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.
Designed primarily as a lightweight cross-country and trail-bike stopper, FSA’s K-Force brakes have plenty of key features. The levers are carbon fiber, and the ambidextrous, split-perch body is made from magnesium and uses reliable Torx stainless-steel hardware with a titanium upgrade option. Its minimalist caliper houses two 22 mm pistons. Since appearing in Dirt Rag #183 FSA has dropped the price by $70 per wheel to a new retail of $299 each.
FSA uses mineral oil and also utilizes a stiffer rear-brake hose. FSA explains that because the rear brake line is much longer than the front, using a stiffer hose will equalize the feel between the two, ideally giving the rear brake the same crisp feel as the front. The brake pads are top loading for easy changing, and while they come stock with FSA’s own semi-metallic pads, standard Shimano pads fit as well, ensuring you’ll never be high and dry if pressed for a last-minute pre-ride brake-pad search.
Two other main highlights are external, tool-free adjustable lever reach and stroke. This allows for a nice degree of customization not only in feel, but also in how your brakes perform on the trail. The stroke dial (how far the lever comes inward to the grip) is located on the body near the lever pivot and the reach dial is nestled behind the lever. Total weight hovers a bit over 300 grams per wheel, depending on hose length, which is very light. Our brakes came with FSA’s cool, lightweight two-piece rotor with a forged aluminum carrier and narrower profile compared to the standard one-piece rotor.
Setup and installation were a snap and I was immediately impressed with how quickly the caliper moved into place around the rotor with zero pad rubbing on the first try for both the front and rear—a testament to some very true rotors. After a summer and winter of riding they have remained drag free and silent with zero maintenance or adjustment— simply amazing. Setting up the lever reach and throw was also hassle free. With the wide range of adjustment available, most every rider will be able to find their sweet spot for both. The reach tended to remain constant, yet as for the tiny lever-throw adjuster, its position and design is much harder to use compared to SRAM’s Guide RSC brakes; midway through a cold, wet winter, it became impossible to turn without the help of a tiny blade screwdriver.
The FSAs aren’t the strongest in brute stopping force compared to Shimano and SRAM Guides, and FSA readily admits that because the target audience is cross-country and average trail riding. Absolute on/off power also isn’t the only factor. FSA created a lot of controllable modulation into the K-Force brakes that makes slowing down intuitive from brain to finger. FSA also designed its brakes to begin pad movement instantaneously when the lever begins to move—a valid reason why throw adjustment is so important. If you grab a handful, they will stop you quickly. With all this in mind, I was able to maintain complete tire control in turns without locking up the rear wheel, and performance consistently remained predictable.
Ultimately, the K-Force’s customizable features allowed me to tailor my braking style to suit, and once that happened I never gave it another thought. As much as I like the feel at both levers and their overall performance, I will say they do fit only one application perfectly, and that’s cross-country riding and racing.