Review: Lightweight Avid BB7 SL Mechanical Disc Brake Calipers

Avid BB7 SL lightweight mechanical disc brake review

After reviewing the Hayes CX5, people asked how they compared to some of the other mechanical disc brake options out there. So, we requested a few things to test, and Avid’s new BB7 SL calipers were the first to arrive. As fate would have it, they got here just in time for our NC cyclocross series finals, which was covered in snow, mud and crud. In other words, perfect testing conditions.

Introduced last year (but spotted before hand at Eurobike), Avid’s BB7 SL replace some of the steel hardware with titanium to bring the weight down, and they get a nice dark metallic “Falcon Gray” finish to set them apart…and match up with the new Red group. Functionally, they’re the same as standard Road BB7 brakes, which I’ve had

ACTUAL WEIGHTS

Avid BB7 SL lightweight mechanical disc brake actual weights

Weight savings, claimed at 25g per caliper, primarily come from using titanium hardware, better rotors and different brake pads that aluminum backed with a lightweight organic material, versus a standard metal backed sintered pad on the regular BB7 Road.

At a minimum, you’re going to be installing the three parts above: Caliper (159g), mounting bolts with their “Tri-Align Caliper Positioning System” washers (16g) and the inline barrel adjuster (4g). Total is 179g.

Avid BB7 SL lightweight mechanical disc brake actual weights

You’ll also need a rotor, and the BB7 SL’s ship with the newer HS1 rotors introduced in 2011 with the updated Elixir hydraulic brakes.  They’re available in 140, 160, 180 and 200mm sizes. Weights for the 160 is 96g and 140 is 80g. Included bolts are 7g per rotor. I ran both 160′s, so total for the test was 206g. Standard BB7 brakes get the older Clean Sweep rotors.

Avid BB7 SL lightweight mechanical disc brake actual weights

Other stuff you may need depending on your bike’s set up are mounting adapters. The included adapters for front (18g), rear (13g) and bolts (10g, x2 if you needed both adapters) would add 51g to the bike. I needed the rear only since ENVE’s disc ‘cross fork is designed around a 160mm rotor.

FEATURES & PERFORMANCE

Avid BB7 SL lightweight mechanical disc brake review

The BB7′s benefit from dual contact adjustment knobs (one on each side, for each pad). This helps get the pads as close to the rotor as possible without having to use up cable pull by twisting the inline barrel adjusters. That said, I found getting worthy performance from the brakes meant setting them up with no slack in the line. That meant closing down the barrels almost to their shortest position, pulling the cable taut with a third-hand tool, then clamping it down and using the barrel to ensure tightness.  After setting the cable tension, then I’d fiddle with the knobs to bring the pads in. Ultimately, I’d put them about 1mm to 1.5mm off the rotor on either side, which provided clearance for any wobble in the rotor and a good feel at the brake lever.

The result was having the barrel adjuster in the middle of its travel, giving me full range of arm pull on the caliper, instant movement when I pulled the lever and plenty of modulation and leverage to go from feathering to lock up. It also allowed room for quick adjustments while riding.

The pad adjustment knob on the inside is huge and easy to turn even with full finger winter gloves. Compared to the Hayes’, you get the convenience of tool-free adjustments. The downside is that the adjustments are indented into fixed increments, and yes, sometimes it’ll seem like it’s either too far or too close to the rotor, particularly on the inside pad. With the Hayes brake, you need an allen wrench, but you can adjust it as much or as little as you want.

Avid BB7 SL lightweight mechanical disc brake review

Avid recommends installing the inline barrel adjuster. Unlike the Hayes CX5, Avid’s doesn’t have a barrel adjuster built into the caliper. While there’s something to be said for all-in-one packaging, being able to adjust while riding is nice, too.

Now, let us have a moment of silence for the death of Gore cables, they will be missed.

Avid BB7 SL lightweight mechanical disc brake review

I was fortunate enough to start the day’s race in the first wave, and conditions were still slick and dirty. It only deteriorated from there. After seeing the mud collection from the UCI cyclocross worlds, disc brakes just keep looking better and better, and these performed well.

