Tester: Stephen Haynes
Paul Components has always struck me as a company born in the wrong era. They are the stuff of old school fabrication like Fender Stratocasters, Zippo lighters and straight six engines. Simple, well-designed products made to last a lifetime that have the added benefit of being easily serviced, providing you had the knowledge or gumption to do so.
While this may sound backwards and short-sighted to our disposable, 21st century ears, especially in an industry that loves to outdo itself twice annually, it is refreshing to know that Paul Components is out there making bits and bobs they hope you’ll never have to replace.
Price – $90
The Boxcar stem is no exception. A classic in its time, the Boxcar is made from 2024 aluminum for its high strength and low brittleness and has been through 1,000,000 cycles on a fatigue testing rig with no problems.
Its enduring appeal is deceptively hidden behind low-key cutaways, hinting at something verging on an art nouveau sensibility. Though design-wise that’s all rubbish. According to owner and namesake, Paul Price “I’ve always felt it’s more of an engineering ethic. When I design the parts my main goal is figuring out what they should do, what is required by the customer to install and adjust, and how will they work with their related parts, i.e., brakes with levers.”
As far as my own use of the Boxcar is concerned, I’ve had no problems with it. Keep in mind that I’m a 200 pound dude and the stem was mounted to a rigid singlespeed for the whole of my six-week test period. My only problem is that I have to give it back.
Available in three different lengths—50 mm, 70 mm and 90 mm—the Boxcar stem can be employed on myriad bikes for use in myriad situations. The 70 mm and 90 mm varieties are available in either 0 or 15 degree angle but the 50 mm is limited to 0 degree angle. All three come in black, silver or polished finished and have standard 31.8 mm bar clamp diameter and fit 1 1/8 inch steerer tubes.
Price – $179
The Klamper brake is Paul’s answer to mechanical disc brakes and as far as I’m concerned they’ve just re-set the standard. Now, to be fair, from a performance standpoint, I can’t discern a great deal of difference between the Klampers and other well-bred mechanical disc brakes like Avid’s venerable BB7s. The Klampers provide a super stable platform from which to apply brake force and, like the aforementioned BB7s, stop you and your bike just fine when you need them to.
Where the Klampers set themselves apart, however, is in the craftsmanship, detail and user-friendliness. Not to mention being born and bred in the good ole’ USA. Oversized aluminum (not plastic) inboard and outboard pad adjusters make trailside fiddling super easy. There are also barrel adjusters for fine-tuning cable tension, both of which aren’t uncommon features, but here they’ve made the touch points friendlier to fondle.
Inside the caliper the tried and true ramp and ball system is employed, just as it is on the aforementioned BB7. Here Paul has hardened the steel contact surface of the ramps and increased the size of the balls for smoothness and increased pad travel. Flat needle roller thrust bearings have been used in place of plastic thrust washers on the pad actuator as well for additional smoothing, and the extra attention here pays off.
The directness of mechanical disc brakes is something that appeals to me. While less plush than hydraulic brakes, I like the linear increase in brake power, as well as the ability to field service them.
Paul suggests three easy rides with moderate stopping to bed the pads well. After that, all systems go. I found this to be the case and have been stoked with the brakes since. Long, sustained downhills didn’t see any decrease in stopping power or result in pulsing of any kind.
Available in either black or silver with a number of mounting adapters to fit your bike’s needs. The Paul Components Klamper brakes will fit any rotor, except 140 mm in the front.
Price – $128
The Love Lever is one of Paul Components’ best selling products and for good reason. Adjustable in all the right ways, the Love Levers can be set up to fit just about any individual’s needs and are an exceptional match for the Klamper brakes but will work with any long-pull cable operated brakes.
Oversized barrel adjusters make for easy cable tension tweaks, even with heavy winter gloves, and the 5 mm set screw in the side of the lever perch lets you adjust the lever reach where it best fits your hands. Standard 22.2 mm clamp diameter means they’ll fit just about any mountain bike bar, and the levers come in two different lengths: Compact (two finger) and 2.5 (three finger) varieties.
The distinct, oversized lever pivot is made from stainless steel and provides a smooth swing and reduces play. Also fully serviceable with parts available directly from Paul Components. The Love Lever is available in either black or silver finish and will add precision and beauty to any ride.
