When SRAM introduced the new Red 22 Hydro R groups, I think it’s safe to say the disc brake stole the show. With road discs everywhere you look, the notion of a hydraulic rim brake seemed almost like a step backwards. Truth of the matter is though, that most road bikes are still rim brake equipped, and hydraulic rim brakes do offer some advantages – at least on paper. We were invited to check out the new Colorado Springs Development Center and get a crash course in Red 22 Hydro R HRR direct from STU.
Get a grip on hydraulic rim brakes, next.
After a quick tour of the facility and presentation on the new groups, it was time to get to work. Armed with individual work stations, a few drawers full of tools, and the tutelage of the experts it was time to go to work. I mentioned it in the last post, but for a dealer considering sending one or more of their mechanics to STU it is definitely a worthwhile investment.
Questions about installing your new SRAM unit? Use the QR codes attached to each part or box that will take you right to the instructions – a smart use of QR codes!
This QR tag is making sure you know to use a 13mm cone wrench to center the brake while the brake nut is loose. Hold the 13mm wrench in place while you tighten the brake nut to keep the brake centered. Otherwise you risk damaging the mechanical spring on the brake.
Avid had an updated version of their Pro Bleed Kit on hand for us to use, which essentially just has a longer threaded fitting on the end of the syringe. This is supposed to help with getting into tight spaces on mountain bike brakes, though we haven’t run into a brake we couldn’t bleed yet with the older Pro Bleed Kit it should make it easier.
Hiding under the much larger hoods are the reservoirs and bleed fittings for the levers. The bleed port it situated right at the top of the hood which makes it a great vantage point for removing bubbles which have nowhere to go but up. Brake hoses find their way to the levers by way of a banjo fitting that resides underneath the reservoir cap. If you need to remove this cap for any reason, remember to treat it like any other reservoir cap and tilt the bike so the gray cap is horizontal – which will keep fluid from spilling into your shifter.
Bleeding of the HRR brakes is almost exactly like the process for Elixirs, yet seemed even easier. Extricating the unwanted air bubbles was supremely easy and each brake was finished in short order.
On each brake, the bleed port is found on the front left of the caliper with a standard T10 plug.
The only adjustments to the brake other than reach adjust at the lever come by way of the adjustment knob at the top of the brake. Functioning just like the barrel adjuster on a mechanical rim brake, turning it clockwise will close the caliper, while counter-clockwise backs off the pads.
Pro Tip: If you need to shorten the hoses on the system, turning the barrel adjuster all the way clockwise will open up the gap between the two caliper arms allowing much more room to work the 8mm box wrench on the nut.
Red Hydro R hoses are shortened just like any other brake hose – use a high quality hose cutter to chop it to size, then add the new olive and thread in the barb with a little bit of DOT grease on the threads. The DOT grease keeps the inner lining of the hose from twisting which could cause a crack in line. The other tip comes in handy when reinstalling the brake hose. It looks like it is just a straight fit, but the nut actually threads in at an angle. Due to the tight space around the brake, knowing this little detail will make a world of difference. Make sure to push down on the hose while you are threading in the compression nut.
In addition to the barrel adjuster the brakes also have a 3 position quick release similar to that on mechanical brakes. The brake is open to close, left to right. Other than the obvious removal of the tire this feature allows for up to 28mm tires, and is compatible with Firecrest-wide (27.4mm) rims. Since the brakes operate on a closed hydraulic system, there is no compensation for pad wear like a disc brake which is why the adjustments are important.
Obviously the levers are big. While they do take some getting used to, those with larger hand will probably find them better than the previous Red. Personally, with my average sized hands, they do feel big but not bad. The one potential issue I have with the lever is the hard plastic edge where the bottom of the plastic body meets the hood. If you like to wrap your fingers under the hood, this edge is very pronounced and could be irritating. After a 3 hour ride today it didn’t bother me as much as I though it would, but it’s something I’m keeping an eye on.
Otherwise, the bigger lever certainly provides different hand positions and initially feels like it may offer more support to your palm when on the top of the hood.
Transition between the hood body and the handlebar is better, but I still added an extra piece of tape on the outside corner to make an improved transition to the hood without that hard edge.