About my set up: I used these calipers with Shimano Ultegra drop bar road levers and they worked flawlessly. Oddly, I rode a Specialized Crux Disc last summer with a full SRAM/Avid set up and, despite a lot of fiddling, couldn’t get them to feel very powerful…to the point where I opted to race the canti version of the bike for that weekend. But, Joseph has been riding the Crux Disc we’ve had in for review with SRAM Apex for a long time now with no complaints. So, two out of three, with the two being longer term, more in depth usage, have been pretty positive. I’m really happy with the stopping power and modulation. The fact that they’re so light is pure bonus.

Retail is $170 per wheel.

Comments

Jeff - 02/05/13 - 11:10am

Take a look at Sunday’s Elite men top twenty… no disc brake to be seen. Euros don’t use it at all. Wondering if this trend is mostly due to SRAM massive sponsoring of US cyclocross teams ? Otherwise, it looks good.

Tyler (Editor) - 02/05/13 - 11:51am

Jeff – It really will be interesting to see the adoption rate over the next couple of years. There are still a number of major brands that aren’t offering something at the top tier with discs, and disc bikes are still a bit heavier and pros like their super light bikes. For me, I really like the discs because I don’t have to worry about the wheels being super true, and (so far) they’ve all been pretty quiet compared to the chatter I hear from a lot of people’s canti bikes. The introduction of hydraulic systems should be a pivotal point because they’ll be lighter and require almost no maintenance, which could push people in that direction a little faster. We’ll see!

nick - 02/05/13 - 11:53am

Try 5mm compressionless derailleur housing, works wonders on mech disc brake setups! mondo power for days..oh, and if you can get your mitts on them, xtr brake cables ;)

Alex K - 02/05/13 - 11:55am

The BB7 Road version have a barrel adjuster on the caliper. Why didn’t they include one there?

Mindless - 02/05/13 - 12:23pm

Nobody cares what elite top 20 uses. For all I care they can run with no brakes at all.

Disks perform better for the rest of us. Period. You have to be dumb and blind not to see that.

Now get rid of “quick” releases. 15mm/12mm through axles is actually faster to use, and they are oodles stiffer.

Mindless - 02/05/13 - 12:27pm

@nick: BMX linear housing is what you should use. Flybikes makes great one.

harro - 02/05/13 - 12:33pm

@Jeff – Tim Johnson rode disc and finished 19th

mudrock - 02/05/13 - 12:36pm

I think Avid is falling behind TRP – their new brakes (Spyre and Hy/Rd) look awesome. If they sell them with stiffer housing, even better. Discs brake technology has taken leaps in a very short time. Hydro brakes will fade as the cable tech improves.

RyanC - 02/05/13 - 12:37pm

6th and 10th place in the women’s race were taken by discs. They were being pushed around oh so quickly by tiny ladies, Eva Lechner and Kaitie Antonneau, so the weight is not a deal breaker by any means.

limba - 02/05/13 - 1:29pm

Hmmm, Moots frame with King/Enve wheelset… looks like the new Katie bars… let’s see the complete bike and give us a review. Actually I know what the review will say, the almost perfect cross bike.

Dude what? - 02/05/13 - 1:52pm

@Mindless

“Now get rid of “quick” releases. 15mm/12mm through axles is actually faster to use, and they are oodles stiffer.”

Umm what? A through axle takes atleast twice as long to change….

Drew - 02/05/13 - 1:52pm

@Jeff and those who talk about “Euros” not running them. You need to understand that these teams in Europe often have ~20 sets of wheels for their athletes. There are still very few lightweight disc wheel options right now for many of the Euro guys. Also, not all of the frame manufactures are on board yet. Also, they’re heavily sponsored by Shimano in Europe who do not have equipment ready for their riders. This will take time. The wheels need to be available and plentiful. When the teams in Europe all switch it will be a massive equipment cost to them as they will have to get hundreds of new wheels, re-train old Belgian mechanics and run new frames with new cable routings. Big changes.

