Project 24 Review: Formula R1 disc brakes
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What good are lightweight brakes if they compromise stopping ability? As any downhiller will attest, you can only go as fast as you can stop- a fact that applies to the XC course as much as the DH. With their range-topping R1 brakes, Formula set out to prove that light weight, power, and modulation aren’t mutually exclusive.
A long time Formula Oro and RX user, Formula were at the top of my list for our Project 24 build. Why? My experience with the Oros and RXs has been excellent. I like when I can forget about a component because it just works. For years. The company’s brakes provide a good deal of power, which is made usable by excellent modulation. Not that the RXs are heavy, but the at an honest-to-goodness 275g for the front brake with 160mm rotor and hardware, the R1s are indeed light, shaving 75g per wheel. Coming from Avid Elixir CRs? You’ll save 1/2lb. Yes, that’s half a pound saved over a perfectly respectable OEM brake. So they’re light. And, if you’ve looked at the images, pretty. Hit more to find out how they work.
The R1s come pre-bled and include a set of hardware to allow the installer to shorten the hose. With a bit of practice (and care), it’s possible to shorten the hose without having to re-bleed the brakes, by first extending the pistons, cutting the hose to length at the lever end, reassembling everything, and resetting the pistons to drive any bubbles into the master cylinder. If this doesn’t make sense, don’t try it. Sporting a whole compliment of Torx-headed, red anodized aluminum hardware, the R1s certainly look the part of a high end brake. The lever bodies are positively waifish and the single-piece forged caliper is virtually all piston. Our samples came with Formula’s new-for-2011 Feel Control System, which allows for contact point adjustment- it adds a bit of weight (as does the Tool Free Reach Adjustment, which wasn’t fitted to our brakes), but Formula found that some riders wanted to be able to easily customize the feel of their brakes. Other personalization options include carbon fiber lever blades (saving 8g/brake), Ti caliper (12g) and rotor (6g) bolts, and MixMaster clamps, to which SRAM shifters can be mounted.
On the trail, the R1s have less free throw than most brakes on the market. There’s a bit more than the RXs, but the R1s short free throw allowed me to set the levers comfortably close to the bar (via 2mm set screws) without squishing my fingers. With my longest finger hooked at the lever’s end, I was easily able to scrub speed or bring the bike to a fast and controlled stop. I didn’t feel that the FCS added much value- with a good bleed the brakes should feel the same and I set the barrels to provide the shortest lever throw possible. It was only when I encountered a bit of brake rubbing during our 24-hour race that I felt the need to back the contact point out a smidge- though I did ultimately re-center the caliper and reduce the free throw.
Power from the R1s has always been adequate- not just for XC riding on fast tires, but also for the trail bike they’re now fitted to (with a 180mm front rotor). It’s not quite up to the level of the RXs- but those brakes are a fair bit heavier. I’d have to rank them right up with Avid Elixirs using the same size rotors. On the longest descents they’ve seen (not especially long- up to 40 minutes with intermittent braking) the lightweight Formulas haven’t shown any signs of fading. In fact, lighter riders should find them more than adequate for trail riding.
What’s not to like? If you like the feel of the R1s, the Formula’s RX is the same (short free throw, good initial bite and modulation)- but better. This is understandable, though, as the heavier brakes are a more recent model and gave their engineers bit more flex-fighting material to play with. Still, the R1 remains on par with most XC brakes on the market for power and bests most of them for modulation. The Torx T15 heads on the aluminum hardware should help it last longer than hex heads, but the size isn’t one found in any of my mini tools. I can live without being able to move the levers on the bars, but not being able to swap out spent pads on a big backcountry ride would be a bummer. Then there’s the price. At $340 per wheel (including rotors but not the FCS or any of the other upgrades), the Italian-made R1s are among the more expensive brakes on the market. Fortunately for Formula, no lightweight brake I’ve ridden comes close.