There’s a disc brake storm coming. Nah, it seems to be passing over now. They’re here and here to stay. Even the UCI shenanigans shows signs of sorting itself out. Normal service is resumed and the disc brake revolution can continue unimpeded. As I alluded to in my previous article if you were thinking about a type of braking and inventing it today you’d go disc. I’m lucky enough to have three bikes. One is rim braked and two are disc. I love the rim brake bike but it’s good to have the discs for the crappy days, the commutes and, of course, cyclocross.
The revolution is still taking time though and it’s a complicated and expensive business. So, you pay your money and you make your choice. Buy a new disc brake bike and you’re likely to find the sub £1k ones equipped with cable operated brakes. Above £1k and you tend to find hydraulics. And the choices available are quite varied. So, at the real budget end you still see your Avid BB5 and BB7 cable operated brakes. Venerable in their day but their day has passed. The real success story over the last few years has been TRP’s move to market domination with their Hy Rd and Spyre brakes. Where complete bikes OEM choice was Avid before you’re far more likely to see TRP now. And that’s a pretty welcome thing because, quite frankly, TRP’s take on the cable operated disc brake is at least an evolution of Avid’s BB7 and, in this writer’s view, pretty much a revolution.
There is little doubt that, despite its infancy, road hydraulic systems are likely to be better than cable operated systems. But even the cheaper Shimano systems are nudging £350. And the new 105 brakes really have been hit with an ugly stick.
One question that’s often posed in relation to these sorts of brakes is why? Well, it’s not a short answer. There are two quite distinct markets I guess, the one where you might buy a bike determined by what brakes it has already fitted to it and the other where you’d like to upgrade the brakes fitted to your existing bike. On ready built bikes it pretty much comes down to hydraulic, cable hydraulic or cable depending, of course, on your budget. As I stated above you are far more likely to come across TRP now. But it’s the upgrade market where this discussion really lies. So, should you upgrade from your Promax Render, Avid BB5 or BB7 etc and, if so, what should you spend. That said, at the end of this article, you might even decide to upgrade your TRP brakes…………..
If you want hydro then there are really only two choices, SRAM and Shimano, and both manufacturer’s offerings will set you back in the region of £350 to start with. And that’s pretty much an entry price that doesn’t take other considerations into account. Most hydro setups are 11 speed (because their shifters are). So if you’re upgrading a 10 speed bike if you want to avoid bodging you’re looking at a new rear mech and cassette at the very least. You’re already into the £400 region. If you’re upgrading 11 speed then it’s not going to cost you quite so much. There’s also the issue of neatness. If you’re running a CX type bike then zip tieing cable outers onto the tubes is the normal approach. But if you’re running a road bike then how do you attach hydro cable outers to normal cable runs in a neat way? Answers on a postcard please. It’s all so complicated.
So, actually, the cable operated brake makes an awful lot of sense as they’re generally cheap, a good upgrade, easy to install, work well and aesthetically acceptable. With that in mind what options are there? The TRP Spyre are a very good cable brake indeed. Plenty of feel, though well short of a hydraulic, and good stopping power. Not without their faults though. They do need care and to ensure that they are kept free of moisture after a long ride. Otherwise the risk is that the caliper section will become a bit gritty and the pad adjusters will get a bit stuck. And that’s a problem when you insert your allen key to wind in the rotors only to find that it gets rounded off. A neat look, but a flawed system. The distributor is pretty good at fixing them though. But it’s not ideal when disc brakes are more likely than not exposed to water a lot. In that respect I find them hard to recommend.
The TRP Hy Rd are a great brake because they combine simple cable operation with a hydraulic reservoir. So you pull the cable with your existing brake levers, that actuates an arm on the caliper and the arm then squeezes the hydraulic reservoir. Not up there with Shimano SLX or R685 but pretty good. Yet there are still problems. They do self centre but sometimes the lever throw can be a bit alarming. Crucially there’s no real method of adjustment on the Hy Rd other than to move the arm a bit upwards and clamp the cable. That prevents the arm from ever finding its way back. I’m told that this should be avoided but I also know that many people do this to reduce lever throw. Until full road systems find the price level of their MTB brethren cable operated brakes will offer an almost there solution at a fraction of the price. Mostly. The TRP Hy Rd are £200 the pair, more or less. Factor in the cost of your shifters and you’re not far of some R685. Effectively you’re asked to compromise. The outstanding and costly performance of hydraulic or the effective and cheaper performance of the cable operated market.