Also, keep in mind that pros are able to get a new bike one or even twice a lap in some cases. They’re totally cleaned off. One of the biggest advantages of discs is less mud collection in the seatstays and fork–this is not really an issue for a pro. It is for the weekend warrior. Also, their canti’s are kept extremely clean throughout the race so less need for consistent braking provided by discs. Again, something the average Joe racer doesn’t have.

Because of all the reason above, the euro peloton will be the last group to change over. But discs will be the norm in 2 seasons.

Canucklehead - 02/05/13 - 1:58pm

@mudrock: It’s a little early to say that the BB7s have been supplanted. The Hayes haven’t been fairing well after a season of cross, according to multiple sources (mostly Norco frames).

I’m curious to see how the Spyre is for maintenance/upkeep, with more moving parts.

Loki - 02/05/13 - 2:03pm

Discs are the future – you just have to look at the history of MTB brakes and that the pro’s were the last to switch, gotta believe that the same will happen in ‘cross.

@mudrock agree, particularly as Avid’s ‘new’ design is what many people have done already, switch out a bunch of bolts, get an aftermarket rotor and better pads. How is that ‘new’?

Johnny Doe - 02/05/13 - 2:16pm

@ Canucklehead, but the cost of the Hayes are considerably less than the BB7′s to say nothing of the SL version reviewed here. Obviously there are some bells, whistles, and doo hickeys missing from the Hayes brake to make them so cheap. Haven’t been racing mine, but they’ve so far seen 2000+miles, road & dirt, commuting & playing. A fair better comparison if we’re looking apples to apples would be the BB5 and the CX5. Similar sized pads, similar adjustability.

Alex - 02/05/13 - 3:40pm

In regard to the comment on using 5 mm derailleur housing for brakes….. please do NOT do this. Compressionless housing is not designed to handle the force of braking. The wire strands that make it nice and stiff in relation to the low forces of shifting are only held together by the plastic cover. The goal is to keep the housing a consistent length to maintain indexing performance. Brake housing is spiral wound to counter the desire of the brake cable to escape its confines. A failure of the derailleur housing would be quite rapid, and probably at the most inopportune time (under maximum brake application).

Tyler - 02/05/13 - 5:05pm

Dude What- have you seen Manitou’s quick release thru axle? Every frame and rigid fork manufacturer should look at licensing that design. It’s wicked fast and super easy to use. Beats standard QR by a mile. But, you still have to watch the rotor when slotting it into the caliper while reinstalling the wheel. Try doing that too fast and it’s a recipe for frustration.

Walter - 02/05/13 - 5:16pm

Mechanical disk brakes are also great for trekking and commuting. They can last 10.000′s of miles with little maintenance. Also, you will not need special tools when travelling in the middle of nowhere.

A weakness of the BB7 is the threads of the adjustment system. In a typical Dutch winter with a lot of moisture and salt on the road, they can get stuck because of oxidation. This can be solved with a little copper-based anti-seizure. To apply it on the threads, you will need to take the caliper apart almost completely, but this is not very difficult. Do it before the first ride and your BB7 will last for years.

Robert - 02/05/13 - 5:36pm

@Alex K, the standard Avid BB7 brake caliper does not have a cable adjuster. You must be thinking of the BB5, which has the cable adjuster in lieu of the contact adjustment knob for the outer (moving) pad.

@ Alex, excellent safety tip. BTW, Jagwire’s high end brake cable housing is similar to compressionless derailleur housing except that kevlar (or similar) is wound around the wire strands, under the plastic housing cover, to prevent bursting. The final few inches of housing at the handlebar end are spiral wound to allow the housing to make the final tight bend under the bar tape to the brake lever.

Mindless - 02/05/13 - 9:05pm

@Alex: BMX linear housing is designed to handle braking. It is basically a thicker derailleur housing.

Jeff - 02/05/13 - 10:00pm

@tyler and Drew thanks for your useful and polite answers.
@mindless: why so rude ? Me Dumb and blind because of a comment about Disc brakes ? Really ? Wow congrats mate…

Mindless - 02/05/13 - 11:17pm

@Jeff: It was not directed at you, but at an theoretical person who does not see disk benefits.

