Exclusive: Ciamillo Restructures Everything – Plus Micro GSL Road Calipers First Impressions!

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In economics, there are two theories that define the tradeoffs made in any business decision – Opportunity Cost and Sunk Cost. No one knows this better than Ted Ciamillo.

Over the past couple years since we visited him for a factory tour, Ciamillo has poured countless hours and dollars into his Gravitas crank project. With that project now on hold, those irreclaimable resources would be a sunk cost – they’re gone.

With so much focus on it, his bread and butter brake caliper business suffered. Delays. Rejected parts. Too long delays in responding to customers. You name it, and there’ve been online comments to support it. That was the opportunity cost – the business and good will he’s lost while chasing the dream of building the lightest, stiffest crankset known to man.

Since our visit, I’ve spoken with Ted many times and at length about his business. See, I’ve had several businesses before starting Bikerumor and been through my own share of lost opportunities and hard lessons. I can sympathize. I’ve been there. It’s not fun. And in many of our conversations, the stress came through in Ted’s voice. There are few things more painful than watching something you built from the ground up stumble and fall, yet we entrepreneurs are a tough bunch. Sometimes we don’t know when to quit. And sometimes, that perseverance can pay off…

THE REBOOT

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Time spent on the cranks aside, one of the other issues plaguing the business was production capacity. Not only were the CNC machines limited to just a couple caliper bodies at a time, but Ted says his employees simply didn’t have enough attention to detail, which led to too many of those already sparse parts being rejected. As in, almost 80% rejected at times. A tight supply became even tighter, and payroll was being spent without generating enough return.

The solution? Put the cranks on indefinite hold and fire everyone, even his dealers. As of June 2014, Ted Ciamillo is now making 100% of his brakes 100% himself. And once current dealer orders are fulfilled, he’ll only be selling direct to consumer in North America. His two international distributors, one in Europe and one in Asia, will remain.

That solves the quality control issue, but one person can only do so much. To bump production, he had to reprogram all of his machines to cut more parts at a time. When they were making just two caliper bodies per cycle, his main CNC router needed blanks reloaded about every four minutes. That constant attention left little time to do important things like, you know, sales and customer service. Yes, that’s why your phone calls and emails weren’t being returned, and many times ours weren’t either. To be fair, it’s not uncommon among small, artisan builders. We rarely hear from or hear back from 99% of the handmade frame builders. Even many of the mid-sized brands are so overwhelmed and running on a skeleton crew that communication is tough. Unfortunately, it’s just the nature of business these days. Ted knows it’s a pain point, he’s sorry, and it might yet be some time before it gets much better.

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Ciamillo’s anodization and assembly station.

With these changes, the machines can now handle larger blanks and cut 30 to 36 parts per cycle. Cycle times are now up to three hours at a stretch, leaving time to assemble, anodize, package and ship. Another cycle is set to run after lights out, leaving freshly made parts ready in the morning. Maybe even return a phone call or email or two. (yes, that’s sarcasm) The brakes are made in batches of 50 in 10-day blocks. Not mass production, but way better than it’s been.

So what’s the benefit to you, the cyclist? Why should you care?

Well, if you’ve had a pair of brakes on order or a customer service inquiry in the queue, it means things should be on their way soon. Ted said his backorder log is rapidly getting caught up, and anyone that’s been waiting for too long will get a pretty fair discount.

The other benefit of improved efficiency is a change in pricing. The GSL brake set will drop to $259 from $369. The new Micro drops from $429 to $279. International orders add $20 to $30.

The last reason to care? Because the brakes are amazing…

FIRST IMPRESSIONS – CIAMILLO MICRO ROAD BRAKE CALIPERS

Ciamillo GSL Micro lightweight road bike brake caliper review and actual weights

Let’s start this story many years ago. When I reviewed the Feather Brakes, I swung by a local shop to get a few opinions of them. They liked them, saying they were much more powerful than the equally-light-at-the-time Ciamillo Zero Gravity calipers. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard some version of “Oh, yeah, Ciamillo brakes are super light but they have no power.”

