- Magura Louise FR brakes
Magura makes two variants of Louise brake. The standard Louise comes equipped with 160mm rotors front and rear, but we're looking at the FR version here. The levers are essentially the same, and the calipers are fundamentally similar. The key difference is that the FR calipers are designed to accommodate rotor sizes from 180mm upwards at the front. Refreshingly, all rotor options are the same price - you can choose from 180 or 210mm at the front or 160, 180 or 190mm at the rear. All the rotors are Magura's "wavy" design, said to improve mud clearance and cooling.
The brakes pictured are 2005 versions, but the changes for 2006 are only cosmetic - a silver lever blade and caliper cap lift the appearance a little from the overwhelming blackness of the 2005 model. The calipers are quite tidy in appearance in a nugget-like way, but few would argue that the levers are the nicest-looking out there. Unlike Hope and Hayes levers the lever clamp is a conventional one-piece split design, so you'll need to take your grips off to fit them. The levers are also handed, so you can't just swap left to right as you can with, say, Hayes or Avid brakes. Neither of these are major issues for most riders, though. The lever design is fairly unusual, with the hose exiting from to top of the reservoir. This leads to hose routing that's either pleasingly direct or seems to have one too many curves in it, depending on bar lot of hose on the front brake - that's fair enough, as you're likely to want to fit brakes like this on to some fairly long forks and fairly wide bars. If you're running a mere 5in fork, though, expect to have to cut it down a bit. Well, a little more than a bit, actually, we took nearly a foot off. Still, it's easier to cut bits off than to add bits on. Shortening the hose didn't present any problems once we'd equipped ourselves with the necessary bits and bobs. There was no need to rebleed it afterwards, either - if you do, they use non-corrosive mineral oil.
Down at the caliper end you'll find a conventional "direct mount" IS caliper - two bolts to attach it to the frame and fork, and a selection of shims to space it out correctly. This is starting to become quite a rare approach now, with most brake manufacturers using brackets and post-mount calipers. The advantage of the latter arrangement is easier setup - aligning calipers with shims can be a patience-testing job. Once it's right, though, it tends to stay right, while post-mounts can, if you're not paying attention, drift or get knocked. They only take a second to sort out, though. On balance we lean towards the convenience of post-mount, but we certainly wouldn't rule the Louise out on those grounds.
Once they're all fitted, it's time to ride. Magura recommends running in the pads with some fast stops before riding properly - failure to do this can lead to premature pad wear. On the subject of pads, two versions are available - Performance and Endurance. The brakes are supplied with the Performance pads, which work just fine. Depending on your local soil conditions you may wish to use the more durable Endurance pads - they're not quite as powerful but there's oomph to spare.
In use the Louise brakes are really very good indeed. The lever blade is broad with a prominent hook on the end, letting you securely use the very tip of the blade for maximum leverage. There's room for two fingers on there but you'll be riding some pretty severe stuff to need that many. There's gobs of power and the modulation and feel is good too - not too mushy, not too wooden. We haven't been able to provoke them into any odd behaviour and they inspire confidence. Which is, after all, pretty much what you want in a brake.
Positives: Ample power, plenty of rotor options, good modulation, five-year guarantee, reliable, sensible money
Negatives: IS-mount caliper and generous hose length can mean time-consuming setup,
Verdict: The Louise FR is certainly an effective and dependable brake. The only downsides are the potentially fiddly installation and the looks. But then, you only have to fit them once and we tend not to look at our brake levers when riding...