SRAM just announced Guide brake technology in a more compact, lighter package for cross-country and trail applications. Five different models of Level brakes will replace the SRAM XX, X0 and DB5, and Avid DB3 and DB1 models.
All models of Level brakes feature SRAM’s DirectLink lever design with 2-piston calipers and reach adjusters hidden from the outside elements. The Levels also utilize the proven technologies developed for the Guides that we have come to love, including SRAM’s improved brake fluid reservoir, excellent modulation, ambidextrous lever placement, ease of adjusting lever reach and contact point for personalized brake feel, a reshaped bladder that better regulates and reduces air bubbles, and minimized time between when the lever is engaged and the pads contact the rotor.
The top four models purport to all offer the same braking power. The top two feature SRAM’s unique design for simplifying fluid management and maintenance.
The Level Lineup
Level Ultimate: 318 grams, $297
The top-of-the-line Level brakes are distinguished by titanium hardware; carbon levers and blades; and a new, 21-millimeter, 2-piston monoblock caliper for superior heat management, consistency, control and feel. Fancy.
Level TLM: 356 grams, $190
Level TL: 370 grams, $102
Level T: 410 grams, $82
Level: 430 grams, $63
Prices and weights are per wheel.
Weight weenies rejoice! Actually, everyone should rejoice. The Guides are excellent brakes and have helped us banish bad memories of the most infamous Avids. The Levels will actually banish some Avids. If they are indeed slimmed-down versions of Guides, they should be great brakes. We’ll try some and let you know. Meanwhile, read our long-term test of the SRAM Guide brakes.
More info: SRAM.com
Editor’s Note: Katherine, our new web editor, wasn’t on staff when the 2015 Editor Choice Awards were being collected for Dirt Rag Issue #188, so her honorable mention list is made up of stuff she purchased during the past year on her own dime.
If you want to know what the rest of the staffers chose as their favorite bikes and gear of 2015, pick up the latest issue off a newsstand near you, or purchase a digital copy now.
Chromag Trailmaster Saddle – $96
The Trailmaster is my just-right saddle. It features a medium-sized platform, has a “medium” amount of padding (it’s not super soft, despite how thick it looks) and is neither too flat nor too curved nor too deeply channeled. Similarly to SRAM’s Guide brakes, I can ride my full-suspension bike all day and not notice this vital component because it just works. I usually ride wearing lightly padded liner shorts, but the saddle is padded and comfortable enough for a brief outing if and when I forget my chamois.
The perforated natural leather top wears a classy striped pattern and has aged admirably, with just a small amount of barely noticeable cracking on the rear after almost a year of rides. Otherwise, it still looks remarkably new and doesn’t feel as if it has lost any of its support.
The Trailmaster looks smaller than it feels under butt thanks to its padding and edges that are generously rounded off for ease in maneuvering off the saddle. At only 4 mm longer than Chromag’s dirt jump saddle, and featuring a soft nose, it might not be the best platform for people who spend a lot of time slid way far forward to grind out climbs, but I have been pleased with the Trailmaster on 99 percent of my rides.
The Chromag Trailmaster has chromoly rails, weighs 310 grams and measures 284 mm by 140 mm.
SRAM Guide RSC Brakes – $410/pair
SRAM’s Guide brakes have gotten so much love in the past year and have worked so well that they have nearly been forgotten, but they should still be on your radar whether you’re upgrading or building a bike from scratch. In fact, after choosing them for this list, I had to go for a quick pedal to think about how they feel; these brakes are so good that I have been able to ignore them, trust them and just ride.
The RSC Guides have impressed me with their modulation, reliability and adjustability. They don’t feel grabby nor do they replicate the unnerving, brake-pedal-to-the-floor-then-catch feeling of the old Avids I replaced. As a smaller rider with smaller hands, I appreciate tool-free reach adjust and true, one-finger braking that is always smooth. After many rides—not always in great conditions—these brakes have stayed true, quiet, powerful and proven to be very low-maintenance. Read Mike’s review if you want all the technical details.
Giro Wind Vest – $80
Simply called “Wind Vest,” this is Giro’s least-expensive outerwear offering (price is the same for men and women). Despite the steep price tag for what seems to be a simple piece of gear, I have found it to be worth every dollar. On any ride when the temperature is 70 degrees or below, this vest goes with me. I never know if I’ll get cold on a long descent or end up sitting outside a coffee shop in the shade. It wads up small, stuffs into its own pocket (inside the vest) and can fit in the hip belt pocket of my hydration pack or a rear jersey pocket.
