There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “You build a bridge, does anyone remember you as John the Bridge Builder? You save a forest, does anyone remember you as John the Conservationist? You teach a child to read, does anyone remember you as John the Educator? ….But you f#%k just one goat and…”
The point being, people tend to remember the goats you screw, not the good deeds you do. And in the case of Avid brakes, unfortunately a few goats got screwed.
Yes, countless sets of Avid Elixir brakes did, and continue to, work flawlessly, but there were some duds along the way and SRAM’s reputation with brakes definitely ended up a little tarnished. But now they’re looking to put things right, with the brand new SRAM Guide series of brakes, which were launched this year and have already found considerable spec on production bikes. These brakes have a wide appeal – from trail, through to Enduro and downhill – with multiple price points targeted too. There are three models of Guide brakes available (the basic Guide R, the Guide RS and Guide RSC), and since receiving these brakes in August (read our first impressions here) we’ve been trialling the RSC version across two different bikes – a Norco Range and Trek Fuel EX.
The Guide brakes are a radical departure from the Elixir design (at least in the lever – the four-piston caliper is actually identical to the Elixir Trail brake). Gone is the Taperbore master cylinder design, replaced with a more conventional reservoir design that is reminiscent of the original Avid Juicy. The reach adjustment is easily accessible on the front of the lever blade, and in RSC brake, there’s contact point adjustment too, via a spinny dial on the lever body.
In the the RS and RSC models, the Guide brakes also feature a new master piston actuation system called Swing-Link; the lever blade drives a small cam/link that in turn pushes the master piston. This system allows the for a variable rate of leverage throughout the lever stroke, moving the caliper’s four piston quickly at the outset of the stroke (to engage with the rotor nice and fast), then more slowly deeper in the stroke for better modulation. Unfortunately the lower-priced Guide R misses out on the Swing-Link doodad.
If the Swing-Link system sounds a little like Shimano’s Servo-Wave system, it’s because the principle is much the same. In fact, the lever feel is very similar to that of a Shimano SLX or XT brake, with that same reassuringly solid engagement where you can really feel the pads hit the rotor firmly. It’s very confidence-inspiring feeling with no uncertainty about when the power is going to come on, and more importantly, that feeling has remained completely consistent throughout our testing.
In every area, the Guide brakes are an improvement over the Elixirs. Bleeding the Guides is fast and easy with a dual syringe system, and even if you do a slightly shonky job (as we did when rushing out the door for our first ride on them), any air bubbles seem to migrate their way harmlessly up to the lever reservoir where they stay put. The seemingly random appearance and disappearance of air in the system was a nightmare with Elixirs, so it’s fantastic this seems to have been sorted.
Getting the brakes positioned and operating how you’d like them is simple too; the reach adjuster isn’t as slick as the rest of the brake but it works perfectly. The contact point adjuster is a real highlight – it allows for really precise adjustment, so you can match the levers up perfectly.
Of course, power is excellent, as you’d expect from the big four-piston caliper, and it’s easy to modulate too. The new Centreline rotors are significantly quieter than the old Elixir rotors in the dry, but get them wet and you’ll be getting noise complaints from the other side of the state, on a wet ride they howl like two cats fighting on hot summer night. As the caliper and brake pads are unchanged from the Elixir Trails, the pad life should be excellent, and we’ve had a number of miserable, grimy rides without any significant wear to date.
For the first time in a few years, we’re excited about SRAM’s brakes once again. Our confidence in their stoppers has returned, and that is kinda reassuring when you’re grabbing a fistful of brake at 45km/h. Bravo!