Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Drop Bar Hydro Levers: That Happened

SRAM announces Red Hydro disc lever/calipers
Late 2011: During cyclo-cross season an image leaked out of a hydraulic road bike lever in development by SRAM. (Or so we were led to believe back then.) I remember thinking, "It's only a working proto-type. Maybe it won't even look this bad when it comes out. Nah....they wouldn't bring out something that clunky and ugly. No way! "

Doh! I was sooooo wrong!

SRAM not only made what is possibly the ugliest lever since Campy's dreaded Icarus cantilever mtb levers, they even made hydraulic caliper brakes to hedge any bets that the UCI might ban the disc brake deal for CX and/or road. (<==Note: My speculation there, excepting that the levers are butt ugly.)

Well, leaving that aside, here's what I think about these and their possible use on drop bar rigs for dirt. I'll leave the question of thier road worthiness to others.

Okay, so they are drop bar compatible, and SRAM even made a wise decision by making a version compatible with SRAM 10 speed systems. That opens up a cornucopia of possibilities for those who have been itching for a drop bar mtb hydro set up, or for a fat bike, or for a monster cross rig, a gravel grinder, etc.

Possibilities, but not without some downside. For one, these are basically Avid brakes and the track record for them has been a mixed bag. SRAM also notes that these road hydro levers are about modulation, not power, so for a fully off road drop bar rig, they still may not be workable. That said, a SRAM spokesman is quoted as saying something to the effect that these new hydro brakes are similar to BB-7's. In my experience, that's been enough power. Your mileage may vary. So, you have all of that to deal with here.

You won't be seeing those hydro levers here anytime soon.

The levers are said to have been lengthened to allow operation from the drops to be enhanced. That's a good thing. However; SRAM levers have a reputation in the gravel scene for disintegrating and losing their shift paddle, or to stop operating entirely. While many do not see these issues with SRAM levers, I've witnessed and heard about so many that I am loathe to try SRAM brifters on any of my gravel rigs. Thus the bar end shifters on my Vaya, which are pretty bomber in terms of reliability.

Also I am thinking that I do not need more powerful brakes on gravel or dirt, and BB-7's modulate just fine. My thoughts are also that I do not have to ever worry about brake bleeds, or pads that drag that I can not adjust, and everything I have for brakes now is field serviceable, inexpensive, and works fine.

Nope! Not buying into this dealio. I still think that a finer, higher quality mechanical disc brake is going to be best for gravel roads and even mountain biking on most XC trails. So, what would entice me away from mechanical disc brakes for a drop bar set up?

Maybe a drop bar lever that wasn't a shift lever and could be mated to some really light weight hydraulic mtb style brake calipers. Maybe an electronic shift drive train would make sense with that sort of lever. Otherwise I can't see doing an ultra-spendy brake set up that is also tied to a shifter. I would rather stick with a mechanical system. But that's just my take. What do you think?


Ben said...

Long Live the BB7.

Doug M. said...

"Maybe a drop bar lever that wasn't a shift lever and could be mated to some really light weight hydraulic mtb style brake calipers." --> I'm surprised a smaller, non-shifter-making company like Magura hasn't tried to do this already.

Guitar Ted said...

@Doug Mayer: I am also. It perhaps would be a more widely accepted and used component than a dedicated, top tier gruppo component, but at least SRAM allowed for the 10 speed compatible option. Had they not I would not think the new brake system would catch on as well as it may.

Neve_r_est said...

Maybe Magura will bring back the HS77 levers. I'm sure the purple ano would be a hit as well.http://www.roadbikeaction.com/Features/content/67/5429/Being-There-Magura-Press-Camp.htm

Rob said...

Seems like a great opportunity for Retro shift!

james said...

Hey GT,
You mention in your article about being able to adjust the pads of your BB7's so there's no rub. Have you ever encountered an incident where you have worn your pads (on mechanical brakes) so much in a single ride to render your brakes useless?

Brian said...

The thing I miss about my mtb hydraulic brakes when I'm on a road bike is that I don't feel my life is at stake based on the power I can produce with one finger. I just pull gently and I slow down almost instantly. This is the only reason I'd consider hydro on-road. GT, I really agree with your maintainability point. I don't like that I can't service my hydro's myself.

That said, the BB5s I have on on hardtail mtb, and my Vaya are a hassle. The Vaya's are brand new and have required a lot of adjustment. My front BB5 dragged the whole way to work today! I've never had a moment of hassle from my 2010 Hayes. *But* the power of the BB5s have never been a problem. I'd just like less effort and less lever travel to activate them.

(PS - GT, if you were wondering I got the '12 over the '13. Kinda wishing I had the '13's BB7s now)

Guitar Ted said...

@james: I've been using some version of BB-7's since 2003 and never had a pad crap out in a single ride whether that be gravel, dirt, on drop bar bikes, my Mukluk, or mtb's. I've heard about that happening though, so I will say that it is certainly possible to do that with any hydraulic or mech disc brake system.

@Brian: It is critical to know how, and to do a good set up on BB-7's or any mech disc brake. Once I have my BB-7's dialed, they stop with one finger effort. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get there, but once I do, I'm good to go.

jkruse said...

just another new gizmo for people who have too much much money to obsess over. and ugly to boot.

Steve Fuller said...

Love my BB7s. Never met a BB5 that I really liked. The 7s are nicer just from an adjustability standpoint. My experience with Avid Hydro's hasn't really wow'd me like I expected it to.

As far as the new SRAM announcement, I guess I'll be in the minority and say that I love seeing this type of stuff from a pure tech and engineering standpoint and I wouldn't be against owning a bike with it installed. Not sure how I'd get along with the doubletap stuff tho.

Zeroack said...

I love my bb7's on my monster cross. I've had bb5's on my son's bike and I can't say I was happy with them. bb7's on the other hand are so much better. Avid probably get's a lot of brand negativity having those to labels so close. I think one just has to ask themselves: In what way would I benefit from hydro levers? More stopping power? Is that needed? Better in mud? Easier to maintain? Easier to fix on the road? Doubt it.

I can't see any advantages yet.

onelegmatt said...

Please stop using "Rigs" in your write ups.

Matt said...

the biggest and best single upgrade I have ever made on an mtb was from cable discs to hydraulic discs. The hydraulics just need no attention, never drag, and always stop with one finger. Cable discs are a pain to setup, need adjustment as the pads wear and take much more effort.

Plus, the biggest problem I have on my drop bar bikes is that it is sometimes difficult to generate enough power into the brakes from the hoods. I don't have small hands, or poor form, it is just a necessary consequence of having your hands above the place where the lever is (where on flat bars your fingers are naturally at the end of the lever).

Thus I am all over the idea of hydraulic drop bar brakes. I can't wait for this to drop to price levels I can afford.

Guitar Ted said...

@Matt: Mech discs require more thought and attention to detail to achieve optimal braking for sure, however, it is actually possible to get really good results using drop bar levers and mech disc brakes. Furthermore, if you ride primarily in the drops, (as you should for mtb drop bar usage, at any rate), your fingers also fall naturally to the ends of the levers. It will be similar with the SRAM levers as well- your best modulation will happen at the end of the lever- not from the hoods.