SRAM LEVEL ULTIMATE BRAKE TEST
SRAM LEVEL ULTIMATE BRAKES
The Way to Slow Down Fast Riders
Brakes are serious business, as they are one of the most important parts of your bike. SRAM released its line of Guide brakes back in 2014 and set a high bar for brake performance with the Guide’s versatile design. The Level is a completely new concept that is a little more purpose built for cross-country riders, with a pared-down design that’s meant to shave grams with- out sacrificing stopping performance. We bolted a set to one of our long term XC test bikes to see how they would hold up.
The goal when designing the Levels was to ditch any unnecessary weight from SRAM’s Guide brakes to create the lightest set of stoppers on the trail. There are five versions of the Level, with the Ultimate being the top of the line.
SRAM designed the Ultimates with carbon lever blades and pivot bearings to give the brake a consistent feel under pressure. In the lever, SRAM uses its PiggyBack Reservoir, which allows riders to run the brakes on either side of the handlebars.
In the caliper, SRAM designed the Level with a stainless steel shield between the pad and caliper to keep the fluid temperature down under intense braking. Our set of test brakes are MXX and Matchmaker compatible and use SRAM’s Bleeding Edge system. The Levels start at $63 per side and top out at $297 per side for the Ultimate.
On the Trail:
Setting up the Levels is straightforward. Our set of test brakes came pre-bled and ready for action but with lines that were far too long for our test bike. We routed them and trimmed the lines to size, and after routing the hoses and cutting them, we re-bled them to be sure there was no air in the system. One of the nicest features of the Level brakes is the Bleeding Edge system, which essentially makes an otherwise messy and difficult process clean and idiot-proof. As long as you have the fluid and the proper bleed kit, these are among the easiest brakes to bleed.
We ran our test brakes with 160- millimeter CLX rotors, front and rear, paired with a set of organic pads. The Level line is fairly versatile, but the Ultimates are aimed at cross-country riding and light trail riding. We set the reach adjustment with a 2.5-millimeter Allen wrench and hit the trail. Initially, our test riders were surprised at just how much modulation these brakes had, and it took us a few rides to get used to it. Under hard braking, the Levels always felt consistent, never fading or causing our test riders to feel like they were out of control. On flowing sections of trail, the Levels gave us a healthy range of modulation that didn’t feel underpowered during panic braking. Even under sustained braking, our testers didn’t notice any pulsing sensations. Compared to the Guide brakes, the Level system certainly is paired down to the point where we wouldn’t trust the Levels on a heavy-duty machine. Our testing mostly consisted of cross-country riding with some aggressive trail riding thrown in, and we were impressed with the overall durability. Even though these brakes were designed for XC use, we are confident they will deliver excellent performance for trail riders as well. If you’re into gravity or enduro-style riding, the more-robust Guide brakes will suit your needs better. Considering that this is the lightest SRAM brake system going, though, these things pack some serious stopping power and will be slowing down the fastest XC riders on the planet this year.
Long Term Update
There are some products that we test that can develop issues over longer periods of time. Once we hit hotter summer months our Level Ultimate brakes began to develop a sticking in the lever. We actually had this happen to several sets of Level brakes that came on various test bikes. The sticking would occur after the brake would sit in the sun for about 10 minutes, but only on days where the temperatures were over 90-degrees. We contacted SRAM and they replaced the various pairs we had issues with. If you have issues with your brakes take them to local dealer for a warranty replacement.
• Crazy light
• Wide range of modulation
• Ergonomic levers
• Levers have issues on hot days
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