Interbike 2013: Hydraulic brakes on the road

Three years ago when the UCI began to allow disc brakes for cyclocross racing, it opened a floodgate — a number of manufacturers rushed to adapt discs for road/cross disciplines. Quick advances in brake assemblies, frame fittings and forks, hubs and all the other attendant bits occured. Still, many people wondered if brakes were really needed for road bikes…and if mechanical (cable-actuated) brakes were up to the task. A couple boutique manufacturers developed mechanical-to-hydraulic adapters, such as the TRP Parabox, among others.

And that set the big manufacturers to putting their R&D muscle behind the idea of hydraulics for the road…but how to fit a master cylinder into the shifter body? It took a couple of years before it was ready, but things are finally starting to make it to market.

SRAM came through first with the “Hydro R” setup in two versions: RED for the well-heeled, and the S-700 for a somewhat more affordable option. The master cylinders are contained in the brake/shift lever bodies, and here’s the really interesting thing: they come in disc OR hydraulic rim brake options.

Forgive these somewhat awkward photos, but SRAM’s display made it difficult to get a good shot of the brake options. Check SRAM’s website for all the lurid details and better product images.

RED rim brake:

RED disc:

S-700 rim brake (left) and disc (right):

Over at Shimano, things are not quite ready for release. They had prototype Dura Ace Di2 hydraulic brakes/shift levers on display, and they felt good in the hand. They’re not scheduled for release until spring 2014, according to one of the Shimano techs I spoke to. Visit Shimano’s site for more details on the brake systems they will offer for the road.

Here are the shift levers with master cylinder hidden within:

And the brake bodies/discs as installed on a road bike:

The brake bodies and discs borrow technology from Shimano’s mountain groups, namely the ICE heat management system. Road discs can get extremely hot during prolonged descents, and that is the Achilles Heel of hydros, according to a number of sources. Shimano’s ICE system should help alleviate heat-induced brake fade.

I asked the Shimano tech if this hydraulic wizardry would trickle down to more affordable options for “regular folks” who can’t afford Dura Ace/Ultegra. Alas, Shimano plans only to offer hydraulic discs on their two upper-end Di2 groupsets…not even mechanical Dura Ace will be graced with a master cylinder setup. The reason for this is that they wanted to maintain the existing Di2 lever shape without a “unicorn bulge”, according to the tech I spoke to. SRAM’s shifting assembly and the master cylinder together take up a lot more room and necessitated a lever redesign on their end.

Finally, for those of you who use other components, or dig your current brake/shifter setup, there’s hope for you. TRP has unveiled their HY-RD system, which is cable-actuated and has the master cylinder mounted to the brake body itself. TRP claims this HY-RD system will work with any current mechanical shifting system.


TRP also still offers their Parabox adapter system.

We’re curious — are road disc brakes in your future? Any thoughts on mechanical vs. hydraulic? We’d love to hear your thoughts/gripes/concerns/WTFs. The technology still has a bit of refinement to go, but it is great to see the big component makers getting behind this new application for hydraulics.

Interbike 2013 Coverage Proudly Sponsored by Black Tiger Jerky
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  1. Travis

    Coming from the MTB side I cannot wait until disc is standard on all road bikes. My next road bike will be disc, period. I’m done messing with brake pad alignment, premature rim wear, terrible stopping in wet conditions and squishy lever feel. I want proper hydraulics on my road & commuter bike sooner than later.

  2. Raiyn

    Based on my future bike choice of either the Raleigh Tamland 1 or Surly Straggler and my past assertions that road discs would be the coming thing (going back at least 8 years on BikeForums). I’d have to say I’m 100% in the discs for road camp

  3. Ghost Rider

    I really have no interest in discs on my road bike(s), but I wouldn’t sneeze at the idea. But, for commuters/CX/touring bikes, hell yes!

    I’m not much of a mountain biker, so I have never used hydraulic discs, only mechanicals. Is the lever feel really THAT different?

  4. Wayne Myer

    No mention of the TRP Hylex? That is the disc offering for which I am most excited.

  5. Mike Myers

    I’m with Jack—discs on a road bike seem unnecessary. But on a touring bike? Brilliant. Surly sells a disc-equipped LHT, and has for a couple of model years, I believe.

    Seems to me putting big discs on a heavy touring bike is a no-brainer.

  6. Ghost Rider

    @Wayne — I was really focused on the HY-RD system, as I had just had a discussion with Redline techs about various brake systems for CX bikes…in fact, my discussion with them led to this article. I did see the Hylex system, but as I recall it, TRP had the brake body mounted to a display panel without the accompanying lever (my memory is always a bit suspect, I should add). So, I saw it but it didn’t register as important at the time. Now, for singlespeeders and barcon users, the Hylex might be a lovely option.

  7. Raiyn

    @ Mike Myers
    I have one name for you Joseba Beloki.

  8. bigbenaugust

    As long as road discs are easier to work on than the Hayes set on my wife’s Giant Yukon, they might be okay.

    Seems to me that hydraulics fall into the same box as does electronic shifting, though– if I wanted something that complicated and expensive, I would just get another car.

    But then, I still ride with cantilevers and bar-cons. 🙂

  9. Ghost Rider

    @Bigben — yes, they are more complicated (at least at first) and certainly more expensive. But as the road technology matures and is adopted by more companies, both shortcomings will lessen.

    Hydro setup is tricky — but only the initial assembly and brake bleeding. When that part is accomplished, they are rock-solid. As long as everything remains sealed, they require no fiddling, and most pistons/pads self-adjust, unlike mechanical versions.

  10. Nick Tucker

    I have conventional hydraulic discs on my Avanti Inc 3 commuter bike. Coupled with a Gates belt drive and a hub gear this means maintenance is minimal. Hurrah! All it needs is tubeless tyres so they only need checking every six months like the car. It is uprising how much tinkering a conventional set up needs to keep it absolutely on top line…

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