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  1. #1
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    Shimano XT Alternatives.

    I'm in the market for some new brakes. I've used the Shimano XT's on all 3 of my last builds and have nothing but good things to say about them. But....I know there are alternatives out there and I think I would like to try something different this time around. I've got a spare set of XT's, so if I end up not liking something "new" I can always go back to the XT's. So what are some of the options out there? I hear great things about Hope Tech brakes. What about the Magura line? And I've read some great reviews on the new Guide's also. I would like to hear from anyone with firsthand experience with any of the aforementioned systems.
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  2. #2
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    Don't put on a set of Hopes. You will want to change your others then.

    I just played with a a set of SLX brakes on a bike recently. I forgot how cheap they feel compared to my Hopes.

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    The ZEEs have the traditional Shimano lever and master (with dimples on the lever) but have a very different feel with better modulation and more power. They can be had for $150 each just about anywhere.

    If you're wanting to go to a totally different brand, my first choice would be the Guides. I like the power and feel. It's too early to know how reliable they will be but so far the reviews have been positive.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DethWshBkr View Post
    Don't put on a set of Hopes. You will want to change your others then.

    I just played with a a set of SLX brakes on a bike recently. I forgot how cheap they feel compared to my Hopes.


    That's what I've been hearing. Sounds like the Hope's are the real deal. I'm looking at the Hope Tech 3 E4 and the Hope Tech 3 X2. Are you using either of those?
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuickGN View Post
    The ZEEs have the traditional Shimano lever and master (with dimples on the lever) but have a very different feel with better modulation and more power. They can be had for $150 each just about anywhere.

    If you're wanting to go to a totally different brand, my first choice would be the Guides. I like the power and feel. It's too early to know how reliable they will be but so far the reviews have been positive.
    I had been looking at the Zee's, but the reviews I've been reading say that the lack of a tool free lever adjust is a glaring negative. I'm not that sure it's that bad, but it definitely would be nice to have that.

    Pinkbike...
    "The only other quibble we had with the Zee brakes is that a tool free lever adjust would be much appreciated. For riders who are particular about their brake lever position, it's especially nice to have the option of quickly turning a dial as opposed to digging for a multi-tool".
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevinboyer View Post
    That's what I've been hearing. Sounds like the Hope's are the real deal. I'm looking at the Hope Tech 3 E4 and the Hope Tech 3 X2. Are you using either of those?
    That is exactly my setup. E4 up front, X2 in the rear, both on 203 rotors.

    Adjustability is excellent, setup and bleeding is second to none (No "bleeder kit" crap needed) levers are solid, with no flexy or toyish feel.
    I couldn't really complain about the SLX brakes that I used before. I didn't like they way they felt - but that's something you can get used to. But after running my Hopes for a year now, and then squeezing an SLX lever - the Shimanos just feel low end. I recall the power being fair (once I upped the rotor size) but overall just did not have what I considered a good feel (in braking action or lever feel), and they were absolutely incompatible with Grip Shift (levers way too short).

    My Cannondale F29 has Magura MT2 brakes, which I know are the low end Maguras. 203 front rotor, 180 rear. Braking action on those is fair to middling. I had major vibration with the Storm rotor until I flipped it opposite rotation. The braking action is not in the same league as the Hopes. I am not sure I entirely like the lever swing action or feel either. I don't HATE it, but I don't love it either.

    My Farley has Avid DB3's. The lever feel and action is again, not as quality as the Hopes. Power is OK. (203 in the front of the Farley too, 160 in the rear) I can't get really good lever feedback out of the DB3s. They just seem to feel very separated from my finger(s). THe rear has some funky morphing activation point as well!

    I want to put a set of HOpes on BOTH of those bikes (X2 f/r Cannondale if I keep it), and an E4 f, X2 R on the Farley.

    They are worth $338 for a pair.

  7. #7
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    I can add to the noise with some experience on Guides. I put a set on my bike in October, and of course, in Middle Tennessee (very little elevation change, all hills are short, 100 vertical feet or so) nothing phases them. But I went back home over the holidays and hit the Southern Traverse on New Year's Eve. There was 1/4" of powdery light snow on top of the leaves covering at least 40% of the trail, which is narrow, steep, and in places, quite technical. Traction was at an absolute premium, sliding around on stuff you couldn't see under the snow and leaves was the norm. Of course, at this point you want excellent modulation so that you can check up without breaking traction - a mistake that in some places would likely have been painful, and costly. The Guides performed flawlessly. The trail finishes off with a 3 mile descent on the South end, which was mostly exposed to sunlight, so there was very little snow there, and it was a ripper. Of course, there are some huge check ups done there, and it helps to be able to stop when you get to the road at the end - the Guides also nailed it here. They checked the bike's speed with authority, and never displayed any tendency to fade. For what it's worth, I was on a Giant Anthem 29er (just under 28lbs) and I was probably ~245 geared up for that ride, what with food, wind gear, etc. - maybe more than that - and running 180 up front and 160 in the rear.

