What's Up Top?
SRAM's new Guide brake lineup consists of three models with varying degrees of tool-free adjustability, with the middle of the road RS model that's reviewed below foregoing the free-stroke adjustment of the higher-end RSC but retaining a tool-free reach adjustment dial. That omission sees them come in at $149 USD per end, which is about $50 less expensive than the premium model. Want to save a bit more coin? $129 USD gets you the basic R version that still boasts the same reach adjustment but loses the ball bearing lever pivot that's employed in both the RS and RSC versions. All three take advantage of the same four piston caliper, and they can be fitted with the same brake pads as used on Avid's four piston offerings. That leads us to the question of why the Guide brake falls under the SRAM banner rather than the Avid name, with the most obvious answer being that SRAM is looking to separate the Guides from the somewhat potted history of Avid's older offerings. Below, we find out if they've been able to do exactly that.
Guide RS Brake Details
• Intended use: all-mountain / trail
• Four piston caliper
• Tool-free reach adjust
• MatchMaker X compatible
• Lever pivots on ball bearings
• Top loading pads
• DOT 5.1 fluid
• Weight: 385 grams (front system, 160mm rotor)
• MSRP: $149 USD
The Guide brake's top end looks quite different compared to the Avid offerings that came before, with a revised in-line master cylinder that holds more DOT 5.1 fluid and a reach adjustment dial that has been moved to a new location at the front of the lever. The forged lever blades themselves are a bit shorter as well, but the entire shadow of the master cylinder and lever blade is actually the same length as its predecessor, although SRAM has built-in increased clearance so they mate with the company's Grip Shift perfectly. Our RS test brakes forego the free-stroke adjustment (SRAM calls it Contact Point Adjust
) found on the more expensive RSC model, but still allow for tool-free reach adjust. The split clamp makes them easy to install, and they're compatible with SRAM's space-saving Matchmaker combined shifter, brake and Reverb mounts, as well as being ambidextrous to make switching to a moto style setup as easy as swapping sides.
Up until the release of the new Guide brake this year, SRAM has employed their TaperBore master cylinder design many seasons. While it did work, asking shop mechanics and longtime Avid users about the system would likely show that it lacked consistency when it came to lever feel, and that the required bleeding process was a bit convoluted. The Guide brake features a new design that uses a small cam-driven linkage that moves the piston quickly past the bleed port, a setup that SRAM says makes for less dead band in the lever's throw. The result of this is that the brake pads hit the rotor sooner compared to the older design, and the cam is then said to allow for the clamping force to feel linear, with an easy to modulate power band. Internally, it's also a more traditional system compared to the older TaperBore setup, which should increase reliability in the long run.
The redesigned master cylinder holds more brake fluid than what is used in Avid's Elixir range, which means that there should be more than enough to compensate for brake pad wear that sees the pistons move out of their bores an increased amount. This was one of my complaints of their predecessor - how the lever feel could change drastically when the pads wear past the halfway point - so it's good to see SRAM acknowledge the issue. The internal profile of the reservoir also sports shaping that's designed to move any reluctant air bubbles out and away, and the butyl membrane in the reservoir is said to be more flexible and less porous. Caliper and Rotor
While the upstairs is all-new, SRAM stuck with a proven design when it came to the caliper. The Guide caliper is the same as what's used on Avid's four piston Trail brake, with two 14mm and two 16mm pistons driving a set of organic pads that come stock. There is also a sintered metallic option, though, and since the caliper is the same, you can fit any pads that work with Avid's four piston brakes. That should be great news for anyone who's got a few sets of spare pads sitting around.
The caliper is the same, but there's yet another new rotor design, this one being referred to as ''Centerline'' - the name comes from the long openings in the middle of the braking surface that are claimed to clear mud and debris out quicker than the old rotor could. There are also twelve spokes now, double that of the G3 rotor, that SRAM says offers better heating and cooler characteristics, as well as more resistance to warping. 140, 160, 180, and 200mm options are available, all using the standard six-bolt mounting pattern.
