09 Oct 2018

We've been trying out a variety of four-piston brakes over the past few months; the SRAM Code RSC, Shimano's new four-piston XT, and the Hope E4 with a Tech 3 lever. Here are our thoughts on the highlights and lowlights of each set of stoppers.


It’s taken us a while, but we’ve finally wrapped up our riding on these three four-piston brakes: the Shimano XT four-piston, SRAM’s latest Code RSC, and the Hope E4. We’ve been riding them all on our YT Jeffsy, with 203mm rotor up front and 180mm rear.

Now this is by no means a scientific test. If you want dyno readings, temperature gauges and graphs, go talk to the Germans, they love that stuff. This is a qualitative assessment – i.e. what we liked, and what we didn’t! 

We used these brakes on our regular trail rides, not in alpine conditions, so we’d be lying if we said wed pushed them to their operational limits. Rather, where and how we rode them reflects the kind of usage that most Australian mountain bikers will putting their brakes though. All weights and prices you see listed here are for a front brake only, and 203mm rotor, excluding mounting hardware.So, without further ado.


The SRAM Code RSC:

Brake weight: 295g

203mm rotor weight: 190g

Price per end with 203mm rotor: $450


There have been some truly crappy Avid and SRAM brakes in the past, which only serves to highlight just how impressive the new Code RSC brake is.  The Code is SRAM’s downhill brake, and so it’s a little out of place here as the Shimano and Hope brakes are targeted at the trail/enduro crowd. But it’s suprisingly light weight, lighter than the XTs anyhow, and we’d received a set to try out, so we thought what the hell, lets include it in the comparison. 

We’re pleased to say the Codes were nothing short of excellent.


Highlights:

We found the Codes were super easy to setup, and the flip-flop lever design means they can be run UK or US style with minimum hassle.

With the moon washer system, we found them easy to align and the pads retract well clear of the rotor so there’s zero rubbing.

Given that these are a downhill brake, the power is excellent, and for sheer grunt these were the best of this bunch. 

Levers feel nice and solid, with big sealed bearings at the lever pivot, so there’s no waggle at all.

Contact point adjustment seems to work much better than earlier versions of the Guide or Code brakes. 

 

Lowlights:

Noisiest in the wet in this trio.

Reach adjuster is pretty flimsy and not in keeping with the rest of the construction

Not 100% sold on the lever ergonomics.

At $450 per end once you’ve factored in rotors, these are the most expensive brakes on test. 


Shimano M8020 XT Four Piston:

Brake weight: 294g

203mm rotor weight: 165g

Price per end with 203mm rotor: $350


Shimano original XT four piston brakes were so desirable! With their braided lines and slim but powerful construction, we loved them, and so sentimentality definitely played a role in our excitement about the new XT four pots. The original XT stoppers weren’t first to the disc brake game, but their arrival into the world of disc brakes all those year ago signalled that rim brakes were goners. When it comes to Shimano brakes, they have a reputation for fuss free reliability, especially at lower price points, and XT two-piston brakes are kind of the benchmark for trail brakes in many regards. 

The M8020 brakes look just like Shimano’s Saint downhill brakes. In fact, there’s practically no difference. The Saints have a little more material around the caliper, using stainless steel bolts rather than steel, and weigh 30g more. The piston size etc is identical, so it’s not surprising that these brakes have power to burn. Interestingly, the levers are the same as the standard XT two-piston brakes as well, so you could just buy the calipers if you wanted to upgrade your regular XT brakes.


Highlights:

Everything we love about XT brakes, but with more power and even better heat management. 

Shimano ease of setup – they’re a very  easy set of brakes to fit. Even after trimming the lines, we didn’t need to bleed them.

Excellent power. Shimano claim 20% more grunt than a two-piston XT, but it felt like more! 

Light, fast, lever feel and quick pad engagement thanks to the Servo Wave levers.

 

Lowlights:

Freestroke adjuster seems to have little effect. We’ve never found it a useful feature on Shimano brakes.

The large finned pads rattle a little in the caliper. We’d be tempted to run the non-finned version.


Hope E4 with Tech 3 lever:

Brake weight: 255g

203mm rotor weight: 176g

Price per end with 203mm rotor: $380


If you’re the kind of person who seeks out artisan sourdough loaves, rather than grabbing some Tip Top off the shelf at Woolies, then you’ll appreciate Hope’s handmade in the UK approach. Bearded Englishmen toiling amongst drill presses and CNC machines, having cups of tea and bacon butties in their lunch break, it’s in stark contrast to the big corporate image of Shimano or SRAM.

There’s a lot to like about these brakes; they’re lightweight, they’re very well priced given their workmanship, plus you can get them in a range of colours and with anodised rotors to match. You also have the option of lighter ‘race’ lever with less adjustability if you want to save the grams.  It’s been a while since we’ve ridden Hope brakes, and after spending some time on these, we’re wondering why we left it so long!


Highlights:

Just look at them – they’re seriously glamorous. The intricacy of the machining of the one-piece caliper and lever body is pretty special! 

We love the feel and operation of the chunky adjusters. They have a solid, precise ‘click’ to them that reeks of good built quality.

Power comes on with plenty of control, with quite a linear feel, that translates to great braking control at slower speeds in particular.

The pricing is surprisingly reasonable!

 

Lowlights:

Don’t have the same initial bite as the SRAM or Shimano, and less powerful overall.

Took a few rides to stop dragging completely. 

Whether its just bad luck, but the Hope rotors were the only ones that went out of true during our testing.