Deviating from the two big “S” brands of brakes can be a tricky purchasing decision, especially when they’re so commonly found on complete bikes at all price levels, but there are several other companies out there making stellar brakes, such as Formula.
The Italian company has been making bicycle brakes since 1993 and hasn’t been afraid to experiment with performance theories, like their retired R0 brake that featured oval pistons. Most recently, Formula has developed a 4-piston version of their popular Cura series for enduro and downhill riding that stand out from the crowd due to their sculpted looks.
The appropriately named Cura 4 brake system uses four eighteen-millimeter pistons housed in a two-piece caliper. A pair of symmetrical master cylinders can be positioned in either European or moto-style (front brake on the left).
Formula Cura 4 Brakes
• Intended use: Enduro & Downhill
• Gloss black, polished, & gold finishes
• Feeling Control System (additional)
• Tool-Free Reach Adjustment (additional)
• 4x18mm pistons per caliper
• 160, 180, 203, 220mm rotors
• Shimano I-Spec B and SRAM MixMaster control mounts
• Mineral fluid system
• 160, 180, 203, 220 (6-bolt & CL options)
• 270g w/o rotor & hardware
• MSRP: €165-206 EUR (exc. vat) / $180-225 USD (exc. rotors and hardware)
Moving away from DOT fluid, the Cura is the first brake series that Formula designed to use mineral oil, which is less caustic and does not absorb water.
When it comes to setup, there is a full spectrum of rotor sizes and thicknesses, lever features, and pad options.Features and Specs
Starting at the master cylinder, there are two lever choices. The basic, cheaper option has a thinner lever blade with only a throw adjustment and requires a tiny 2mm Allen key to change the distance from the handlebar.
The brake set is available with the Feeling Control System (FCS) lever upgrade which changes the progression of the brake. The shape of the lever blade has a larger face where your finger rests and has small cutouts to improve grip. Those also include a Tool Free Reach Adjust (TFRA) dial.
Formula offers four rotor sizes in 6-bolt or Center Lock mounting options; 160, 180, 203, and 220mm. The smaller two rotors measure 1.8mm thick and the larger two are 2.3mm.
As for the pads, there are just organic or sintered options. The size of the Cura 2 and 4 calipers differs, so the pads are specific to each.
There is no differentiation between right and left master cylinders and each brake arrives with a 175cm length nylon-coated kevlar hose. Price and Weight
All of the parts are sold separately, such as the adaptors, rotors, and bleed kit. The total weight for the master cylinder, caliper, and a full-length hose, including fluid, is 270g.
The brake system costs €165 EUR (exc. vat) / $180 USD with the standard lever in the gloss black colorway, per end, excluding any hardware or rotors. Silver and gold color options cost about a tenner more and the fancy FCS lever adds on another €41 or $45, per brake.
6-bolt options starts at €20 / $22 and move up just a couple shillings per size to €23 / $27 for the 203mm rotor. If you're after the 220mm big dog, that will run €52 / $57. Our 2.35x203mm rotors weighed 238g each. For Center Lock option, you can expect both the price and weight to jump up slightly.
The Cura's bleed ports are threaded with the same pitch as SRAM brakes, so that bleed kit can be used as long as it hasn't been contaminated with DOT fluid. Formula's bleed syringe kit costs €31 / $34 and 250mL of their own mineral oil blend goes for €12 / $13.Installation
Fixing new brakes on a bike might be my least favorite task in the garage. Thankfully, there were no dreadful moments with the Cura 4s. The bleed kit uses quality syringes that thread into the master cylinder and caliper.
The process is as straightforward as most other brakes but less fluid is spilled excessively. Formula has published a instructional video
to follow along with in case you feel overwhelmed cracking open bleed ports.
One detail that was surprisingly absent was an adjustable banjo angle where the hose enters the caliper. This wasn’t an issue on either bike that I ran the brakes on, but I’ve needed to manipulate this at unusual angles on other bikes to accommodate the internal cable routing. If required, a 90-degree banjo is available.
Back up top, I first ran the brake with the standard lever and when I switched the brakes to a secondary bike, I installed the FCS levers. This process takes some patience and steady hands since there are a few extremely small parts. Once installed, though, the TFRA made trail side tweaks a breeze. That FCS also helped to dial in the balance of the bite points and tinker with the actuation leverage.
Bolting the MixMaster clamps on offers a post for the dropper post and shift levers to mount to. The circular arm means that you have to torque the small M4 bolt very tight to keep the controls from rotating under regular actuation. They also lack any lateral adjustment independent of the brake position, unless you swap sides. Luckily, I prefer to run my hands towards the outside of the grips and the MixMasters aligned the controls well when the arms were aimed outward.Performance
When I first tried the Cura 4s, they arrived on the Orange 279 last fall
with the standard lever, and to be honest, they were underwhelming. That all changed when I swapped out the organic pads for the sintered version. My previous thoughts were flipped by the bite and power that these pads brought.
All of that stopping force didn’t come uncontrollably either like some other brakes on the market with double-jointed levers. The power that the mechanical advantage in the Cura 4 brings is extremely even throughout the lever stroke.
When the pads touch the rotor, there isn’t a sharp jolt as they latch on. From there, increasing the lever force ramps up the power quickly but predictably. What that ultimately does is stop you sooner, as there’s less frantic braking. You spend less time pulling through useless amounts of brake travel which I find leads to less hand fatigue.
That feeling never disappeared when the bike was hurtled down prolonged steep trails. Hints of brake fade occurred in the most extreme cases and where others die a faster death. They did recover quickly when released and remained crispy run after run from there on out.
Switching out the standard lever for the FCS blade comes with more adjustment and comfort. My medium size mitts matched well with both levers, but I preferred the larger surface area on the FCS option.
The additional dials let you tweak the actuation of the brake feedback considerably - they’re much more functional than the screws on other brands of brakes. In the least progressive setting, the lever can feel a touch sluggish or firm to pull. On the other hand, when the dial is turned all the way toward the positive direction, the lever can have a shade of vagueness to it. Primarily, I stayed in the linear direction for more direct actuation.Durability
I’ve been running these brakes for the better part of six months and used them on both a downhill and enduro bike. They’ve seen plenty of wet weather, dry dust with zero squeals, leaks, or concerns. In that time, they did require a quick bleed as the pads neared their lifespan, which isn’t unconventional practice.
One of the top selling points for me was that the Cura 4 pistons never dragged once. Trying to set up a brake that has very little free stroke in the lever and doesn’t drag is tricky to keep consistent, unless you’re constantly fiddling with alignment, pad wear, and piston positioning.How do they compare?
Price aside, you want to know what they feel like and that’s challenging to put into words because they don’t feel like any other brake out there. They’re a world away from the actuation of Shimano Saints with a longer lever and more abrupt, but predictable engagement point.
In terms of the lever pivot positioning, they’re somewhere between a SRAM Code RSC and TRP DH-Evo. The leverage is much more similar to Code, although the power per millimeter of pull comes on quicker than the SRAM set of brakes.
Would I take them over my beloved Magura MT7s? I still prefer the fast-acting and effortless power of the German brake but appreciate how the Cura 4 pads didn't constantly rub.
And how about Code RSCs? I'd take the Cura 4s due to the power that they deliver early on in the stroke and ability to stave off fade. You get more power for less pull.
Power turns on quickly and evenly.+
Pistons continue to run friction free.
Not the lowest actuation leverage.-
MixMaker posts are not the most refined.-
Caliper banjo angle is not adjustable (additional parts required).