Just One Finger

Just One Finger

Cable actuated disc brakes are the taint of cycling stoppers. They ain’t traditional calipers, but they ain’t hydraulic discs, either. They are caught in that nether region between the two.

If I didn’t travel with my Seven Cycles Airheart, I wouldn’t have any reason to concern myself with cable-actuated disc brakes. History will judge them to be an evolutionarily unsuccessful branch. The sort of thing that got tried and discarded. And yet. The thing is, I have reason to chase cable-operated discs because I have quick connects for the cables to aid breaking the frame in half (S&S couplers) in order to pack it.

As a result, I’ve tried a number of different brakes. Why? Because if I don’t have powerful stoppers, I get skittish on descents. Stopping power = control.

Ultimately, I kept looking around because nothing was providing the stopping power I need for the descents near my home. Dragging brakes all the way down a descent in order to keep the speed under control is a fun antidote. Talk about things no one needs.

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As I checked variations off my list, I finally arrived at the TRP Hy/Rd, their cable-actuated, hydraulic disc brake. Rather than have the reservoir at the lever (where it’s easier to hide the fluid), this places the reservoir at the brake, because cable. So while it doesn’t have the minimal appearance of some of the SRAM or Shimano offerings, it’s a pretty elegant design for what it is. The brake weighs in at 201 grams, which seems like a lot on paper until you remember that this includes the hydraulic reservoir, something that would otherwise be making the lever heavier.

It features a dual piston design with enough fluid to self-adjust as the pads wear.

In setting the Hy/Rd up, I went straight for maximum braking power, largely because the environment in which I ride demands it. I skipped the whole step where I typically use standard brake housing and then upgrade to compressionless housing. Descending around here is just too dicey to set up a bike with anything short of every possible advantage. That said, I did stick with the brake pads spec’d so that my experience would be consistent with other users’. As I was moving from another brake with which I’d been using compressionless housing, my experience of the difference in braking performance was limited to just the brake, not brake and housing.

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I went with 160mm rotors front and rear, again, because power.

The upshot is that I finally have sufficient braking power to descend with only one finger on each lever. There’s no question that the power exercised by this brake is inferior to systems like Shimano’s R785 post-mount brake. However, in some very tenuous moments on a recent loose, rocky, off-camber descent, the Hy/Rds gave me the sort of control I just haven’t been able to achieve with non-hydraulic systems. The increase in power has been enough that on occasion I’ve locked up the rear wheel. Sure, I could swap out to a 140mm rotor, but rather than give up power, I’d rather learn just how hard I can pull the lever before I lock up the wheel. Muscle memory is a fascinating aspect of human skill, and I’ve noticed a change in how I brake, one that I can’t quite call conscious.

So, while I’ve made the case for why I still ride cable discs, why bother reviewing them for everyone else, especially if my suggestion at the beginning of the review turns out to be correct and this flavor of brake is as doomed as foie gras?

I am surprised by the number of riders I still see running cable-actuated discs. Though perhaps I shouldn’t be. Asking around, the answer is usually that the ride is some sort of Frankenbike, not a properly spec’d stock offering. For instance, last week I met a guy riding a Specialized Crux, but he’d purchased just the frameset alone, and built it from parts he mostly already owned, save the brakes. Because he was using a traditional road lever, he was forced to pick up a cable-actuated disc. Hey was running TRP’s Spyre and was curious to know how I liked the Hy/Rd by comparison.

I’d have felt bad about slagging on the Spyre if it wasn’t for the fact that I was recommending another TRP product.

I need to take a moment and frame my regard for the Hy/Rd a bit. As I’ve made clear in other pieces here at RKP, I live in Sonoma County, California. The dirt road riding here is flat like the stock market. It’s either on its way up or down. I could ride most of the U.S. and the terrain that makes the Hr/Rd so necessary for me would be utterly absent. Were I still in Memphis, the Spyre would keep me perfectly happy. The Spyre isn’t an inferior product; it’s just not as extreme as we seem to need here.

The Hy/Rd comes in three finishes: silver, black and pewter grey (pictured). Suggested retail is $124.95 for a set; rotors are not included. TRP also just announced a new flat-mount version of the Hy/Rd, which has a somewhat cleaner appearance. Cost and weight are the same as the existing Hr/Rd.

