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.
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.