02 December 2009

bikefix Initial Review: Shimano M810 Saint disc brakes

Not too many components on a mountain bike evoke strong brand loyalties like disc brakes. Probably because being able to stop is nice and the brakes are so important in that regard. That makes a brake review tough. You are either preaching to the choir or trying to convert the already damned- it’s hard to change anyone’s mind that already has an opinion. I myself am guilty of some very negative feelings towards a certain brand- all based on one set of brakes I owned a long time ago. Out of curiosity, I decided to look at the chatter on the internet about the new Saints, and found some mixed and very strong opinions.

I have always liked Shimano brakes and when I decided to “re-tune” my 6.5inch trailbike to make it a bit burlier and more downhill capable, the new Saint brakes seemed like just the ticket. They aren’t as heavy as the first generation of Saint brakes and only come in a bit heavier than many current trail worthy disc brake sets. This is even truer if you eliminate the Saint rotors, which are heavy and not necessary for my intended use- so I ditched them for some standard 6-bolt aftermarket 180 rotors by Gusset.

As I headed out the door of my LBS, my downhill riding friend said “be careful, they are very strong.” I rode around in the parking lot first, and yes, the Saints were very powerful and abrupt in their braking. “This could end with me going over the bars today,” I thought as I rode up the trail. I never did go over the bars, but I did have a number of sphincter tightening moments. The modulation on the new Saints is definitely their weak point. After more rides though, I got better at modulating them and realized that they have barely acceptable modulation once you get used to them- its just a very tiny part of the stoke right before they are just grab. My finger muscles got better at this and perhaps those were breaking in a bit too. It is just hard to transition from trail/xc brakes to the Saints. Now I’m not going to lie- they still need much better modulation for them to really become a great brake, but I found on long downhills with high speed involved- they worked perfectly. It’s only at slower speeds that they feel so on or off. This is particularly troubling in terrain that is dry and loose- I definitely had my scariest day riding the Saints on dry, dusty, granular, pink granite. But the more grip you have the more their modulation feels adequate. This is not an excuse, but they are downhill brakes after all. In fairness to the reader I noticed from other reviews on the Saints that modulation issues are very hit or miss with these brakes- so perhaps there is a way to fix it. This is something we will have to investigate.

I played around with the convenient tool-free lever adjustment and the bite point adjustment until they felt right, and I don’t think I have changed them since. The bite point adjustment actually does make the brake feel different as you turn the screw, but I just set it to where it felt “right” having no previous experience or opinion on where exactly I prefer the bite-point. One small annoyance is that the Saint has a one-piece clamp so your grips have to come off when you install them.

The Saints are some loud brakes. They weren’t that bad for a few rides and then it just started to happen- the dreaded squeal. In the end, if anything makes me give up on these brakes it will be the noise. I don’t go on epic backwoods adventures just to stink-up the forest with noise pollution. We've just changed the stock sintered (metallic) pads to organic pads from Kool Stop though. This might help with the noise and perhaps with the modulation too. With winter setting in though, the brakes won’t see any epic descents till next summer- we'll keep you updated. I want to mention that we haven’t spent a lot of our top mechanic’s time trying to correct the squeal (or the modulation for that matter) so this is something else that we will have to try if the new pads don’t help. One wheel's worth of Saint lever and caliper retail for around $270, sans rotor.



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