Boarding House Reach

Boarding House Reach

When Mark DiNucci and I were discussing the frame he was going to build for me, I told him I would ask questions and all he had to do was answer them. I trust him. One of the questions I asked was, “Disc brakes?” After a few days of thought, and probably a bit of computer time, he got back to me and said he wasn’t comfortable with it. The tube set he had designed really wasn’t designed for the loads created by disc brakes.

That was that. I took him at his word.

We probably spent an hour on the phone talking through the options. At issue was the fact that I wanted a bike with clearance for 35mm tires. I can handle bombing runs on nearly any fire road around here with 35mm tires. He suggested I check out the Velo Orange Grand Cru long-reach calipers. After getting off the phone with him, I touched base with a couple of product managers I know who have spec’d long-reachers on some road bikes. I figured they must have some experience with the different options. And yes, a few did.

Universally, those who had tried the Velo Orange Grand Cru (a pretty genius name, BTW) reported them to have the best stopping power. Those who hadn’t tried them had all spoken with riders who had ridden them and had heard the same thing.

I’ve ridden some TRP long-reach brakes as well as Shimano’s non-series long-reachers. Both stopped, but took to their duties without much verve. I was placing a lot of faith in DiNucci with the Velo Oranges.

So how long is the reach? First, reach is measured from the center of the brake bolt. Most traditional calipers offer a reach of 39 to 49mm. The Grand Cru offer an effective reach of 47 to 57mm. This is significant because it means you can potentially run these brakes on a more traditional road frame as a means to run a larger tire without sacrificing stopping power.

Initially, I set up the brakes with Yokozuna compressionless housing. In retrospect, I was stacking the deck in the brakes’ favor. All brakes pick up a benefit from compressionless housing. (The Yokozuna housing will get its own review shortly.)

All this is to say, even before my first proper ride, I was impressed as hell. Once I got out on the road and had a chance to forget about the brakes and just ride, they remained just as impressive. Substandard braking will take you out of the moment and give you a little alert laced with adrenalin when you realize you aren’t stopping or slowing quickly enough.

I realized that running the brakes with compressionless housing was bringing a gun to a knife fight. Not exactly fair. So I put on some standard SRAM cable housing and went for a ride. And I’d still compare the Grand Cru favorably to more traditional short reach calipers. I’d put their performance between the Dura-Ace 7800 and 7700—that is, better than 9-speed Dura-Ace, but not quite as good as 1st generation 10-speed Dura-Ace. Compared to Ultegra 6500 (9-speed)—a brake many people are familiar with—these are markedly better. It’s hard to find benchmarks to which everyone can relate, so those will have to do.

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I’d like to think that more mass makes a better brake, but that doesn’t account for how the Ultegra 6500 brake weighed 335 grams and didn’t stop as well as the Dura-Ace 7800, which was a scant 314g. The Grand Cru comes in just a bit more than the Ultegra at 355g.

After less than a week of riding on the SRAM housing, I went back to the Yokozuna housing and the braking improved noticeably. The Grand Cru brakes combined with Yokozuna compressionless housing stops nearly as well as Dura-Ace 9000 calipers with standard housing. They’re almost that good. One small caveat: This comparison only holds true as long as rim material remains constant. My basis of comparison was aluminum rims and manufacturer-suppled brake shoes, i.e. Shimano shoes on the Shimano brakes and Velo Orange pads on the Grand Cru. I did swap pads for Zipp’s Tangente Platinum Pro and put in a set of Zipp Firecrest 303s and experienced a noticeable drop in braking performance. Dang.

Everything about these brakes is top notch, from the pads to the hardware, even the pad holders. Six months isn’t terribly long, but I can’t find a spec of oxidation on the aluminum.

I’m running a 35mm Continental tire with these brakes and there’s plenty of clearance, though I’ve zero mud to deal with. The only issue is that I must run a fair amount of throw, or free stroke to be able to fit a fully inflated tire in the brake and only use the brake’s quick release. For those who prefer a shorter throw, 32mm is about as wide as you can run. If you’re worried about fender clearance, Velo Orange reports the Grand Cru will accept a 45mm fender.

The Grand Cru are offered in either silver or black. Either way, a set goes for $170. That’s more than double what the TRP stoppers go for. The premium is a bargain, especially if you live in a place with more than moderate hills. For anyone wishing to mount a rebuttal to the idea that disc brakes are an unavoidable response to fatter tires, the Velo Orange Grand Cru should be exhibit one.

Final thought: I’m loathe to admit I doubted them. SMH.

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28 comments

    1. Vlad M.

      Padraig,

      I was under the impression that SRAM is not ideal to use with non-SRAM brakes. Cable pull on SRAM (11 speed) is 3.1mm and if I had to guess any of the 47-55 reach brakes are not within spec. I’m actually considering eTAP with either Velo Orange Grand Cru or TRP RG957 but worry about cable pull. Surprisingly some folks mentioned that if you are not running mechanical disc (e.g. TRP Spyre) brakes and it’s not worth upgrade to compressionless Yokozuna.