Giro’s vest is made of Pertex Nylon Rip Stop fabric and features a perforated rear panel that means a less-sweaty back when riding with a pack. My vest shows no signs of wear after almost a year of abuse being worn under backpacks, stuffed into gear bags and rained on. It wicks moisture and is highly wind and water resistant. It’s an indispensable piece of gear with multiple uses that I’m never sorry I carried and often very glad to have.
The vest is slightly fitted but doesn’t have the upside-down triangle shape of hardcore roadie gear. It lacks grippers and still has room in the hips. It is comfortable enough off the bike that I also wear it running and hiking. The women’s sizes run almost a full-size large, especially if you want this to fit closely.
Surly Bikes Racing Sucks Hat – $28
Before you wave a rigid carbon pitchfork in my direction over my bad attitude, know that I bought this hat specifically to wear at a 12-hour mountain bike race. Since then, I have ditched my other baseball-style head coverings and reach for this Surly cap exclusively. It features fancy pinstripes, a high-qualty embroidered patch, Flex-Fit stretch, polyester and Spandex construction and a standard brim (as opposed to flat, bro-brah nonsense). The hat has even held up to multiple trips through the washing machine. Those are nice touches but, really, my favorite thing is that this hat says “Racing Sucks.”
Most people understand that the sentiment is supposed to be funny, and I can feel good about my day knowing that I made some people laugh. Even better are the ones who don’t know how to react to a woman wearing a hat that says “sucks.” I wasn’t allowed to say that word as a young child but we’re all adults now and, if you have a sense of humor, you should have this hat.
SRAM went back to the drawing board when it designed the Guide brake series introduced last year. We tested and reviewed the RSC model and found they are vastly improved over previous SRAM/Avid designs.
The new Guide Ultimate model takes the design a step further with a slightly revised caliper and carbon fiber lever arms. The S4 caliper gets changes to the seals and piston coatings that help with rollback and consistency that SRAM says will help with proper alignment to minimize drag. Each caliper holds a pair of 14 mm pistons and a pair of 16 mm pistons for both power and modulation. Heat management is aided by aluminum heat shields that break the thermal connection between the pad and lever body, insulators integrated into the pistons, and a large pad opening to allow more air flow.
The calipers also features the new Bleeding Edge bleed port that simplifies the bleed process. A dedicated adapter plugs into the bleed port and seals the system to minimize air contamination and fluid loss.
The lever body still features the adjustable reach and contact point of the Guide RSC model, but adds a carbon fiber lever and titanium hardware.
The Guide Ultimate brakes will retail for $288 per wheel, in either black or Arctic Grey when they go on sale in May.
Finally, the pair with the new Ultimate line is a new set of Centerline X rotors, a two-piece design that sheds weight over the one-piece steel models. Available in 140 mm, 160 mm and 180 mm, the rotors have an alloy center and steel brake track. They will be available in July in both six-bolt and Center Lock versions for $72 each (140 mm and 160 mm) or $78 (180 mm).
The long awaited change to SRAM’s brake line is finally here. Don’t look for the Avid name or the usual XX or X0 style designations, the new brakes are named SRAM Guide, and model level is identified by features rather than drivetrain family. We received one of the first sets available back in May of 2014 to begin long-term testing.
Because of issues with the TaperBore master cylinder design from previous brakes, SRAM now uses a cup seal and timing port to pressurize the system, along with improved sealing throughout. As a result, the recurring problem of air getting into the braking system and causing the lever to pull to the grip should be eliminated.
“Part of what led to an occasional increase in deadband with previous designs was the EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber) bladder. As pads wear, fluid from the reservoir is pulled into the increased space behind the slave pistons at the caliper. The displacement of fluid creates a bit of a vacuum in the reservoir,” said Duncan Riffle, SRAM’s MTB PR coordinator. “The new Pure bladder’s flexibility does a great job adapting to this situation and minimizing the vacuum effect. Previous EPDM bladders had a bit more ‘spring’ to them which meant they were trying to ‘pull’ fluid back into the reservoir from the caliper when the pads wear, which in turn leads to inconsistent rollback at the slave piston and then potentially a change in feel at the lever.”
