Feather Brakes is a relative newcomer to the bicycle industry, but their founder, Bob Barnett has a history of breaking ground in everything from Powerboats to Offroad Racing to Indy Racing before helping set some standards in DH mountain bike parts. He helped pioneer the Mr. Dirt-USA downhill chainguides, which led to the three-bolt standard widely used today. We met their rep, Ken, at Interbike and were really impressed with the look and feel of the product, so we arranged for a demo set to review.
I’ve been running the Feather Brakes road calipers for a little over a month, and the initial impressions are overwhelmingly positive. With a claimed weight of 199g (ours actually weighed LESS than that!), they’re on par with Zero Gravity in terms of weight…but what about performance?
Read “more” for the full review and see why these should be your next brakes, price be damned…
They come in a very nice, compact box. Let’s see what’s inside…
For $399, you get the brakes, instructions, stickers and (not visible) a bag with the mounting hardware and all the tools you need to install them including two allen wrenches, a star-nut wrench and a small wrench. It also comes with an extra Cable Anchor, Nut for the center bolt and two extra spacers.
BUILD QUALITY AND WEIGHT:
The brakes are machined out of a solid block of aluminum to produce some seriously light caliper bodies. Ti hardware and center bolt keep the extra bits from adding any heft. The only area really left for improvement is the steel spring, and they’re working on a Ti version of that, too.
Front (above) and back (below) show how much material they machine out to save weight. Fortunately, it’s not at the expense of strength.
Our set weighed in at an even 190g. The front (above, rear is below) was ever so slightly heavier, presumably due to the longer center bolt. At first, I thought perhaps it was lighter than claimed because I didn’t include the Cable Anchor, but I weighed that part separately and it didn’t even register. So, there’s a chance that two Cable Anchors add up to 9g, but I’m guessing it’s closer to 2g or 3g max, which still keeps them under their claimed weight of 199g per set.
For comparison, here’s what the line-topping brakes from the major brands weigh:
- SRAM Red: 265g – MSRP $295
- Dura-Ace: 293g – MSRP $440
- Super-Record: 275g – MSRP $450
- Feather 199: 199g – MSRP $399
Not only do these weigh considerably less than the brakes from the big three, they are priced a good bit less than Shimano and Campy…making them an obvious choice for an upgrade or if you’re building your bike from the ground up.
Installation was fairly straightforward, despite the included instructions. I’m a very visually-oriented person, which is why I post so many pics on our reviews. The instructions are almost entirely text. Installation can be done with one person, but having a second set of hands (or a “third hand” brake tool) helps.
Once the brake is on the bike, you simply center it and tighten the nut on the back of the center (pivot) bolt. Ã‚Â You can then fine tune the centering using the spring tension adjustment bolt, which is located immediately to the left of the Feather logo in the pic above. This makes it really easy to get them positioned correctly.
The other little allen screw that’s on the black part of the center bolt (between the brake and frame) is actually a lock screw that holds the tension on the roller thrust bearings. These brakes do not use bushings, which are a cheaper option and can wear out. Both arms have races pressed into them, then a roller bearing. The center bolt’s head (on the front) and the tension nut screw together, then the little allen screw tightens down on the center bolt to keep it tight. Basically, it’s like a cone-bearing set up on some wheels. In theory, this set up allows you tighten things up if they ever developed any play. And, even though the bearings are sealed and should stay clean, it’s easy enough to take apart, clean and regrease the bearings.
After mounting and centering the brakes, Feather recommends getting the pads aligned, however I found it much easier to do that once the cable was attached since it held the pads in closer to the rim. Ã‚Â Otherwise, you’re fighting the spring’s tension to squeeze the brakes together to position the pads correctly, which is really tough to do without a helper.
That said, it is also a lot easier to get the cable bolt unit positioned correctly if you have someone (or the tool) to hold the brakes closed against the rim. In hindsight, a simple shop clamp would have probably worked. Anyway, I used the included wrench to hold the Cable Anchor (the black bit that the cable runs through, under the red cam arm) and tightened the small Allen screw until it was snug on the cable. There are some specific guidelines to help you get the right amount of cable pull to maximize the leverage these brakes offer and give it enough room to pull the Cable Anchor away to open the brakes so you can remove your wheel.
About half way through my first test ride, I grabbed the brakes hard and the cable slipped through the Anchor. The instructions say to tighten it “just enough so it doesn’t slide”, but after my experience, I’d say get it in there pretty tight. It’s a small screw, though, so you have to balance “tight enough” with the risk of stripping it. After stopping by Cycles de Oro for a mid-ride fix, they got it pretty snug and I haven’t had any issues since.
HOW DO THEY PERFORM?
In a word: Awesome. I’ve got about 200 miles on them and have nothing but good things to say.
UPDATE: Over a thousand miles and they’re still awesome.
Once you get the amount of cable pull dialed in to maximize their leverage, these things have a world of modulation. They specifically state not to run the pads too close to the rims. Putting a little space between them sets the cam in the right position to properly move the caliper arms through their travel for the best progression of power.
The cam (the red bit in the pic above) is the secret to these brakes’ stellar performance. As you pull the cable, they move the caliper arms progressively farther, giving them a light feel at first with consistently firmer grabbing power. It’s a smooth transition, so I could always tell when it was getting to the point of locking up and avoid it if I wanted.
Just to test it, I adjusted the cable barrel up to pull the pads in close to the rim. Ã‚Â Just like the instructions said, they lost their progressive feel and lost a lot of power. Once I backed the pads off, they felt great again.
I’m what you’d call an average rider. 6’2″, about 180lbs. I figured I’d see what a bigger, more powerful rider thought. Steve, a mechanic at de Oro, is about 250 and has quads like redwoods. Here’s what he had to say:
“These are the most powerful brakes I’ve ever ridden, and they feel great. I’ve had Zero Gravity’s, Dura-Ace and Campy’s and these are way better than any of them. I almost endo’d while I was seated.”
The video below shows what he could do with them, along with showing off the action of the leverage cam on the brakes:
So, we know they work great, but check this pic out:
They’re also extremely narrow. This shows a comparative profile of SRAM Force brakes versus the Feathers. Besides being light, they reduce your frontal footprint, arguably making you a little more aero.
Feather Brakes come with black calipers and blue bits. You can order color kits in Black, Pink, Red, Blue and Gold. The kits include the rocker arm, cable barrel lock nut and the pad holders. The Red, which we tested, was a bit on the maroon side, so it didn’t quite match the orange-ish red on Mavic’s wheels. No word on whether the pink will match our pink flamingos.
That’s right. Pink Flamingos, plural. There are two more chillin’ outside our test garage.
Only a few nitpicks. First, the included brake pads seem to glaze up a little quickly. After only about 90 miles, they needed to be sanded to make them super grippy again. They’d still stop, but they didn’t feel as smooth (or as quiet) as when they were first installed.
Second, the instructions could be a little more visually helpful. Seriously, though, neither of these are major complaints.
These brakes are amazing. They’re ultra-light, they work magnificently and, compared to what other top-of-the-line brakes are selling for, they’re a bargain. The modulation and power are both excellent…they give you incredible control over your braking, and when you need to stop, they’ll stop you quickly.