@Dude what: watch video of QR15 (http://www.manitoumtb.com/index.php?page=fork&fork=Marvel&discipline=all) and tell me how you can do a QR faster. You can’t.

PaulM - 02/06/13 - 4:37am

How about a comparison to the new Shimano R515 and CX75 brakes?

duczmal - 02/06/13 - 7:08am

What about the Zoom Hollow Tech – 120gr each calipper…

http://product.madeinchina.com/ZOOM-Hollow-Out-Bike-Bicycle-Mechanical-Disc-Brake_12881576.shtml

T - 02/06/13 - 10:54pm

@ dude what? Dude you must be a roadie or have an old mtb, through axles are so much easier and faster. A few years back Fox had a little competition at a show, people where invited to put a wheel in with a qr and with a 15mm through axle, guess what? Everyone was faster with the through axle.

WG - 02/08/13 - 8:59am

I have seen disk brake pads completely dissolve after half a CX race in NE Ohio. I ride XO on my mountain bike, but cannot see myself making the switch to disk on my CX rig anytime soon (early adopter costs, lack of wheel selection and hydraulic options). Also, how much braking force is actually needed for cross? The only clear advantage I see is mud clearance and the ability to ride an out-of-true wheel for a few laps. Seems like marketing trickery to me. I’ll stick with my pit bike.

Fret - 04/05/13 - 2:27am

After switching to discs there really is no argument as to why cantils should stay.
Far better than the Ultegra 6700 on my roadie and work the samemodulation and force no matter the conditions.

4dawg - 09/05/13 - 11:31pm

Man, there really is a lot of hype/misconception in this arena. I know this review is “old” and I’m a few months behind in posting this BUT:

Being a devout BB7 (both Rd and Mtn) user and having a fair amount of experience setting mechanical disc brakes up as a professional mechanic for years now I would like to offer a little insight.
1.) Use compression-less housing i.e. Jagwire Rip-corp or similar. Don’t waste time on regular brake housing. Let any attachments to fancy standard style housing you might have drop by the wayside. You will have a much easier time of setting up your brakes and the lever feel is far better. This will allow you to set the brake with the torque arm in the full relaxed position which is better for the brake mechanism long-term. If you need a fourth hand tool to set up mechanical disc brakes you’re doing something wrong (no offense Tyler).
2.) Pay attention to your caliper alignment. It matters. Dial caliper placement in and you get better power, lever feel, and pad life. With Avid and many other brakes you can use the pad adjustment to “cheat” a bit by running the pads in on both sides while the CPS bolts are a hair loose. Run the pads in until you can just barely turn the wheel. Spin the wheel a couple rotations then snug the mounting bolts (alternate bolts, going 1/4 turn at a time til proper torque is achieved). Now back your pads off til the wheel spins with little to no pad interference. Assuming your rotor is true this should be easy. Go bed them S***ts in with a couple quick stops. Always double check ALL mounting hardware for proper torque–this will minimize potential for squeal as well as adding to your safety.
3.) People care WAY to much about pad rub. If your rotor is decently true (.5 – 1mm or so of tolerance) you will have very little rub. Minor (once or twice per rotation) pad to rotor contact does very little to hamper your ride performance and if you can get over the “lack” of perfection you’ll have way more time for riding enjoyment.
4.) Modify stuff. As this review illustrated, after-market bits are around. Buy light rotors, i.e Ashima AiRotors or similar–these are often cheaper and lighter. Get lighter pads, or find the compound that suits your riding needs. With BB7 I encourage people to learn how to tune their return springs. You can modify the return springs to hold the pads more parallel top-to-bottom than they will stock. Buy a couple spare springs from your LBS and see if you can find a mechanic who understands this principal to show you what’s up. I’d be happy to put a pictorial how-to together if someone has a site they’d like to host it on. MTBR might already have a thread on this, I dunno.

Excuse the length of the comment please. I’ve just gotten frustrated with how quick people are to assume a brake is weak when they’re really just missing some of the finer points of that can make for a truly superb setup. The A number 1 tip for mechanical brakes is to ditch the stock housing before going any further. SO worth it.

Happy riding!

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