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· Out spokin'
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
There's been an ongoing debate about which brakes are the most powerful. I can tell you from experience that the answer is the brake with the largest diameter rotor, regardless of piston size, brake brand, how much they cost, blah, blah. You want a more powerful brake? Buy larger rotors.

My brake quest recently took me to Shimano Saint brakes and 220mm rotors (which are 2mm thick). These items are mounted on an XL Canfield Lithium (163mm travel) with a Manitou Mezzer Pro fork (180mm travel).

It's unreal. I weigh 185# out of the shower and I typically wear a 10-15# Wingnut backpack that carries 3 liters of water plus shock pump, spare sealant, plug kit, spare tube, emergency overnight gear, emergency medical supplies, other bike supplies (spare links, valve core, blah, blah) plus a plethora of bike tools. It's heavy. It's saved my butt as well as other's butts on occasion. So to me, it's worth it.

Anyway my point is that between myself plus my 37# bike plus my gear, it's a heavy load. Gravity has a profound effect as weight increases. Some cyclists prioritize lightweight frames & components -- I'm not one of them. I prioritize ultimate performance and stuff that doesn't break. I've broken stuff before. Plenty of times. Hopefully I'm done breaking parts, lightweight or otherwise. I want brakes with the power to control my conglomeration during free fall. I also don't care about rolling resistance. My tires are as aggressive as I can find, rolling resistance be damned. I don't ever want to lose that front tire's connection to the trail.

I'm fastidious about bike setup -- brakes, drivetrain, suspension, everything. So I had high expectations for this braking setup. Those expectations were met.

A couple weeks ago I read a thread in this very forum where someone was putting Shimano brakes down because, compared to say, SRAM brakes, Shimanos have less modulation. That poster said that this becomes more of a problem at speed. Well, this is exactly wrong. As speed increases, so does modulation. The "on/off" feel of Shimano brakes goes away as speed increases. If anyone doesn't believe this, go find a singletrack where you can hit 30mph -- you'll find it's true. Brakes become more on/off the slower we go.

Several of my riding buddies are very fast and pretty fearless. I can still hang with them but the process of trying to do so has forced me to look for advantages anywhere I can find them. I'll take gear that goes as far as possible in the direction of increasing that performance advantage. (Talking human powered bikes here. :) )

Enough babbling. The point is that Saint brakes with 220mm rotors are exactly what I was looking for. Before I got the Saints, I was running SLX 2-piston calipers with the jumbo rotors and these were, honestly, nearly as powerful as the Saints. With just 2 pistons! But they didn't handle the 2mm thick rotors very well. The Saints have no problem with thicker rotors and the power delivery is, in my opinion, perfect.

An interesting thing happened as I transitioned from 203mm rotors to the 220s. I learned to stop using my front brake. I thought doing so would lead to skidding but I was surprised to find that I can use a lot more rear brake than I expected without skidding when I'm not employing the front brake. This made sense when I stopped to think about it -- when I put my front brake on, my weight is shifted forward, unweighting the rear wheel. Of course it's easier to skid when the rear wheel is lighter. So now I use the rear brake exclusively unless or until I simply have to engage the front brake (which still happens a lot.) But having amazing braking power allows me to employ just the rear brake for most speed control situations and this really contributes to improved overall handling.

Another benefit is this: my suspension works better. Until I changed my braking technique, I never realized how much my front brake was locking out my front suspension. Again, upon reflection, of course this is true. Front braking loads the fork which results in poorer front suspension performance. Want better suspension feel? Get off the front brake. Even when things get hectic, the handlebar stays quiet. At least quieter.

Just don't skid. If you're like me, you'll find you won't skid -- even if you stay off that front brake -- if you don't want to. Any experienced mountain biker can tell when his wheel is about to lock up and immediately prior to that point is when I reach for the front brake.

This bike is a bruiser. It deserves brakes this good.
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=sParty
 

· BOOM goes the dynamite!
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Interesting. Not sure what to make of the front/rear observations, but I may experiment a bit next time I'm out before completely forgetting and just having fun as usual.

Side note: What happened to your old SLX? :)
 

· Out spokin'
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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Interesting. Not sure what to make of the front/rear observations, but I may experiment a bit next time I'm out before completely forgetting and just having fun as usual.

Side note: What happened to your old SLX? :)
I have another bike equipped with Deore 4-pots. The lever blade on those brakes is longer -- I don't like the longer levers. So I put the SLX levers on that bike. Now I have a mismatched set of Deore levers / SLX 2-pot calipers in my parts bin. Awaiting some future frankenbike need or... available if you're interested. :)
=sParty
 

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I have another bike equipped with Deore 4-pots. The lever blade on those brakes is longer -- I don't like the longer levers. So I put the SLX levers on that bike. Now I have a mismatched set of Deore levers / SLX 2-pot calipers in my parts bin. Awaiting some future frankenbike need or... available if you're interested. :)
=sParty
Funny you mention Frankenbikes - I was just looking for something to throw onto my old 26er hardtail to play around/getting groceries/winter (it also still doesn't have wheels, lol). Too bad I also don't like the longer levers. But no worries. :)

Speaking of mix n match, I finally assembled my first "Shigura" on the front of the main bike. SLX levers + MT Thirty caliper = VERY good performance. I don't know if it's the Magura pads or what, but IMHO it's better than the Shimano MT501 it replaced by quite a bit (still using that on the rear for now). I only use 180/180 rotors, but we don't have the long descents like where you're from so no real worries about fade. I just tested them out on a few of the steepest places I could find and the only limiting factor was the tires (and possibly my skill). It's been a while since I had my old Codes, but the power reminds me of those with ever so slightly more on-off due to the Servo levers.
 