It’s important when setting them up that you don’t attempt to use the barrel adjuster to shorten the throw of the lever. Only use the barrel adjuster to take up cable slack. There is very little arm movement before the reservoir is sealed off, which means that as you brake and wear away the brake pads, the pads won’t readjust and you’ll have to pull the levers deeper and deeper to brake. Also, you’ll encounter brake fade because the fluid will be trapped in the caliper, something that never happened on any of my rides.

Final thought: The later you brake, the more you fun.

 


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23 comments

  1. Kevin Collings

    I can’t say enough good things about my TRP Hylex brakes. So glad I went with them on my ss and bypassed any cable offerings. Bonus, they’re lighter (as a complete lever+housing+caliper+ fluid unit) than any cable system.

  2. Andrew

    I have the Hy/Rd’s. They’ve been excellent, maintenance free brakes for 3 years. Some day i will switch to full hydraulic, but these have been excellent in all conditions, including deep winter.

  3. Michael

    Thanks for this. I have a coupler bike with caliper brakes that I travel with a lot, but am planning a touring bike, which of course must have couplers. I do not want to deal with “normal” disc brakes, as the fluid and the adjustments don’t appeal. Even though one can use zip ties to attach the hydraulic lines, there is still all the hassle of finding the right place for them in the suitcase and keeping them working. So, reading about these is very welcome – cables with splitters is the way to go with coupler bikes. And being able to stop while carrying weight is also rather a good thing!

    1. Tyler B

      I thought I’d offer an opinion from the other side: I’ve got 2 years using an S&S coupled bike and full hydraulic brakes, over a dozen trips. I haven’t really found any difficulties in the packing process: all I do is wrap the brake in some padding and either strap it to a fork leg or just drop it somewhere loose in the bag. The hose is pretty stout and I can’t imagine how it would get damaged and it’s long enough to fit anywhere you need it to go. Yes there are 4 zip ties to snip and reattach but that’s over and done with in about 2 minutes.

      I don’t have any meaningful experience with mechanical or hybrid disc brakes to compare riding performance.

    1. Bluefire

      Perhaps not so far after all?

      http://road.cc/content/tech-news/206054-hope-unveils-new-inline-hydraulic-crosstop-brake-levers-paul-oldham-winning

      On the more tinker-y side, I’ve seen standard t-fittings being used to merge hydraulic lines from separate levers, though I can’t recall where or in what application I saw this. I figure hydro-based auxiliary lever setups can be better and more flexible than cable-based ones. The friction inherent to cable systems, along with the cumbersome nature of cable doublers, discourages more… exciting configurations – i.e., brake levers on the aero extensions AND the base bar. With hydraulics, these concerns are nonexistent, so there’s no incentive to keep everything strung along the length of one cable CX-style. Series versus parallel, if you will – for hydro, you just need to increase the overall system pressure, and that can happen at any lever. I had a wacky phase a couple years back where I wanted to build a commuter with an aero bar and six brake levers… these new hydro gruppos are stirring those feelings up again.

  4. JIm

    Yeah when I took those things out of the box and held them in my hands, it didn’t feel like a bike part. They are so heavy.
    I’ve had a few issues with my Hy/Rds. The organic pads don’t last long in the wet here in the PNW. Get some sintered ones (which unfortunately can squeal like banshees at times). I had problems as the pads wear with having enough throw left to get good braking. I found you can add a bit of oil to the reservoir. I’ve also had problems after changing the pads. I have to push the pistons back. I usually use an old cone wrench. Occasionally I have to realign them after changing the pads or they rub on one side or the other. Like most bike parts, they are not perfect but do a great job once you figure out their quirks.

    I really like the direction that the industry is going with flat mounts but I haven’t compared 140 to 160 discs and am curious to see some direct comparison info. The hy/rd with the shim for 160 is really an inelegant look.

    1. Nick W.

      It’s relatively well-known that the stock TRP organic pads wear quickly in the wet. I used SwissStop e-bike rated pads on my Spyres, and saw much better wear without too much noise. That said, rotors matter too. I have TRP hydraulic brakes and rotors on my MTB running the stock organic pads- no worries on wear as i don’t ride trails when it’s sloppy out, but it’s a rare ride in Oregon where my bike doesn’t get wet. I’m considering SRAM centerline rotors to quiet the brakes.

  5. Jeff Dieffenbach

    Love these breaks on my entry level Focus CX bike. Like Andrew, I’ll go full hydraulic at some point, but money doesn’t go on trees.

    I’ve had one issue with these brakes: freezing in cold temps. Initially, I thought the problem might somehow have been water in the reservoir. My LBS owner (props to Sherborn MA’s Steve the Bike Guy!) figured out the real cause … water in the cable housing.