    2. Author
      Padraig

      Having set up both rim caliper and cable-actuated discs with (and of course, without) Yokozuna compressionless housing, I can say it indeed makes a significant difference. And yes, while the Velo Orange brakes aren’t perfectly in spec with the SRAM levers, I tend to run a fair amount of free stroke on my brakes anyway, so the extra pull doesn’t disturb me.

    3. Vlad M.

      I have no experience with mix-and-match components. What does it feel like when cable pull in not withing spec? Shimano (11 speed) cable pull is 2.7mm and SRAM (11 speed) cable pull is 3.1mm. What does it mean in layman terms? Do you apply marginally more pull to your lever? Do you run SRAM crankset and SRAM cassette with your eTAP?


    4. Author
      Padraig

      No one will ever notice a mismatch of brake and lever unless it’s absolutely egregious. It’s most noticeable when the brake pull is significantly greater than the lever pull. The upshot being that you have to set up the brake so the pads are crazy close to the rim and the brake power seems absurdly low.

      I’m running a full SRAM eTap group other than the brakes. I’ll be updating the setup with the new WiFLi eTap rear derailleur and an 11-32 cassette now that they are out. There are simply too many climbs here in Sonoma County with pitches upward of 18 percent not to.

    5. Vlad M.

      If I understand you correctly, using Shimano levers with shorter cable pull next to SRAM will require less effort and brake pads don’t have to be crazy close to the rim? What if you were to install SRAM short-reach brakes, do brake pads must be crazy close to the rim as well?

  1. Scott G.

    Carbon rims are the reason disk brakes were invented,
    or disc brake makers are subsiding carbon rim makers.
    More seriously

    Running the same pads on both brakes would be informative.
    I use the TRP, but with compression-less housing and Koolstop pads.
    Good brakes, but not as nice as Paul CPs brazed on.

  2. Michael

    Thanks for this Paddy. I just ordered a pair in black (silver is sold out right now, but black will look good), based on your review (advertisers take note!). I have had Shimano 650s on my coupler travel bike for five years or so, running tires with 28-32 mm widths, so need the longer reach (standard, really, if you are an old fart and remember the 70’s). I have never been happy with their stopping power, through various iterations of cables and pads. I hope this does it.

  3. Dodger

    I’ve been buying stuff from Velo-Orange for years. Been very happy with the quality and sevice. The Grand Cru brakes are on my radar but i don’t have a place to put them. Much appreciate your review!

    1. VeloKitty

      Unless using the same pads on each brake set, performance comparisons are pretty much useless. Maybe the Velo Orange pads are grippy compared to the other pads.

    2. Grego

      Velo Orange brake pads stop very well, equivalent IMO to Kool-Stop. However, they also are very messy, shedding brake dust all over, so I returned to using the Kool-Stop Dura 2 dual-compound.

  4. Stu

    Eagerly awaiting your review of the housings. I’m pretty unimpressed with a combo of TRP calipers and stock shimano SLR housings on a new bike, so I’m thinking about giving some aftermarket compressionless cables a crack…

  5. W

    I love this conversation and get the quest for good stopping on an old bike while making wider tires possible. Stop.

    New bikes should be built with disc brakes. They stop better and are safer–even if you want skinny tires. I don’t understand the resistance.

    Perhaps I will start researching ways to get more performance out of drum brakes on my 71 International so I can remove the early 90’s disc upgrade.

    We are a change resistant tribe. Rim brakes are archaic in function compared to modern discs. Relent.

  6. souleur

    DiNucci gave great advice. His work stands on its merits, its truly artful and a craft. The VeloOrange Grand Cru are beautiful and for the new gravel bikes a great option, I have looked at them and I too have been skeptical to jump on board for the disc setup for now. Don’t get me wrong, I did but the weight penalty on most wheelsets on gravel are exponential, and going to a mini-V TRP has been a great option, similar to the alternate that the VeloOranges offer. However, the frame set up is the key as to which one would consider, so for standard roadies with this set up, that is exactly what I would recommend. $170 is a bargain for the Grand Cru’s!

  7. Waldo

    Not having tried Yokozuna or other compressionless housing, I am fascinated to read that housing can make such a difference in braking performance. Looking forward to more details. Live and learn.

  8. James

    Out of curiosity Patrick, did you not go with disc brakes (on the DiNucci) because of the increased demands/loads imparted on the chosen tubeset?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, Mark said that the tube set really wasn’t designed to withstand the loads inflicted on the tubes by disc brakes. It was designed around the concept of caliper brakes. He said it would be fine at first, but wasn’t confident that it would hold up for a dozen years with the kind of use I envisioned.

  9. Mark

    I’m not clear if we’re all referring to the same brakes from Tektro and TRP. There are the Tektro R559, running about $50-70, and the TRP RG957 which run $125-170.

