When it comes to hydraulic disc brakes for the road, SRAM is the industry’s Oppenheimer: they just brought the bomb.
This week SRAM officially took the wraps off of two new key products, hydraulic disc brakes and a new 11 speed drive train called SRAM 22.
To test their new hydraulic road disc brakes, SRAM says they sent test riders down the Stelvio wearing 150-pound packs for a total weight, with bikes, of more than 250 pounds. As they told the assembled media at the 22 launch, they did this repeatedly with no boiling or fade. It was also mentioned that if hydraulic brakes ever did boil over, they only fail if you release the lever. SRAM, which has been developing the new hydraulic system, for the last two years clearly learned how to avoid some of the most common issues with hydraulic brakes and high-speed braking. I imagined the initial test runs were a bit like the trench run in Star Wars with a call to the headset of the rider that said, “you’re running hot, don’t let go!” Then they re-calibrated and tested again.
Sending a pack of journalists up into the hills and down the steep canyons above Westlake Village meant SRAM is fully confident in their new road disc brakes, or in their insurance carrier. I can assure you these work to bring a rider to an on-the-dime stop at a light or on a twenty percent drop before a hard left into S-curves at 40 mph. These are game changers. For decades the biggest developments in bikes have been to go faster and with little development in how we slow, modulate, or control speed. Even the newest brakes, like the EEs on a Venge, are about how light they are, not how well they stop.
Where SRAM’s new “22” groups are a response to their competitors—it’s Red 2012 with another click—Hydro is the story. The development in brakes is an engineering statement that’s as much about SRAM as a company as how bikes stop. This is the company who brought us GripShift, fought for years to break up how drivetrains were sold, and now is moving the market with a breakthrough product that again challenges a conventional market lacking a major jump forward.
After riding Hydro for a weekend, I’m far more interested in disc brakes than electronic shifting. I suggest you consider spending your money on new tech that’ll significantly improve your ride, instead of the battery-powered shifting gadgetry from Shimano and Campagnolo. Hydro will also change how bikes are built, not just how they handle because builders are no longer limited by the size or placement of traditional brake calipers.
My opinion changed from being a staunch critic of road disc brakes to fully in favor in a few wow moments during hard rides with Hydro. Most significant was the ride with their rim brakes. Take a very responsive bike, the Evo, improve the braking with a system that’s more precise, better modulated, and controlled and… Well, it’s like I never knew braking was that good. Considering the reach is adjustable on the new 22 and 10 speed shifters, women and riders with smaller hands will be able to customize their ride to fit their mitts.
I’ll date myself here, but the jump is as significant as index shifting in the modern bicycle timeline. Before index, I didn’t know you could click to shift. Now it’s a slight pull here or a full handful of the brake when needed without worrying about locking up or rim failure.
Skeptical? It’s expected, I sure was, so test ride a Hydro-equipped bike as soon as it arrives in your local bike shop. Force 22 group ships in August 2013, Hydro R brakes and RED 22 in July. They’ve also released Hydro for 10 speed, to upgrade your current SRAM setup. Read the PR for yourself about Red 22, Hydro, and Force. Pricing is $1,121 for Hydro disc and $968 for the rim.
I’ll upgrade our demo Venge to 22 with Hydro rim and race cross on a Hydro disc this Fall. To the hoods, they’re as disruptive to lines of a bike as a battery pack is. We’ll decal all that real estate with Bike Hugger Logos. Mark wants a photo of a Conehead on his.
Ed. note: After a good run of 42 issues, our magazine app is no longer available, but we’ve archived the content here on our blog.