Shimano SLX Brake Review

Words by Chris Southwood | Images by Flowtographer

The not-so-minor details

Product

Shimano SLX Brakes

Contact

Shimano Australia
www.shimano.com.au

Price

AUD179.00

Weight

301gm

Note about weight

Weighed with 160mm rotor, front brake and no mounting hardware

Rotor pricing

160mm $39.95 or $69.95 for Ice Tech rotors

Positives

Nearly all the features and performance of XT/XTR with only a slight weight penalty and at a far cheaper price.

Negatives

I Spec mounting system is a bit fragile. Our prototypes has problems with contamination.

Shimano are the trickle down kings (good name for a band, that!). It feels like only yesterday that Shimano unveiled their XTR Trail brakes with an in-line master cylinder design, finned pads and Servo Wave lever. Next minute, these same technologies are present on every brake in the Shimano line up, from the lowly Deore to the earth shattering Saint. Sitting right in the middle, in the wallet-friendly category, are the SLX BR-M666 brakes. [private]

The SLX brakes share all kinds of features with their XT/XTR brethren, including finned pads and the neat, new 1.5-finger Servo Wave brake lever.

We’ve had plenty of experience with Shimano’s XT, XTR and Saint brakes over the past three years. With SLXs looking virtually identical, save for the battleship grey colour, we had a fair idea of what to expect; reliability, consistency, snappy performance and user-friendly operation. Our brakes were an early release sample (they actually had ‘prototype’ clearly stamped on the bar clamp), but we didn’t think anything of it.

Installation was very simple thanks to Shimano’s Centrelock rotor mount system and hinged clamps on the levers making it easy to install them without removing the grips. We opted to mate our brake lever with our XTR right hand shifter (our test bike was running a 1×10 setup) using the neat I-Spec mounting system. Aligning the brakes was typically easy, as always with Shimano.

We love the small, sleek look and feel of Shimano’s brake levers. Reach adjustment is done quickly and easily via the star-shaped dial located on the lever pivot. The adjuster is made from plastic on the SLX level brakes – hey, you gotta save the dollars at some point. The lever clamp is hinged, so it’s simple to install or remove the levers.

The feel of the brakes is snappy and light, with solid engagement and no mushiness at the lever. A prominent (though rather cheap looking) reach adjuster makes it simple to set the lever position, and while there’s no contact point adjustment both brakes pulled evenly and getting the feel between both levers perfectly matched was easy. We’ve come to love the solid, wiggle-free levers of Shimano brakes – the lever pivot assembly is

SLX brakes come stock with resin (organic) pads, rather than sintered metallic pads, and they bed in quickly. Our front brake was at full power in no time, but we had some dramas with the rear – it let off the howl of contamination after just a few minute’s riding. We cleaned the rotor and pads, which improved things, but the bite and power never matched the front. Performance improved when we got loads of heat into the pads with heavy braking, but the power was never up to scratch. Eventually we called Shimano with our frustrations. The problem was with our pre-production prototype samples; some early release brakes were developing oil leaks around the piston seals and between the caliper halves, leaking microscopic amounts of oil into the pads! This problem has been resolved on all production brakes and once we’d replaced the caliper, we enjoyed the performance we expected from Shimano brakes.

Fins on the brake pads work as heat sinks, drawing heat out of the pads and away from the brake fluid. The caliper construction itself is rock solid, with big bolts tying the two caliper halves together without a hint of flex. An adjustable banjo makes it easy to route the brake lines cleanly from the caliper to frame or fork. Our brakes were early release prototypes and suffered some leaking, but this isn’t an issue with current production brakes.

The power is excellent with more than enough control from the small 1.5-finger levers, and with the finned pads, heat dissipation issues like brake fade just don’t exist. The organic resin pads aren’t noisy in operation, and pad durability thus far has been great.

Oops! A crash tore our shifter off, damaging the lever body at the same time.

While the I Spec shifter/lever conjoined mounting system is very neat, a sizeable crash revealed one downside. Our knee tore off the shifter, which in turn damaged the lever body, ripping out a chunk of aluminium and meaning we had to resort to using a standard band clamp for our shifter instead. Perhaps the interface between shifter and brake lever needs to be more robust.

Despite our drama with the rear brake, we’re still overwhelmingly positive about the SLX system. It’s exceptional value, the weight is reasonable, the feel is unparalleled at this price point and the power is great. Plus you get 90% of the very same technologies as found on XTR at a fraction of the price. These most be close to the perfect working-class brake. [/private]

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