Bikerumor Review: Hayes Stroker Gram Hydraulic Disc Brakes

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BIKERUMOR.com REVIEWHayes Disc Brakes has a long, sometimes troubled story to tell.  Some (not all) riders and shop mechanics we’ve talked to complained of poor levers or leaky cables on older models.  They had some trademark issues that kept them from using the “Hayes” name on their products for a while, and the list of major brands that spec Hayes as OEM (in the U.S. anyway) is pretty short.  Lastly, Hayes Bicycle Group’s various brand websites (Hayes, Manitou, Sun-Ringle, Answer) languished with outdated info until recently (most of their sites are fully up to date now).

Both in spite of and because of all that, we wanted to see what Hayes’ Stroker brakes could offer.  After all, we don’t judge Rockshox on their old Mag 21 or Indy SL forks, do we?  Nor do we fault Campy for having made index shifters.  Too often, rumors and urban legend can carry on long after an product, issue or brand has progressed, and, if nothing else, that’s what any good cycling media outlet should do: Test anything and everything we can to confirm or deny such preconceptions.

So, purely in the interest of “science” we procured a set of Hayes Stroker Grams, their top-of-the-line, super-light XC hydraulic disc brake set.  How did they perform?  In a word, flawless.  Why?  Read on for the full review…

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

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Each brake kit comes with everything you need except the mount adapter for non-post mount brakes.  My “old school” Trek Fuel 100 required the adapters for both front and rear, and if your bike does, you’d simply order/buy the adapter for the size rotor you want to run.

Given that these were going on a 80mm travel XC mountain bike, and given that I’m an avowed weight weenie, I chose the 160mm rotor for the front and 140mm rotor for the rear.  These are the only two size options offered with the Gram package, though they’ll work with up to an 8″ (203mm) rotor, and for 2010 Hayes will only be offering cylinder/caliper sets and rotors separately, so you can get any combo you want.

UPGRADE COMPARISON:

We’re making the assumption that if you’re reading this, then a) you are either upgrading from V-brakes, in which case weight comparisons really don’t matter because the performance gain will blow away any potential weight gain, or b) you’re bike has either Avid or Tektro mechanical disc brakes and you’re upgrading to both save weight and boost performance.  This comparison deals with the latter, and since I had Avid mechanicals on prior to this, that’s what we’re comparing to.  Likely, you’ll realize even bigger weight savings if you’re upgrading from the Tektro mechanicals.

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Post mount conversion brackets and bolts weigh in the same.

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Rotors with mounting bolts (for rotor and caliper) with the 160mm rotor:

  • Avid: 148g
  • Gram: 130g
  • Savings: 18g

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Interestingly, 10g of that savings comes from the rotor mount bolts alone.

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Being the weight weenie I am, I had some older (laughably old if you ask the folks at SRAM) 9.0 SL composite levers.  They’re stupid light, virtually indestructible and they’re white…what’s not to like?  Anyway, even with those, the mechanical system for the front weighs in 78g heavier.

  • Avid / SRAM mech combo: 310g
  • Hayes Stroker Gram: 232g
  • Savings: 78g

This puts the actual system weight at 362g without the adapter (most modern forks are post-mount, and other brands’ weight claims are for post/direct mount setups without an adapter).  Total weight savings from a typical lightweight mechanical front brake setup: 96g = 3.39oz = 0.21 lbs

Supposing your upgrading from a heavier hydraulic system, here’s how the Gram compares to a couple of other high end systems:

  • Formula R1: 270g (claimed) – MSRP $385/wheel
  • Avid Elixir CR Mag: 330g (claimed) – $285/wheel
  • Hayes Stroker Gram: 362g (actual) – MSRP $230/wheel

INSTALLATION:

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Seriously, installation couldn’t be easier.  Remove your grip and old brake lever, loosen the bolts on the Hayes master cylinder/lever and firm the bolts.  You’ll tighten them completely once the grip is back on and you have it positioned where you want it.

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Bolt the mount (if necessary) to your fork (and frame for the rear)…

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…attach the caliper, leaving the bolts a bit loose…

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…mount the rotor to your hub and attach the wheel.

