Review: Brake Force One

Brakes

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.

Setup
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.

Extras
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.

Roots
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.

Technology
Closed System
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.

Brake Booster
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.

Riding Impressions

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.

Value
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

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.


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  • Roger says:

    YIKES! At $1k, it better come with a happy ending! The technology and ergo looks great, but the price is way too much.

  • Justin says:

    First hand reports of these in the brakes forum. They didn’t last long on the bike before they were replaced with something else. Not a good brake, especially at that price point.

  • joules says:

    “. Due to the closed system one has to constantly adjust the lever dial to compensate for fluid expansion…”

    it’s almost like there’s a reason every other brake on the market is open system with reservoir. I like the “needs constant pad adjustment” listed as a feature.

  • Mindless says:

    Is there enough idiots in the world to pay $1K for a system inferior to $250 set of Shimano XT?

    • Jon says:

      Paid $550 for mine. If BFO comes out with an open system lever this will be a great brake, the caliper with an internal booster valve is a superior system to Shimano’s servo wave.

    • Reformed Roadie says:

      Have you been on the weight weenie forum? People will pay ridiculous amounts for parts that are functionally inferior to save a few grams.

  • Ian Settlemire says:

    The price is a joke. Amazing people would pay that much when XT/XTR are lightweight, powerful and proven. Is it just me or does anyone else think MBTR are being lazy when they just regurgitate the company’s lame marketing jargon. Why not skip all that BS and post their own opinions and results AFTER they review it? Getting too cozy with the advertisers…

  • Francis says:

    >>s it just me or does anyone else think MBTR are being lazy when they just regurgitate the company’s lame marketing jargon. Why not skip all that BS and post their own opinions and results AFTER they review it?

    We’re just doing an unboxing/preview article and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s instant and it helps us guage interest on feedback on a product before and and as we test it. It’s actually pretty informative hearing the comments out.

    We’ll do a mid-term and long-term report on this one.

  • sean says:

    how does it have a hydro booster in the caliper if everything seems to be fixed? Wouldn’t something need to be able to rotate with the force of the rotor to add pressure?
    It probably works, I just want to see how. maybe there is a cutout drawing on their website. I have an Idea for a self energizing caliper, but it would require a 2 piece caliper, where the first half is cable actuated and when applied it is forced into a pair of hydraulic cylinders which feed the pistons that squeeze the pads. It would be hard to make small and light enough though.

    • sean says:

      well, from looking at their website, and other articles, it looks like they increase brake force by using two stage hydrailics(small piston moves first for taking up gap, then large piston applies high force), and not really a booster(self energizing). It seems that the lack of resistance in 2nd stage gives no feedback for modulation though, hence the marketing terminology of distance(displacement) based application, as compared to force based. Basically this means you have no feeling of lever getting stiffer as brake is applied harder and harder. They falsely state that this is how car brakes are. Maybe on an overboosted large american car or pickup, but any good car brake system has pressure sensitive modulation for threshold braking.

  • Steve says:

    Full Disclosure – I work for the BFO North American Importer Distributor, IBEX Sports.

    We’ve been testing these brakes since late April 2012. We’ve put them through rigorous use under classic New England conditions, mud, dust, rain, roots, rocks, steeps, you name it. We’ve even got an XC race win on them! These brakes are the best system I have personally used or worked on going back to the first disc systems in the bike industry. The power and modulation is amazing. Bleeding, hose repair, and assembly is super easy. No squealing or rubbing disc/pads just like it says above, no it’s not marketing BS, it’s really true! The Avid and Hayes systems that I have used over the years squeal like crazy, especially when the get wet. These are super quiet.

    Price, yes, they are expensive, but what people don’t realize is, it is super expensive to land them here in the US. We can’t just give them away for peanuts, everyone gets a fair share at making money, importer, and dealer. These are designed, engineered and hand assembled in Germany! They are not made in China or Taiwan. We’ve kept the MSRP as low as possible and we wouldn’t have started importing them if we felt they were of poor quality or lacking in performance. We work with companies and products we can stand behind and believe in, this product and company sets that bar even higher. BFO have been super to deal with and in time we feel the brand will speak for it’s self as folks start using them.

    We’re thankful that MTBR is doing this review.
    Cheers,
    Steve

  • Andrew says:

    @ Steve: but of course you’d say that! :-)

    I like the looks, especially the huge bolt on the lever. I snapped two of those exact same xt levers in the pic like twigs and there was no way to put them back on without buying a whole new brake set. I do question the need for the rubber on the lever though… Those are bound to wear off and collect dirt.

  • Beverly says:

    @mtbr When will the final review be published? You can’t still be revelling after the holiday weekend! Time to work off the pumpkin pie boys – hop to it! We’re all waiting…

  • JC says:

    Is there any update on the this review?

  • Eric says:

    A simple design, standard materials, and a easily copied design without infringing on a patent. Anyone who pays the to $1,000 per set is like the 1st people to buy LED TV’s at the initial high price. Once the mold and R&D costs are recovered by the manufacture, their price along with competition from the Japanese and the UK will drive this brake set down to a more realistic cost of about $300 for a set within a year or two. so, if you can, buy them NOW, so I can get them for $300 later. Thanks!!

  • Roger says:

    “Setup- 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.”

    If that doesn’t scare you, the price$$$$ will!

  • Mindless says:

    I bought a pair of Deore 596 (now with servo wave cam) for under $100. They work just as well as XTR Trail and XT on my other bike. And much better than anything that Avid can produce. Really. That include XX, or that junk Ultimates or anything.

    They are on a heavier side, but for $900 you can buy a lighter wheelset instead.