My gut feel, though, was that there had to be something to his brakes or he’d have been out of business long, long ago. After all, many of the custom bike builders I know run them despite similarly lightweight options available. And Ted says he has many, many repeat customers. He says the trick, if you can call it that, is setting them up properly.

A few months ago I finally had a chance to test them for myself, and here’s what I think. Yes, they are amazing, and yes, you absolutely need to set them up correctly.

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Ted knew set up was plaguing some folks, and without the cable properly installed, power could indeed be limited. The issue was using the barrel adjuster to take up cable slack and bring the pads in proper position next to the rim. By pulling the cable via barrel adjustment, you effectively bring the leverage arm that the cable clamps to closer to the barrel’s support arm. When that happens, you’re not getting the full amount of arm movement, potentially bottoming the cable lever into the bottom of the barrel and preventing the brakes from closing further. That limitation on closure is what made them feel less powerful. The reality was the incorrect install had simply prevented the brakes from working as intended.

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Make no mistake, set up is still critical. But the new Micros introduced an adjustable cam that make fine tuning the position much, much easier.

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There’s now a small bolt in the cam, visible from the top (silver, just to the right of his logo), that’s easily accessed. Get the brake pads within 1.5mm of the rim’s braking surface, then fine tune their position with that screw. Adjustments there don’t affect cable pull at all, leaving full lever travel available.

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The other benefit to the design is the front facing cam lever. It allows for quick wheel swaps between narrow and wide without having to loosen the cable bolt and mess with cable position. On the left, it’s shown closed, on the right, open. It’s a substantial 6mm difference.

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Here’s what it looks like from behind. Note the cam’s pivot position has changed, which opens and closes the brakes.

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The cam’s adjustment bolt pushes against the lever arm that’s pulled by the cable. The cam has a roller between it and the brake arm to keep things rolling smooth. The design is good enough for SRAM to license it for their top level mechanical road brake calipers.

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Any extraneous alloy is machined away to save grams. You won’t find this level of attention and drillium on mass produced parts.

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Even the pad carriers are machined away. Ciamillo used to provide pad carriers in multiple thicknesses. Now, just a single version is offered and multiple thickness washers are included:

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Before adjusting the cam and finalizing cable position, these are the first step in setting the proper brake pad distance from the rim. Use none, the thin, the thick, or both washers to get things close, then the cam adjustment fine tunes it.

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Set is still a bit finicky in that it really, really helps to have a friend help hold the lever down while clamping the cable tight. If the arm pulls up a bit, you end up with a little slack in the line that can become unnerving. The only other complaint is that the cable groove points straight into the arm, so you’ll have to bend it a bit once it exits the bolt’s washer.

OK, actually two more small complaints: The brake pads, which need to be Campagnolo, are a royal pain in the arse to cram into the carriers.

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The graphic on the inside of the box showed an older model, which threw me for a loop initially. Install instructions are on their website.

Second (or, third, I guess) is Ciamillo’s instructions leave a little to be desired. They could definitely use more detail. And that’s on Ted’s list, too. Using the steps here should get you on the road safely and enjoying the power they have to offer. Which is substantial.

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And then there’s the weight. Calipers came in at 70g (rear) and 72g (front). If you had to use all of the hardware, you’d add 43g, but you won’t because he includes a short bolt and a long bolt to hold the carriers. Pick the appropriate one based on how many conical washer/spacers you need. (hint: narrower rims need more spacers). So, take away a few grams and you end up with a brake set that can be as light as ~155g.

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Once installed and out on the road, my first impression was “Whoa! These things are powerful!” Their initial impact really sticks in my head. In fact, they’re probably the most powerful brakes I can remember using. It’s still early in the testing, so I can’t comment on durability, but I can honestly say they grab the rim firmly and with a linear feel that lets you modulate the force well.

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Housing makes a difference, and I’ve been using standard shop-supply Shimano cable housing. Nothing special.

