'm currently running XT on my slope-style bike, Zee on my trail-bike and Saint on my mini-DH rig. All are very predictable, with the XT and Saint being the more powerful ones...Zee is not far off either. I've run Codes in the past and like their performance, but changing pads was an absolute nightmare.


One thing that wasn't covered in the article was serviceability - as-in does your LBS carry pads, etc. to maintain your brakes or do you need to special-order any-and-every part required?
  • 2 1
 Every brake I've ever owned (Hayes MAG, HFX9, Shimano Deore (2005+2012), Shimano XT(varying years), Shimano Saint(old style), Avid Juicy 3,5,7, Elixir CR, Hayes Prime) has, outside of contaminated pads and one unfortunate event when I didn't know what I was doing and ripped a bleed port completely off, never had any issues. I really believe that impressions of reliability depend on who is doing the maintenance, and if they're doing it properly. Many are not.

As far as I could tell, this article was more about performance, and less about mechanical issues. Unfortunately every time the word "brake" is mentioned in any online bike forum, the bashing commences and exaggeration ensues.
  • 1 0
 I love my new set of Hayes Prime Pros! Tons of power and great modulation to slow down this clyde. Lots of adjustability and great looks. Too soon to comment on durability but so far I have no regrets for buying this American made product. Reviews I read said their customer service is first rate and right next door in Wisconsin; which helped me make my decision.
  • 11 8
 "brakes are the most important component on a bike"
Sorry pinkbike, but I think wheels takes first prize for that
  • 1 0
 frame is #1 - the chassis to build everything around. simples
  • 1 0
 For the extremist, who is capable enough to stop their bike at any time by just sliding sideways - ok, brakes aren't the most important component on a bike. But for the rest of us, who want to be physically capable to make ride number 2 without pain, on the same day and on the same bike - ya need good brakes!
  • 1 0
 Technically, tires are THE most important component. Everything else is total bunk if you're running sh!t tires, imho.
  • 8 4
 I gotta say it... brakes...they just slow you down, bro!
  • 2 1
 Is it not interesting how the most reliable brakes use mineral oil? I have brand new XT's with Magura Storm SL rotors and am very pleased, however set-up is a pain with the thicker rotors.
  • 2 1
 I had a set of Avids for 2 years, and never needed bled, worked great. Got top of the range Saint m820 brakes, and the rear brake needs fully bled after being ridden 20 times.
  • 2 0
 I love my shimanos, but is anyone else having problems with the lever? Mine last about 1 year and then all the seals dissolve
  • 2 0
 No problems in 3 years with my XT's. Are you running the correct fluid? Do Shimano warranty your dissolved seals?
  • 1 0
 Yes always shimano mineral oil. I did ride almost daily as I was trail building. I think I was outside the warranty period. Can you replace the seals in the lever?
  • 1 1
 Avid BB7s. Enough said.

But I'll say more; three adjustment options on the levers, 4 adjustment options on the caliper, and they are bomb proof. They have tremendous amounts of power, really nice modulation, and very little maintainence. All the important adjustments are tool free for on the trail changes. Sure they are heavier than most, but they make up for it in the $avings.
  • 2 0
 I do love BB7s but they do give up a little in terms of feel compared to hydros, and certainly noisier than Shimano IceTechs. Still, for a simple bike theyre hard to beat. Probably greatest dollar-performance ratio in the sport.
  • 1 0
 I guess I agree with that, except for the part about feeling like hydralic brakes. I use a linear cable housing (either shifting or the brake specific stuff) and all the people who try my bike comment on the brakes right away. It barely differs in feel from a cheap hydralic set, and so I have to disagree with you there.
  • 1 0
 I rode BB7s for a solid decade, I bet. Really love them, but replaced them on my hardtail with SLX and dont regret it yet.
  • 1 0
 You use shifter housing for your brakes? Never heard of that..
  • 4 0
 That's dangerous. Coils on brake housing make it not split open when under compression. The linear shift cable can split open if compressed hard enough. Brake specific non compressible housing is a combo of both. Use that.
  • 1 0
 This article could not have come at a mo better time. Thank you. I'll hold out for the m820's, but if they're out of stock when I'm ready to order, I guess I won't feel so bad about the codes
  • 2 0
 You won't regret it. I went from the 810's to the 820's and figured that there wouldn't be much of a difference. There was...and it was for the better. Codes are, imho, the next best thing.
  • 1 0
 I own the Zees and M820 Saints while my friend has Codes. You will regret settling for Codes. Power on the Saints is amazing as expected, but what really surprised me was the modulation & control; I was riding on snow & ice all winter with regular tires and I never had an accidental lockup or anything. My SLX and XT brakes did give me a few accidental lockups & washouts, as did the M596 Deore I had last year.
  • 1 1
 IMO brakes aren't the most important component on the bike. I just took my XT brakes from either 05 or 06 off my 2014 carbon super bike. I ran those shimanos for so long because they just wouldn't die, and yes the new xo trails im on now are waaaay better they give me more control and make me feel slightly faster. I would way rather go back to the 3 times outdated XTs before I would put garbage tires on, narrow bars, or some dinky small stanchion qr fork.