Enter the Juin Tech R1. Or, the brakes/company you’ve never heard of. After this you will have and you won’t find them easy to forget. Juin Tech are a Taiwanese company who manufacture a lot of braking systems. In the UK they’re distributed by Edge Sports UK. You can find a link to the product page by clicking here.
The first thing you’ll note about the R1 brakes is the price. £149.99. That’s for the pair. For comparison TRP Spyres will cost you £140 (RRP) and Hy Rd £220 (RRP). That’s slightly unfair on the Hy Rd because they are generally discounted but you’d be hard pushed to find UK stock for less than £180 the pair. The R1’s are definitely a bargain therefore and considerably less than shelling out for a full hydraulic system. There are five colours available (black, green, blue, red and grey). I opted for green because they’re a bit different and because I wanted to see how well the anodisation would hold. I doubt there will be any real issues here but will report back from time to time.
In the box you will find:
- 2 x Hydraulic cable actuated post mount disc calipers, inc pads
- 2 x Postmount adapters
- 4 x Postmount bolts & washers – long
- 4 x Postmount bolts – short
- 2 x 160mm Stainless Steel Rotors (6 Bolt IS)
- 12 x torq screws to mount rotors
- Weight: 142grams per caliper approx
In terms of weight they are spot on and that means that not only are they lighter than the Hy Rd they are also lighter than the Spyres. That’s impressive.
The presentation is well executed and it’s good to see so many additional items included. I can’t remember getting two sets of bolts in any disc brake set and, though my memory might be shaky, I can’t recall getting rotor bolts either. In terms of installation only post mount adapters are supplied so if you’re running IS mounts you will need to source an IS to post mount adapter. I will assume though, if you are running IS mounts, that situation is already taken care of so it’s simply a matter of using your post mounts with your existing adapters. The rotors are 160mm and 140mm are not recommended.
These brakes use a Shimano R010 RWD brake pad so sourcing a replacement set of pads is easy. The theory of the brake is pretty straightforward and similar to the TRP Hy Rd. The cable runs into the barrel adjuster, and is clamped in place at the bolt on the actuating arm. When you pull the brakes the arm squeezes the hydraulic innards and the brakes are applied. In theory the feel should be a little better than cable only but short of full on hydro. But it’s that adjustable screw attached to the actuating arm with marks the Juin Tech out as special and we’ll come back to that in a bit.
That’s the installation procedure. And it’s very simple indeed. It’s pretty much the standard procedure for all of these things. Keep the mounting bolts slightly loose, thread and tighten the cable, pull the brake to centre and do up the mounting bolts. And that’s where we’d finish with most instructions. But that knob is the killer feature here. It allows you to adjust the pads inwards to get a closer or lesser bite as desired. It was very noticeable to me that the unadjusted position of the pads was better than TRP Hy Rd and, once adjusted, lever throw was considerably reduced. And that’s a big issue because many people have found the long lever throw of the Hy Rd a bit disconcerting. All that is avoided here.
Once on they look great.The observant among you will note that they’ve been (ironically) partnered in this instance with TRP brake levers. They are pretty good levers with a nice feel so it’s a good partnership to test. They’ll be doing a bit of work over this month on the Day One and then, come September, will be swapped over to a CAADX 105 to deal with commuting and cross duties. I will update as we go along but I generally find that a brake that can cope well with the rigors of wet weather commuting will always fare well on the CX course.
So, how well do they work? Well, in a word, brilliant. Easily the best cable operated cable brakes I’ve used. I’ve not tested them down the other side of the Galibier so I cannot possibly vouch for whether they’d boil over during an alpine descent.
There are a number of standout benefits to the R1’s in my view. The main point is that initial feel and bite. Because of that screw in (and out) adjuster it’s so much easier to get the brakes to feel how you want them to. If you like almost instant on you can dial that in. If you prefer a longer lever throw that’s available too. My personal preference is for the former. Generally that adds the potential complication that you might get pad rubbing because the pads are closer in. Once again the R1’s excelled in that area. There’s simply no ticking or clicking at all.
