At A Glance
Shimano's high-powered stoppers have been around for some time now, offering two flavours of four-pot power. The Saints sit up top as the benchmark and below which the less expensive Zee offers huge power but with a slightly lower spec.Buy Brakes on
Essentially the Zee is a four-pot caliper on an SLX lever, which is why the lever looks familiar! The Saints get an XTR lever and pretty much the same caliper but with a bolt through pad retainer rather than the split pin on the Zee’s. The Zee also forfeit the finned pads for just regular ones, but these can be upgraded if necessary.
The increase in power over Shimanos standard brakes is the increase in the number of pistons, which give a bigger area for pushing pads onto the disc.
Most other features are similar to other Shimano brakes, with a hinged clamp on the lever for easy installation and reach adjusted with a quick twist of the hex in the lever.
Set up was easy, and providing you have external cable routing, very quick. If you do need to bleed them, the one-way system works well and is easy to perform.
On The Trail
First up is the lever shape and feel, which I enjoy on all Shimano brakes. The ergonomics don't seem to have changed since I was lusting after their V brake levers in the '90s. Short and with a good hook on the end, they feel secure and precise, ideal for high-speed shenanigans. The roughened lever gives extra grip and keeps one's finger firmly on the trigger.
Reach is set with a turn of an allen key and is probably preferable to the 'tool free' adjustment as there isn't a knob to break off in a crash. Without any bite point adjust, this is as much set up as is possible and with plenty of space between the pads, setting up the caliper is easy.
Once bedded in, which took a while, the Zees really show their bite and come on strong. They are snatchy rather than progressive, but not detrimentally so. The power is there, but not as much as I had hoped from a downhill focussed brake. Maybe Shimano’s trail brakes have just got stronger, but I wasn't blown away by their pure power.
Although powerful, there is a semblance of subtly about the Zees, and it is possible to tread the line between grip and slide. They offer a sensitivity, which combined with the lever shape gives a great experience. My main issue is the reliability of that experience, as the wondering bite point kept me guessing. When they are working well, they are fantastic, but the point at which they bite is difficult to predict.
On long descents, they behave themselves, but intermittent use on trails with short descents and climbs left me guessing. They felt like they needed to be warmed up before the Zee really comes into its own, which, once they did, the performance was excellent.
Probably more power than you'll ever need, but there are even stronger stoppers out there for full on downhill use. The lever shape is classic and excellent, but the unpredictable bite point lets them down slightly. The Zee’s represent excellent value for money, and I could happily do without the features of the more expensive Saints.
This review was in Issue 52 of IMB.For more information visit Shimano
By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.