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.
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.
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.
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.
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.