    Unlike road bike cabling, my CX bike is set up with the housing running along the left chainstay. That created a low spot. CX in New England occasionally encounters water–that water must have gotten into the housing and settled in the low spot. Temps drop below freezing, and bingo, no cable movement. Steve injected a bit of oil into the housing and it’s been solid since.

  6. Mudge

    I prefer the HyRd brakes for the flexibility of being able to run any lever (whether brifter or just brake) you want. My experiences here in CO are much like what was noted for CA. The brakes are overkill for flat riding, but much appreciated for the mtns.

    Not sure where Padraig got his brakes, but mine came with rotors.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      You got a good deal then. As per TRP’s web site: “rotors and adapters sold separately.” That’s what they say, and wasn’t in the box I received, so I just don’t want to give anyone false hope.

    2. Mudge

      might be a function of when I bought mine (over a year ago). I even had a choice of rotor size. I guess they must’ve stopped that practice.

      Regardless, yay me!

  7. 32x20

    How is modulation with these?

    Modulation was the revelation for me in regards to MTB discs. Cable discs had plenty of power but little modulation. Riding a downhill course (on my XC/SS/Hardtail) was a revelation for me in regards to the benefits of hydro brakes. My cable brakes had gobs of power, but I would skid too often to maintain good control. With comparatively ‘weaker’ hydro brakes I could brake on the verge of lockup and maintain control.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I think the modulation was really good. As I get used to them, I’m finding that sweet spot of maximum brake power without locking up the rear wheel. And that’s the thing about braking power; if I can’t lock up a wheel, then it really doesn’t have enough power for the variety of descents we have around here. I’ve used brakes where I needed two fingers to even begin to get a brake to lock at low speeds, and for me, that just won’t cut it.

  8. Larry Fisher

    Just replaced the BB7’s on my couplered Seven Evergreen S with the Yokozuna cable-operated hydraulics. Big improvement! And they are more compact and lighter than the TRP’s. I had also heard that the TRP’s didn’t play well with Campy brifters; so far no issues with the Yokozuna’s. I’ve got plenty of stopping power and much better modulation than I had with BB7s.

    1. Bluefire

      Those Yokozunas are a closed system, right? No automatic wear compensation? I figure that makes them closer to something like the dual-retracting TRP Spyre, whereas the Hy/Rd with its reservoir is closer to a full hydraulic system. Hydraulic-actuated cable brake as opposed to cable-actuated hydraulic brake, if that makes sense. Any comments of comparison to your BB7s, or the Spyres if you’ve tried them? I’m curious about these competing philosophies.

  9. Martin Pont

    Quick connectors are available for hydraulic brake lines now. I think it’s Hayes that make them. They originally designed them for motor cross, I think.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      True; SRAM offers one as well. I’ve been curious about them, but haven’t been too eager to go down that road because friends who have used them say they leak enough fluid that after disconnecting them a few times the system needs a complete bleed. I’m not wild about the idea of flying into a destination and realizing I need to bleed my rear brake, plus I’d have to have the braze-ons completely re-done on my frame.

  10. LateSleeper

    I have HyRd’s on my century bike and Spyres on my gravel/utility bike. The Spyre’s are lighter and allow secondary levers, but the HyRd’s are superior in all other respects and have made me a more confident and much faster descender. Careful setup is required, esp with older Shimano levers, which have a shallower pull ratio. I was an early adopter, and the first factory run was replaced under warranty. Three years later I am still running the replacement on the front, but my rear caliper developed an oil leak and got swapped out this fall. I mostly run Shimano non-metalic pads, which are easy to find in stores. Cleaning the rotors and pads surfaces occasionally with isopropyl alcohol keeps them quite — always do this after a rainstorm! When replacing pads, I use a tire lever to push the pistons back in.

  11. Larry Fisher

    The Yokozunas do compensate automatically for pad wear. I haven’t put many miles on them yet–it’s been cold in the Pacific Northwest–but initial impression is much better feel and modulation than the BB7’s, and my LBS found them far easier to set up than the HY/RD. Still babying the pads so no hard stops yet.

  12. Duende

    Very curious about the Yokozuna, but I don’t see a flat mount version. Currently have the Spyres and I have to say they’re useless. About a 3rd of the stopping power of my caliper breaks. Ugh!

    Think I will maybe give the TRP’ hy/rd a shot.

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