The SRAM Guide Brakes replaces the Avid Elixir brakes that have been around for a few years now. Once considered their best brake and the successor to Avid Juicys, the Elixirs have succumbed to the advancements other companies have made in hydraulic disc brakes. With the Guide Brakes, SRAM aims to gain back OE and aftermarket spec by offering a compelling match to its dominant 1×11 drivetrain found in many of the best bikes today.
Brake lever and reservoir
High priority was given to delivering consistent lever feel and excellent brake modulation. There is a more positive fluid volume than before at 2x the outgoing model. Negative volume has been increased to 3x of previous. This fluid volume delivers more consistent performance and modulation even during the most demanding, heat-generating extended descents. It also provides excellent performance with ‘less than perfect’ bleed brake jobs commonly found in DIY maintenance jobs.
Other changes include a butyl bladder which provides more reliable operation over time. Also, the swing link varies the leverage rate of the brake lever. The lever starts out pushing a lot of fluid to get the pad to rotor quickly and then it slows down to deliver power and modulation. It is powerful indeed, but it does not surprise you at the contact point like some brakes in the market today.
Thus, the result is a brake with a solid contact point feel as riders have expressed preference towards this and away from vague and mushy levers. Riders today like a lever where they can clearly feel the point where the pad hits the rotor. But they also want good lever travel and modulation before brake lock-up.
There is a lever contact point adjust that is easy to access. This allows the rider to set the brake’s contact point independent of the lever reach.
In terms of compatibility, this mates with all shifters like grip shift and 1x and 2x systems around.
Caliper and rotor
Rotor has a center line that separates the inner and outer diameters of the rotor to reduce vibration. It features a 12-spoke design (increased from 6) to better transfer heat and expansion of material.
The 375 gram total system weight is competitive but not feather-light. SRAM has realized that brake weight is important, but riders really demand a product optimized for power, modulation and reliability. Weight is often mentioned by XC types in the buying process, but it is seldom appreciated once out on the trail. What sticks to the hearts and minds of riders is power, modulation and reliability.
The bleed kit is the same and the pad shape is the same for compatibility with current options for OE and aftermarket pads that exist today.
The lever is shorter now and more ergonomic. The reservoir or brake lever body looks quite big on this brake, but the overall size of the brake is the same as the Elixir because of the shorter lever.
The rotor look looks fairly simple and does not call attention to itself.
SRAM Guide models
There are three versions of Guide. The top offering is the RSC (Reach, SwingLink Contact point adjust), which costs $199. It has a ball bearing in its main lever pivot and comes with sintered metallic pads. The $149 RS has no contact point adjust, but has the Swinglink for power. The RS also has bushings in the main lever pivots and comes with organic pads. And finally, the $129 R has no Contact Point Adjust, no SwingLink and comes bushings on the pivots and organic pads.
The top of the line Guide RSC weighs in at 375 grams with a 160mm rotor, 800mm-long hose, and all mounting hardware.
We got to ride the RSC brake at the XC course of the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, CA and for several days in the Lake Garda area of Italy. The best thing that can be said about it is it took no time to get used to and they disappeared into the ride. The lever fit right in our hand and we were able to adjust the contact point to quickly engage without a lot of lever travel or dead space. Feeling the contact point was much more distinct than the Elixir or other brand brakes, but it wasn’t as firm or surprising as the current Shimano brakes.
From there, it was all clear and consistent modulation to the point of lockup. here was enough lever travel and it was easy to control. We heard no squealing or felt any vibration during the ride. On the huge descents in the Dolomites, we experienced no brake fade as the brakes performed flawlessly during the test rides.
Whenever wet or moist, the brakes squealed for the first 20 seconds of use. As the brakes heated up and the moisture was exorcised, the power built up and the brakes performed silently.
For the big, tiring descents, we adjusted the reach close to the bar so we didn’t have to extend our fingers too much. We then adjusted the contact point to very quick to preserve our limited lever travel. This resulted in an awesome setup with a close to the bar feel with ample power and modulation.
In summary, we think this is a huge step for SRAM to get a brake that is competitive with the current leaders today. The lever and reservoir in particular looks a bit big and the rotor doesn’t look to have all the design elements of the Ice Tech Shimano rotors. But the power and modulation are all there and this system seems intuitive and easy to control. If reliability checks out as they claim, we should see a lot more of these brakes on bikes in the future.
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