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The only issue with reducing your front brake use is when you get to certain types of trails. There are trails in Queenstown and Rotorua where you're on the front brake, a lot. They aren't the kind of trails you can let go, that said there are plenty of high speed trails with catch berms or corners.
I had M675 SLX brakes before my Saints, and getting the Saints only highlighted how good the SLXs were. There was a only a minimal increase in strength, and even then it was more in the I'm-in-deep-****-and-need-more-brake situations.
 

· Out spokin'
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Smarty - how tall are you?
That's a tall stack and big time riser bars.
Super capable looking rig.
I used to be 6'3"... now I'm 6'1". :(
Gravity always wins...
+3" ape index, 36" inseam, so long arms & legs.
The bars are +50mm and that's an uncut steerer.
I could fit on a large but I prefer a frame with a long wheelbase so... XL for me. Short stem, saddle all the way forward... I'm in heaven.
=sParty
 

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I am switching to 203 mm shimano rotors front and rear, rather than 203 on front and 180 on rear for my 180/169mm Balance for pretty much these reasons. I was inspred by the enduro mag article though. I don't think I want 180mm rotor on the rear anymore and instead even out my brakes rather than only rely on the 203 in front so heavily. Soon all my all mountain, enduro and DH bikes will be 203 front/rear. I am 5'8 and weigh less so 203 is ample, just gotta get rid of the 180mm.
I hope to try bleeding with redline likewater and see if it's any good soon.
 

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A few years ago I rode a trail with one of my friends after work. He's a much more serious mountain biker than myself. When we got back to the vehicles he told me to hop on his bike and give it a try. He had some kind of Specialized, but I don't know what brakes he was using, only that they were hydraulic. I used mechanical disc brakes on mine. I literally took about 2 cranks around of the pedals and was only going fast enough to keep my balance; I grabbed the brakes and almost went over the handlebars. I couldn't believe the stopping power. Is this what is meant when people say on/off? There was no in-between. I don't know how a person would get used to that. Thank goodness I wasn't moving at any speed.

I installed some Shimano MT-410 brakes on my bike over the weekend to take the plunge into hydraulics. I was going to get some SLX the other year when I wanted to try it, but I talked myself into going with something cheaper first, especially until I learn how to do everything myself with hydraulics. The 410's don't send me over the bars but I like the feel of the levers. There's a slow down and then a stop to them, not just an immediate stop.
 

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I couldn't believe the stopping power. Is this what is meant when people say on/off? There was no in-between. I don't know how a person would get used to that. Thank goodness I wasn't moving at any speed.
It depends. Sometimes I get in a rental car and the brakes are much more sensitive than my car's brakes. You simply get used to it. But if you have come from brakes that need a bit more force, then big brakes and rotors will feel like a shock.

I had similar thing when a friend with hydraulic brakes, but needed all four fingers to use (awful, awful brakes), she got on my bike and immediately put all four fingers on the levers, I had to tell her that only one finger was required!
 

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It depends. Sometimes I get in a rental car and the brakes are much more sensitive than my car's brakes. You simply get used to it. But if you have come from brakes that need a bit more force, then big brakes and rotors will feel like a shock.

I had similar thing when a friend with hydraulic brakes, but needed all four fingers to use (awful, awful brakes), she got on my bike and immediately put all four fingers on the levers, I had to tell her that only one finger was required!
To be honest I've always been an "all fingers" braker. BMX, ATV, MTB
 

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To be honest I've always been an "all fingers" braker. BMX, ATV, MTB
Now you know!!

One finger for brakes. The rest to hang on. To be fair mountainbike brakes are probably disproportionately powerful for their role. That said on my partner's KTM Duke I can't stand the massive brake and clutch levers, I realise one finger is tricky with gloves but I'd much rather something closer to my mountainbike brakes.
 

· Elitest thrill junkie
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220 on the front has been great for me, finally no crazy bad glazing-over and brake over-heating issues on real steep terrain. Got a new 223 2.3mm coming in the mail soon to replace the front 220 2.0. The idea is even more heat dissipation and the 2.3 width is a little closer to what my brake is intended to run.

It's kind of "you know if you need it" thing. If you ride a place with lots of grade reversals or not much steep stuff, even if you have real tech or real hard terrain, it may just not be on your radar, rightly so. But for me, wow, what a difference with the bigger front rotor. All the steep slabs I did in Whistler, especially across the valley, were just great with so much control.
 