Reach adjustments to the brake lever are made through a 2.5mm allen that hides under the shift lever. Pull the lever up, insert the wrench and turn counter-clockwise to make the reach shorter, clockwise for bigger hands. Due to the hydraulic mechanism doing the work, the tips of the brake levers can be made smaller which feels really good in your hands when braking from the drops.
SRAM also continues their shift paddle reach adjustment, which is changed through another 2.5mm allen on the inside of the lever.
Proper lever angle looks a bit more pigeon toed than previous Red, but for me this is the ideal spot.
No mistaking the new hoods from the back.
As far as the installation of the 22 group, it’s mostly business as usual compared to the previous Yaw equipped Red group. We’re all guilty of getting a new part and immediately jettisoning the instructions, but if you’re new to Yaw, definitely read the step by step. Installation of the derailleur requires a specific order and factory setting that if you mess up, you’re on your own.
But, get the setting right, and you are rewarded with this impossibly angled chainline that somehow manages to have no rub even when completely cross chained. Yes, it goes to 11.
I wasn’t sure it was really possible, but Red 22 has managed to squeeze out even more precise, instant, tactile shifting than the previous generation. Still quiet, the new group offers lightening fast front shifting without any detectable rub no matter what the gear, all without any trim at the front shifter. My bike was fitted with an 11-28 cassette, which thanks to the extra gear has more manageable jumps between some of the cogs. Available after Christmas, SRAM will have a Wi-fli version of their Red derailleur and cassette as well with an 11-32 option (the derailleur will be available next month). For anyone who is wondering, 11 speed shift lever and front and rear derailleurs are not speed compatible. Anything with the “22” moniker is 11 speed only. Same goes for the 11 speed Power Lock chain link, which is Silver to distinguish from the black 10 speed version. According to SRAM, 11 speed chains have proven to have 20-30% longer life and have been 10-15% stronger than 10 speed.
Like Tyler, I noticed the slight dead stroke the the brake lever on the HRRs. When asked, the cause is the fact that the lever is the same for the HRD and HRR brakes. Due to the closed system on the HRR, you can feel that dead stroke before the piston opens in the brake, actuating the arms. Out on the bike it’s almost unnoticeable and allow you to grab the brake levers without actually braking. Theoretically, this also means that you could swap out disc brakes from rim brakes if you wanted to in the future – though SRAM isn’t sure they would sell the parts in that orientation.
My first rides on the bike have been on Zipp 30 alloy clinchers which turn out to be pretty incredible. Certainly not the lightest wheels at 1655g, but what they lack in lightweight they make up for in stiffness. We’ll have a full review on these as well, but for now the aluminum braking surface was excellent with the HRRs.
Unfortunately, due to the super tight schedule at SRAM we weren’t able to weigh each part individually before it was installed. We’ll weigh the parts before the final review, but we were able to weigh the entire bike. The Fuji Altamira SL was built up previously with a full 10 speed SRAM Red group, with the exception a KMC X10-SL chain. With Dura Ace pedals installed the previous version weighed in at 13.87lbs – now, the same bike with the same wheels, tires, everything except the SRAM 22 Hydro HRR drivetrain tips the scales at 14.24 lbs. Obviously, the chain is different from the KMC to the SRAM, and the original bike had Gore cables and housings while we were supplied regular cables and housing for the 22 build.
The 0.37 lb difference works out to around 168g, but considering it adds another gear plus hydraulic brakes, that’s not a big weight penalty. Though first indications are that it is slightly heavier than 10 speed mechanical.
Honestly, when I first saw the HRR rim brakes, my inner curmudgeon really wanted to hate them. I mean, in certain situations I’m sold on hydraulic disc brakes for road – but rim brakes?
I totally get it now. Like Avid’s Paul Kantor said, “hydraulic rim brakes don’t offer that much more stopping power, but how you get there is a lot less effort and a lot more control.” SRAM’s HRR brakes offer silky smooth lever pull, and offer slightly more stopping power than mechanical rim brakes with a lot less effort. Throw in the fact that the hydraulic system will continue that same feel and won’t deteriorate like a cable system will, and you can route the hoses however you want inside a frame, and it starts to make more sense.
Long term testing will be the ultimate decider, but barring major mechanical issues, the new Red Hydro R HRR brakes are surprisingly good.