Hydraulic disc brakes: will they catch on in cyclocross this season?
And then, there are the new hydraulic disc brakes, which many cyclocrossers probably care more about than an extra cassette cog. Racers paying close attention to the pros last season may have noticed Tim Johnson piloting the SRAM hydraulic prototypes at a few races, and they’re finally here. As for the hydraulic brakes, SRAM issued the following statement: “SRAM, long a leader in hydraulic braking technology with our Avid brand, has reset the vision for road bike braking for the coming decade. Not unlike every other high speed conveyance, SRAM brings hydraulic technology to road cycling for multiple applications. Disc or rim brake, SRAM will stop what you’ve propelled, faster and with better modulation.”
Riding on hydraulic brakes for cyclocross is nothing new for the Cyclocross Magazine staff, as two years ago we got first rides on TRP’s Parabox hydraulic disc brake system and 324 Labs’ Formula R1-based brake adapter two years ago. You may have already seen hydraulic brakes win cyclocross races, with TRP’s Parabox adapter in action on Ben Berden’s bikes, or on 45-49 Masters World Champion Don Myrah, who rides 324 Labs’ system.
SRAM will offer two different hydraulic brakes: the Red hydraulic disc brake and the slightly heavier S700 disc brake (see below for full specs) that is accompanied by an aluminum s700 lever, set up for 10-speed only.
Should You Rush to Upgrade?
So, what does this mean for cyclocross? With 11-speeds, the new groupo can provide more versatility, with more options for wider range of gears, or a smaller jump between a few cogs. The risk, of course, is potential mud clearance with the cassette: some ’crossers still refuse to upgrade to 10-speed because of the amount of organic material that can get stuck between the narrower cogs on the cassette. And, naturally, the cost alone is enough to give racers pause in making the upgrade decision just for an extra gear, but the hydraulic brakes may be a big draw to move to the 2014 SRAM Red Double Tap levers. We’re sure plenty of sponsored racers will be sporting the SRAM Red 22 this coming season, and we’ll be excited to see how it works.
A look at the SRAM S700 hydraulic disc setup.
On the hydraulic side of things, riders can look forward to more powerful, lighter action braking with self-centering pads, allowing for less rubbing on one side even in muddy conditions. Also, because conventional brake cables and steel housing are heavier than most hydraulic brake lines, racers can also look forward to a potential weight reduction in their braking systems.
The downsides? The potential (in longer races, like gravel grinders, or rides with long dirt or road descents) for the system to overheat and lead to brake failure, leaving you with nothing but a shoe to jam in the wheel, BMX-style. In particular, this potentially affects people who are swapping out parts for weight-savings, since thinner rotors are more inclined to overheat. Lastly, there may be a steep learning curve for roadies who don’t use hydraulics: pulling the brake lever while the wheel isn’t on the bike can result in a jammed brake pad that needs to be pried apart, something a roadie may not be prepared for.
Lastly, a hydraulic brake left unattended (i.e in a garage for months post-season) may need its system bled: these brakes need more maintenance, and a lack of attention to maintenance can be more catastrophic for racers than with standard cantilever or mechanical disc brakes.
Many of us mix SRAM and Shimano cassettes without problem, but we’re curious to see if that will still be possible with the new SRAM Force and Red.
Also rumored to be in the works are new Avid drop bar mechanical and hydraulic disc brake options to complement the new Avid BB7 Road SL mechanical disc brake (reviewed in Issue 20 of Cyclocross Magazine). New brakes to come are two other BB7 models, called BB7S, and two new hydraulic disc brake options for the road/’cross set (hence the DB for drop bar), the DB1 and DB3.