Formula brakes are no longer thought of as a third option to the big two – SRAM and Shimano. They are gaining market share, and space on the trails, with some of the finest looking, lightest, and powerful brakes on the scene. After a good six months of use, we are happy to say that our time squeezing the Formula T1 brakes has been quite peachy.
For this particular Flow tester Formula brakes were on his very first disc-braked bike, a Giant ATX 2, way back in 1999 when the only affordable options were from Formula, Hayes and Hope. They were amazingly loud and powerful; from then on one finger braking for a complete downhill run became a reality. But you would not dare lay the bike on the ground, or hang it upside down, for fear of leakage or air making entering into the system. Also, you would be game to attempt to work on them yourself, as the old systems were a complete nightmare and bike shops that could work on hydraulics were uncommon.
Formula, being an early adoptor of hydraulic bicycle technology, does carry a history of issues and a negative reputation that undeservedly still sits with the brand. Thirteen years on and Formula have improved a zillion times and are scoring a fair chunk of spec on new bikes from the likes of Specialized, Commencal and Lapierre.
The T1 is their glossy and premium quality mountain bike brake for gravity oriented riders. T1s have big diameter pistons behind the pad and a robust feeling lever to set them apart from the featherweight R1 and the price point RX models.
For 2013, the T1 has received a couple modifications that really have made the relationship between rider and brake a friendlier one. Most obvious is how the pads now retract further into the calliper when the lever is let go, reducing the likelihood of brake pad drag on the rotor and increasing mud clearance issues that would lead to noise and unnecessary pad wear.
Fans of Formula brakes are quick to point out to naysayers and newcomers that the bed-in period is both long in duration and dependant on a particular technique. Where a Shimano brake works well very quickly out of the box, Formula’s take time and care to make the pad and rotor be in the best shape for maximum power and bite. Our test pair took a long time to bed in, but we admit to not doing as we were told, rather we rushed into it. We also also found no official literature online, or in the manual, on what was the best method for correct bedding in. From what we have now learnt from experiences with Formula, a period of long drawn-out braking efforts on a road descent will give the pad and rotor the bed-in treatment it needs before you hit the trails. After six months of testing, the T1’s are well and truly biting hard and bed-in and a light squeeze of the index finger all that’s required.
Lever ergonomics and setup has been bitter sweet for us. Whilst the adjustments for pad contact and lever reach are both simple and effective, the mating of the lever with a Shimano SLX shifter left the shifters sitting further inboard on the handlebars than we prefer. Shifting with the thumb became a stretch. On the flipside, the short lever blade is a perfect fit to the finger, and a quick fiddle with the two lustrous gold adjusters will have it resting and pulling in to exactly where you want it.
On the trail the power available to keep you under control is excellent and we were always happy with the bite and response to a light squeeze of the lever. We experienced no noise, acceptable brake fade on long descents and a firm lever feel throughout the whole period.
The big question is, would you choose them over the others? They look striking to the eye and are refreshingly different in the hands. They are pricey, but super light in comparison to other gravity oriented brakes. We generally prefer clean and neat handlebars and we do as much as possible to tidy up all the cables and levers. This turned out to be a bit hard with our test bike with the miss-match of Shimano shifters, RockShox seatpost lever, and Formula brakes. Formula obviously don’t have the advantage of having a gear shifter to mate with which added to the clutter on the the handlebars. However, for those using SRAM shifters, you have the ability to purchase a ‘match maker’ clamp to migrate the shifter and brake in one which will help the ergonomics fit nicer in the hand.
But, cable clutter and a neat cockpit are hardly a problem – it all comes dow to how much control you have of your bike at whatever speed you feel comfortable with. The Forumla T1 does that job very well, with true style and class, and what really matters in the end is are they powerful, and yes they are.