SRAM invited us out to Moab, Utah, for its third annual “Trail House” event. Trail House provides an up close and personal experience with SRAM’s latest products and the teams behind them. We spent three days on some of Moab’s most renowned trails, riding SRAM products alongside SRAM’s product managers and engineers. While it wasn’t enough time for a proper review, here is what we learned in 36 hours.
SRAM GUIDE BRAKES
SRAM’s new Guide brakes represent not just a new product, but also a new brand. Rather than branding Guide as an Avid project, Guide is technically a SRAM product. That’s not to say that an entirely different team was behind them, but the name change certainly puts the writing on the wall for the Avid name in the future.
A CLEAN SLATE
The biggest difference with SRAM’s new Guide brakes (aside from the name change) is the move away from TaperBore to the new TPC Plus design. This design uses a cup-sealed piston in a straight master cylinder bore rather than the tapered cylinder of the past. In the TPC system, as the piston’s cup seal passes the timing port, which connects the master cylinder bore to the reservoir, the system is sealed and the brakes engage.
One of the key issues with TaperBore was dealing with air finding its way into the system. Despite some minor redesigns, at the heart of the issue was the trapping effect the tapered master cylinder would have on any air that got into the system. With a great bleed, the old design would work flawlessly; however, if any air got in, all bets were off.
According to SRAM, the TPC Plus design does a much better job of both keeping any air out of the system and managing any air that gets in.
Many riders also prefer a quicker brake pad engagement than Avid brakes of the past offered. SRAM refers to this lag between lever pull and engagement as “DeadBand.” Guide’s answer comes in the form of a unique, link-driven design—called SwingLink, which helps tune the leverage rate of the lever blade. The result is quicker initial engagement at the beginning of the stroke before mirroring the rate of the former X0 Trail brakes deeper in the stroke. The goal is to maintain the control of the Avid X0 Trail brakes while adding a bit more urgency at the beginning of the stroke.
HAVE IT YOUR WAY
SRAM is offering three Guide models—RSC, RS and R. Its top-tier model, the RSC, features a tool-free lever reach adjustment, sealed lever pivot bearings and pad contact adjustment. The RS features tool-free reach adjustment but not pad contact adjustment, while the R lacks the tool-free aspect of the reach adjustment. The base model Guide R brakes also lack the SwingLink feature in exchange for a straight-forward lever operation known as DirectLink. This change gives the base model brake the same leverage rate as the current Avid X0 Trail brakes while still offering the benefits of the Guide’s redesigned internal layout.
An important aspect of the SwingLink design is that it allowed SRAM engineers to isolate the leverage rate from the fine-tuning options. Whereas some brakes we’ve experienced in the past feel noticeably better or worse at certain ends of the adjustment spectrum, Guide should fit a wide array of rider preferences and demands while still performing consistently.
NEARLY SILENT STOPPING
In spite of the drastic redesign of the Guide brake, the caliper is unchanged from the dual-diameter, four-piston design of Avid X0 Trail.
It’s no secret that Avid brakes had a tendency to vibrate under certain conditions, leading to the dreaded “gobble” emitting from the caliper and rotor. To change that, SRAM designed its new Centerline brake rotors. A redesigned braking surface helps minimize noise, while an increased number of “spokes” helps better manage heat buildup.
ON THE TRAIL – SRAM GUIDE BRAKES
The adjustability of the RSC model is impressive. Everyone has their own preferences on lever position and throw, and Guide offers a wide range of adjustments to dial in your levers to your ideal spec.
We appreciated the increased hit at the beginning of the engagement without losing the excellent modulation we’ve come to expect from Avid brakes. On the varying terrain of Moab, careful braking is essential. With the Guide brakes, we could ride without thinking about what the brakes were doing–and that was a good thing.
While we didn’t get a chance to ride the brakes in wet conditions, the redesigned Centerline rotors barely made a peep–a welcomed change from the dreaded “gobble” of Avid’s brakes of the past.
Does SRAM finally have the complete package to be the next big thing in brakes? We’ll need more time on the trail to be sure. While SRAM has an uphill battle on its hands to win over hardcore Shimano brake riders, it’s a battle they’ve never been better prepared for.