· Out spokin'
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
OK, earlier today I tried only using the rear brake on a hardpack chattery section. Slowing down was...slow, though I did manage to not skid. And that's the end of that chapter of my life. Gonna practice stoppies some time soon.
I wouldn't have discovered my new lay-off-the-front-brake technique if I hadn't been forced to go there. But I was forced to go there because with these new hyper-stoppers, I kept slowing down too much for every corner. I found that employing the front brake was the prime culprit in my newfound inability to carry speed like I used to, so I decided to try keeping my finger away from the dang front brake lever altogether. Little did I know this new technique would work so well.

But then maybe it only works well with uber-mega-hyper-stopper brakes?
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I wouldn't have discovered my new lay-off-the-front-brake technique if I hadn't been forced to go there. But I was forced to go there because with these new hyper-stoppers, I kept slowing down too much for every corner. I found that employing the front brake was the prime culprit in my newfound inability to carry speed like I used to, so I decided to try keeping my finger away from the dang front brake lever altogether. Little did I know this new technique would work so well.

But then maybe it only works well with uber-mega-hyper-stopper brakes?
=sParty
No idea. My front is only uber-hyper-stopper (I equate mega with the mega rotor, so if that's incorrect please accept my sincerest apologies). The rear...well, it'll likely get a Magura 2-pot at some point unless I come across something else. Also, I'm running half worn Vittoria Barzos so a bit light in the grip department. As soon as more leaves fall I'll likely swap back to the DHF clones till Spring thaw and re-test if I still remember...wait, what were we talking about again?
 

· Ride More - Suffer Less
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Good stuff...I have been running Saints for several years 203/180 and have to agree with the better feel at higher speed. They can get be a bit grabby on slower speed techy trails, which I do ride quite a bit.

Recently I moved to Hayes Dominion A4 for as I get the best of both worlds, similar power (same rotor size) and a nice light feel, even at slower speeds. Nothing like spongy SRAM "modulation" but really nice brake feel with serious performance.

I run the ebike 203/203 and bike 203/180 but most likely move to the balanced setup for everything. Definitely been eyeballing the bigger rotors.
 

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Agree that bigger rotors help, but not all brakes are equal. I love my Saints on my Lithium (203mm Ice Tech rotors). I tried Codes on my last DH build (200mm rotors) and hated them. Same size rotors (essentially), and nowhere near the power of the Saints. Hands got fatigued from having to squeeze so hard trying to get anything out of them and I couldn't confidently come into things as fast because they didn't have the immediate power. Also had a had a chance to try Magura MT5 recently and was impressed. Plenty of power (also 200mm rotors). I'm 6'4" 220/225 for reference on an XL.

p.s. have you tried experimenting with fewer spacers under the stem? I know it feels "comfortable" for us big guys to be more upright when seated, but it will drastically improve handling/cornering with the stem lower. At 6'4" on my XL Lithium I only have one spacer...I'd have to double check, but I think it's a 15mm.
 

· Elitest thrill junkie
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Agree that bigger rotors help, but not all brakes are equal. I love my Saints on my Lithium (203mm Ice Tech rotors). I tried Codes on my last DH build (200mm rotors) and hated them. Same size rotors (essentially), and nowhere near the power of the Saints. Hands got fatigued from having to squeeze so hard trying to get anything out of them and I couldn't confidently come into things as fast because they didn't have the immediate power. Also had a had a chance to try Magura MT5 recently and was impressed. Plenty of power (also 200mm rotors). I'm 6'4" 220/225 for reference on an XL.

p.s. have you tried experimenting with fewer spacers under the stem? I know it feels "comfortable" for us big guys to be more upright when seated, but it will drastically improve handling/cornering with the stem lower. At 6'4" on my XL Lithium I only have one spacer...I'd have to double check, but I think it's a 15mm.
Yeah, you gotta separate out bite/power issues from heat/fade issues IMO. We have some incredibly steep extended DHs around here, average 45% grade for extended time. You are so far back the seat is in your chin. Good practice for slabs at Whistler. Anyway, I always had good bite with my XTs, but the stupid wandering bite point and cooking of the 203mm rotors were still issues, even though I had the "power" on the initial grab. Further down, I'd be barely hanging on and control was just very poor. Going to bigger thicker rotors fixed that. If you don't have the power, you'll have the same lack of control issue, so the end result is the same IME, but you definitely need both.
 

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p.s. have you tried experimenting with fewer spacers under the stem? I know it feels "comfortable" for us big guys to be more upright when seated, but it will drastically improve handling/cornering with the stem lower. At 6'4" on my XL Lithium I only have one spacer...I'd have to double check, but I think it's a 15mm.
I am same height / weight as you. I used to stack my stem with spacers but last 3 bikes (~2 years) have gone no spacers and get rise from bars if needed. I also enjoy the full reach of the frame this way.
Lower CG for sure lets your rail turns.
 
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