At A Glance
The Guide range of brakes from SRAM are their most well know stoppers in the trail and enduro world. The current versions offer more power and more features than ever in a sleek package. Other than the 'R' model they are based on the same SwingLink technology, but they come in various levels and features. The base level is the 'R' which uses an older DirectLink system with toolless reach adjustment on the lever. On from there, we see the RS which gains the SwingLink and some better bearings. The RSC goes up a notch to add a contact point adjustment and gets a shiny silver finish, then finally we get to these, the 'Ultimate' which as the name might suggest, are top of the pile. Featuring everything from the lower models plus some weight saving Carbon levers and titanium hardware to make these truly top end brakes.Buy Brakes on
This all comes at a price, but with the whole range to choose from, there is a brake for most budgets. These are very shiny, super powerful and with all the adjustments required to make even the fussiest decelerator happy.
On The Trail
Now I've never been the most demanding for brake features, wanting reliability and power over anything too fancy. I have also in the past shunned SRAM brakes primarily based on the lever shape and feel, so was particularly interested if they could convince me to come back to them. With some of my recent brakes suffering from a wandering bite point I really wanted these to deliver through their hype.
Strapping them on was a breeze, and with the Matchmaker clamps, shifters and droppers can be combined, providing you use SRAM kit, but if not, then another clamp next to the brakes isn't going to do any harm. Coming ready bled means installation is easy, and with new rotors, it was a completely fresh start. Bleeding, if necessary, however, is simple affair involving two syringes to keep things air tight and clean.
Once installed on the bar and angles adjusted, the fine-tuning of the lever-feel can begin. Starting with lever reach then adjusting the bite point to the exact position required, this gives an almost infinite combination of possibilities. I enjoy quite a long reach and a quick bite, but that was very easy to sort out with no tools required.
The lever itself is quite long, and the hook on the end is less pronounced than others, but the shape is comfortable and secure. The only issue with the long levers is when using a Reverb on the same clamp, it feels too far away from my thumb, but this could be run on a separate clamp if needed.
Once up to speed, the brake feel really comes into its own, and although previously I have enjoyed snappy brakes over more progressive ones, this was where the Guides really got me hooked. The balance of modulation and power is exceptional, allowing plenty of feel at the upper limits of braking, just before the point of locking up. This modulation allows for high-quality brake feel no matter how rough the track is, and when required, the wheels can be locked up with absolute ease. The confidence in slippy conditions was noticeable, with less risk of a nervous grab of the brake, and I could ride faster and brake later than usual. It is definitely these tricky riding conditions where the Guides shone through more than ever.
As things bedded in, they've needed very little adjustment, the reach and bite point remaining constant throughout. It also occurred to me how quiet they've been, and I can't recall any squealing despite some pretty filthy riding conditions.
Whether or not I need the top model is debatable, but having spent some time feeling the difference between the SwingLink and the DirectLink, the RS and above models certainly offer a more refined and modulated feel.
Can better brakes make you faster? Surprisingly I think yes. Braking later and with more confidence will give you more time at top speed, but more than that they make you ride better and in more control. With a price tag to match, these are some of the best brakes you can buy, my only real request would be for a slightly shorter lever with a little more hook on the end, but these are very specific to individual riders. The Guide range offers fantastic braking to suit all wallets, but if you want the best, the Ultimate’s are the only way to go.
This review was in Issue 47 of IMB.For more information visit SRAM MTB
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.