Inverted fork designs are not a new thing in the mountain bike world, but because inverted designs have historically been tough to build both stiff [and] lightweight enough for mountain biking, they haven’t been at the forefront recently. While most inverted designs of the past were aimed at gravity riders, RockShox’s new RS-1 is for cross-country racing.
So, why inverted? Rockshox says it comes down to a few things: chassis stiffness, ride quality and aesthetics. The RS-1’s upper section is a one-piece carbon fiber unit that helped them keep the weight nearly the same as their current SID World Cup while greatly increasing bending stiffness. To add to that stiffness, the inverted layout of the fork, which puts the bushings closer to the axle, means that bending forces are exerted on a shorter “lever” and thus less force is transferred to the fork. This stiffness allows for the sliders to move more freely and improve the ride quality of the damper. The inverted design also means that the bushings are constantly submerged in oil, which improves ride feel.
The RS-1 uses a brand-new, sealed-system damper; however, rather than implementing an expanding bladder system, as with the Pike’s Charger damper, the RS-1 uses an IFP (Internal Floating Piston) style damper called an Accelerator. The IFP allowed RockShox to cater to the needs of cross-country racers, specifically by increasing the fork’s ability to truly lockout without any give. The Accelerator damper uses RockShox’s Rapid Recovery rebound tune, as well as the Dig valve found on 2014 SID and Revelation forks. Both of these internal components are designed to let the fork stay higher in its travel at the softer part of the spring curve.
The air spring uses the same design that is found in the current SID and Revelation and as a new feature will accept air-volume adjustments via the Bottomless Tokens system. The RS-1‘s air spring also also uses a new Jounce bumper—as is found in the new Boxxer forks—to create an ultra-soft and controlled bottom-out point. While you can’t adjust travel length with spacers as you could with other short-travel RockShox forks, they will be selling new air springs at the lowest price possible to give riders the option without breaking the bank.
In order to hit both the weight and stiffness goals, RockShox teamed up with SRAM wheels to develop a solution they now call “Torque Tube.” The Torque Tube is a 27-millimeter diameter aluminum tube that connects the two legs of the fork through the hub and becomes a structural aspect of the fork. Without the Torque Tube, the fork would not be stiff enough for riders. Because of this, the RS-1 requires a proprietary SRAM front hub. SRAM calls this system “Predictive Steering.” Aside from an individual hub option, Predictive Steering hubs will also be available on select SRAM wheelsets.
RISE XX WHEELS
As a part of this front-end system, SRAM developed a cross-country wheel light and stiff enough to be competitive at the highest level of the sport. For the guys at the front of today’s World Cup races, that means a carbon tubular wheel. The RISE XX wheels use a T1000 unidirectional carbon rim laced with 24-spokes to SRAM’s own hubs, which use their Double-Time drive mechanism found in their X0 hubs. The double time system features 52 engagement points with an engagement of 6.9 degrees. While there are systems available with more engagement points, SRAM says the system is the correct balance between engagement and durability without adding too much drag to the system.
ROCKSHOX DEBONAIR SHOCK
Using what they learned from the Vivid Air project, RockShox revamped its large air volume option for Monarch and Monarch Plus shocks. Called DebonAir, the new air can increases not only positive but negative air volume as well. With this increase, RockShox says it takes 25-percent less force to move through the first 30 percent of travel. While the option won’t be a perfect fit for every rider or situation, it gives OE customers and aftermarket buyers more tuning options for their bikes.
ON THE TRAIL – ROCKSHOX RS-1
We spent one day on the 4.7-inch RS-1 fork installed on a Specialized Camber trail bike riding cross-country oriented trails on the edge of Moab. Given that the ride featured a lot of “firsts”—new bike, new trails, etc.—we didn’t have much of a baseline for comparison. The fork felt very stiff when sprinting out of the saddle, and the suspension action seemed to make the most of the short-travel chassis. The lockout was noticeably rock-solid, though that’s not a feature we often utilize.
As most riders will notice, the lack of lower stanchion guards looks a bit disconcerting. After a day on the trails with plenty of stanchion-height rocks to hit, there were no casualties, but that’s not to say it’s not possible to ding a stanchion. While our experience was certainly positive, we’ll need more time on our usual testing trails to determine how the RS-1 stacks up and to see if the exposed stanchions are as immune to trouble as RockShox says they are.
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