While the brakes make adjustment concessions for wider rims, they’re still built with racier tires in mind. Shown here, the clearance is getting into the danger zone with 25c tires on wide rims that push the rubber to 27mm wide. I haven’t had any issues, but 25c tires are probably the biggest I’d run with these.

Would I recommend them? Absolutely, especially at the new lower price. Yeah, they’re kind of tricky to set up, but I enjoy that sort of work. Take the hour or so and enjoy it. Bond with them. And your bike. Then ride like hell. Personally, I like seeing the little guy come up with something cool, and I’ve enjoyed hearing Ted’s story develop. It’s exciting to see him coming out the other end more resolved to make the brakes better and grow the business. And the cranks aren’t dead, but that’s a story for another time. And it’s a good story!

NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS:

Seriously, we know Ciamillo excites some opinions. This is not a customer service forum. Please feel free to discuss the brake’s performance, the company news or ask questions…Ted’s reading. Just know that we won’t tolerate meanness or any customer service issues will be deleted. If in doubt, check out Comments Policy.

Comments

Mark @ GRAVELBIKE - 06/12/14 - 4:43pm

Just curious, which levers are you using?

jayoee - 06/12/14 - 5:02pm

Based on Pioneer power meter strapped to his crank, I’d say the Dura-ace 9000

Mark @ GRAVELBIKE - 06/12/14 - 5:49pm

@jayoee — good eye, thx

Anonymous - 06/12/14 - 5:55pm

Sunken cost vs. Opportunity loss… bit of an understatement. I know shops that have been more or less screwed… Money paid for product not received. That’s not just opportunity lost… thats a crime.

Psi Squared - 06/12/14 - 6:02pm

I don’t know how cable length affects other brakes (My Mavic SSC’s seem pretty immune to cable length differences), but if cable length has a serious impact on a brakes performance and thus makes setup finicky, I would think that would be an important factor for a number of customers. Why wouldn’t the manufacturer then redesign his product to remove that cable length sensitivity?

Will - 06/12/14 - 7:25pm

@ anonymous I’m one of those guys

joe - 06/12/14 - 7:56pm

These brakes are fantastic and have already installed a few sets on my bikes. Ted needed to restructure and he has. I think this is one of those rare occasions where someone in industry has owned up to issues and is working to fix them. He’s basically laid himself on the altar in public asking for forgiveness and another chance to deliver. I’ve spoke with Ted myself and did wait for the initial set of brakes I got – about 2 months – but it was well worth it.

What I suspect you’ll see is a gradual return to real no joke artisan level craftsmanship if the set I have is any indication. The Micros I got beat the heck out of the GSL Tis I had from last year in terms of the anodizing/finish.

Tom - 06/12/14 - 8:09pm

@Ilikeicedtea Maybe that’s why he keeps forgetting to send out orders…

thatonedude - 06/12/14 - 8:43pm

In a sense, good for bikerumor to support those that pay for ad-space. Just the same, nothing in the history of this company proves the products are worthy of buying, or advertising. Compelling story, and all that… but, I’m gun shy to say the least.

Devin - 06/12/14 - 9:09pm

Hi Ted, congrats on making some hard choices and getting a handle on persistent issues. It sounds like it’ll take some time to win back a lot of trust, but it looks like you’re aware of the problems and are working towards fixing them- that’s a lot better than some companies that seem to be both tone-deaf AND unwilling to change. Stay the course and make sure you leave enough time to answer those emails; remember, it doesn’t matter how good your products are if you’re MIA to customers for weeks on end. Good luck, from one small business owner to another.

Mike - 06/12/14 - 9:42pm

Ted, I found you a name for these brakes: Trypophobia

Travis - 06/12/14 - 9:49pm

I don’t have experience with these brakes myself, but I applaud Mr. Ciamillo in trying to right his previous wrongs. That being said, I’m scratching my head with certain decisions he’s made. Campy pads only? So much for being flexible with pad choices. The clearance with 25c tires is a bit disconcerting, especially with the current trend of going to wider rubber. They look cool and the price is much more wallet-friendly now, but I’d be hesitant to pull the trigger on them given those two main issues.