I do 100% agree with all of the comments about bud light lime!
  • 1 1
 Rode hope m4s in all there incarnations. Switched to slx and never looked back. Although the m4 probably has the better modulation I found they lacked real font end bite for when you need to get the rear end off the ground to swing it round. Also the one finger design of shimano is mint
  • 1 0
 I've only ever used Magura brakes and have never had any issues. My next set will be Magura, and most likely for the rest of my riding days.
  • 3 0
 I still have a Magua Gustav M in perfect condition. There isnt any problems with it after 14 years. No leaking, no pressure point fluctuation, no power losing, just stops me as a new one. Not like my new set SLX. Big Grin Sometimes its stopping me at the normal lever point, sometimes i have to pull it to the handlebars to get the same power. And its freakin brand new!! -.-
  • 2 0
 Excellent work Mike. Hearing you speak gives no clue as to the brilliance that lies inside.
  • 2 0
 Now i wanna hear him speak
  • 3 0
 Formula RX with organic pads. Terrible in every sense but... dat feel.
  • 3 0
 My brake is the tree that stops me.
  • 1 1
 I really like Avid's ergonomic levers. I've used an Elixir 5 on my dj bike for 3 years, never had to bleed it. I also use Elixir CR's on my Enduro rig and they've held up fine.
  • 3 0
 This just makes me even more interested in the FSA brakes.
  • 1 2
 Anyone else not really get the whole modulation thing? I've ridden hayes, avids, maguras, shimanos etc - other than at walking speed I've never noticed any real differences here; you want to slow down more, you squeeze harder.
  • 1 0
 Formula the one, light and powerfull had mine 3 years and not had to bleed them yet Awesome
  • 1 0
 try RO's, even better
  • 2 0
 "most important component"? You tell that to MacDuff?
  • 2 0
 Bud Lime lite.......it's just called line cordial over here pal.
  • 1 0
 Lime fkin phone!!
  • 3 0
 Lost me at "Bud" .
  • 3 0
 Loved this article!
  • 2 0
 Got the same taste in beer as a 14 yr old girl Levy.
  • 2 0
 Great article! But have you considered Zima for your post-ride beverage?
  • 1 0
 Bud light lime ( green tea ) the official beer of riding the chairlift at Bromont bike park
  • 4 7
 No Hayes? I have a set of their mx-4 calipers with avid levers (mechanical setup) and they are great brakes until it gets super steep and fast then power starts to drop off. That being said super solid initial bite, great modulation and super easy to work on. I would recommend them for most trail riding over hyrdralics.
  • 18 0
 go home youre drunk
  • 4 0
 you mentioned the part that makes them utterly useless
  • 1 0
 Yay internet haters.... By the power dropping off I ment to say its not lime my juicys where if you keep squeezing they keep grabbing these don't loose power.
  • 1 0
 yay drunk internet idiots
  • 1 0
 No brakes I can go fast !!!!
  • 1 0
 i have no reliability issues with my avid codes at all
  • 3 2
 I'd never recommend Avid to anyone, I use Saints on my AM rig.
  • 1 0
 ZEE or SAINT if you have the money... lighter bikes, SLX
  • 2 1
 I love my Code R, I like the lever on the Shimanos a lot better though.
  • 2 1
 One of your best articles yet Mike Levy!
  • 1 1
 Now I'm certain that I will buy those Shimano SLX brakes... Thanks for this article Smile
  • 2 0
 HOPE all the way. ... Smile
  • 2 0
 HOPE, period
  • 1 0
 You lost me at Bud Light with Lime.
  • 1 0
 Bud light lime? Really?
  • 1 1
 hate my slx.. cant wait for the guides to come out
  • 1 0
 Hope and Magura for me.
  • 1 0
 HOPE >> FORMULA
  • 3 5
 Mike you're a joke. No modulation on new Shimanos? You are literally blowing SRAMs ass.

Every thing you write is a joke.
  • 1 0
 no kidding, he even forgot to mention hope tech, this article is so corrupt
  • 5 0
 @Miff - I look forward to seeing you tumble off of the rock again this year during the Canadian Open. That was awesome.

@Tannerstolt - I didn't forget to mention Hope... I actually wrote in the article that I don't feel I have enough time on them to make a call and compare them to the others. That's the opposite of corrupt, actually, because I could have just made something up. There are many places online where one or two rides count as "reviews", and they're even presented as such. Would you rather have that? I wouldn't. But if you do, please go there.
  • 4 7
 You can ride without brakes. Can you ride without wheels?

"Brakes are the most important component" MYTH. BUSTED.
  • 7 0
 And I can jump off a building naked and fly without wings. At least once.....
  • 1 0
 Tires, son. Those rims need something to help them track. Actually, all of the above (brakes/tires/wheels) are the key components. If you get all of those "right", you're set!
  • 1 0
 You can ride a bike with no tires, hell you might feel even more 'on rails'
  • 2 5
 WFO , This does not pertain to me.. hahahaha!
  • 1 4
 *avids
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