- Brakes £74.95 per end; 180mm rotor £17.95; mounting bracket £14.95
Trickle-down is a wonderful thing. When disc brakes first arrived in mountain biking, they were expensive and complicated. Things gradually improved, but the mighty Shimano was a latecomer to the party. For a while it looked like it'd left it too late, but it was just biding its time and getting things right - the original four-pot XT brake was (and still is) a stormer.
They were still pricey, though. But over the years Shimano's brake offerings have been refined and rationalised to the point where now the various calipers all look very similar to each other - the differences are in construction, materials, weight and of course, price.
There've been several incarnations of Deore brakes in the past. They've all been perfectly good, if unexciting, brakes, although some versions have been tidier-looking and lighter than others. The current offering is the M535, and considering that it's among the cheapest hydraulic disc brakes out there, it's really rather good.
A lot of Shimano brakes are still supplied as separate levers, hoses and calipers, requiring full assembly and bleeding before use. But the Deore kit comes fully assembled and ready to go. Shimano's moved almost completely to post-mount calipers (you can get IS XTR ones, but that's solely on weight grounds), so fitting is very straightforward - bolt the adaptors to the fork and frame, mount the calipers loosely, stick the levers on, pull them, snug up the caliper bolts, job done.
The levers are all but identical to other Shimano levers - without looking you won't be able to tell the difference between this and an XT or Saint lever. Which is a good thing, as we're big fans of the neat two-finger blade with a secure hooked end. Hose routing is inline - if you've got narrow bars you might want to fit 90° banjo fittings instead.
The only adjustment at the lever is for reach. Moving the lever blade out also moves the bite point out, so you have to find a compromise position - if you want the lever to start a long way out but come in close to the bar when you pull it, you're out of luck. With the levers positioned comfortably under our fingers, we found the bite point to be just a little far out for our taste, but it's not really a deal-breaker.
As with all Shimano brakes, the M535s run on mineral oil, which is rather more pleasant to deal with than DOT brake fluid. Although chances are that you won't have to deal with it - we've always found Shimano discs to be amazingly reliable and wouldn't expect these to be any different. The kit includes spare olives and hose inserts should you need to shorten the hoses, but you should be able to do that without bleeding.
So, generally pretty decent brakes, we'd like a bit more power up front. And as if by magic, a box of extra power showed up from Shimano in the shape of a 180mm rotor and suitable bracket. The presence of such things should be cause for much rejoicing. For a very long time your rotor choice in Shimano brakes has been between a mostly-adequate but sometimes underwhelming 160mm or a "my eyeballs appear to have left my head" 203mm. That handy middle ground that so many of us like to occupy was sadly underserved, but now it isn't. The 180mm rotor is an XT-level item, but with Shimano calipers now generally pretty much the same shape it works fine on the Deores. Six-bolt and Centerlock versions are available. You'll also need to correct bracket to fit the caliper to - the post-mount style of the caliper itself means that running the bigger rotor is a simple matter of removing the stock bracket, fitting the new one and recentering the caliper.
With the bigger spinner up front there's a healthy amount more oomph on tap. It's not a world of difference, but it's there and it's worth having for that dose of extra confidence when things get steep and fast. Obviously it's another thirty-odd quid on top of the price of the brake kit, but even so the whole lot comes in at a price that would only buy you one end of some brakes.
Positives: Clean looks, easy setup, good feel, reliable, comfy lever, effective
Negatives: Needs rotor upgrade to really shine, a bit portly, bite point may not be to all tastes
Verdict: Clearly Shimano would be shooting itself in the foot if its budget brakes were as good as its top of the line ones, so it's no surprise that they're not. They're pretty damn good, though - we certainly wouldn't feel any compulsion to trade up unless we had money burning a hole in our pockets. Sticking the 180mm rotor on there would be a good way of spending a bit of it, and the price is still competitive even allowing for that.