CXisfun - 06/12/14 - 9:52pm

Know what would be fun? If I got the Ti hardware I’ve requested about 10 times over the last 3 years for the CX brakes I bought from Ted. Instead, the brakes sit in the box, brand new and never installed, because I don’t have the hardware to use them.

That was a solid $400 well spent.

AZBikeFreak - 06/12/14 - 10:07pm

I contacted Ted via email to ask about a buy back credit for my old Zero G Ti brakes. Ted called me promptly and offered me $50 for my old set of brakes which are in pristine condition btw. I told him I couldeasily sell them on eBay for $200-250 so thanks anyway. He calls back a day later and offers me $100 bucks just for the Ti hardware. Again, I told him that I would prefer to sell them on eBay for $200-250 but thanked him for the offer. He didn’t call back. This experience left me thinking he was desperate for some Ti hardware.

@CXisfun, Must have needed the Ti hardware to send to you.

I also should say that I’ve had my Zero Gs for 5 years. I am fully aware of the housing length issue as everytime I switch frames it takes a few iterations to get them right. It’s not a big deal but is a pain for most folks.

As far as my review of the brakes, they are by far the best brakes I’ve ever owned for performance and reliability. I’ve thought of picking up another set for my wife’s bike. There are so many people out there that don’t know how to set them up and end up selling them on eBay for cheap.

brandon - 06/12/14 - 10:35pm

Im all about buying parts from the small guys but they have to function well and be easy to service. I see no advantage in these over my dura ace brakes though besides they are a pain in the ass to set up. I think he should work on that no side pull road caliper should be this finicky to set up. thats my internet opinion for the day.

carbonfodder - 06/12/14 - 10:58pm

I have owned a set of 0G Ti’s since 2007(?). Long enough that I don’t remember… but as far as quality, they are the best brakes I have ever owned (and I also have 7400, 7700, 7800 DuraAce on other bikes of mine). Yes, they are a PiTA to set up. No, not an excessive PiTA. Would I recommend ‘em? Absolutely. Was I one of those burned? No. Maybe I just got lucky. But I would be all over new ones… Take that as it is.

fleche1454 - 06/12/14 - 11:05pm

The housing length issues apply to all light modern single pivot brakes. The hardware and the carbon frame don’t allow you to torque down hard enough to get it to stay tight.

That said Dura Ace brakes with no compression housing and slick cables is in my opinion the best combo I have had on any bike as far as feel, and in my book brake feel trumps weight any day.

Steve - 06/12/14 - 11:13pm

Hey Tyler, not a day goes by that I don’t think about having a BURN energy drink. I don’t have the same memories about my zero gravity brakes. However, losing 1/4 pound on my bike may require a reunion! By the way, any Surgar free burn laying around the office? Don’t be a stranger stop in sometime.

Brian - 06/12/14 - 11:30pm

I have been buying brakes from Ted for probably 6-8 years. Set-up is tricky but when done properly, his brakes deliver great power in a easily modulated, precise manner (as an ex-race car driver, this is extremely important to me and why I keep coming back). The new Micros are far better than old models in many respects. Once past the improved initial set-up (which isn’t bad if you take your time and read a little), they have far exceeded my expectations. Wheel changes from narrow to fat are a breeze. I have to re-adapt to the power they deliver after riding my non-Micro equipped bike.

One comment for the article, the calipers can easily handle tires bigger than 25mm…depending on your frame. I ride a Cannondale EVO with 25mm tires and have a ton of clearance with my Micros. It all depends on where the caliper is mounted. If your frame is tight with bigger tires, your brake clearance probably will be too.

NASH - 06/13/14 - 4:52am

Not only were the CNC machines limited to just a couple caliper bodies at a time, but Ted says his employees simply didn’t have enough attention to detail, which led to too many of those already sparse parts being rejected. As in, almost 80% rejected at times.

Sorry cant comprehend this statement, CNC parts by definition or machined to the same tolerances all the time, how can the employees get it wrong, change the programme just for laughs?

heatwave23 - 06/13/14 - 8:15am

I have two sets of neg Gs and I have logged well over 15k on them.

