We’ve had about a dozen rides on this brake system and we are ready to utter a few words about them. Powerful, modulates well, exotic and expensive. End of story. If you want to know more, then read on.
The brake lever is one-finger optimized so it is short and needs to be brought in close to the grip. There is a carbon fiber strap that needs to be tightened with two bolts to attach the lever securely. Care has to be taken to alternate between the two bolts while torquing down or one can snap the carbon strap.
The big knob is for contact point adjustment and should be set up (by personal preference) to optimize the point at which the lever travel will result in contact between the pad and the rotor. Unfortunately, in some settings, this affect the lever return and lever will not return to its neutral position as freely.
The manufacturer advised us to move in the reach-adjust to compensate and get the lever returning to neutral in a more enthusiastic manner. This change worked, however it altered the reach setting that we had dialed in to our liking.
We cut our brake cables to the perfect length and got familiarized with the bleeding procedure of the Brake Force One. It is a ‘closed system’ that uses mineral fluid so proper bleed is important. But luckily, the brake lines are clear. So one knows exactly when the brake line bubbles are gone.
The calipers are powdercoated with very fancy colors and the painter is reportedly a very prestigious aftermarket auto-industry shop in Germany. The striking thing about these brakes is the lines are clear so the brake fluid is visible. Brake Force One allows the consumer to customize the color of their brake fluid so that is a nice touch for the ultimate color-coordinated bike.
In Europe, this brake is getting a tidal wave of attention not only because of its innovation but because of its innovative founder, Jakob Lauhoff. Jakob invented the brake when he was thirteen years old and when he was seventeen, he founded the company Brake Force One. Banking on his genius, a successful businessman Frank Stollenmaier funded the operation to get the company going. Regardless of wether the brakes will be a commercial succes or not, folks can’t really argue about the innovation that derived from young Jakob’s mind. The world can hardly wait for Jakob’s next inventions and ideas.
An open system uses a resevoir to compensate for fluid expansion when the fluid heats and expands, closed systems don’t have a resevoir. With closed systems the pads get pushed up against the rotor when the fluid heats and expands. A diaphram in the master cylinder aids in the expansion with open systems. Almost all bike brake systems today are open brake systems for this reason. So the closed system of the Brake Force One is a bold and risky proposition. The bleed needs to be perfect and temperature has to be dissipated before it can affect brake fluid expansion. As for upsides, the caliper contact point can be controlled and adjusted more easily. One of riders’ greatest frustrations with open systems is the distance between the pad and the rotor cannot be adjusted and rotor rub is a constant annoyance.
With the brake in action, there is ample space between the pads and the rotor, that’s the key to being able to use a closed system with no expansion reservoir. Typical master cylinders have a small bladder (as in open systems) that expands to make room for more fluid volume as things heat up. Brake Force One’s brakes simply let the pads move in a bit closer when things get hot, and the extra space between pads and rotor makes this possible without the dreaded brake rub where the pad contacts the rotor even when not in use.
The plunger in the master cylinder is a massive 16mm in diameter and this pushes fluid into the caliper, which is required in order to move the pads far enough to make contact. The normal trade-off for pads that moved in quickly would be less stopping power.
Once the pads make contact, pulling the lever deeper into the stroke starts moving the outer part of the stepped piston forward, closing the inside off as it hits the “top hat”. This essentially closes off the fluid facing the brake pads and attempts to compress it, making them squeeze the rotor harder. This is where the power comes from.
During the first part of the stroke, the oil flows into a small port in the caliper, around a “top hat” and into the chambers behind the pistons. This moves the pads in quickly but with little force at the beginning of the stroke. The spring you see in the system pushes the piston back as you let off the brakes, which helps forcefully retract the pads far away from the rotors. The pads are pushed by 22m diameter pistons.
So here in lies the genius of the Brake Force One brakes. The pads sit far from the rotor and a two stage piston drives it to the rotor quickly then a brake booster slows it down and translates it to big braking power. Finally, a spring retracts the pads away from the rotor when the lever is released.
