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  1. #1
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    Dilemma: Women's model from Cannondale has inferior brakes compared to men's model?

    I'm brand new to MTB riding and maintenance, but I have over a decade of experience building and maintaining BMX bikes. So the main parts I am unfamiliar with working on are derailleurs, shocks, and hydraulic/disc brakes.

    After a lot of research, I bought myself a 2012 Cannondale Trail SL3. I'm pretty happy with it overall but I don't really know much at this point. It has Shimano BR-M446 hydraulic disc brakes. After a couple riding sessions I noticed some rubbing between the front rotor and the brake pad, but this was very easily remedied by loosening the bolts that attach the caliper to the fork and slightly re-positioning it to center the rotor better. Easy peasy, no problem since, even after removing/replacing the front wheel multiple times, the rotor stays centered. Any more complicated adjustments to the hydraulic system are beyond my current skillset.

    We just bought my wife the women's version of the same bike. I assumed it would be identical other than the different frame geo, but it appears some components are different too... most notably the brakes. They are also hydraulic disc, but they are Cannondale Helix 6. Immediately after getting her bike home from the store and out of the car, and re-installing the front wheel, the front rotor was rubbing BAD. So I made sure that the axle was evenly seated against the fork before locking the QR lever... still some rubbing. So I adjusted her caliper the same way I did mine, and was able to get the rubbing to go away. Small problem... the rubbing returned 5 minutes later. After tons of tests, the best I can conclude is that (a) her pistons do not consistently return to the same center after every brake application and (b) the gap between her pads is a bit less than on mine, which exacerbates problem a (a similar problem exists on her back brakes, but less bad). I've tried compressing the pistons all the way to get it to reset and center... but it still ends up leaving a relatively small gap for the rotor, which no matter how many times I get it perfectly centered, will somehow be uncentered again in the near future. So I did some research on her brake model and found some unfavorable reviews stating a few different bad things, most notably that there are no known replacement pads for this model, that you have to buy "Hayes Sole" pads and file them down to fit in the receptacle here... which sounds lame. There are a few other negative things about these brakes, in summary of all the points:

    1) Pistons can not seem to maintain center between braking applications
    2) Apparently no replacement pads exist
    3) Brake system uses DOT4 which I understand is much less desirable than the mineral oil used by the Shimano's on my men's model
    4) I have already noticed LEAKING brake fluid (just a few drops) from a small hole on the top surface of each of her brake levers, front and back. This seems like a pretty bad thing, right? Admittedly I have turned her bike upside down to work on it, but only briefly and I have never squeezed the lever while upside down, which I understand is the important part. I have done the same thing with mine, with the Shimanos, turned it upside down many times and even squeezed the lever a couple times before I knew that was bad, and those brakes still work perfectly, maintain center, and have not leaked a drop of their fluid.

    So either I'm missing something obvious in my inexperience with hydraulics, or her brakes just suck. We're contemplating returning her bike for the men's model, which I guess is technically unisex anyway so should work fine, right? The only concern is she's on a Women's medium frame which there is really no equivalent to... the Men's medium is about 0.5" larger on most of the frame geo dims, but I don't know if that 0.5" will be significant to her... although the geo of this current women's frame was kind of right at the upper limit of what I wanted her on in terms of size.

    It seems kind of silly to return a whole bike because of a brake set, but then again at a $900 price point I think this brake set probably accounts for more than 10% of that price. From BMX I'm used to building bikes from parts... but I didn't know enough about parts at this point to do the same thing here... buying a complete bike is frustrating.

    Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

  2. #2
    El Pollo Diablo
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    Go back to the shop, explain your concerns, see if they can work with you on a deal for some real brakes.
    If that fails, return it, buy something with grown-up stoppers.
    (not sure how recently 'just bought' is, ymmv on this last point)

    As for your concerns with hydros, I've had little to no trouble running DOT based brakes, and no amount of turning/flipping/etc should cause any leaking... the system should be fully sealed.
    Concerns 1 and 2 are based on the bike having not-great brakes
    (I'm being uncharacteristically kind in my word choice)

  3. #3
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    A lot of high end brakes use DOT 4 so it isn't undesirable, it's the fact that it leaks that's the problem. but yes definitely go back to the shop n return it if possible

  4. #4
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    Any bike can come with teething problems....and this is where buying from a local shop has its merits. They will either fix the problem to your satisfaction, or suggest an upgrade if the current brakes are completely unusable.
    Rimmer - "There's an old human saying - if you talk garbage, expect pain"

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the replies, all. So it sounds like:

    1) Is definitely a problem. I spent more time with this, and the disappointing part is you can't even center the caliper using the standard method (loosening the bolts and holding the brake clamped while you re-tighten them). The only way I'm able to center it is by eyeball, and then even if the axle was seated perfectly when I did that, if I remove the wheel and reseat the axle firmly, it is no longer even close to centered.
    2) Maybe not a problem since in another thread someone suggested a replacement pad, but it still sounds kind of sketch.
    3) Maybe not a real problem, but I still keep reading people other places saying mineral oil is "nicer" to work with (not so toxic?).
    4) Definitely a problem. The leaks continued today whenever I squeezed the back brake firmly. This one worries me most of all and seals (no pun intended) that I will not be keeping these brakes and/or bike. I am not even sure what those little holes on the levers are supposed to be for, but they seem to be perfect leak ports. See two attached images.

    The bike is brand new and the store was REI so returning it should be no problem. I'll see if they will consider putting better brakes on it, but as flexible and cool as REI is about some things, I sort of doubt they'll play mix n match on a stock bike. Fallback plan is still to replace it with a unisex/men's model I guess.

    Thanks again for the help.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Dilemma: Women's model from Cannondale has inferior brakes compared to men's model?-leak1.jpg  

    Dilemma: Women's model from Cannondale has inferior brakes compared to men's model?-leak2.jpg  


  6. #6
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    Sometimes upgrades are warranted or can be fit into a budget. M666 Shimano SLX hydros would be as much as you would have to do. 90 at bluesky.

  7. #7
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    Score one for REI. They agreed to get us a set of Shimano BR-M445 brakes (basically the same as the BR-M446 on my men's model) and put them on the bike for free. Was not expecting them to do that, but very pleasantly surprised.

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