    I've never considered larger rotors, for fear in traction limited situations such as this, it would limit the amount of control I had with the brakes. But the Guides have me thinking about it, just for the better heat dissipation on long descents. They have enough modulation that I don't think control would be a problem, and enough power that I don't know the larger rotor is necessary, and I've never even blued the disc on a set of brakes before (even riding with guys in front of me whose brakes I could smell going down mountains) but these brakes are so good, I might do it just for the extra peace of mind.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by DethWshBkr View Post
    That is exactly my setup. E4 up front, X2 in the rear, both on 203 rotors.

    Adjustability is excellent, setup and bleeding is second to none (No "bleeder kit" crap needed) levers are solid, with no flexy or toyish feel.
    I couldn't really complain about the SLX brakes that I used before. I didn't like they way they felt - but that's something you can get used to. But after running my Hopes for a year now, and then squeezing an SLX lever - the Shimanos just feel low end. I recall the power being fair (once I upped the rotor size) but overall just did not have what I considered a good feel (in braking action or lever feel), and they were absolutely incompatible with Grip Shift (levers way too short).

    My Cannondale F29 has Magura MT2 brakes, which I know are the low end Maguras. 203 front rotor, 180 rear. Braking action on those is fair to middling. I had major vibration with the Storm rotor until I flipped it opposite rotation. The braking action is not in the same league as the Hopes. I am not sure I entirely like the lever swing action or feel either. I don't HATE it, but I don't love it either.

    My Farley has Avid DB3's. The lever feel and action is again, not as quality as the Hopes. Power is OK. (203 in the front of the Farley too, 160 in the rear) I can't get really good lever feedback out of the DB3s. They just seem to feel very separated from my finger(s). THe rear has some funky morphing activation point as well!

    I want to put a set of HOpes on BOTH of those bikes (X2 f/r Cannondale if I keep it), and an E4 f, X2 R on the Farley.

    They are worth $338 for a pair.

    I've never run two "different" brakes on any of my bikes before. What are the advantages to that?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cotharyus View Post
    I can add to the noise with some experience on Guides. I put a set on my bike in October, and of course, in Middle Tennessee (very little elevation change, all hills are short, 100 vertical feet or so) nothing phases them. But I went back home over the holidays and hit the Southern Traverse on New Year's Eve. There was 1/4" of powdery light snow on top of the leaves covering at least 40% of the trail, which is narrow, steep, and in places, quite technical. Traction was at an absolute premium, sliding around on stuff you couldn't see under the snow and leaves was the norm. Of course, at this point you want excellent modulation so that you can check up without breaking traction - a mistake that in some places would likely have been painful, and costly. The Guides performed flawlessly. The trail finishes off with a 3 mile descent on the South end, which was mostly exposed to sunlight, so there was very little snow there, and it was a ripper. Of course, there are some huge check ups done there, and it helps to be able to stop when you get to the road at the end - the Guides also nailed it here. They checked the bike's speed with authority, and never displayed any tendency to fade. For what it's worth, I was on a Giant Anthem 29er (just under 28lbs) and I was probably ~245 geared up for that ride, what with food, wind gear, etc. - maybe more than that - and running 180 up front and 160 in the rear.

    I've never considered larger rotors, for fear in traction limited situations such as this, it would limit the amount of control I had with the brakes. But the Guides have me thinking about it, just for the better heat dissipation on long descents. They have enough modulation that I don't think control would be a problem, and enough power that I don't know the larger rotor is necessary, and I've never even blued the disc on a set of brakes before (even riding with guys in front of me whose brakes I could smell going down mountains) but these brakes are so good, I might do it just for the extra peace of mind.
    Thanks for the in depth review of your Guides. At this point, it looks like my decision could very well be between the Hope's and the Guides.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevinboyer View Post
    I've never run two "different" brakes on any of my bikes before. What are the advantages to that?

    X2 is supposedly less powerful, so rear it's fine. Weighs less (not that I care too much about that) and costs less than the E4.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by DethWshBkr View Post
    My Cannondale F29 has Magura MT2 brakes, which I know are the low end Maguras. 203 front rotor, 180 rear. Braking action on those is fair to middling. I had major vibration with the Storm rotor until I flipped it opposite rotation. The braking action is not in the same league as the Hopes. I am not sure I entirely like the lever swing action or feel either. I don't HATE it, but I don't love it either.
    Had some issues with the MT2 as well, darn things chirped like a pair of mating birds in my wheels but other than that they seemed to work ok. Definitely low on power, then again, it is an XC brake. Agree with the lever action as well, it's definitely a bit odd though I thought the feel was fine. Didn't have any issues with it but yeah, I can't say I love it either.