The other benefit is just the overall feel of the things. They’re still fairly analogue rather than the very crisp digital feel of the R685 hydro’s. But they are very confident performers. There’s no sponginess at all provided you set them up properly, compressionless outers are recommended. They have a very linear progression so there are never any nasty surprises lurking at any point.
My first test was the usual quick spin round the block. It’s very easy to lock the rear wheel if you try. It’s probably possible to lock the front as well given the right surface conditions. It’s debatable whether that is in any way a meaningful method of testing. The point is that it’s possible to do it if you squeeze hard enough and that point goes for many brakes. You don’t have to lock them but it’s good to know there’s enough power to do so. That’s not always necessarily the case with all cable operated brakes particularly when poorly set up. Crucially there’s a good amount of feedback available through the system to keep you in check. In terms of stopping power and adjustment you will want for nothing.
On my usual commute (800ft of climbing each way on a singlespeed!) there was a good opportunity to check downhill braking and performance in traffic etc and they handled it with aplomb. On the way home the rain hammered down and as expected they are fantastic in the wet. There was a little disc squeal at a few points but that’s something that happens on pretty much every disc brake system I’ve ever used (including the R685). I didn’t need to pull off any emergency stops but the only limiting factor will be the grip between your tyres and the surface.
I’m impressed. I expected them to be good. But they’re outstanding because they work extremely well and because that adjustment system is genius in its simplicity. I will continue to monitor whether it continues to work properly in the mud and grime of CX but I’m sure it will be fine. There’s just no fuss or drama about them, they do what they claim and then some.
Are they as good as the competition? No, they are better. Much will depend on what you mean by that, they are at least as powerful as the Hy Rd and, for me, the better feel and lever throw is the reason I’d recommend them. Are they as good as something like the R685 hydros? They fall short of that in relation to outright power and, inevitably, some feel. But the overall performance isn’t necessarily as far short in terms of being a braking system as you might think. If you have £400 to spare and you want the best braking system then you really should get those. But if you want great braking without fuss then these bad boys will be excellent performers. Let’s face it, you can even buy some spare wheels for CX before you get to the price of the R685. Crucially they are cheaper than even the basic cable non hydro options offered by their competitors are that, for me, makes them a no brainer.
If you want to purchase then you can find the link to all the Juin Tech products on the Edge Sports Website here. To remind you, that’s £140 for both brakes. Just amazing value.
I promised I’d add something at the end about that bike as well, which belongs to a mate of mine. It’s a Genesis Day One SS with a Kona Fork and 32c tyres. It’s a creamy, cosseting ride and a quite lovely thing. I’ve always been a fan and used to own the yellow version and a white Croix de Fer. If you’re in the market for a SS frame (or even an Alfine) it really should be on your list. Thanks to Adrian for the kind lend! Adrian is now continuing the testing of the brakes while I’m on holiday for a few weeks and when I come back they’ll be starting the CX season. Stay tuned.
Update: They are on my CAADX now. And they continue to impress. I’ve been using them to commute on in the weeks and they are superb in that respect. But I’ve not had the opportunity to test them in their natural habitat of CX. It was certainly not as muddy as it’s been in previous years but that rarely has an effect on the disc brake area anyway. But in writing a retrospective about this week’s CX round where I used them for the first time I realised that there was nothing to write. That’s a plus. They just got on with doing the job of being superb brakes throughout the race. Whether that was emergency braking when others cut in, controlling speed down a tricky off camber muddy descent or scrubbing off speed quickly when I took the line to wide they just did what they say on the tin. Brilliant brakes, bargain price. I’ve had some people ask me to comment on the fact that they’re a closed system. They are and, to that extent, there is no automatic adjustment for wear. But, the thing is, that’s easy to deal with, just dial the pad in. And when the pads are shot, dial them back out when you replace then. It’s that easy. That there might be other problems with that approach, sticky pistons etc, is true. But I’ve just not experienced it in practice. A winter of commuting and CX will be definitive, of course. The thing is, the Spyres didn’t cope with the wet and the TRP started out as having massive lever throw. Will this approach be a better one? Are the disadvantages potentially real or just theoretical. We’ll see. But, at the moment, they are just as described.