Setup and Ergonomics - All of the Guide brakes that I've used have been ready to go right off the bat, and I never needed to bleed our RS test set or any of the others I've depended on, something that you couldn't say about the Avid's offerings. This means that it's just a matter of setting in the brake's position on the handlebar via the dial on the face of the lever (see photo at right) and tweaking the reach until it matches your hand - there's no free-stroke adjustment on the RS, remember. That said, the point at which the pads hit the rotors felt spot-on, and I don't think I would have made any changes, even if I had the Contact Point Adjust dial of the more expensive RSC model. The slightly shorter lever blade will still feel like home to anyone who's used the company's other offerings in the past, and I'd argue that they can brag about having some of the best ergonomics in the brake game.
Despite never needing
to bleed a set of Guide brakes on any of our test bikes, we went through the process just to see if the still very involved procedure was more effective than in the past. The steps haven't changed, meaning you'll need two syringes to get 'er done, and the same bleed fittings that Avid's brakes require also work with the Guides. The job is quicker, however, because you only need to do it once to remove the air in the system and replace the DOT fluid. That's a big improvement over the older Avid brakes that often required the patience of a saint in order to do complete the job. Power -
I've never felt that Avid's brakes don't offer enough power for their intended use, but I also know that there are bigger anchors out there if you're looking for something with the stopping power of a brick wall. That hasn't been the case for everyone, but, at 170lb and expert-level skills, I never found myself wishing for more bite. This begs the question: is the right amount of power an acceptable thing to be okay with, or should you have more than you need for those times when you're doing top to bottom non-stoppers on Whistler's Original Sin and Joyride? SRAM obviously believes the latter because the Guides are a clear leap ahead in terms of outright power. Maybe not Shimano power, though, but they're close enough that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to Shaq if he asked me what to spec on his Rampage bike. Anyone who complained about a lack of power in the past should be happy with what SRAM have done with the new Guide brake.
Power is one thing, but consistency is an entirely different requirement. After all, who cares if they have loads of power for a few minutes if you cook the brake fluid and glaze your pads in the time shortly after. That didn't happen with the Guides, and no amount of brake dragging did anything to have them either pump up at the lever or fade at the caliper, despite plenty of long descents that would result in tired hands if using less powerful brakes. I've also gone through a number of sets of pads on different Guide brakes, often continuing to use them past the point where one should drop in a new set, and can say that lever feel stays consistent until you begin to get close to the backing plate. It's obviously best to avoid doing that sort of thing, though, and I normally wouldn't run them so low unless it was a testing scenario. Modulation -
SRAM's previous offerings under the Avid name may have put some riders off when it comes to consistency over the long haul, but there was never any doubting the degree of control at your finger tips, with them providing heaps of modulation in the early and mid stages of braking. This was always their trump card over the competition - while not as powerful as Shimano, they were powerful enough while offering great feel in low-traction conditions. My concern with the new Guide stoppers was if SRAM was going to up the power but lose the feel, an approach that wouldn't set them apart from their biggest competitor in the brake world. I needn't have worried, though, as the Guides still feel very much like Avid brakes when talking about what a rider is going to feel through his or her fingers. The same control that I've always praised Avid for is there, and it's still easy to judge when to relax those digits to prevent locking up. The levers do have a firmer end to their pull, however, so it's not all the same as it was before, but I suspect that a lot of riders are going to associate that more solid lever stroke stopping point with the brakes being "better". Me, I sort of liked that old Avid feel, but the modulation is still there so I don't really have anything to complain about.
More power doesn't equal less modulation, and the new Guide brake prove that. They still have that Avid-esque control, and the firmer feel at the lever will be appreciated by most riders out there.
|The new Guide brakes offer improved consistency and more power over their predecessors, but haven't sacrificed the impressive modulation that has always made the company's brakes winners when it comes to low-traction scenarios. The bolstered reliability will be what wins the average rider over, though, as SRAM finally has a brake offering that I'd consider as being able to set-and-forget. - Mike Levy|