But the changes didn’t stop there. Our Guide RSC (which stands for Reach adjust, Swinglink, Contact adjust) is loaded with features. Starting with the Swinglink, a new cam shape at the lever lessens deadband for minimal lever throw before pad contact. It also changes the curve compared to previous Avid brakes for a very linear feel that ramps up strongly yet controllably. A new sealed bearing at the lever pivot also provided a silky smooth feel. Tool-free contact point adjustment and reach adjust allow you to quickly and easily personalize the feel and performance of the brakes before or during a ride.
The 4-piston dual-diameter caliper carries over from the Elixir Trail brakes, and is just four grams heavier than previous double-piston, cross-country-specific Avids. Total weight per brake for the top tier Guide RSC averages 375 grams, depending on hose length, making these ideal for cross-country, enduro and all-mountain riders.
Once installed, dialing in the feel takes minutes. I have found myself on occasion slightly adjusting the front brake’s contact point to keep it matching the rear—usually within the first half hour of a ride if the bike has been sitting for a day or two. It’s quick and easy (I don’t have to stop pedaling) but it is something I’ve noted.
On the trail, these are easily the best brakes the SRAM group has released. The levers are nicely shaped and pull is incredibly smooth, with a strong yet predictable initial engagement that continues to come on powerfully without ever being grabby, even at slow, poke-along speeds in rugged terrain where careful braking is required. High speed stopping is also strong and seamless with no tendency to lock up the rear wheel. This is how brakes should work—never having to think about what they’re doing or going to do. Adding to this is the new Centerline rotor that completely eliminates squawking with a new surface that keeps the pad friction point consistent throughout rotation.
After nine months of testing it’s becoming clear that SRAM has a brake that finally rivals or possibly surpasses its main competitor in both function and price—they’re going for $199 per wheel. We’ll continue to use and abuse our Guides (we have three sets among the staff) to see if they maintain this excellent performance. Thus far, we expect they will.
By Eric McKeegan
The Trail version of Shimano’s excellent XTR stoppers gets all the attention, but there is a Race version that deserves some attention as well. The power and control of the Trail brakes are well documented, but we’ve never had a chance to put the Race version through its paces, until now.
Visually the Race and Trail brakes look much the same, but there are number of differences. The lever itself is carbon fiber rather than aluminum, and it is slightly narrower. There is no pad contact adjustment, reach adjust requires a 2mm Allen key and there is no ServoWave linkage.
Both the master cylinder and caliper are magnesium, rather than the more common (and heavier) aluminum. Alloy backed resin pads are stock, but the finned metallic pads from the Trail brake can be swapped in for more power and better cooling. The pistons are ceramic, which absorbs very little heat, preventing heat transfer to the mineral oil. The front brake (caliper, hose, fluid and lever) weighs in at 185 grams, putting it up there with some of the lightest brakes on the market.
I also got a set of the Freeza rotors (180mm front/160mm rear) to review. The Freeza rotors extend the aluminum in the middle of the rotor into finned radiators for ever better cooling over the standard IceTech rotors. Freeza rotors are for CenterLock hubs only. The Freeza rotors claim cool like the next rotor size up, so smaller and lighter rotors can be used for XC racing.
There is a lot of technology in these brakes, and it isn’t wasted. I was prepared to be unimpressed with the performance, but that was not the case. There is plenty of power, and great lever feel. In fact, I find myself preferring the way the power comes on with the Race rather than the Trail brakes. At times, I find the power of the Trail brakes to be very abrupt, while the Race brakes have a very linear build up in braking power.
The brakes where as close to silent as any I’ve ever used, and I found the resin pads to be plenty powerful for XC and trail bikes. I did a couple of trail rides on basic stainless rotors when I swapped out wheels, and immediately noticed more noise and heat build up. With the correct rotors in place, the power and lack of fade on long downhills, particularly for such a light XC brake, was almost shocking.
Compared to the Trail brake, the Race brake doesn’t have quite the absolute power, but as a light rider, on light bikes, I didn’t find this to be an issue. The lever shape is perfect for one finger braking, and compared some other carbon levers I’ve used, these levers were plenty stiff.
Unlike some super expensive and lightweight component options out there, these XTR Race brakes have little to no tradeoffs for dropping grams, unless you are taking money into the equation. Obviously, all this performance isn’t cheap at $280 per wheel, but this is XTR after all so penny-pinchers need not apply. I’m highly impressed that a brake designed for professional cross-country racing is capable of handling the rigors of trail riding as well.