Long Term Review: Avid X0 Trail Brakes
The Avid X0 Trail Brakes launched in March 2012, then were joined by an Elixir 7 & 9 level options in April 2013. Both promised XC weights with near downhill level braking power, and first impressions suggested they’d accomplished just that.
They also took advantage of the redesigned master cylinder to, hopefully, eliminate the bleed and performance problems that had plagued the original Taperbore design. We’ve had three sets of brakes in rotation pretty much since they launched, running them on local trails, in the mountains and for some rotor burning descents throughout the 2013 Trans Sylvania Epic.
Have Avid finally gotten it right? Are these the perfect mix of light weight and strong braking that modern bikes (and bikers) need? Read on and see…
The levers come with a inline pad contact adjust, carbon blades and tooled- or tool free reach adjust. If you’re running the new Grip Shift twisters, you’ll want the tooled version to avoid clearance issues. One of the biggest improvements to the Taperbore design has been the introduction of what Avid calls Air Trap. The Taperbore design makes it pretty difficult to get every last air bubble out of the system, so the new Air Trap design keeps any remaining bubbles in the master cylinder in a spot where they won’t get in the line and affect brake performance.
The calipers are remarkably small for a quad-piston design. They use paired dual diameter pistons with a longer pad to provide plenty of power and and a large contact patch. The X0 level brakes come with alloy-backed organic pads, the others have steel-backed organic pads. Sintered metallic pads are an option. They drop in from the top for easy replacements. Another big change these brakes ushered in is a more direct mount. No more washers are required between the caliper body and frame/fork. I used them on top for this installation, but you don’t need to.
The hose banjo can be rotated for smooth lines regardless of frame shape. The caliper bleed port is on the opposite (outer) side.
The only difference between the X0 and Elixir 9 models are the pads (alloy versus steel backing) and the X0 gets tool-free reach adjust option. The Elixir 7 model loses the pad contact adjust and gets a metal lever blade.
Caliper, hose and lever weight came in at just 206g for the front brake. Notice the graphics are identical top and bottom, letting you run them moto/euro style or regular without affecting aesthetics. Add 10-15 grams for the rear brake depending on hose length.
Note: These weights photos are from the launch. Our production test samples weighed in the same, these were just better pictures.
The HS1 rotors launched at the same time as the new brakes, offering a new 170mm diameter. Left to right: 180mm (133g) – 170mm (115g) – 160mm (95g). They also offer a 200mm and 140mm.
Left to right: Six rotor bolts (14g) – Standard bar clamp mount (16g) – 20mm post mount spacer w/ bolts (34g)
LONG TERM REVIEW
Since Zach and Tyler both have been riding these brakes for quite a while, we thought it’d be fun to do a conversational type review. Here goes:
Tyler Benedict: So, Avid Trail Brakes. What’d you think?
Zach Overholt: Honestly, going into testing I had about zero expectations from the brakes. Sorry Avid, but my previous experience with Elixirs made me very skeptical of their performance. But, after one of Avid’s engineers convinced me to give the X0 Trail brakes a chance at Sea Otter, I dutifully mounted them up. The performance so far has been surprising.
Tyler: Well, you beat me to my next question, which was “what was your past experience with Avids?” I liked them, too. My first ride was at the launch last spring and they were great. Lots of control, lots of power and great modulation.
I’ve always liked Avid’s lever shape and feel – the pivot placement and flat lever shape are my favorite. But, I’ve also had plenty of issues with their old brakes, having to bleed them far too frequently to maintain proper power. With these, I haven’t had any problems with losing power.
Zach: Exactly, I had a number of previous Elixirs that lost braking power after being hung up, or placed upside down to work on the bike, or change a flat. Not to mention the amount of time I spent in the shop working on customers’ Elixirs. I haven’t had to touch the X0 Trails since they were first installed.
Tyler: If anything, I’ve had the opposite problem. I have two sets of X0 Trail brakes on two different bikes. After a good bit of riding, they sat for a month or two while traveling or testing other bikes. During the hiatus in action, one of the brakes firmed up to the point where I couldn’t squeeze the lever at all. I simply took the bleed bolt off the master cylinder, squeezed the lever slightly to push a little fluid out, closed it back up and it’s been perfect ever since. I had this happen to the set of new Elixir 7’s we had in (not Trail Brakes, and apparently no long offered) and the same fix cured it. To be fair, I’ve seen this happen on other brands of brakes in both hot and cold climates, so I don’t believe this is a problem exclusive to Avid. And over more than a year of testing, I only had to do that once and they’ve been otherwise flawless.