    I've also ridden the MT5 and MT7 which are Magura's 4-piston caliper brakes. The lever issues remain but overall brake performance is quite a bit better. There's no funny noises and I get the power I'm used to having from a set of brakes.

    With Avid Guides, the more experience I have with them the less I'm impressed. There's just too much inconsistency for my liking with crappy factory bleeds and inconsistent lever engagement. I've now seen a half dozen out of the box sets where the levers squeeze right to the bars and barely stop, and a few which have the old Hayes instant light switch engagement. A full bleed & reset will get all of them working acceptably, but lever pulls still aren't identical when dialed to the exact same settings. SRAM still has some work to do on their quality control.

    Personally, I'd go with Hope. I agree with everything that's been said about them so far. I've ridden the M4 and it performs better than the Guides. Looks & feels nicer too. Only downside is they cost more, but you get what you pay for.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aerius View Post
    Had some issues with the MT2 as well, darn things chirped like a pair of mating birds in my wheels but other than that they seemed to work ok. Definitely low on power, then again, it is an XC brake. Agree with the lever action as well, it's definitely a bit odd though I thought the feel was fine. Didn't have any issues with it but yeah, I can't say I love it either.

    I've also ridden the MT5 and MT7 which are Magura's 4-piston caliper brakes. The lever issues remain but overall brake performance is quite a bit better. There's no funny noises and I get the power I'm used to having from a set of brakes.

    With Avid Guides, the more experience I have with them the less I'm impressed. There's just too much inconsistency for my liking with crappy factory bleeds and inconsistent lever engagement. I've now seen a half dozen out of the box sets where the levers squeeze right to the bars and barely stop, and a few which have the old Hayes instant light switch engagement. A full bleed & reset will get all of them working acceptably, but lever pulls still aren't identical when dialed to the exact same settings. SRAM still has some work to do on their quality control.

    Personally, I'd go with Hope. I agree with everything that's been said about them so far. I've ridden the M4 and it performs better than the Guides. Looks & feels nicer too. Only downside is they cost more, but you get what you pay for.

    Thanks aerius. My gut is telling me to go with the Hope's. Not only do they work incredibly well, they're definitely easy on the eyes. Were the M4's on the front and the rear of the bike you rode? What DethWshBkr suggested above, going with the M4 on the front and X2 on the rear, is an interesting concept.
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    It was M4 front & back, though I've also ridden a bike with X2 front & back. Haven't ridden a bike with mixed sets of Hopes, but I prefer having matched sets since it makes parts management easier; I only need one type of brake pads, and if I ever need spare parts it's the same idea. Of course having said that I've ended up with 5 different models of Shimano brakes and 3 different pad types on my own bikes. Go figure.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevinboyer View Post
    Thanks aerius. My gut is telling me to go with the Hope's. Not only do they work incredibly well, they're definitely easy on the eyes. Were the M4's on the front and the rear of the bike you rode? What DethWshBkr suggested above, going with the M4 on the front and X2 on the rear, is an interesting concept.

    NOt entirely an "unusual" thing honestly with the brakes. My MX bike, 4 piston Brembo front brake front, 280mm disc, and a dual piston I believe 200mm disc in the rear.
    Street bikes, same thing, the rear brake is usually a smaller, less powerful caliper. You cannot use that much power in the rear, and the smaller caliper will allow easier control on an already lesser traction wheel. Front, I want brakes. I want them instant, powerful, and yet controllable. The E4 delivers.

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    I would not go with a less powerful brake on the rear. A more powerful brake (same family and basic design and lever type) will have better modulation by design. By using the same size master and a larger slave piston or smaller master and same slave piston diameter you end up with slightly more lever travel and better modulation and power.

    Obviously a totally different type of brake with a different lever and cam setup such as servo wave and others can have less power and better modulation. I just wanted to point out that a weaker brake does not equal better modulation. Look at the Zee vs XT. Zee has more slave piston area with the same master area and everyone knows they're more powerful with significantly better modulation. And before anyone says it, 4 Pistons don't mean more power or modulation. Its total piston area in which the ZEEs have about 18% more slave piston area. If they had the same piston area you would benefit from a longer lasting pad due to its greater pad area and more even wear due to the use of different sized Pistons on the leading vs trailing edge but no difference in power or modulaion.

    Comparing them to cars isn't completely fair. Cars have a bias valve or nowadays some form of electronic brake force distribution (EBD). We're getting closer to having the same sized brakes front and rear because a common braking strategy during normal braking is to let the rears do a much higher percentage of the braking than they used to. This helps the car to wander less and makes it feel more stable when braking. Under hard braking this obviously changes. But the biggest factor is ABS. You can't really threshold brake at the limit anyway because the ABS takes over and ruins the fun. I'm way off topic but the point is cars are getting closer to the same sized rotors and brakes front and rear because heat rejection requirements are pretty close front and rear in every day driving which is probably true for a lot of us on our bikes. Any differences in power front vs rear since the front ultimately needs more power is for cost savings since the electronics handle bias.

