When Cycling Weekly heard that SRAM was going to launch a hydraulic brake, we naturally anticipated a disc brake. Then, when we heard that the American manufacturer was going to launch a Hydraulic Road Rim brake, the HRR, we got seriously excited.
Disc brakes are all well and good, but if we're honest we don't really see the need for them on a road bike. They're a great idea and certainly have their place, it's just that their place, for our money, is on a motorbike or an off-road bike, either cyclo-cross or mtb. On a road bike, they just don't, on the face of it, bring enough benefit.
In the HRR, SRAM is offering all of the benefits of hydraulics, i.e. no cable stretch, improved braking efficiency and of course much more precision and therefore brake modulation, in a package that not only works for your current bike but also keeps the clean, classic lines too.
We were lucky enough to be invited to the world press launch at the start of the year, where we got to briefly ride the HRR set-up. It was just one day, though, and the brake was in a prototype form - arguably too little and too early to really make any useful observations. Plus, we had a few issues with the amount of stopping power the brakes actually generated. All of which meant that this test of the HRR set-up is really rather crucial.
As this was to be a ground-up test of the groupset, we took a frame that we've tested and liked, the Trigon RCQ 29. This is a limited-edition version in matt black with gloss graphics. Fitting the groupset is a straightforward job, except the rear brake has a hose running from lever to caliper and so mounting needs to take this into consideration. On the Trigon that meant drilling out the cable stops inside the top tube to allow the cable through and then bleeding the system. The SRAM guide on You Tube makes it easily doable for the home mechanic.
Starts and stops
So with the frame built, it was time to start getting in some proper miles to find out if SRAM had tweaked the brakes so the lever no longer came back to the bar before generating full stopping power. With the first opportunity to ride being the next day in an evening crit at the Cyclopark in Kent, it was very much in at the deep end for the new system.
As we found at the launch, the gears feel very similar to 10-speed Red but just that little bit slicker, just like your bike feels when it's fresh from a cable change and tune-up. Shifts are a little bit crisper than 10-speed, and the feel at the lever a little more positive. But it's the brakes we all want to know about. Prior to the race, they were taken for a little spin around the CW car park just to make sure they worked and had a better feel than the launch set - they did.
One of the characteristics of the Gravesend circuit is the repeated 90° corners, in places back-to-back making a 180° turn, or separated by a small straight. While most of these can be taken flat-out, given the space, when you're in a bunch with lines compromised and often somewhat unsighted, you need to drag the brakes a little to slightly adjust speed.
Two corners in and it was clear that the HRR needed just a little feathering rather than a proper tug. Once that fact was assimilated, you would never guess it was hydraulic fluid and not cables doing the stopping. In the first ride, it was all very straightforward and uneventful, apart from when someone did something unexpected in front. The domino effect came down the line, requiring a sudden brake input.
Being a novice with system, too much force was applied and the rear wheel locked for a moment, but rather than becoming a tyre-shredding incident, a tiny adjustment of force at the lever started the wheel rolling again. It's this modulation that gives hydraulics the edge on the road.
Now, two months into the testing, the Trigon and Red 22 set-up have been given a through riding through all sorts of weather, roads and types of riding. Each time, it's worked flawlessly. The feeling of the slicker shifting has continued, and after a few more rear wheel lock-ups, I've become much more acclimatised to the force necessary with the extremely effective hydro brakes.
One of the nicest technical aspects is the single piston that actuates both halves of the caliper. It's a simple system and one that should mean the two caliper halves swing in to bite the rim at the same rate. From experience, this isn't always the case; you'll make sure they do at the start of a ride then, halfway through, one side gets ‘lazy' and drags. Sometimes this sorts itself; other times, it'll continue to drag a touch - of course this can easily be adjusted with a 2.5mm Allen key.
On the subject of adjustments, the ability to change the lever distance from the bar proved to be very handy for fine-tuning the brake biting point when used in combination with the adjuster on the caliper. Yet the dead travel at the start of the lever movement couldn't be dialled out, meaning that riders after more brake power had to set the lever farther away from the bar to get enough lever travel to compensate for this slack period.
Sticking with this theme, the quick release for the brakes, which opens the pads away from the rim proved to be a little too limited. Using Vredestein 25mm tyres, which measure 24.5mm, the wheel had to be banged past the pads or the adjuster manually released to get the extra space.
The bike - Trigon RCQ29
We loved the RCQ29 when we tested it last summer, so jumped at the chance to try out this updated version in the stealthy matt black and gloss graphic finish.
The only big change Trigon has made is in the colour, but it has also taken the chance to tweak the cable routing. All the cables now run inside the frame. It's been made fully compatible with electronic shifting, both Di2 and EPS - Trigon says the same Venus C8 carbon and lay-up has been used.
If you like the look of this frame, I'm afraid you're out of luck, as the limited run has now sold out, but the standard colours of red/white and metallic silver are still available.
Look hose talking
To date, the only ongoing niggle has been with the hydro cable rattling in the top tube. Given that it's unsecured inside the frame, this is hardly a surprise, and from our experience it's the only problem an early adopter will face. On a different frame, it might be possible to damp the cable with zip-ties but with the Trigon that just isn't possible, so it rattles over rough ground.
As for the hood, its slightly bulbous appearance looks strange at first but you'll get used to it and stop noticing the difference. As Tony Martin from OPQS pointed out, thanks to that extra size, you can move the hoods farther forward for a Sean Yates-style set-up. Doing so moves the brake levers closer to the bars so they should be easier to reach from the drops.
SRAM deserves a pat on the back for coming up with the innovation of hydro rim brakes and giving them mass-market appeal and accessibility. For a first-generation version, they are superb, and if you like your road bike to look like a road bike, not an mtb, they are a brilliant option. The stopping power is certainly useful, while the 22-speed system is excellently refined.
As we went to press, the front caliper had started to develop a little play in the single pivot. This allows each arm to move slightly and it would have gone unnoticed but for the vibration that occurred under specific brake loads that caused it to vibrate slightly.
We'll obviously be going back to SRAM to find out whether this is normal wear or whether we have a faulty brake, and we'll be reporting back.
Red 22 shifter/hydraulic rim brake, each £389.99
Red 22 front derailleur £114.99
Red 22 rear derailleur £299.99
Red 22 GXP cranks £379.99
Red 22 GXP bottom bracket £189.99
XG-1190 cassette £284.99
Red 22 PC chain £49.99
Rim brake hydraulic hose kit 2,000mm £33.99