First Ride: SRAM Guide Brakes


Duncan Riffle with Guide Brakes on a Borealis Fat Bike


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.

SRAM Guide Brake Lever Internals

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.

Francis on SRAM Guide Brakes and RS-1

The look

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.

SRAM Guide Brake Levers

Test ride

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.

FC Navigating Through Rocks

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.

FC Descending in Open FC in Singletrack

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.

Do you own SRAM Guide brakes? Help us become a better resource and write a review!

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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  • Dustin says:

    I saw the fat bike and almost stopped reading

  • verslowrdr says:

    I’m with M-S. My Elixir experience was pretty bad, especially when compared against Shimano brakes which have been nothing short of bullet proof. I’ve been derided on this point on the internet, but on the ground the reports from people who have actually used them have ranged from bitter to plan ol’ bad.
    Oh, and then there’s “Flounder”‘s take, lol……

  • cort says:

    New master cylinder design = new hope. Will Sram get it right this time, stay tuned folks 🙂

  • danny sintov says:

    i went for a ride on my buddy’s super moto bike with a 16 inch front wheel and dual 14 inch rotors and on that bike i was able to control the brake to the point where i could easily lift the rear wheel 1 inch off the ground and keep it there and then squeeze a bit harder to lift the rear a few more inches and then release a bit to lower it back down to 1 inch off the ground without the rear wheel ever touching the ground.
    thats the kind of modulation i would like to see on my bicycle brakes but unfortunately no one makes brakes like that for bicycles – why not ???
    there are many companies making brakes and some are fairly good but none are truly excellent.
    i hereby challenge all brake manufacturers to go for a ride on a super moto or a stunt bike and then go make us a bicycle brake with that kind of modulation control.
    and yes i would accept it being a bit heavier and more expensive than the competitions

    • bryce says:

      16″ wheels with 14″ rotors?? Sounds like you want rim brakes. Nobody makes disc brakes like that because what mountain biker is going to want rotors as big as their rims?

      Besides, everything you’re talking about is already possible on bikes, it’s just that the physics and weight distribution are different. Having a giant mass of metal under you makes it way easier to modulate COG with your body weight. Plus I think every good trials and enduro rider would disagree with you about the capability of mtb brakes…. those guys float rear wheels to set up for corners, hold long manuals, etc… some can hold front wheel wheelies around corners on road bikes. It’s an issue of skill and physics more than brake hardware.

  • RocktonRider says:

    So… for $130, I can buy either of the following:
    1.) A new brake from a company known for years of terrible brakes and shoddy fixes (*cough* Solidsweep rotors *cough*).
    2.) A proven, reliable brake from a company such as Shimano.

    SRAM needs to give up on hydraulic brakes and develop an even better mechanical than the bulletproof BB7.

    • OBR says:

      Agreed. I love my BB7s, and I am sticking with mechanicals, but I know the design is getting on 10 years old (They’re pretty much the same as the BBDB). On one hand, they could be ready for a major revision. On the other, they obviously work well, which is why they haven’t messed with them too much!

  • Dude says:

    On a more serious note, I rode a Scott Spark with the new Avid Guide brakes about 3 months ago at the Southeast Bike Expo. In summary, they were the best Avid brake I’d ever used, but they felt about 90% as good as my Shimano XT. So, if you are a SRAM/Avid fan, you can finally get a good brake with their name on it. However, IMHO, you can still get a better brake from Shimano. SRAM has come a long way and it’s nice to see them trying. Now if they would just warranty all those terrible Elixir brakes and replace them with the new Guide brake, they might be eligible for some redemption.

  • Pain Freak says:

    Nice try Sram. Believe me I love your stuff but when it comes to hydraulic brakes, you’re way off the back. Shimano has developed a brake that is only a short way away from (think modulation) perfection. Best of luck and please keep trying. But if you’re are still trying you’re going to have to do better on your pricing.

  • Tyrebyter says:

    Makes you wonder why more actual brake companies haven’t had a go at bicycle brakes. Grimeca tried and Hayes still is, but what about Nissin, Tokico, Sumitomo and Brembo? I really like my Shimano and Formula brakes, but they don’t compare to any Moto brake I’ve had in the last 30 years.

  • Tiago says:

    Maybe i would give this brakes a try, or at least wait they come out, and some reviews too, because everyone says they performe good, but im a bit afraid that this is just some paid spam.

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