Review: SRAM Guide RSC brakes

SRAM's latest brakes a worthy competitor to Shimano

Brakes
The new Guide RSC is a worthy competitor to Shimano XT and XTR systems.

The new SRAM Guide RSC is a worthy competitor to Shimano XT and XTR systems.

The Lowdown: SRAM Guide RSC Brakes

SRAM Guide RSC brakes feature an all-new design, alleviating the bleeding and consistency woes of the predecessor Elixir product line. Featuring fully adjustable lever position and pad actuation, Guide RSC offers on-the-fly settings for even the most particular rider. A new SwingLink cam design delivers quicker lever take up with improved power modulation before rotor lockup. The new Centerline rotor is stronger with better heat resistance, also eliminating the dreaded warble noise associated with Avid brakes of old. And the integrated MatchMaker system enables all SRAM and RockShox cockpit controls to be mounted with just two clamps. Shimano should be nervous — SRAM Guide RSC brakes are every bit as good, and in some ways better, than the beloved XT and XTR brake lines.

For more back story, see the Guide RSC First Ride feature from May 2014.

Stat Box
Material: Forged aluminum Mount: Ambidextrous
Fluid: DOT 5.1 Weight: 375 grams per side (includes 160mm rotor)
Rotor Sizes (mm): 140, 160, 170, 180, 200 MSRP: $199 per side (with rotor)
Bolt Pattern: Six bolt Rating: 5 Flamin' Chili Peppers 5 Chilies-out-of-5
Pads: Metallic or organic

Pluses
Minuses
  • No more bleeding issues
  • Overcoming spotty reputation of predecessors
  • No more shing or warblewarble racket
  • Superior modulation
  • Independent lever reach and pad contact adjustment
  • Two clamps hold all SRAM and RockShox cockpit controls
  • Centerline rotor is strong and stays true

Full Review: SRAM Guide RSC Brakes

My biggest concern when bolting on a new set of SRAM Guide RSC (Reach adjust, SwingLink, Contact Point Adjust) brakes was how much of a sacrifice was I making by unbolting my beloved Shimano XTs. The Shimano M-785 XTs have been the best disc brakes I’ve ever owned, boasting incredible power, lever feel and fade resistance. And of course, the prior reputation of Elixir brakes under the SRAM banner didn’t inspire much confidence. I was making over/under bets with myself on how many weeks the Guide RSCs would last on my bike. The number was low.

The new Centerline brake rotor resists warping and eliminates unwanted warble noises under braking.

The new Centerline brake rotor resists warping and eliminates unwanted warble noises under braking.

Five months later, the Guide RSCs are still on my bike, completely by choice. They work. They work damn well in fact, and they don’t suffer from any of the shortcomings that their Elixir predecessors did. No bleed issues, no burnt rotors and no God-awful warbling noises under braking. All thanks to the fact that the Guide RSC lever and master cylinder design shares nothing in common with previous SRAM or Avid designs. What the Guide RSC does share in common though is downstairs, the powerful four-piston caliper design originally introduced on the XO Trail brake a few years ago.

As a testament to their durability, over a 420-mile, seven-day ride with nearly 60,000 feet of descending between Lake Tahoe and San Francisco, the Guide RSC brakes on my bike and the bikes of my two riding mates performed without a single issue or ear-curdling screech. The new Centerline rotor design is durable and stout with double the spokes (12 total) than the previous G3 rotor, for greater resistance to heat warp.

Simple, clean, integrated and great performance, Guide RSC brakes are outstanding performers.

Simple, clean, integrated and great performance, Guide RSC brakes are outstanding performers.

Another reason I am remiss to take the Guide RSCs off my bike is because of the exceptionally clean execution SRAM achieved with the MatchMaker bar clamp design. For me, the fewer mounts on a handlebar, the better. And because my bike is a singlespeed, simple and clean is a priority. SRAM achieves this by having a single clamp that can hold the brake lever, a shifter (if shifting is your thing), and a lockout or dropper post button. Because I was running a RockShox XLoc remote lockout for the RS-1 fork and a stealth Reverb dropper post, both buttons were mounted on the same clamps that the brake levers were. Another benefit of this design is because the master cylinder assembly has no clamp, they can be reversed on the fly if you suddenly get an urge to get all moto — or play a cruel trick on your friend.

Continue to page 2 for more on the SRAM Guide RSC brakes and full photo gallery »

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • Farmer Ted says:

    I guess I’ve never had the problems with Avids that the rest of the world has. I’ve been running Elixir CRs on one bike for 5 years and never had to touch them. Elixir 9s on another bike and same story. A pad and (sometimes) rotor swap cures any noise issues I’ve had.

    With that being said, I do actually like the lever feel and power of the Shimano brakes but am also spoiled by the matchmaker clamp system I have on my 2 main bikes. I’ve been eyeing the Guide brakes for some time, at least for the AM bike and have heard nothing but good reviews. I think it’s finally time to pick some up once I get a little extra $$.

    Thanks for the long term review.