Break In Period
We installed these brakes, took it to a nearby hill, climbed and descended to test the power of these brakes. We came away disappointed. The brakes felt soft and felt like they had no power. “Uh-oh,” we thought. “Another expensive product that doesn’t work.” So we looked at the manual, did some research and realized that the brake requires a real ‘bedding-in’ procedure. ‘Bedding-in’ is the process of mating the brake pad to the brake rotor surface and transferring some of the pad material to the rotor. We did this by going on a high speed run of about 20 mph and then slamming on the brakes. Do that for each rotor and we were thoroughly tired. But one can really feel the power of the brakes increase with each pass.
Do you ever wonder why your car brakes feel different from your bike brakes? On your Shimano XT brakes, you hit the pad when the lever is about halfway down then the lever doesn’t really move that much anymore. You modulate the brake by exerting more force on the lever as it stays in relatively the same position.
In your car, you hit the brake pad to the rotor almost immediately when you depress the brake pedal. But then brake pedal movement occurs almost all the way to the floorboard as you keep pressing on the pedal. The effort to push the pedal increases a bit but most of the braking force is determined by how far you press the pedal. This brake pedal travel enables modulation. The farther you press, the harder it brakes. That’s why a car brake is so much easier to modulate than a bike brake. You make contact very quickly but then you have all that brake travel to modulate the braking force.
That sensation is key to how the Brake Force One system actuates. You make contact pretty quickly with the lever and then the lever can sink all the way down to the handlebar almost as braking power is increased. On the ride though, we never got the levers close to the bar as there was way too much power already that a skid would be induced before then. So the system was actually easy to modulate. The brake power is modulated by brake lever travel, just like the car. The fact that the system is so powerful can initially mask the fact that it is easy to modulate.
So in the most important areas of power and modulation, the Brake Force One system delivers. And it is indeed true that only one finger is needed to bring any speeding bike to a modulated halt. Riders who prefer to use two fingers though will not have any option (like all other brands) as two fingers simply will not fit in the one-finger cradle of the lever.
The fundamental problem of this brake is performance per dollar. Just like with an S-Works bike, a Bentley or a Pagani, the buyer seeking to maximize value per dollar will be disappointed. This is an R&D intensive product with limited volume so the economies of scale are not at work here. Couple that with German labor, Euro to dollar conversion and the American consumer will end up looking at an exotic component purchase.
The other problem is they are encountering a category that is experiencing a Shimano phoenix. Shimano realized a few years ago that their brakes were not competitive so they revamped every component of their XTR system. Then they brought it down to XT and SLX level. So Brake Force One is not only competing now with the Shimano XTR brake but also the SLX which sports about the same performance as the XTR.
Is this system more powerful than Shimano XTR? Yes, we think so and elaborate tests by a Velotech lab in Germany confirm that. It seems to be 20-30% more powerful from what we can decipher. XTR and SLX though are so darn powerful that you don’t really need any more power. What the brake Force One does is allow you to use one less force, aka one finger.
We talk about Shimano a lot here but the true high-end competition for these brakes are:
Magura MT8 – $800
Formula R1 -$900
Sram XX -$740
All are expensive brakes but with a line of more price-sensitive models that share the same technology.
So the buyer cannot be the value-conscious comparison shopper. The buyer needs to be one that is looking for the exotic brake that looks cool, offers technology that actually works and is rare so he will be the envy of all.
So bottom line is these brakes are not a great value, require long break in, require commitment to one-finger braking and a different feel from the rest of the market. But beyond that, it looks absolutely trick and exotic and it actually works. The brake is the most powerful one we have used and one can actually control it quite easily. The power and modulation of this brake is the key innovation it brings to market.
As far as US distributors and retailers are concerned, the customer is in good hands. The US distributor is Ibex Sports at http://www.ibexsports.com/ and they have been bringing European brands to the US (Exposure Lights) and have always taken very good care of the customer. And for retail, Competitive Cyclist sells these brakes and the professionalism and integrity of Competitive Cyclist is second to none http://www.competitivecyclist.com