So the gents down at North Central Cyclery knew I was interested in the new SRAM Red 22 Hydro setup. Apparently, they were as excited as I was….because I received a call the first day that the kits hit the warehouse shelves. The next day, I was touching a groupset for the Moots. How’s that for service?
I’ve had SRAM Red Hydro on the Moots for about a week now. I didn’t run right out and write this blog post, because I wanted to get a few miles on it first, and provide a slightly more informed opinion. I’m clearly not ready to talk about long-term durability or reliability, but with a shade over 100 miles on it, in varying terrain, I am ready to start a dialogue. That dialogue goes something like this:
I’m a huge advocate of disc brakes on some drop bar bikes. With Illinois’ relative paucity of elevation changes and descents, I don’t need disc brakes on my Madone. But for the varied conditions that I put my Moots through (as the replacement for my Vaya), disc brakes make sense to me. They’re superior in rain and snow, they offer greater stopping power, better and more consistent modulation, greater durability, more flexibility in selecting rims, and a host of other benefits. I’m well aware of the contingent out there that talks about the stopping power of a “well-adjusted set of Cantis.” I think discs are superior in this application. But this isn’t a “disc v. canti” post, this is a disc v. disc post.
Before the Hydros, I was running Avid BB7s. I loved their functionality, but I had some criticisms of them. For starters, even with adjustment on both sides of the pad, I felt like I was always chasing the perfect tune. Too tight, and they’d stop like the dickens, but rub on the rotors. Too loose, and they’d be silent, but wouldn’t offer reassuring stopping power. When they got dirty, there was a lot of mechanism there to clean and lubricate. But when they were properly set up, they worked awesome, under many varying conditions.
In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that going from the partial housing of the Vaya to the full-length brake housing, front and rear, on the Moots, made an appreciable difference in the brake maintenance department. The full-length housing made the brakes more consistent in feel, and reduced the need for adjustment. If I were building another gravel/CX/whatever bike with cable-actuated disc brakes, there is no doubt that I’d demand full-length housing.
So we’ve established that: 1) I like disc brakes; and, 2) I wanted a more consistent brake that required less maintenance. I’ve written close to 20 blog posts over the past year talking about hydraulic disc brakes for drop bar bikes…and anxiously awaiting their release. The time is now. I had no complaints about the functionality of the SRAM Rival front derailleur, Red cranks, X0 Rear derailleur or XX cassette on the Moots…but to go to hydro brakes, I had to go to the new standard of 11 speed…which meant SRAM Red 22.
Instead of my usual, “glossy, clean bike” pics, I put in some miles first, and then shot the bike. It still looks dreamy.
Here are the hydro levers. They’re taller, sure…but not obtrusive.
Riding, I never notice a downside. On steep downhills, the extra vertical rise above the hoods is reassuring. The rest of the time, I don’t notice that it’s there.
Where the magic happens:
If you peel back the rubber cover, here is the fill/bleed port at the top.
Standard tightening mechanism. Note the hydro line going up to the brakes.
Very similar profile for your hand (compared to the ‘non-hydro’ Red on my Madone).
Brifter reach is tool-adjustable, without need for any spacers.
Whoa, she’s a hottie.
Brake line is detachable at the caliper, and the hose is detachable in the standard fashion (with a little brass ferrule to re-secure it under the pinch nut).
Red 22 Compact Cranks, 172.5mm
Red 11 speed rear derailleur, with barrel adjuster.
Cables are still full-length housing. Because they take standard ferrules, it’s easy to trim the brake lines (and easy to install them, as well).
Make Mine a…
So…about the brakes.
Cable-actuated disc brakes have more than enough power to lock up and buck you over the bars, when properly tuned. I don’t need more stopping power. I do want less maintenance and more modulation. The Hydros provide both. What I will do is compare the Hydros to a perfectly-adjusted set of mechanical brakes.
The brakes modulate incredibly progressively over their full range of brake lever travel. When you clamp on them, they provide full brake power…but the ability to gradually add or subtract power is great on limestone, gravel, wet grass, etc. Their modulation is superior (i.e. more linear and gradual) than mechanical disc brakes. They offer the same great stopping power wet or dry, like mechanical brakes. They are completely consistent and repeatable, even when hammering them again and again down the steepest hills in the area. They are incredibly confidence-inspiring, and feel great. I cannot imagine a way of improving upon the modulation and feel. I was a bit concerned that they would be too touchy–that a tiny amount of brake lever throw would generate a huge brake reaction. That’s not the case. The full range of lever travel is useable–and that contributes to the great modulation.
