SRAM Guide RSC Brakes
Intended use: Lightweight stopping power
• Front w/ matchmaker clamp: 264g (no adapter, no rotor)
• Rear w/ matchmaker clamp: 274g (no adapter, no rotor)
• Adapters and bolts: 35g each
• Rotor: 138g (180mm)
Rotors: 200mm front, 180mm rear
Bolted to: Specialized Enduro Expert
Rider: 5’9”, 155 lbs.
Test locations: Whitefish, MT; Fernie, BC; Vancouver, BC
Test Duration: 2.5 months
MSRP: $199 / brake
The new Guide series of brakes from SRAM are an evolution of their Avid brakes. The Guides bring a number of improvements to the table, and fix some of the issues that were common to the Avids.
A Bit of Background
I’ve primarily ridden Avid brakes for quite a while now. Over the last 10 years, I’ve probably had 20 different sets of Avid brakes, from BB7s to Juicys to a number of different Elixirs. While some of those brakes were certainly better than others, I’ve generally been happy with many of them, including the most recent Avid brakes I got – the Elixir 9 Trails, which had (a) pretty good power, and (b) the same Avid lever shape that I’ve been happy with in the past.
But while I’ve generally gotten along with Avid brakes, they haven’t been without their problems. Most notably, they tended to require frequent bleeding, and bleeding attempts weren’t always successful. The lever design would sometimes allow air to get into the fluid, which in my experience, would manifest itself as inconsistent lever pull.
On Avid brakes that required a bleed, I could “pump up” the lever—rapid squeezing would result in the lever pulling less and less with each stroke. This sensation made for some … ”exciting” braking action.
Older models of Avids were also a bit low on power. While modulation has always been pretty good on Avids, the two piston Avid brakes didn’t have nearly the stopping power of some of their competitors, namely Shimano. The four piston Elixir Trails improved on this; they’re still not quite as powerful as Shimano XTs, but they’re not far behind, either, and I found the power to be completely sufficient.
The SRAM Guide RSC
And now there is the new “SRAM” Guide RSC.
For some reason, SRAM has elected to split up the branding of their brake lines. Some brakes still carry the Avid name (Codes, Elixirs, etc.), while the Guide series appears under the SRAM name. But in this review, I’m considering the Guide RSC to be the next evolution of the Avid Elixir brakes.
Names aside, the Guide RSC features a completely redesigned lever mated to a four piston caliper that, aside from the paint and stickers, appears to be identical to the “trail” caliper used on the Elixir Trail brakes. The intent appears to be to improve the power of the Elixir Trails, while also addressing the bleeding issues that the Elixirs had.
The Guide lever has a couple of new features that are intended to improve upon the Elixir’s. First and foremost, the Guides use a “timing port” system that, along with the reservoir, allows air that might build up in the lever to escape. This theoretically prevents air from building up in the system like it did in the taperbore levers found on Elixir brakes.
Another notable change on the Guide RSC lever is what SRAM calls “SwingLink,” which is a mechanism around the lever pivot that makes the pads move further at the beginning of the lever stroke than at the end. Essentially, this offers a bit of mechanical advantage and allows the pads to sit further out from the rotor without requiring the excessive lever travel before the pads make contact.
The Guides come in three flavors: the R, RS, and RSC models. I tested the top-of-the-line RSC model, which has the SwingLink mechanism noted above, bearings on the lever pivots, and both a reach and contact point adjustment.
Mounting and Bleeding
The Guide RSC utilizes the same bleed kit as the Avids; syringes thread into both the lever and the caliper. Also like the Avids, the Guides run on DOT fluid. In my Elixir 9 Trail review, I talked about why I prefer DOT fluid to mineral oil. I won’t rehash it all here, but it basically comes down to the fact that I can easily and cheaply buy DOT fluid pretty much anywhere.
I’ve now bled the Guides a few times, and it’s gone smoothly and easily; no complaints there. If you’re familiar with bleeding Avid brakes, the Guides won’t present any new problems.
The Guides are ambidextrous, which means they’re quick and easy to mount on either side of the bar, which is a bonus for Europeans who run their brakes backward. Like pretty much all products under the SRAM banner, the Guides play nicely with other SRAM products—they’re matchmaker compatible.
Like most high end brakes, the Guide RSC has both a contact point and a reach adjust. And just in case anyone isn’t completely clear on what these do:
• The contact point adjustment changes how much the lever needs to move before the pads contact the rotor, but changing that adjustment doesn’t affect the brake lever’s starting position relative to the bar.
• The reach adjustment changes the angle of the lever relative to the bar, so moving the reach out will make the entirety of the lever’s travel farther from the bar.
I found the contact point adjustment to be effective, although somewhat difficult to turn. It’s a small wheel that sits close to flush with the lever body.
While I was easily able to get it adjusted to where I wanted it when the brakes were new, now that the wheel has gotten dirty a few times, it’s a bit more reluctant to turn. On the upside, however, the contact point adjustment has a pretty wide range of adjustability, and you don’t need tools to make the adjustment.
The reach adjustment was also effective and, unlike the contact point adjustment, doesn’t have any access issues. My only gripe about the reach adjustment is that the knob feels fragile and it’s on the outside of the lever blade, meaning it’s prone to getting damaged in a crash.
It’s also important to note that the lever feel on the Guide RSC is extremely smooth. The bearings in the pivots ensure that the lever throw is never sticky, and there’s no slop in the lever blade.
NEXT: Power, Modulation, Etc.