    Or get lighter Formula RX, tune it with titanium hardware, that are also great (though more difficult to adjust) for around $200.

    Heck, one can find XTR Trail for well under $500 online, including Ice Tech rotors.

    $1000 for a pair of boutique brakes that do not stop you any better than Shimano Deore is insane.

  • Wish I Were Riding says:

    “Strong, light, cheap.”

    They’ve made their choices. ;-)

  • Clawhammer says:

    Used an early (2012) set of these for the last 6 months. Power: too much too handle, and that is the entire problem, if this braking power could be modulated like on a Formula T1 or a Shimano XTR, this would be an epic win. But the lever feel just isnt there, it’s very sponge like. Have to pull (despite my efforts to improve this) all the way to the bar and you just feel there is still more “play” in the lever, making you doubt why you did not feel a more agressive bite. Game changes if you pull them hard instantly. (like in an emergency) almost flew over the handlebar, it ate all of the 150mm of front suspension and a ton of rubber (pavement.) The lack of modulation/firm lever feel decided me to look for something else. Also the habit of pushing the lever out after braking was getting on my nerves.) Maybe the new version with clear/multi color hosing are better, but unless someone gives me a set to test again, I’m not going to buy them. Not even on my upcoming and phateticly expensive Nicolai project. ($10k and counting) Exotic stuff is always fun, but I learned that brakes are not the components to take risk with. Paid 850 euro’s for my last set, could almost have bought 2 sets of T1′s for that amount. Hoping somebody at BFO jumps up. After all: a white set with red or glow in the dark hoses would look killer… :)

  • Nicolas says:

    I bought a pair of 2012 Brakes (red, updated ones) for 500$. Initially I wanted to go for Formula R1 race or XX, but I wanted to have a trouble-free, good looking brake.
    I was not so much concerned about brake power, since I planned to use it on a race hardtail. So far, I am happy with them, only the 1-finger brake lever feels a bit strange at the beginning.

    Yes, could have bought a cheaper XT brake instead, but hey, they don’t look as terrific on my titanum bike… (see picture on http://www.db.tt/U0Gs0twz)
    And compared to the highend models of the big brands, they are not that pricy anymore.

  • The Truth says:

    I had the chance to test the brake for some days and i must say, i was not impressed.

    German speaking visitors might be interested in reading the whole article i wrote about the BFO. For the others, i’ll try to write a short review on that brake here.

    Article: http://www.rund-ums-rad.info/13302/testbericht-zur-brake-force-one/

    Straight to the point: I cannot recommend anyone to buy that brake.
    It is absolutely not satisfying to ride, and it is rather expensive. Probably the most expensive brake on the market, but i am not sure about that.

    Anyways, the struggles i had with the brake mainly came from the levers.
    The levers are not worth the plastic they are made of – they look cheap, and they feel cheap. Really clumsy, really unprecise to operate and really uncomfortable.
    The pivot is way to far away from the bar and the lever is too short, sothat the braking finger will be pulled aside when the lever is pulled (also see picture in the article). It hurts after a while and you loose efficiency, because the line of force is moved towards the pivot and the momentum decreases. Less effort? I dont think so…

    Besides that, the levers made me hold the bar in a weak position (ellbows turned in), which makes it hard to enjoy riding down rough tracks.

    On my first (!) ride in the forest, the levers jammed and refused to move back after braking. The heavy rain generated a rather liquid mud, which got stuck between the lever and the body and caused obviously too much friction. I never had that kind problem with any of my avids or formulas and I have never heared about this beeing an issue amongst any of the common manufacturers’ products.

    The brake’s power was acceptable but not extraordinary high (SLX with Hope Discs work better for me).

    Greets

    • ypocat says:

      I’m riding these brakes and they are pretty awesome. I had none of the ergonomics issues you describe. They even were OK with the XX1 gripshift, which I was afraid they will be too short for. (And had they been, one can buy two-finger levers for the 2013 model.)

      The only downside is the rather weak (but light) lever material, which will probably break on a crash impact. But then, you can buy a replacement pair for 60 euro (you can use both levers to replace either side, since these brakes have universal lever.)

  • Mountain says:

    I’d like it if the article covered how these compare weight-wise to the competition. When you step up from MT6 to MT8, the primary benefit is the reduction in weight, otherwise they’re the same brake. So do these have any weight benefit to justify their higher price? I already have more than enough one-finger braking power with my current brakes.

  • Thats It says:

    @The Truth…
    Maybe I am not able to understand your article perfectly. but it seems to me that you tested an older version of this brake..?
    This review is about the new 2013 version of the brake, so what you wrote has nothing to do with this brake…?

  • The Truth says:

    You are right, the article is about the 2012 version of the brake. Due to the technology and the ergonomy of the levers (i have hold the 2013 in my hands) they did not change a lot. The levers may not jam anymore, because they used longer bolts now, thats an improvement.

    I am not saying, the idea or the system is bad in general; most of all my issues with that brake origine the style of the levers. The pivot is way to far away and the lever is relatively short, resulting in a circular movement of the lever. You can change the lever from one finger to a two finger lever, but that will cost you 159 €, which is quite a lot in my opinion. Maybe the problem is somehow a question of my own anatomy, though i dont think my fingers work much different compared to others.

  • The Truth says:

    I will try to test the 2013 version, maybe my first impression comes out to be wrong.

  • Jonathan says:

    I’ll stay with my BB7 thank you very much. What’s all the fuss about modulation anyway. Modulation is modulation. Can you modulate ? Yes, then FINE. Never understood the hydro gang on that one.

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