22 December 2008

bikefix Initial Review: SRAM Red brakeset

For a part that's seemingly been around forever, the amount of development that continues to be poured into road bike brakes. While single-pivot calipers have survived at the high end solely by virtue of their potential for light weight, the dual-pivot design popularized by Shimano during the mid-1990s has brought powerful, controllable power to road bikes. SRAM's new-for-2008 Red brakes are essentially an evolution of the company's 2006 Force model, with a slightly reduced weight and improved adjustability and stiffness.

While the Dura Ace 7700 calipers they replaced were great brakes by nearly almost any measure, the Red calipers were a surprising revelation. Paired with SwissStop's fabulous Shimano/SRAM-compatible Flash pads (my calipers came with carbon-specific cork pads) and SRAM's Red brake/shift levers, the Red calipers provide a balance of power and modulation that few road brakes I've ridden can match. At 260g, they're 7/8ths the weight of Shimano's new Dura Ace 7900 brakes. I can't help but think that a good chunk of this power and control comes from the brake's massively triangulated A-arm. As well as being visually distinctive, it no doubt helps to remove any flex between the housing stop and cable fixing bolt. The Red brakes also have new bearings reduce stiction and play when compared to SRAM's Rival and Force models as well as to improve durability.

On the road, the combination is fantastic. While I occasionally miss my Shimano shifters, the brakes have been great. With only about 700 miles on the group, it's still early, but I'm impressed. While the lever feel can be a bit wooden at first (particularly from the hoods), there is no denying the deceleration that comes with even a moderate squeeze. The Red brakes perform very consistently, with plenty of power for traffic-induced panic stops but enough modulation to bleed off speed in a paceline. While a rear wheel skid can always be summoned, one never comes unintentionally. I have had the good(?) fortune to be able to test the entire Red group in the dry, wet and snow/slush and (though the SwissStop pads deserve some credit here) I havent found myself wanting for anything more. As an added bonus, the barrel adjusters are large and easy to grip- making it easy to back the calipers off of the rim if it happens to go out of true without having to stop and dismount. A wheel would have to be pretty tweaked to need it, however- there's plenty of room between the pads and rim (as seen right), which helps to prevent rubbing from out-of-true or flexy wheels.

At $300/set, SRAM's Red brakeset is certainly a pricey upgrade- a full 50% more dear (while being only 13g lighter) than the company's Force brakeset. That said, Shimano's 7900-generation Dura Ace calipers run $440 and Campagnolo's Super Record $450- and both are heavier. For SRAM devotees, the improved bearing quality and adjustable centering and spring tension may make the jump worthwhile. If I had my druthers, I'd increase the leverage slightly at the lever or caliper for a slightly softer feel- but that's really it. Check back over the next few weeks for a look at the rest of the group and next summer for a final review...




ojulius said...

I'll be interested in seeing the write-up on the rest of the group. Have been thinking about upgrading components on my road bike.

bikefix said...

Jeni- Thanks! Stay tuned for the lowdown on the whole Red group... marc