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With the wheel firmly in place, squeeze the lever fully and tighten the caliper mounting bolts.  Voila, you’re basically done.  Release the lever and spin the wheel.  If there’s any drag, you’ll be able to see pretty easily which pad is touching, and it’s probably only at the top or bottom of the pad.  Simply loosen the corresponding bolt or bolts slightly, ease the caliper slowly to move the pad off the rotor, then retighten the bolts while you hold it in place.  Including removing the old brake and my grip, installation took all of 20 minutes for the front, and that included explaining to my 4-year-old son what I was doing and how it worked.

The rear took about the same amount of time and is just as easy with the added step of securing the cable along the frame. (I used Dirty Dog Skull Cable Guides, which we reviewed here.)

OTHER DETAILS:

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The mounting clamp is a separate piece and is reversible, so you can run either lever on either side, allowing you to run them moto-style (front brake on right) if you wish.  It also makes installation really easy. Assuming the levers your taking off your bike have a two-piece design, you wouldn’t even have to remove your grip to install them.

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The bumpy “orange peel” texture of our set has been smoothed over for 2010.  A few other upgrades for ’10 include a revised reservoir shape and steel pivot pin for the levers, and there’s now a White version available, too.  (See our Interbike coverage of Hayes for full details)

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The silver dial within the lever adjusts the reach quickly and easily, even with full finger gloves on.  The plunger pushes into a seal on the bottom of the cylinder body.  Despite numerous rides in wet, dirty conditions, it still goes in and out clean as can be.  The Grams do not have a pad contact adjustment, but I never missed it.  They tend to self adjust and have had consistent lever feel for the duration of the review.

And the lever, BTW, is extremely comfortable and easy to reach and pull for pointer or middle finger use.  Yep, I use just my middle finger to brake…if you’re in front of me, don’t take it personally.

HOW DO THEY RIDE?

My review of the Hayes Stroker Gram brakes spanned from mid-May through mid-October, 2009.  I put a few hundred miles of riding on them on varied terrain in all weather conditions excluding snow.

The video above is from our GoPro Hero camera review, but the first few minutes show some of the downhill action riding at Carven’s Cove in Virginia.  The descents can be five to ten minutes long, ranging from white knuckle slides to flowing, super fast singletrack roller coasters.  This was just one of several rides I was on during which it rained…in this case downpoured…with absolutely no ill effect on the brakes.

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In fact, at the bottom of one of the longer, steeper, scarier descents, several of the other riders’ brakes were emitting a burning smell.  All of the other riders on this outing were using other brands of brakes, both mechanical and hydraulic, and least one of them (hydraulic) complained of weakening braking power during the descent.  All of them had at least 160mm rotors front and rear.  With the Grams and my baby 140mm rear rotor, I never felt any brake fade or loss of control, and while they definitely got hot, they weren’t putting off a bad burning smell.  At any moment on the downhill sections, I felt like I could have come to a complete stop if I needed to…quickly and safely.

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During the BURN 24 Hour Challenge in May, the brakes were exposed to almost-90º hot sunny weather during the day and cool, wet in-the-50º’s weather during the night and early morning.  It rained lightly on and off during the night laps, and there’s always a heavy fog rolling off the lake into the expo and trails at this race.  From hot, dry and dusty to wet, cold and slick, the Grams did their job without incident.  Lever feel was always soft, consistent and gave predictable progression of stopping force.

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Speaking of progressive stopping force, the transition from open to fully locked up is smooth and easy to modulate, giving you a wide range of stopping power to feather through corners or clamp down for abrupt “oh no what have I done” moments.

On occasion, I would look down and find that the little rubber cap on the caliper (covers the bleed hole) had popped open while riding.  This happened a few times, including during some rainy rides.  I called Hayes to see if I should worry about water contamination and they said no, and I haven’t had any issues since.