The good
They look cool, are light and not too bad to setup up once you understand how critical the housing length is.

The bad
They are a pain in the a$$ to keep adjusted. To the point they are now sitting in a box collecting dust.
Honestly the braking isn’t any better than a pair of SRAM Force brakes that I used to replace a set.

Andreas - 06/13/14 - 9:34am

@NASH

Lots of things can go wrong during a production on CNC machine. One simple thing is what called tool index. A drill have a certain lifetime before you need to change it. Usually recorder on the operation plan how many holes before need to be replace. When it achieve the end of the life, it will still drill holes but it will be undersize and rough. Looking at Ted’s design, undersize and rough will be rejected. I would imagine his employees never bother or pay attention to this detail.

Bill - 06/13/14 - 11:22am

I picked up a bike with a set of Zero Gravity brakes on them. I then upgraded my wheelset to a wider width rim and needed the low profile brake holders all while Ted was restructuring his business. While it took a while to get what I needed, in the end Ted always took my call and worked to get me what I needed. While it was a bit frustrating at times I do appreciate what Ted was working thru to make things right. The brakes are amazing in both form and function. I would buy put a set of Ciamillo brakes on my next bike.

Anders - 06/13/14 - 1:46pm

If you don’t remove you wheels and let the brakes alone they stay pretty much centered. But if you puncture on a ride expect the pads to rub the rim due to misallignment. The brakes are now on my wifes bike which don’t see a lot of riding and she is very light and they function ok. I have moved on with a set of TRP 970SL and never touch them. I couldn’t be happier.

Graham - 06/13/14 - 3:40pm

The 2014 micro GSL that I am using now are my 3d set of Ciamillo brakes. The weight advantage has always been there. But the stopping power on these new micros is awesome. I would venture that this is even better than the stopping power of more traditional brakes such as those sold by companies based in Japan or Italy. Yes, correct setup is important. But this is easily achieved by a good Wrench or by following Ted’s instructions yourself. Few other boutique manufacturers reduce prices as Ted has done. Strongly recommend these brakes. And Ted.

engineer - 06/13/14 - 5:32pm

No offense, but Ted should probably hire someone with some engineering knowledge .. (speaking of the gravitas cranks that so many people were able to judge as “poorly designed” at first sight – they were not completely wrong, obviously)

Eddie - 06/13/14 - 8:32pm

I am still waiting on replacement brake pad holders from my ZG brakes for 2 years. Sigh.

Olivier - 06/14/14 - 2:19am

I see that there are difficulties to find small parts for your brakes. You should consider checking the availability through european (me) and asian distributors. I personaly sell only what i have in stock and ship within 24h.

kc - 06/14/14 - 4:09pm

Own five pair of various brakes from Ted. Just plain great brakes. Set up is critical, like with a lot of parts. People who say these are junk can happily sell them to me or go and learn to wrench ;-p

Rob - 06/16/14 - 8:53am

I have ordered a good amount of stuff from them in the past, there were some issues but he made it right and the product is good.

mloody - 11/15/14 - 4:52am

I ordered brakes with Ted in April 2014 and so far I have no goods or money. 3 months lied that he had sent the brakes. Later, full of lies. In October, I asked for a refund. To this day, nothing. I do not know what to do now. Please help .Ciamillo is fu ….. g cheater.

Michael M - 11/18/14 - 3:24pm

Long time user of Ciamillo breaks, and I currently have five sets. The craftsmanship is exquisite and they are by far one of the best stopping breaks out there. I often hear about the setup being critical and difficult, my response is go back to school and pay attention in shop class, math, and physics. I have NEVER had any issues with these breaks, and find the easy to install and setup. Sure, there are a bit more difficult than campy-sram-Sham breaks, but with quality and stopping power comes a little extra work. I’ve used them with several different wheels, including Lightweight, Zipp, Mavic, both aluminum and carbon, narrow and wide, and never had any issues. Thanks for the excellent work Ted, keep it up…

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