Sram called up and ask us to use some of their new brakes. Why not? It is fun testing new stuff, gives you a reason to ride (as if we need one) and has been the mainstay of this blog.
So where do I begin?
I first came into contact with the Avid owners around 2000, riding with them on the island of
Portoferraio. We were there for a Kona new product launch. The Avid guys were real purist from the old school of American mountain bike product development. They had just fine tuned the BB Seven mechanical disc brake (still the best cable disc brake) and were certain that the future lay with steel cables.
Well, they soon sold up to join the ever increasing number of US MTB hippies riding around enjoying their new found wealth and freedom. The Italian connection does not end there. The new owners of Avid, the mighty Sram, used the Italian brake manufacture, Formula, to produce their first and juicy hydraulic disc discs. Once they had it sorted it was off to Taiwan for mass production and the inevitable move to O.E. domination. O.E. is original equipment, that is the stuff that gets fitted in the bike factories not the expensive gear that you buy in the shops.
The Avid Juicy worked well enough and was seen on just about every bike coming out of Taiwan. Love ‘em or hate ‘em that’s what we all had. At the time the Big S, whilst they had good brakes, kept their head in the sand and made it damned difficult to buy brakes. You can admire people that stick buy their principles but the Japanese were really taking things too far. Sram though, was like the mouse pulling the tigers tail and eventually the Big S, turned around and roared. We have a lot to than Sram for: hidden cables on Dura Ace/Ultegra/105, sensible sized hoods on the aforementioned, 2 by ten, 1 by eleven, slick fast gear shifting, light weight transmission, the list goes on. All changes adopted by Shimano in response to Sram upsetting the apple cart. Well done boys! But probably the most noticeable development was the mass appeal to riders and mechanics for Shimano brakes. This was in response to the Avid/Sram second go at brakes in which they really blew it. Avid Elixir brakes aren’t too bad when that are working but for a shop they were a nightmare, often needing several bleeds before the bike could be put on the shop floor. Ludicrously expensive, difficult to set up and likely to need warranty work the Elixir sent everyone in the direction of Shimano.
Finally admitting that the Elixir had many flaws Sram have dropped the Avid name for their new top end brakes and claim that they are better than Shimano. This is a big claim considering the fact that the XT brake is not only one of the best brakes that you can buy but one of the cheapest too.
Sram have put a set on my bike replacing my XTs to try regain our confidence in their brakes. My Whyte 29C Team now has a set of Sram Guide RSC brakes.
So how did they perform?
I once told a guy with the gift of the gab that being so eloquent was fine just as long as you don’t start believing all your own stories. Now I would have said that I was a quick rider and a dab hand at single track. I had even started to believe it. It was possibly true in my own world but today I went riding with some guys who ride quick everywhere and are masters of single track. On the limit and being forced into making mistake after mistake I was gagging on the humble pie that I was being forced to eat. Redlining it on the climbs and out of breath going down I was struggling. Struggling but in my element. I love this sort of riding.
And what a great way to test some new brakes. I was trying so hard that even the slightest braking error would have meant loss of control and kissing a tree.
So how did the Sram Guides do? First ride was easy and with the dog so they felt too powerful, a bit disconcerting but I was going so slow. To my horror I discovered that I had a freeride 4 pot trail brake on my super light XC machine. I fiddled with them to get them just right, setting the pad contact and reach adjuster so that the front would come on first and then went for a proper ride today. The power was awesome. I made a slight adjustment to the reach so that to most people it would seem as if they didn’t have enough pull but the stopping power was incredible. I am not that experienced with super powerfull trail brakes but I did enjoy the ability to slam on the anchors flat out with the minimum amount of one finger pull. I have to admit that they are the best brakes that I have used, they are heavier than the XT (approx 65g for one) so that may cause them to go but the bike will not be going on a diet until next summer. From a performance point of view they are damned good. Modulation was good, lever feel excellent, all fine tuning (pad contact and reach) was tool free and the power was unbelievable. They cost £150, the same price as Shimano Saint. I was comparing them with Shimano XT which are only £89 so the comparison is probably not fair . Sadly there are no new generation light weight XC brakes in the Sram line up for 2015. I am sure that we will have some soon. I need some one with Saints to try the Guides but would they want an XC bike? On the servicing side they did take the Sram Technician a very long time to bleed which means our Avid/Sram bleed pricing will not be coming down to the Shimano level just yet.
I can’t wait to get out with them again and ride some of the new single track that I was shown today.
Here is the ride, dry, loads of new singletrack, warm (fresh autumnal start) and with the Strada Team (3rd team at the Big Dog). Well, two of them, one is riding in the World Championships in Norway.