Inadvertently, I've become a dedicated SRAM fan, from my first bike using Avid Juicy 5s, Avid Elixir CRs, Elixir 5, Codes, and recently, the Avid Elixir XO Trail. Other than the latter two which I still currently use, I can't really remember what sort of braking experience I had with the older brakesets, but I do know that in general, they were faultless and without the drama many other "avid-haters" seem to have experienced. Neither do I recall having issues with stopping power of any of the brakesets either, especially when it comes to using the Codes and the Avid Elixir X0 trails: these two are really phenomenal stoppers. So from my personal experiences, SRAM couldn't do much better, but there've been too many complaints about the Avid to ignore the possibility that perhaps I've been seriously lucky when it comes to SRAM brakes thus far. So I pulled that lever to find out what's new and different.
SRAM Guide RSC (black)
SRAM Centerline 180mm brake rotors
Purchase price: Brakes R2,250 per side; R450 per rotor
Store: Action Cycling, Cape Town
Local distributor: Cape Cycle Systems
The box is all SRAM. Gone is white and yellow Avid branded boxes. It's been replaced with red and white, and SRAM branded
detailing. The contents include left or right caliper and lever, MMX clamp,instruction manual, and some bits and bobs. The
calipers ship with organic pads pre-installed.
One major noteworthy departure from previous models, is the omission of brake rotors. The new SRAM centerline brake rotors are a completely separate purchase. Unless you don't already own brakes, it wont be a problem as the calipers are compatible with HS1 and HSX rotors shipped with the more recent models of Avid Elixir brakes.
Comparison: XO Trail vs Guide RSC lever
Contact point and reach adjustment dials have moved. Lever itself is slightly shorter but the hinge point has been extended. The overall length remains the same. The lever itself is aluminium compared with the carbon lever of the XO Trails, and has subtle changes to its design. But it remains comfortable and well matched for single finger braking.
Installation is pretty straightforward, along with setup. The front brake hose length is pretty substantial. In my haste to test the brakes, I left the hose uncut, but it will need to be trimmed down as it's flapping in the breeze.
I like running my levers close to the bars, so some adjustment was required. The little reach adjust thumbscrew was stuck, seemingly screwed in all the way and jammed in that position. I had to use a pliers to get it to turn back out again. I checked the dial on the other lever, but it didn't exhibit the same problem. So it seems it's just an isolated and minor issue, not a generic factory fault.
Testing: first round
In the initial round of testing, only the front brake was installed, as I wanted a side by side comparison with the existing XO Trail brake doing rear brake duty. I tested with the pre-installed organic pad, and then did a 'faux accelerated wear' test by installing the used sintered metal pads from the old front brake. Both front and rear brake rotors were 180mm HS1 rotors.
I use sintered metal pads exclusively. They have their quirks, but I've become accustomed to their braking performance, and they last longer than organic pads. I've often read that organic pads have more 'bite' than the sintered metal ones, but I was not quite prepared for just how much bite. I quite literally almost got thrown over the bars giving the Guides their first proper clamping. Pretty impressive given that I hadn't attempted to bed them in. But I wasn't sure if all that apparent braking power was due to the pads and/or the brakes.
So in went the used sintered metal pads for that pseudo accelerated wear test. This test allowed me to play around with the contact point adjustment feature of the brakes to accommodate for the fact the pads were worn down. Boy, does that dial have too many turns! The dial turns smoothly and its not notched, but there's a lot of turning compared to contact point adjusters on previous models of Avid brakes. I think they've done this to give the rider more precise control over contact point. I'm just guessing there, but if true, those who take their contact point adjustment seriously will appreciate the level of precision on offer.
With the used sintered metal pad, the braking response was more familiar. This leads me to believe the earlier near-OTB experience was more as a result of the bite inherent to organic pads than the brakes themselves. But that's not to say there's nothing special about the brakes. They are very powerful on par with XO Trails. But more than that, there's a definite difference in feedback through the lever when braking, that is best described as a firmness that starts at the contact point, and continues through the whole lever stroke. This differs from the Avid Trails, where the braking firms up at the contact point, but for some reason it softens slightly until some point deeper in the lever pull where it firms up again. Some might say I have a bubble in the system, but I spent some good time bleeding them, and use Motul RB600 synthetic dot4 high performance brake fluid. Some may call the use of synthetic brake fluid intended for automative racing pure overkill, but the stuff just works in terms of providing responsive, fade free braking to all and any abuse I've levelled at my brakes, and has made the overall experience with my Codes and XO Trails bulletproof.
The Guides however have a consistently firmer feel. Given that many who complain about Avid brakes mention 'sponginess', I think this more consistent firmness is what's been missing from the Avid experience for some riders.
Testing: second round
As mentioned previously, the Centerline rotors are a separate purchase, and those arrived after I had completed the first round of testing. For the second round of testing which included steeper terrain, I installed both guide brakes for front and rear brake duty, as well the new Centerline rotors. I still used the old worn sintered metal pads removed from the XO Trails brakes. Using worn-down pads was not only useful for playing around with contact point adjustment, but also to check if the Guides displayed any noticeable variability in braking performance. Or that's the hope anyway.
Suffice to say, they are phenomenal! In fact, the word I'd really like to use is LETHAL. In capitals. On a highly subjective level, they probably offer the same braking force as previous Avids, notably the Code and XO Trail brakes. but the major difference is When.
That same power is on tap so much earlier, I've locked up where previously I would have expected some modulation. I don't think you can use the phrase bottomless with respect to brakes, but that's how early really powerful braking comes into action, that you still have plenty of lever travel left before crushing your other fingers or hitting the bar. Remember, these are worn brakes.
Is it grabby? Not at all, as there's plenty of modulation capacity available, its just a case of having to adapt to the new behaviour. Important to note: how 'grabby' depends on the pads used, with resin or organic pads definitely offering more bite than sintered metal pads.
Other than that niggle with the reach adjustment, it's been a pretty good out-of-the-box experience. Seriously good. Long term reliability remains to be seen among other pertinent scenarios, such as post-bleed performance, post-maintenance performance etc, not to mention the infamous turkey warble noise (Google it). But in the interim, the SRAM Guides are brutal, mean mutha-truck-stoppers of note.