  • Farmer Ted says:

    I’d also like to know opinions on whether the Guide RSC is worth the extra cash over the RS. I found the free stroke adjustment on older Shimano brakes (XT 775) to be pretty useless but have found it necessary on my Avid brakes to get the feel I want.

    I like the free stroke to be very minimal on my brakes. Can anyone with experience tell me what the free stroke (pad contact) point is on the RS? Or how much range of adjustment the RSC has in this regard?

  • Kit Basswood says:

    Ted, I’ve been running the RS version and it has just enough adjustment on the reach and feel for me–coming from XT brakes. Feel wise, the only brakes that feel nearly as good is the Maguras which I also run, but more for XC. These Guides have done nothing but impress me with their modulation and power. The other biggest improvement is the size of the lever. I hate the small lever of Shimano brakes for my big hands, where the Guides feel much more proportional.

  • Bman says:

    Farmer Ted, I like these brakes overall but I still don’t feel like the free stroke is good enough. Too much free stroke even when set dialed all the way in IMO.

  • Ben Kadas says:

    Great brakes, got a set last month, nicest riding brake I’ve ever had, worth the $$ for sure, none of the bad stuff we all remember from “those other brakes”.

    I really like the adjustability, you can choose to close up the pad gap, move the lever in and out independent of the pad gap, it’s so nice to have all that adjustment and failure free.

  • Farmer Ted says:

    Kit and Bman, thanks for your insight. I think a set of these are in my future…may just go with the RS as well.

  • Cooper says:

    “Shimano should be nervous — SRAM Guide RSC brakes are every bit as good, and in some ways better, than the beloved XT and XTR brake lines.”

    ….. so, comparable to XTs, but XTs are typically priced at $99 each. I think Shimano XT is still the clear winner in value between the two, but maybe SRAM will get closer to this price point.

  • chasejj says:

    I am considering these brakes for my next build. But I have heat issues even on XTR Trails with Icetech(non finned rotors) rotors. With the metallic pads I can get the fins on the pads to discolor to brown and the brake to fade on a long steep downhill.
    So I went to Saint brakes (same rotors) and they solved the issues. So the dual pistons absolutely make a difference in feel and heat resistance due to the increase in pad surface area on Shimano’s options.
    Anyone have a any experience with heat problems with these in severe duty?

    • aerius says:

      Fade resistance is similar to XT Ice-techs with the non-finned rotors. If you’re cooking the XTR Trails, you’ll cook the Guides as well. It shouldn’t be too surprising since the Guides use a pretty slim & lightweight caliper with fairly small pads.

      Stick with the Saints or Zees (I own both), just make sure they have metallic Ice-tech pads in them and you’re good to go.

  • Avi says:

    the advantage of Shimano xt and other models is the simplicity of the maintenance , you can do the bleeding by yourself without the need for any special tools

  • Jimmymats says:

    I’m glad to see Avid has improved. Hopefully competition will continue to breed innovation.

    Cooper: the price is a little closer when you factor in rotors, plus $199 is the retail price for the Avids, XT retail is $139 ($99 is market).

    Not that I’m looking to change. I love the Shimanos. Not only are they MUCH easier to bleed than other brakes I’ve owned (Avid Elixr, Formula One) but I remember having a heck of a time pushing the pistons back in on the others when I wanted to simply change brake pads. Many times I finally had to release some fluid. With Shimanos, the pistons push back easily to create plenty of room for the rotor w/ new pads. Squeeze the lever a few times and viola! Are the Guides improved in this area as well?

  • hwdoughty says:

    Great review Kurt. It looks like SRAM has a rival for Shimano. However, one thing I don’t see mentioned is that SRAM is still using DOT fluid, while Shimano uses synthetic fluid. That means SRAM brakes will still have a more frequent maintenance cycle and thus end up costing more in the long run. I think this is an important point that people should keep in mind when choosing a new brake system.

  • SLC29er says:

    Sure, they compete with shimano finally. But that lever and reservoir, they UGLY. Huge, and ugly. Ugly ugly ugly.

  • SLC29er says:

    Plus you can buy Shimano’s cheap nowadays!

  • Gator says:

    These blow my shimano xtr away, the rsc have much better feedback and predictable power. Also quiet now will they last!!

  • Mark says:

    Had elixir3 + matchmaker. Upgraded to heavier centerline disk from G3 which fixed the turkey gobble but still squealed. Bought RS guides. Then had to buy MMX adapters to fit X9 shifters to the new clamp. Brakes are silent at last! I have a niggle with the lever which seems sloppy compared to the elixir? The reach adjust screw seems super loose in adjustment position (lever away from the bar), which will likely rattle out of adjustment in the back of the car since the lever often rests on back seat which pulls it away from the bar. Has a heap of deadband when installed which I hope can be reduced by squeezing lever without disk inserted? In my case, the hose end of lever clips the top tube in a wipeout so I tighten clamp just enough to resist moving whilst shifting but will rotate in a crash. Working great so far though. Do like!

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