It’s March, I’m standing at the top of a 3,500 foot descent, the temperature is in the high 30s and a thick fog blankets the forest around me. Rain and snow have battered the mountain for weeks and the road is little more than a muddy path with the occasional patch of gravel tossed about carelessly by an apathetic road crew. I’m on a bike purchased only weeks ago, equipped with the cheapest of OEM disc brakes. Mud, sand and debris coat myself and the bike – I have only the vaguest sensation in my fingertips as I try to turn the barrel adjuster on the front brake. I need only slightly more braking power to make it down the mountain. This is the second long descent of the 2015 edition of Southern Cross, a 55 mile dirt road bicycle race in the mountains of North Georgia. Despite my machinations; my bike, and it’s brakes, have held up well. They have shrugged off most of the mud and sand and water and rocks and everything else the road has flung at them today. Now I just need a little more, squeezing so hard I fell a burst of pain blast through the numbness the adjuster turns once, twice and finally three times. I give the lever an experimental squeeze, lift the front wheel and let it rotate freely for a few seconds. Everything is spinning smoothly so I glance to my rear and confirm no upcoming riders and then mount up and scream down the mountain. This descent is long sections of straight drops interspersed with tight curves packed with washboarding and loose road surface. The mud and the wet conspire to push the front wheel around chaotically and give me a lively ride. I grab huge handfuls of brake, fling myself into the turns with wheels sliding hanging off the saddle trying to stay above the contact patch heart pounding for 5 minutes, for 15 minutes, for eternity. Finally it ends, brakes worn and lever travel almost to the handlebars again. I cross the finish line, weary but happy at how I and my bike have performed.
Later, I am riding in the back country of Lee County, Alabama. It’s November and unseasonably hot. I’ve been riding part of the 62 mile Standard Deluxe Dirt Road Century and now I’ve become lost. The red dirt roads of southeastern Alabama do not feature any sort of signage. Roads carry the names they have always had through the years, stored in the minds of the people who live on them.
Look at a map and you’ll see county road 2, ask someone who lives off county road 2 and they’ll look at you askance.
“The ol’ Mill Pond road?”
Ask a transplant to the area “Ah yes, Menefee Pond road”
Only one of these is right.
I see a signpost, the green coating pocked with bullet holes the road names meaningless. It’s dusty and the sun hangs high as I pedal over the dry dirt roads. My wheels crunch through the dirt and a slick orange dust coats everything. I’m low on water and frustration sets in as I hear a slight tingtingting from my front brake. I squeeze the brake lever a few times and the pads move slightly and the sound goes away. The brakes that once worked fine are now worn and wobbly. Thousands of miles on the road in the sun and rain and cold, hundreds of miles on gravel and dirt have worn them out. The pads slide back and forth in their holders under braking and the adjustment screw no longer has the grip to stay in place as it should.
I stand to pedal up a small rise, thick green pine forest on one side, a worn white clapboard church mounted on stone columns on the other. As I lean the bike to the left I hear a slight grinding from my brake, lean to the right and nothing. So I grind up the climb, ready to throw these brakes into the pine forest where they can go back to the Earth. Once I make it to pavement the brakes are silent. This isn’t the right route, I’ve gotten so lost I’m stuck taking a paved road back to the finish. Together we sulk into Waverly Alabama neither wanting to admit being wrong.
To start with, here is an interesting video showing the design of how most mechanical brakes work and a major issue that needed to be corrected in the initial wave of mechanical discs.
On to the review. These brakes are usually low-end OEM components. Can’t imagine why anyone would buy them. Mine came on a 2013 Scattante DX350 I picked up used. I ended up riding the brakes for about a 16 months/7,100 miles. I raced them in some of the marquee events down here in Georgia/Alabama during a insanely wet year. Mt. Currahee, Southern Cross and Shake ‘n’ Brake were all wet and full of descending and cornering. The brakes got a good workout and I was generally happy with them. I did notice that due to the construction the pads are allowed a lot of movement and often wear extremely asymmetrically.
As time passed I started using different types of brakes and started looking at the Novelas with a more critical eye. The arm is too long and has a lot of flex, this leads to a lot of lever travel to get good braking which doesn’t work well since the pads are not wearing evenly. This means the range of adjustment that allows for good brake response and feel is extremely small. 1/16th of a turn of the fixed pad is enough to go from significant rubbing to nothing. The pads just have too much movement, especially after so many miles.
The pads themselves have a small surface area and do not brake nearly as well as pads with a bigger contact area.
Depending on your fork/wheel/rotor combination it can be hard to get the pads to line up properly and not rub after settling in.
I’m actually writing this review because my Soma Doublecross Disc and TL-23 wheelset just don’t work with these brakes. The front wheel is still stiff and the brakes rub noticeably as the fork and caliper move around during hard climbing. Combine this with the extremely coarse adjustment and it’s time to move on. I’m replacing them with Sora R317 as they have a stiffer arm and just work better.