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.