Zach: Did you bleed the brakes before this happened?
Tyler: No, didn’t need to. Did you?
Zach: Yes, it’s usually a neccessity because I’m shortening the hoses.
Tyler: That’s because you’re so short! Heh, heh. I’m usually good to go putting them on the bike straight outta the box. And I try to test stuff straight out of the box anyway, since I imagine a large portion of home mechanics that install something aftermarket are going to do just that. Real world conditions, right?
So, from a maintenance standpoint, would you say Avid’s fixed the issues that have plagued them?
Zach: From a maintenance standpoint, yes. I bled the brakes once when I shortened the hoses – which was easy to do with their pro bleed kit. After that I haven’t come across any issues with the hydraulic system.
Performance wise, they have improved any issues except the “turkey gobble” noise of the rotors. I tried to break in each brake exactly according to Avid’s procedures, and the HSX Centerlock rotors still developed a bit of noise after a season of use. It’s better than other Avid brakes recently, but still could be improved.
Tyler: I was running the standard 160mm HS1 six-bolt rotors and had a bit of chatter from them on a rainy day when it first started getting wet. It was pretty loud. Fortunately after about 20 minutes, it went away and hasn’t come back. Thank goodness! I’m running my most-used set on a carbon Niner Jet 9 RDO frame and SID XX WC fork, direct mount (ie. no adapters) in either spot. I’m convinced brake chatter has as much to do with frame and mounting as anything. What’s your set up?
Zach: I’ve been running the X0 Trails with a 180 and 160mm centerlock rotor on the Turner Burner project with the Rock Shox Pike 150mm fork.
Even with the bit of noise, the easily utilized power of the Elixir Trail brakes is well worth it. Few brakes seem to offer the ramp up in power that makes the X0s so easy to use.
Tyler: I agree. And I think that’s what’s so good about them: They’re easy to use. I know I’m going to get flak for even comparing the two, but Shimano’s brakes bite in abruptly on the front end, then gradually increase power. And a lot of people seem to like that – that’s just the way their ServoWave design works. Avid’s is kind of the polar opposite: Smooth, linear pull from start to finish. And both of them end up with plenty of power. Between that and Avid’s relatively unique lever shape, you simply need to pick your preference. And, now, I’d say you’re talking about two things that can be compared in the same sentence.
Other than noise, was there anything about the performance or use worth mentioning?
Zach: No, just smooth, powerful braking without ever feeling the need to use more than my index finger on the lever.
Tyler: I have one. On one of the longer descents during an enduro section of the Trans Sylvania epic, I was on the brakes constantly for almost three minutes. Seriously, after pedaling out of the start, 100% of the descent required braking to stay in control. About halfway through, the front brake starting getting a bit of pump, firming up the lever. It happened gradually, with more than enough warning to take corrective action, so I let off that brake completely for about two seconds and it immediately returned to normal. As a precaution, I let off the back brake for a couple seconds, too, and finished the run with no problems. At no point did I feel like they were going to lose power, and I really like that they built up so gradually. Of course, my rotors were damn near purple at the bottom! They’ve since worn back to silver, but you can see the remnants of the heat discoloration in the pic above.
Final thoughts? Anything else you’d add?
Zach: You seem to be a magnet for brake issues? Just kidding! Seriously though, these brakes have done a LOT to restore my faith in Avid disc brakes. Previously, I was giving away any Elixirs I had, but the X0 Trail brakes seem to be worth the money. Products seem to be in ever changing ebb and flow as far as quality, and while my XT 785 brakes have had minor issues with the master cylinder weeping, and problems with the pads being easily contaminated, the XO Trail brakes have been rock solid.
Tyler: Ha! Yep, I’ve had some braking issues. And breaking issues. What I really like about the Trail brakes is that they combine such great performance with light weight. I kept the Magura MT8 brakes on my bike for a long time before mounting the second set of X0’s on my lightweight “A” bike, thinking they would just add weight. Then I weighed them again and compared, and quite honestly, there’s such a minimal penalty compared to the lightest brakes on the market that, in many cases, you’re actually going to drop weight by going with the Trail brakes. And then you get all the big brake performance to boot. Given that I prefer their lever shape and feel anyway, it was an all-around win for me. I have no plans on taking these off my “A” bike any time soon.