Review: Avid Shorty Ultimate Cross Brake

It’s July, it’s hot, and yet I have already heard murmurs of the upcoming cross season which must mean Fall is just around the corner. It’s been just shy of a year since I first bolted on the set of shiny black and red stoppers, and since then they have been through a lot. Mud, rain, snow, lots of pavement, crashes, you name it – they’ve probably been through it.

Short of a few hiccups during installation, more often then not, the Ultimates have been stellar, but are they worth the price?

Find out after the break!

The Avid Ultimate line represents just that, the ultimate in performance with lightweight precision CNC’d parts, and plenty of pretty Ano to go along with it. When put on the scale, each brake with all the necessary hardware came in at 128g, which isn’t the lightest, but it’s certainly not the heaviest. Everything you need is included in the package, along with the straddle wire. Initially Sram did have some issues with brakes losing hardware during shipping, but have since changed the packaging to prevent any loss, and were extremely helpful if you received a brake without a bolt.

Set Up:

Before you even begin to set up the Ultimates, you are faced with a choice: run the brakes in the wide setting for ultimate pad clearance, or switch to the narrow setting for ultimate power. The best part about this choice, is that if you change your mind you can go back and change it by simply unbolting the two Torx screws that hold the arm together. Notice that I sad TORX, as I’ve seen more than one person strip out the screws thinking they were Allen screws.

I played around with both settings, though the rear permanently ran the narrow setting to give me as much clearance for dismounts as possible. On the front, I changed it up, but did notice improved clearance with the wide setting when the brakes really were caked in snow or mud as shown above. For the most power on the road however, the narrow set up can’t be beat.

Installation:

While I was waiting to get the brakes in, I had heard through another mechanic that there was an issue with the length of certain brake post and their compatibility with the Ultimates. When I received my set of Ultimates, the installation instructions mentioned nothing about brake post length and didn’t include any spacers so I went about installation. On my bike, a 2010 Gary Fisher Presidio, I did run into this issue, but only on the front. After a call to Sram confirmed the problem, I set out for some pre-2008 Shimano brake posts which I was able to source from Paragon Machine Works. Apparently the new brake posts are 1mm shorter, and cause the brake to bind when the fixing bolt is tightened. SRAM issued a technical bulletin back in November, and has since shipped all new Ultimates with a spacer kit to prevent the issue, and also offered retrofit kits if you got a brakeset before for the problem was identified. I’m all for simplicity, so even though I could have gotten the retrofit kit, I’m happy with the new brake studs and no spacers. Just to reiterate, if you buy a new set of Ultimates, there is no longer an issue.

 

 

When adjusting the Ultimates, you get the feeling that some other brake manufacturers could make initial set up a lot easier, they just choose not to. Compared to other cross brakes I have set up that required multiple hands, bending, and swearing – the Ultimates were as simple as setting up a V brake. Some may take issue with the old school method of spring adjust (loosen the fixing bolt, and turn red cap with cone wrench to desired tension), but I found it reliable, and easy to use. I really like the inline barrel adjuster, which I use to firm up the brakes to my liking. Then, if I need to disconnect the brake, I simply thread in the adjuster which gives me enough slack to disconnect the brake. You no longer have to choose between tight, positive feeling brakes, or the ability to get your wheel out without deflating it.

 

During the very first ride, there was quite a bit of squealing, but after the initial break in and a quick tweak of the pads, they have been silent ever since.

Performance:

For what it’s worth, the Presidio is currently my only road and or cross bike in the garage. That means that it has seen a lot of road miles, commuting, and everything in between. I’ve installed huge tires on it to ride in snow, and alongside rail road tracks. It’s been rallied through the muddiest of cross courses (after the races, I haven’t actually raced them yet), and they’ve been part of a few “spirited” rides that have ended in carnage. The worst of which, would have to be when I came together with a co worker on a shop ride, and his front wheel’s spokes found the arm of my rear brake. The brakes are fine. His wheel/shifter/butt? Not so much.

Really, the only dig I have on the performance of the Ultimates, is that the stock pads don’t work exceptionally well in really wet conditions. Normally, I would chalk this up to just being used to disc brakes, but after fitting some Kool Stop black/salmon combo pads the performance was noticeably better. If you primarily ride in dry weather the stock stoppers will be fine, but you may want to invest in some new pads for the wetter regions out there. Fortunately for those running carbon cross wheels out there, the Ultimates use standard road inserts so carbon pads are readily available.

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Verdict:

While the Ultimates aren’t quite good enough to keep me from wanting disc brakes on my cross bike (no cantilever is), they have effectively decreased my disdain for the Cantis in general. Despite a few niggles in early production, they are incredibly easy to set up and maintain over the course of a year, and offer some of the best stopping power of any cross brakes I’ve tried. If you’re set on waiting until the cross disc brake standards get sorted out and need a primo set of brakes in the mean time, I highly suggest checking out the Ultimates.

 

 

 

 

Comments

Josh - 07/26/11 - 11:22am

I’ve kicked the straddle cable a few times in the rear on botched mounts. Once or twice it was bad enough to knock it out of the holder and lock up the pads against the rim. I’ve since learned from SRAM that some riders have found that swapping it around so the straddle cable quick release is on the OTHER side really helps that problem. Or you can just mount better than me…..

Paul in VA - 07/26/11 - 12:49pm

I bolted on some Tektro CX9 brakes last winter and love ‘em! Just FYI…

http://www.trpbrakes.com/category.php?productid=1040&catid=185

Gillis - 07/26/11 - 1:00pm

“Then, if I need to disconnect the brake, I simply thread in the adjuster which gives me enough slack to disconnect the brake. You no longer have to choose between tight, positive feeling brakes, or the ability to get your wheel out without deflating it.”

To me this is a total deal breaker. If I have to do a wheel change in the middle of a race the last thing I want to be doing is threading a silly barrel adjuster to get my wheel out.

As an aside, i am one of those who is waiting to see how the discs play out (not waiting for hydros though…thats just stupid). So I’m not going to be investing in my bike outside of general maintenance and tires.

ZachOverholt - 07/26/11 - 1:48pm

@Gillis, the barrel adjuster won’t keep you from running your brakes like any other cross brake. You can still run them so you can pop your brake open without having to mess with the barrel adjuster, it just lets you dial in the brakes closer to the rim if that’s what you’re into. If you don’t use the adjuster to do that, you can use it as a standard barrel adjuster to compensate for pad wear.

Michael - 11/28/11 - 8:38pm

Zach: Noticed on your installation the dot on the spring cap is oriented like mine 9 o’clock on the left and 3 o’clock on the right. I would point out that this is opposite to what Avid/Sram writes in their instructions (see step 19). Also they goof on the sided-ness of the red painted springs. On the rear its on the left on the front its on the right (but that is left if your looking at the bike head on like a mechanic not a rider). Small details but wasted time on the part of the consumer trying to translate the inept-ness of Sram’s technical writers.

TheDude - 10/16/12 - 10:47pm

As of Fall 2012, there still is an issue with regard to brake post length. Installing a 2012 version of the Avid Shorty Ultimate on a 2012 Specialized Crux Frame, 3 cantilever arms installed and work perfectly. One arm on the front fork binds regardless of the two washer set up instruction from Avid. Thus, based on tolerance variances on post length, set up may not be as smooth as implied in the Avid instructions. YMMV.

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