OTHER NOTES:

There are two more things worth noting:  First is the relative silence of the brakes.  I’ve ridden a lot of bikes and with a lot of folks that have noisy disc brakes.  While roaming around Interbike, I asked folks from Hayes, Formula and Avid what they thought caused the shudders, squeals and whines that seem to plague some disc brakes.  The general consensus is that noisy brakes have more to do with the frame material, sturdiness of the mounts, rotor design and even the hubs and wheels than the actual calipers and pads.  During the test, the Grams were run only on my Trek Fuel 100 (circa 2002/2003), which has carbon fiber stays bonded to alloy dropouts and caliper mounts, but I swapped between four different brands of wheels/hubs: Chris King, Mavic, Sun-Ringle and Ellsworth.  Throughout the miles, weather and five months of testing, the brakes never once squeals, shuddered or squeaked.  The only noticeable noise was the gruff pad-on-rotor noise from normal braking, and that was only noticeable when tooling around on the pavement.  Once on the trail, you don’t even notice it and, for the record, it’s a perfectly normal noise.

I don’t know about you, but when I ride a bike where the brakes are noisy or cause bike-shaking shudders even on smooth trail, I want to stop the ride and throw the bike off a cliff.  It severely diminishes the enjoyment of riding, which is why I’m thrilled that the Grams were quiet as a mouse and smooth as butter.

The second thing worth noting is the ease with which these brakes can be reset in the event of stupidity.  During a wheel change, I was playing with the brakes to see the pads move without a rotor between them.  That’s a big no-no…it’ll basically close the pads down so far you can’t get the rotor back in between them.

Fortunately, the set comes with a tapered spacer between the pads during shipping that serves as a reset shim.  Simply push the pads back into the caliper (I used a large flat head screwdriver), insert the shim and squeeze the lever a few times to reset it.  If you really squeeze the lever hard without a rotor in it, you may have to do this a few times, but it’ll reset them and get you rolling again quickly.  In a pinch, you can also slide thin cardboard (think cereal box) between the pads and the rotor once you’ve pushed them back, then squeeze the lever.  That’ll work, too, or you can get Hayes’ bling-eriffic new pad contact adjustment tool for $10.

BIKERUMOR RATING:

Overall, the ownership experience has been extremely positive.  Unlike some companies, Hayes publishes their customer service phone number on their website and encourages you to call it if you have questions.  The brakes come with a standard 1-year warranty against defects, and on a grams-saved-per-dollar-spent, they’re on par with other high-end offerings.  While your bike’s likely different than mine, the biggest reason I recommend them and am giving them a big Five Thumbs Up is because they were quiet, smooth and worked flawlessly throughout the entire test.  There was never so much as a squeak, no errant brake fluid or loss of performance.  It’s time to put Hayes on your list.

bikerumor-thumbsup-5ADDITIONAL NOTE: Just for fun, we’ll try these brakes on a variety of bikes over the winter to see if different frames cause any noise or vibrations and report back…but it’ll be a while.

Comments

Larry - 10/14/09 - 11:02am

That’s a good write up, but you didn’t mention how easy/difficult they were to bleed. I stopped using Hayes years ago and switched over to Avid’s as they are simple to maintain. Has Hayes made any headway in that dept?

Editor - 10/14/09 - 3:43pm

Larry, You’re right…I forgot to mention that. Given that the pads themselves have barely worn down and the lever feel and performance is good as new, I held off on performing a bleed for this review. We do have an aftermarket Hayes bleed kit in addition to the stock bleed kit that comes with each brake, and we’ll be doing a comparison using one on the front and the other on the back in the future. For now, though, we’re leaving well enough alone. I will notate this review when we do the bleed test.

[...] the meantime, perhaps we could tempt you with this review of their ultralight Grams? Share Email | 1 Views | Add a Comment [...]

Alex - 01/28/10 - 4:46am

They are very easy to bleed! I have a Stroker Trails and had to bleed them after hose shortening. It took me about half an hour to bleed front and rear. Nothing difficult even without bleeding kit.

[...] dial that moves the lever in or out without affecting pad contact.  Having used this on the Hayes Gram brakes we reviewed, it’s a very nifty feature and makes for quick, easy tool-free adjustments on the [...]

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