    Back somewhat on topic, I would fine tune the front vs rear feel and power with the pads. Maybe a sintered metal in the front and resin or semi metallic (Shimanos resin labeled pads are actually semi metallic). The front has a wider operating range. You may really like the better modulation of most resin pads in the rear. This would be an acceptable way of losing some rear power without hurting modulation. And one last thing, larger rotors don't hurt modulation. You just have to take a few minutes to get used to the additional power.

    About the earlier comment about the ZEEs lacking tool free reach control. I've literally only adjusted mine once, after redoing the crappy factory bleed. Shimanos aren't the best brake if you want to run the levers close to the bars. But once you adjust the reach a reasonable distance from the bars, power and modulation and consistently go up ten fold and you'll likely never want to adjust the reach again.
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    Quote Originally Posted by aerius View Post
    Had some issues with the MT2 as well, darn things chirped like a pair of mating birds in my wheels but other than that they seemed to work ok. Definitely low on power, then again, it is an XC brake. Agree with the lever action as well, it's definitely a bit odd though I thought the feel was fine. Didn't have any issues with it but yeah, I can't say I love it either.

    I've also ridden the MT5 and MT7 which are Magura's 4-piston caliper brakes. The lever issues remain but overall brake performance is quite a bit better. There's no funny noises and I get the power I'm used to having from a set of brakes.

    With Avid Guides, the more experience I have with them the less I'm impressed. There's just too much inconsistency for my liking with crappy factory bleeds and inconsistent lever engagement. I've now seen a half dozen out of the box sets where the levers squeeze right to the bars and barely stop, and a few which have the old Hayes instant light switch engagement. A full bleed & reset will get all of them working acceptably, but lever pulls still aren't identical when dialed to the exact same settings. SRAM still has some work to do on their quality control.

    Personally, I'd go with Hope. I agree with everything that's been said about them so far. I've ridden the M4 and it performs better than the Guides. Looks & feels nicer too. Only downside is they cost more, but you get what you pay for.
    Sorry to hear about the Guides. However, if it's just a factory bleed,I wouldn't let that stop me. Every single Shimano Zee brake I've come across has needed bleeding and my 3 personal ones have never needed another bleed once I did one. The bleed took care of the inconsistent bite point and power and modulation. The XTs and Deores have all been perfect out of the box. You would think a manufacturer would put more emphasis on a great factory bleed since it's the difference in a great performing brakes. The Guides I've experienced have been great performers.

    Disclaimer: lots of morphine due to a kidney stone so I probably don't want to re-read the crap I'm posting in the morning lol.
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    Well I've made the decision to go with the Hope's. I'm torn between the Tech 3 X2 and the Tech 3 E4. I've never run a 4 piston system before so is there a big learning curve to it? Or do I stick with the standard 2 piston like my XT's had?

    Hope Tech 3 X2 from Merlin Cycles $266.06 free shipping, or
    Hope Tech 3 E4 from Merlin Cycles $306.99 free shipping.

    The brake prices are discounted already, but you get an extra 10% off of the discounted price. Win, win.
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    I believe in more is better so I'd take the E4 every time. IMO, there's no reason to get an X2 unless you're trying to shave grams off an XC bike. As for 2 vs 4 pistons, there's no learning curve to it, the lever feels different and the power doesn't come on the same way that Shimanos do, but you'll get used to it sometime during your first ride.

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    Thanks aerius. These will be going on a Knolly Warden.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevinboyer View Post
    I had been looking at the Zee's, but the reviews I've been reading say that the lack of a tool free lever adjust is a glaring negative. I'm not that sure it's that bad, but it definitely would be nice to have that.

    Pinkbike...
    "The only other quibble we had with the Zee brakes is that a tool free lever adjust would be much appreciated. For riders who are particular about their brake lever position, it's especially nice to have the option of quickly turning a dial as opposed to digging for a multi-tool".
    that is the most ridiculous quibble i have ever heard about a set of brakes. once you dial it in you are set, its not an on trail adjustment you need to make. tool free adjust makes life easier but its absence is certainly not an issue.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kevinboyer View Post
    Thanks aerius. These will be going on a Knolly Warden.
    A Warden you say? In that case, get the Hope V4.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by kevinboyer View Post
    Well I've made the decision to go with the Hope's. I'm torn between the Tech 3 X2 and the Tech 3 E4. I've never run a 4 piston system before so is there a big learning curve to it? Or do I stick with the standard 2 piston like my XT's had?
    There is no "learning curve". It's simply a brake with more pad surface, so it will be nice and strong. You'll probably want to sell all your other brakes.

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