Though I love cyclocross, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with the equipment used on most cross bikes. I ride a variety of terrain on my cyclocross bike including standard cross races (usually flat, sometimes muddy) but also very hilly gravel roads near my home as well as things I’d normally take my mountain bike on. The biggest difference from my MTB and my cross bike is the braking – I have sure-footed discs on my mountain bike that can reliably slow me down any steep descents with good control while my cyclocross bike’s ancient cantilever brake design mean I’m mashing them to the rim with all my might, white knuckles showing on the downhills as I watch the edge of the trail approach my front wheel at way too great of speeds.
I’ve always hated the quality of cyclocross cantilever brakes and I’ve tried four different sets on two different bikes to make sure it wasn’t just me. The sport of cyclocross is one of centuries-old tradition and it wasn’t until this very year that disc brakes were even allowed in national and world cup competition racing.
While the industry scrambles to consider future cross bike designs with disc brakes, TRP has stepped in to recently release the CX 9 mini V-brake design, specifically designed for cross bikes. it’s a short throw brake that works as-is with road bike levers (you won’t need a travel agent hack to increase the cable pull). After a season of mashing my poorly performing cantilever brakes I started this season racing on several hilly courses all the while cursing my chattering front fork and poor brake performance. Two weeks ago, I got a set of TRP CX9 brakes mounted to my cross bike and decided to see if they’d help.
From the first time I squeezed the brake levers, I was in heaven. Gone was the sluggish feel of my old brakes, the new ones felt incredibly smooth and I could lock up the rim with a single finger (instead of my entire hand with the old brakes). A quick test ride on my street and I was going from short sprints to a dead stop in a shockingly short distance.
The same day I got my brakes installed I got to race at a local night cross series, on a course I’d already raced twice before with my old brakes. The course features two downhills with sketchy turns at the base which previously gave me hand cramps from braking so hard over the course of a race. With the new brakes in place I could not only easily control my speed and keep a better grip on the bars (since I wasn’t wasting hand strength clutching my brakes) the brake feel was so easy and smooth I could lightly feather the brakes throughout the entire race.
A week later I got to test my next big worry with these v-brakes, and that was in extreme muddy conditions. People say v-brakes can have clearance issues that cantilever brakes can easily solve, but I noticed the top clearance on these v-brakes were higher than the top of my own fork, so mud clearance wasn’t looking like it’d be an issue. I can safely say now that I’ve spent an hour in 6 inch deep mud and driving rain that the brakes held up and never seized with debris, and worked like a champ throughout the bad weather racing.
These new TRP brakes are just about perfect, coming very close to what I’d expect from a disc brake setup on a cross bike. They’re easy on the hands with a smooth and steady pull and give you so much stopping power you’ll quickly learn to dole it out in small amounts by feathering your brakes. My front fork brake chatter was instantly gone as well, providing even more control on downhills under braking. Simply put, I love these things to death and my bike feels more like a sure footed mountain bike than an over built road bike struggling in the dirt.
About the only downside I’ve encountered is the short travel of the brake arms in this design. My previous cantilever brakes could work without adjustments on a variety of wheelsets I use. I have some standard 19mm wide road wheels for training rides, 23mm wide HED wheels for road riding as well, and a beefy set of mountain bike tubeless rims for cross by Stans NoTubes that run a whopping 27mm wide. These TRP brakes require cable adjustments to get them stopping both my most narrow and widest wheel sets, but it’s a pretty minor drawback.
I believe in the paradox that better brakes make you faster because you’ll be prone to less mistakes on a cross course, you’ll be able to maintain higher speeds while descending because you’ll have more braking power if you need it, and you’ll have all the stopping power you want in an emergency. After just two weeks with these brakes in a variety of conditions in three races and a handful of training rides, I’m in absolute awe with the power and easy feel of these brakes and finally at only around $115 for a front AND rear set, they’re competitively priced with most mid-range cantilever brakes.