My assumption above is that I’m comparing to perfectly adjusted mechanical brakes. That is a relatively challenging/rare condition. To have mechanical brakes them perfectly adjusted, you have to have tight tolerances (because only one pad moves). That makes them prone to getting out of adjustment. The hydros, with both pads moving, have no such issues. Also, because they are hydro, they are self-clearancing. A warped rotor can push the pad back, so it doesn’t rub. Mechanical brakes cannot do that.
To adjust the mechanical disc brakes, you…
1) True rotor; 2) loosen 2 mounting bolts for calipers; 3) loosen mounting screw for brake cable; 4) take up adjuster slack in brake cable; 4) adjust inside of caliper; 5) adjust outside of caliper; 6) crank caliper down tight; 7) tighten mounting bolts; 8) readjust inside of caliper; 9) readjust outside of caliper; 10) apply tension to brake cable, and try to tighten the mounting screw just right; 11) test; 12) start back at #2 and try again.
To adjust the hydros, you…
1) True rotor. Once in a great while. If it’s really bad and needs it.
That’s it. The Hydros have a huge advantage over the mechanical disc brakes. HUGE. I believe they will be even more versatile than the mechanical discs, because they will be more consistent in adverse conditions. And to clean them, it’s just hosing them down. No need to disassemble, clean, degrease, clean again, re-grease, and reassemble.
In short, the Hydros have thus far shown to be everything that I had hoped they would be. I have no complaints and no suggested upgrades.
That brings us to the SRAM Red 22 drivetrain.
From a shifting perspective, it’s like butter. My comments on the ‘regular’ SRAM Red apply. It shifts smoothly and with a really nice-feeling mechanical precision. It’s tactile, and easy to use. Even trying to throw challenging situations at it, there are no missed shifts. Wanna cross-chain? Go ahead. No trimming necessary.
What about the 11 speed cassette? Well, with an extra gear on there, I’m riding 10% faster now. That’s really all it takes. One more gear makes you faster.
All kidding aside, I have made a significant change in gearing. I still have a 50/34 crank, but I’ve gone from an 11-32 cassette with 10 gears to an 11-28 cassette with 11 gears. With the ten speed cassette, I had a lot of gear range. Dropping down to 34/32, you could grunt up anything. I’ve come to believe that I can do the same thing with 34/28…and the times when I’m fully geared out are so infrequent as to be somewhat irrelevant. (The only time I’ve done that this year was at Almanzo). The middle gears are the ones I use more…and in that useful range, the 11 speed is great. The gear spread is much, much closer, and that makes hopping between gears useful. Let’s compare gears. The ten speed is on top, and the 11 speed is on bottom.
11 12 13 15 17 19 22 25 28 32
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 22 25 28
The addition of the extra mid-range gears is much more useful for my riding than the extra 32 bailout gear. And if you need the bailout gear, you can get a Wi-Fli cassette that drops the 16t gear and adds the 32t.
So what’s my thoughts on the 11 speed?
If you’re buying a new drivetrain, go 11 speed. It’s great. But is it soooo great that I’m going to sell my group and go 11 speed on the Madone? No. Not at this time. I do think the 11 speed is the wave of the future, and will continue gaining acceptance. I don’t see a downside to it. The difference in complication is pretty minimal, and is greatly outweighed by the convenience of either having a lower gear or a closer gear spread. Function is perfect, as you’d expect from a premium drivetrain offering.
The SRAM Red Hydro 22…is everything I had hoped it would be. Mark me down as an enthusiast.
And the Moots? I don’t know where it could possibly go from here. Moots frame and stem, ENVE bars and rims, SRAM Red 22 Hydro drivetrain/brakes, Ergon saddle, DTSwiss hubs and Ti Skewers, Sapim CxRay spokes, Eriksen Sweetpost, King Cages. It’s the pinnacle of this type of bike. And it’s from North Central Cyclery.