    I haven’t tried any of them, but have heard that the RG957’s at as good or better than the Grand Cru.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I’ve ridden, if briefly, both the TRPs and the Shimanos. Both are pretty good. However, neither match the Grand Cru. I haven’t ridden the Tektros.

  10. George Mount

    The reason I went with discs on my new on/off road bike is the fade on long steep downhills. When I put his bike together I did not wanted more stopping power, just consistent performance on long steep dirt sections. The TRP Spyres I selected (with compression-less housing) perform much like regular brakes up until I am going down long steep dirt roads/trails. Where the traditional cross and road brakes begin to fade terribly these brakes just keep working at the same level. While using the bike strictly for road they do not over-brake like some of the hydo-discs I’ve tried. As for the frame design disc brakes are not new and building a frame to use them should not be an issue but that’s between you and Mark. My builder is not nor should be interested in my opinion of tubing, just how I want to ride it and in this case the tire size I want to run.

  11. Mark DiNucci

    some quick thoughts:
    I received an inquiry this morning from a person who wants long reach brakes. Most of the frames I have been making have used long reach brakes by request. I thought I would send him to RKP in order for him to get the info offered here by persons who’s business it is to ride many different current bikes when I found this new article. I talked with a customer last week who wants TRP RG957 because he didn’t like the way the VO brakes look. The TRP’s look less “machine age” to me. Padrig told me that he thought that the VO brakes probably worked better than some of the non-hydro discs. Good the get this report.
    For you disc brakes folks. Why should I add nearly 50% more weight to my difficult to produce, oversize, lightweight, very high strength, smooth riding while still offering great cornering and braking control, fork blades; when the biggest disc you can cram into a wheel is the rim? My forks are very lightweight and comfortable and they will not perform the way they do if the blades are disc compatible clunky.
    If you think the only way to get better braking is to add weight while sacrificing all of the other benefits of a great fork then maybe you should ask the rim makers (as I have, to no avail) to up their rim development game. They could overcome the heating / fading problems that are inherent on long descents. The brake pad mounting system could also help to reduce heat buildup. Wheel sets are much more profitable than rims. Rims which can be used in someone else’s wheels, sending profit to a competitor. Discs require the brake to slow the disc, then the disc attachment to the hub, then the hub, then the spokes / nipples, and then the rim / tire. Rim brakes slow the rim / tire directly. Brilliantly simple and direct as a bike should be.
    Disc brakes have been used for a century. Do not forsake those who decided to put rim brakes on a bicycle. Those folks were not that stupid. The biggest disc is the rim. I am not at all against disc brakes. Rim brakes have just not been fully developed as of now. Beside those points, how much time do you spend braking compared to trying to haul ass?
    I had the opportunity, nearly five years ago, to ask the top dogs at Shimano, and nearly three years ago the folks at Campgnolo, to make a fat tire rim brake. I offered some of my ideas. I have not seen one yet. Rare in the wild? I suppose we should be happy to have the few choices we have. Where is the long reach MAG TRP R979 EQ for example? Campag, Simano, SRAM, and many others have the capability to make a great new brake. This is not rocket science.
    I will not give in to the constant “you must have the newest parts that are only for racing” mentality that the big makers force us into accepting year after year. Just give us a choice, please. Some of us know that race bikes are not always the best path to the most satisfying cycling experience.
    I hope this does not sound like too much of a rant. I just think that rim brakes deserve more attention from the Big parts producers.

    Thanks to Padrig for this much needed information.

  12. Maxwell

    On my cx bike that accepts wide tires, I run Paul Cantilevers. I would think you considered these. What is the drawback? I haven’t had trouble slowing, but I haven’t put them to extreme tests. Nor do I have much experience with road caliper brakes for comparison. Just Shimano 105s, which I feel have less stopping power.

  13. Mick

    Thanks for the post, Padraig and your thoughts Mark.

    I have been debating brake choice for a steel sport-touring frameset, which will have S&S couplers on it.This info has helped me commit to the 57mm Grand Crus.

    Question: how would running full-length brake housing for a rear 57mm brake affect performance? Compressionless or otherwise? Cons, other than weight, I suppose? (I’m OK removing the rear brake when packing the frame for travel and would prefer that to a cable splitter solution.)

    Thanks,
    Mick


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I don’t expect that there would be any significant penalties for running full housing, beyond the weight, which would be pretty minor. Definitely go compressionless. Going with long-reach calipers for a travel bike and removing the rear brake for packing would make for a speedier packing job than the discs on my Airheart.

      Just keep in mind that for maximum braking power you want to stick with aluminum rims.

  14. Mark Rosier

    I enjoy and get a lot of good information from your blog. Also, I still enjoy one of the bikes you produced at Strawberry Racing back in the early 70’s. Have hardly changed anything on it, though I put a Super Record deraileur on it, Look pedals and dif. wheels. Basically it’s the same. Thanks for your craftsmanship–excellent!!

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