If one thing is obvious in the mountain biking world, it’s that it is getting more and more expensive to participate in. With the introduction of three different wheel sizes, multiple genre’s of great bikes, and more bikes regularly reaching the 8, 9 or even 10 thousand dollar price range it’s hard to figure out how to afford all this great stuff! The goal of this series of articles will be to look at certain pieces of gear that we use here in the shop that deliver exceptional performance at a figure that won’t blow up your budgets. Some of these gear reviews will be familiar to you and maybe some parts and pieces will really surprise you.
The first piece of gear that I wanted to talk about is possibly the one that I always get asked questions about. Brakes! They are on every bike out there, there are dozens and dozens of options to choose from, and prices can range from anywhere from $100 for a set of brakes all the way out to $1000 for something that essentially functions in the same exact way!
Our first contender here in the shop is the stellar Shimano XT Brakes.
These should be no surprise to quite a few of our readers. This generation of Shimano has a reputation of offering fantastic power, great modulation, trouble free operation and easy bleeding. These brakes not only look good, they might simply best one of the best performing brakes out on the market today. Well here is a secret, Shimano XT Brakes are also a great deal where you can find a complete set with rotors and hardware for $200 USD or LESS with some shopping around. Simply put, for $200 there is not a single piece of equipment that you can currently put on your bike that will improve the overall performance of your daily rides more than these brakes. So lets talk about what makes these brakes so special!
First and foremost these guys supply power in spades. Grab the levers and you’re stopping, these guys provide offer TONS of stopping power, so much so that if you are unused to them they can be a bit surprising how much they have. Hello Endo’s!
What good is having a ton of power if you can’t control it? There are lots of brakes that offer TONS of power and little control, think about a light switch, it’s either on or it’s off and that’s how quite a few brakes I’ve ridden feel like. That’s what makes these guys special, despite having enough brute force to lock up the wheels at a moments notice, a light touch on the brakes will give you plenty of stopping power with out locking your wheels up, with power to spare past that if you need it. If you have a heavy hand on the brakes, you’ll lock them up at first until you get used to them.
Adjustments / Features
So the Shimano XT Brakes stop well, they offer power and modulation but what else can they offer you? That is where the adjustments come in, and these guys aren’t shy with offering you plenty. The Shimano XT’s offer tool free lever adjustment, meaning you can position your brake levers to where your fingers can comfortably reach the levers with out stretching. They also offer pad contact adjustment, which essentially means that you can adjust the point in which you feel your pads contacting your rotors to give you even more comfort and control while braking. Beyond offering these control features, they also offer disc cooling fins whose job it is to help dissipate heat away from the braking surface to offer less brake fade over extended braking. The last feature I want to talk about is the super short levers, at first I didn’t think a whole lot about this but in practice these short levers offer you the easy ability to use only one finger for braking giving you tons more control through the bars and requiring less braking force on the levers. All packaged together you have a set of brakes that are rich in adjustments, control features and lastly comfort features.
Real World Performance:
All kitted up I’m not a small guy. I’m 6’2″ and depending on the season I can weigh in with gear anywhere from 190lbs to 210lbs. I also normally ride not light bikes, ranging in the area of 30-35lbs on a regular basis, so brakes are one of most important features of a bike.
In general trail riding, consisting of short downhills combined with lots of twists and turns I’ve found that these brakes offer great braking performance. They offer consistent braking points, on demand power and enough juice to stop me on a dime. The levers are comfortable on your hands, don’t require a ton of force to stop, and work noise free if set up properly.
In downhill situations the XT’s work great. Give tons of power to both wheels to be able to slow you on demand. Offer enough modulation to slow you with out killing your momentum and if needed enough force to lock up your wheels (emergency braking) if needed. In technical downhills (rock crawling or sketchy descents) the XT’s offer so much control that it becomes much easier to pick and choose your lines where you need to keep your wheels from rolling.
Wrap it up:
The Shimano XT Brakes are stellar for their costs. They give you unrivaled control, power and modulation for their price. If you had to pick at something on these brakes it would be over long descents you can start to feel some brake fading. There are ways to address this and it’s an extremely common malady among most brakes on the market, even ones much more expensive than these. When I’m building a bike for a customer, this is easily our most recommended piece of equipment, its hard to beat its performance, even with brakes approaching double the cost of these guys.