Friday Battle #1: Lightweight Brake Shootout
Welcome to the first of our weekly Friday Battles, where we pit three challengers against one another to determine who has the most outrageously fantastic products on the market. We decided to start this series by riding three of the world's best lightweight brakesets
from around the globe – one German, one Taiwanese, and one from the good ol' USA. What are we looking for in an ideal set of brakes? Well, overall stopping power is key, modulation (or the ability to precisely control braking force) is vital and often overlooked, and ease of setup is of course also a benefit. If you're a 250 lb Clydesdale, don't stop reading...one of the choices might be right for you. To find out which brakeset is best for you, let's go to the polls...
Our Three Challengers:
From deep in the heart of Germany comes a small family-run company that is totally dedicated to weight savings through carbon composite design. Petra, Marcus and Marco make up a unique and talented crew, producing some of the world's finest forks, cranksets, and of course brakes. What is unique about the THM Fibulas is the fact that the front and rear brakes are designed completely differently, to tackle the unique requirements that each component will face through its normal usage. This true dedication to proper engineering has endeared THM to Blacksmith Cycle and we are proud to be Canada's home for these unique products.
[caption id="attachment_1913" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Nearly entirely made out of carbon, and distinct front and rear mechanical functionality"]
We've been impressed with the performance of these brakes, particularly compared to some other full carbon options. Adequate braking power for even bigger riders, we've had one taller customer note INCREASED stopping power and better modulation than Campy Record. A stunning svelte appearance, and a design uniqueness that cannot be matched are aspects of the Fibulas that are worth RESPECT, as Ali G would say. A great choice for GranFondo riders, and super-light project bikes, though perhaps a bit delicate for uber-heavyweights or crit racers who rely on consistently strong braking pulls. Though they carry a hefty price tag at $975, their insane 125 gram TOTAL weight are worth the price of admission. Oh, and they can be ordered in matte or glossy...sweet.
From the heart of Germany we take a long flight to examine the interesting offerings from Taiwanese producer Far and Near. Though a relatively young company, F&N have already assembled an impressive array of products, from their anodized chainrings, to lightweight skewers and tuning kits. As the most reasonable priced brakeset in this shootout at $275, we had modest expectations from this small company, but came away mighty impressed. Jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none is perhaps the best way to describe these puppies. No they are not all that light (though they'll save you 30 grams over your Super Record stoppers), and no they will not stop an 18-wheeler on a dime (compared to the industry standard Dura Ace calipers), but yes they offer solid braking power, better than expected modulation, and come in a ridiculous range of colours.
[caption id="attachment_1912" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Clean, simple and they do the job for a sweet price!"]
With a weight under 260 grams, an easy quick release mechanism, and an overwhelming choice of hues (black, green, red, blue and even three national colour schemes for those with alliances to Germany, France or Italy), the Far & Near's were by far the best value in this shootout, and a great choice for those looking for something lighter and more unique than the Big 3 at a great price. KCNC is a similar Taiwanese option for those looking for lightweight alloy brakes, but we've been a bit more impressed with the finishing quality of Far & Near thus far and are sticking to them until a better option arises.
EE is admittedly an odd manufacturer, with prototypes of their alloy cranksets circling the internet for the past two years, yet still no production date in sight. And yet, they are intriguing all the while for with a devotion to perfect execution of their designs as a hallmark of their philosophy (thus explaining the wait). One product that you need not wait for, however, are the utterly unbelievable EE brakes, which have been quietly on the market for almost three years. Ok, let's address the elephant in the room first...these babies are ugly. Really ugly. In fact, they sat on my shelf for 6 months before I finally bolted them to my Cento Uno for a test run. And you know what? I now find them BEAUTIFUL to look at! Ok, maybe not aesthetically, but once tried, they have a functional beauty, evident in the uniqueness of their design, the purposefulness of their shape, and the utterly shocking performance that these little babies offer.
[caption id="attachment_1911" align="alignleft" width="768" caption="EE"]
Hands down, these brakes offer the best overall combination of value, weight, modulation and power. Yes, they are a bit tricky to get going at first, mostly because of the variety of setup options at your disposal, but once they are set they offer a truly outrageous combination – Shimano-like power, Campy-like modulation, and a weight that is far lower than both. They don't have the svelte carbon goodness of the THM's or the insane value of the Far & Near's, but pound-for-pound these are simply outstanding performers. The only problem? EE is a small company, with occasional production glitches which slow things down. But at $599, with a weight of 135 grams (and multiple colour options), these are a great choice for those looking to save weight without sacrificing performance.
Others worth mentioning:
Bram's M5 Alloy Brakes: perhaps the strongest brakes on the market in terms of raw stopping power and one of the most outrageous looking components around, Bram's M5 brakes still have several notable drawbacks – poor modulation, no quick release, suspect aerodynamics, and sketchy availability make these a tough pill to swallow for anyone but a Clydesdale looking for maximum stopping power in an uber-light brakeset.
Ciamillo (Zero Gravity) Brake Series: the most “mainstream” of the lightweight brake producers, Ciamillo have been building weight-savings calipers for over a decade. From their insanely light and sexy Gravitas carbons ($900), to their Zero Gravity titanium/alloy stoppers ($425) that have been an ultra-light build staple for years, Ciamillo has plenty of experience in this category. Add in custom colour options and their more robust Negative G brakeset ($325) and you get a wide range of brakes to suit most buyers. We have Gravitas brakes coming into stock next week, btw, so come check them out in person!
TRP Brake Series: if TRP sounds like a relative newcomer to your ears, perhaps you've heard of Tektro, their lower-end sister line. Nonetheless, TRP has steadily climbed the ultralight brakeset ladder with the increasing success of their 950 SL ($255), 960 Alloy ($300), and 970 Magnesium ($425) lineup. With looks and performance that is closer to Shimano and Campy than to the ultra-light options listed above, TRP makes lightweight brakes for the masses. The 960's are a bit spongy but offer great value and good weight, whereas the 970's up the ante in terms of both performance and weight savings – plus they come in a sexy white version.
Thanks for checking in as always, and be back next Friday for our Flandrian Classics Wheelset Battle