Wow, ok, so best brakes....ever?
I've been on a couple rides now since the LBS trimmed the lines and bled the new 2013 XT brakes with the icetech pads/rotors, they replaced Magura MTS brakes I had been running since I built the bike last fall. I don't have as much exposure to the older stuff as some of you guys but I've had a couple sets of Formula RX, some Elixirs in differing levels, and the Magura's. These new XT ice techs are great, no scratch that, amazing, no that gets used too much, they are stellar!
Having spent allot of time in Porsche's these things are like the old 911 turbo's of the 70's and 80's that ran a big single turbo. If you just got in and drove it with wreckless abandon you would be slow on the track and likely end up mowing grass off the side of the track. But once you learned how to handle the power and when to use your throttle pedal you looked like a genius and you were fast. The guys at my LBS warned me about the power of these brakes and they were no joke, pedalling around the neighborhood on the way to the trail was not really a good indication of the power, nor the speed of how its delivered. It really took me a full ride of my usual 7 mile trail before I had adjusted my braking habits and started letting the brakes work for me. I was able to fine tune the placement of the almost perfect one finger lever and just tried not to think about them while I rode, that didn't work.
The problem that I have with new parts that out perform their predecessor, and some of you may also do this, is that I ride allot of the same trails so that my "muscle memory" still rides as if I was on the old parts. It kind of takes a couple of rides to get used to the new limits and start pushing my own limits. So my initial reaction is "meh, not much faster than before", but thats not really the case with these brakes. The difference is so dramatic that if you throw a leg over the bike and start bombing the trail you will be slower than before and likely get tossed into the trees. These brakes are powerful, no ifs ands or buts about it, they are serious. I'm not sure what magic dust the Shimano engineer's sprinkled on these but it worked.
The tool-less adjustment was easy to use without removing my gloves allowing for on the trail adjustments without even needing to get off the bike. The install was a breeze and the shop guys said they were a piece of cake to trim the lines without really requiring a bleeding when they were done. On the surface they look simple, nothing fancy, which is how you know they've had some serious engineering in them. When it works as well as these do in all respects while looking low-key its only by way of excellent design, period.
Some guys have complained about lack of modulation but I was happy with the feedback I got after a couple rides. I suspect some of the people with modulation issues may be taking longer to adjust to the set-up over their previous set-up. For me there is less modulation than the Maguras these replaced but they are fine for me and don't leave me wanting for any more feedback. Sure, the first ride when I got on them hard it was almost abrupt, link an on/off switch, but that was user error and not the brakes. As my brain and fingers were realigning I started to get more modulation and loved what I was getting back from the XT's. I am running the 180mm front/rear on my Nickel 650b but honestly I would be fine with a 160mm out back or possible in front and back and still have more power than the outgoing stoppers.
I run a cateye so I keep tabs on my lap times over the last 3 rides. I rode twice on Sunday, the first ride felt slow, and it was. I was almost a solid minute off my pace for a 6.7 mile trail I ride several times a week. My second ride out later in the evening was about 30 seconds faster than my normal time, and the ride this evening I just finished up was another 30 second improvement over that. Keeping in mind there are allot of variables and I'm a 230# XC trail rider and you'll know this is not really an exact science, but it does show improvements. The biggest difference for me was that I made a conscious effort to stay off the brakes as much, letting the brakes slow me down quicker. The first couple rides I was all over the place but by the third I had gotten control and was not thinking so much about what I was doing.
Anyone on the fence about these I would highly recommend giving them a shot, they are extremely reasonably price for what they are. You have a little bit of sticker shock with the rotors but when you get them you can see that there is some really slick tech with excellent build quality in them. I was able to sell my Magura MTS brakes with Storm SL rotors and recoup almost all the cost of the new set-up. The only negative about the XT's is the weight, but I am ok with the added weight for something that works as well as these do.
I'll keep riding these until Shimano comes out with a lighter version or the world stops spinning.
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