- Avid Ball-Bearing 185mm disc brakes
- Raw Experience 0131 440 2010
Avid’s cable-driven disc brakes have been around for a while, and have a good reputation. These power-enhanced 185mm rotor versions are relatively new, though. Not incredibly new, to be honest. We’ve been running around on these for about six months. But best to be thorough…
The actual calipers are the same as the 160mm rotor variants, the difference being in the brackets and, obviously, the rotor itself. The rotor features what Avid call “clean sweep design”, or to put it another way, a load of angled slots and some notches in the pad edge that are supposed to keep the pads all nice and detritus-free.
The really clever bit about Avid brakes is the Caliper Positioning System. The additional bracket for IS caliper mounts bolts on in the usual way, and the caliper bolts to that in a post-mount style (owners of post-mount forks can just mount the caliper directly). The mounting bolts have a cunning arrangement of domed washers and slotted holes, so caliper alignment is just a matter of loosening the bolts, winding the pads in (with a thin spacer in there – the rotor needs to be slightly to the outside of the caliper) until they hit the rotor and then tightening the bolts up again. Upon releasing the pads, everything’s lined up perfectly.
The caliper mechanism itself is a pleasingly simple affair. The inboard pad is fixed (but adjustable with a handy red knob), while the outboard one is driven by a worm gear attached to a lever with the cable on it. The lever’s got a cammed end for a pleasingly linear response. The ball bearings of the title live inside the mechanism, making it all very smooth and light at the lever. It’s all held inside a caliper that looks like it’s held together with bolts, but is actually one piece – the bolts strengthen it, a bit like the steel rods in reinforced concrete.
The brake’ll work with any V-brake lever, although Avid recommend their own Speed Dial levers. The adjustable leverage ratio on Speed Dial levers certainly helps to dial the brakes in to your preferred feel, making this one of the few disc brakes that lets you choose how firm or squooshy you want the lever to be, but it’s not essential.
You can use any old brake cable with the system, although we used Avid’s Full Metal Jacket. It’s a metal tube that runs up behind the fork leg (or along the frame tubes for a rear brake) with just a short length of housing running to the lever. The cable itself doesn’t have much contact with the inside of the tube, reducing friction, and the tubing itself is essentially incompressible – no brake sponge here. It made for an impressively smooth and direct front brake action, although the rear brake (with a full-length conventional housing) felt like it could have done with a meatier spring in it – there were a few floppy-lever moments when the caliper spring didn’t have enough oomph to pull the cable back through.
Power is impressive out of the box, and gets a bit better as the pads wear in. The pads are sintered items, that last well (we’re still on the originals). Some hydraulic brakes suffer from pump-up with sintered pads as they transfer heat pretty well, but obviously there’s no pump-up here. Feel at the lever is very light, and for the most part you’d never know that the brakes were cable-actuated. And there’s plenty of modulation, with the added bonus if you use Speed Dial levers of being able to choose how much lever travel you want.
Drawbacks? You have to adjust the pad clearances as they wear. It’s only a matter of twiddling the red knobs on the caliper, but it’s still something that you don’t have to do at all with most hydraulics. They’re still prone to gunky cables, although the Full Metal Jacket helps a lot. But the main obstacle is the price. SRP is £99.99 an end, plus twenty-five quid if you want the Full Metal Jacket cables. That’s into hydraulic brake money, and if it was our cash we’d rather have a hydro brake than a cable brake. On the other hand, there’s a certain endearing familiarity to cables, and if you’ve got combined shifters and brake levers then the economics look a bit friendlier.
Verdict: These brakes really do work very well indeed. We prefer the lower fiddle-factor and immunity to cable contamination of hydraulics, but if you don’t like the idea of fluids and like the brake levers you’ve got (and you can get a good price), then these are a very viable option.