Fresh Thoughts, Common Problem

Fresh Thoughts, Common Problem

The advent of disc brakes for road bikes has blown open thought about how to stop a bike, much the way gravel bikes have made tire selection and pressure a conversation point in a way it hadn’t been for 20 years. Sure, I encounter many people who tell me that their bike stops just fine, thankyouverymuch, and nothing needs changing. Yet there are other riders who assert that better stopping power means more control. That’s the camp in which I reside. My time on the canyon roads of the Santa Monica Mountains taught me that, and nothing drives home that lesson like braking as hard as you dare … and drifting over the yellow lines in a turn. It’s a thrill of the sort that doesn’t make you smile.

I’ll admit that I suspect some of this conversation would feel academic were I still riding 23mm tires pumped up to 7 bar (101 psi). These days, unless I’m reviewing a tire, I don’t ride anything narrower than 27mm, and I’ve ridden exactly one 23mm tire in the last three years. But with a larger contact patch at lower pressure, more braking power and shorter stopping distances becomes, as we say, a thing.

I, like many of you, am unwilling to toss aside every bike I own to ride nothing but disc brakes. Not gonna happen. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still look for brakes that provide better stopping power.

I’ve been seeing the EE Brakes around for ages and have been curious about them, but for years they stayed on a very long to-do list. That is, they did until this past fall. North Carolina-based manufacturer Cane Creek has taken over production, sales, marketing and distribution for the brakes, meaning they will be easier to find.

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I mounted a set of them on my Bishop, a bike I love taking up the mountain roads around my home. They were quick to install and with that silver, knurled knob at the top left of the brake, easy to adjust. Without pads, one brake weighs just 83 grams, and with pads a whopping 98 grams. Compare that to the 130-160 grams for many dual-pivot calipers.

What I noticed on my first ride, actually, from the first time I pulled on a lever while on the bike was that the brake itself requires a bit more pull on the lever. The spring is heavier (stiffer) and even with new cables and housing, the difference between the EE brakes and those from Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo is noticeable. It’s not huge, but muscle memory being what it is, my first two or three rides were an adjustment period.

What was remarkable was once you adjusted to the heavier spring just how powerful the brakes are. Yeah, you must pull a bit harder, but the braking force is much more progressive, meaning it doesn’t take as forceful a tug to lock up the rear wheel. Hard braking when using SRAM pads with an aluminum rim gave arguably the best rim caliper braking performance I’ve experienced.

Tire clearance has been a concern with some of the dual-pivot calipers. Most will take a 27mm tire, but many can’t handle anything larger than that. I managed to fit a 30mm tire in this brake and it cleared, if only just. These photos were taken with a Vittoria 27mm tire mounted to a Shimano wheel. There’s more than enough clearance. Of course, fitting a 30mm tire in this brake will depend to some degree on just what the distance from the fork crown or brake bridge is to the rim. This is a relatively short reach caliper, in keeping with most of the brakes it would otherwise compete with.

The EE brakes go for $315 per brake, and this is significantly more expensive than Dura-Ace 9100, which runs roughly $350 for a set of brakes. Made from forged aluminum arms and bushings and featuring titanium hardware, not to mention the most minimal brake shoe holder I’ve encountered, this is truly a premium product.

At a certain level, I’m not terribly surprised by how good these brakes are. EE Components has its roots in another company, Sweet Parts, of which I had the opportunity to ride and review a couple of components back in the 1990s. They made what was hands-down the lightest quill stem I ever encountered, and what were easily the lightest cranks on the market, circa 1996. Craig Edwards was the brain behind that operation and he’s the man behind EE. The reason for the deal with Cane Creek is to allow him to offload the sales, marketing and distribution duties and focus on what he has a special talent for, and that’s creating original bike components.

The EE brakes have undergone a number of revisions over the years. This is at least the fourth iteration, and while the look hasn’t changed, minor differences in each of the versions mean that performance seems to have varied during that time. This is the only way I can account for the difference in my experience and what friends who have owned or reviewed them experienced. I’d say this current version is arguably the best yet.

So often, the chase for the lightest bike means giving up performance. Most light components introduce some flex that reduces their ability to function as well as similar products from the big three. The EE brakes are a notable exception, and just the sort of thing I’d select if I was building a bike meant to break the 13-lb. barrier. That there are other reasons to buy them than weight is a testament to how good an engineer Edwards is.

Final thought: brakes great, less thrilling.

Footnote: I spoke with an engineer friend just yesterday who told me that a third party had tested (in an actual lab) brakes from a number of product lines and from a variety of manufacturers. Included in that bunch were the EE brakes. He said that with Shimano brake pads they tested as the most powerful caliper brakes on the market. I’m not at liberty to discuss who did the testing, unfortunately, but the source was reliable enough that I considered it important to add to this post.


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4 comments

  1. Mike

    Hi Patrick,
    Nice review but not sure the 9100 brake price is accurate. Internet shows that a set is 379 US retail. EE brakes still look like a great product, and not trying to detract from the review, jjust pointing out that Dura Ace price is for F/R and not for a single.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      D’oh. Thanks for the catch. Amended. (If you look around, that $379 price isn’t always the case.)

  2. DR

    When I started on road bikes in the early ’70’s the entry-level bike was a Peugeot U08. These had 27 X 1 1/4 tires which are about 30mm. Although heavy this was a do-it-all bike. It could handle pavement, cyclocross, gravel and even off road. In the intervening years we moved to the tight geometry 23mm road race bike and now back bikes with larger tires, more clearance and more comfort. I’m glad the the gravel bike era is here but whenever I see one all I can think is that is just like my fist bike, only half the weight.

  3. Les.B.

    I’d noticed EEBRAKES a long time ago and really loved their techno appearance, especially in the unpainted metal finish.The metallic red is dope! But I never heard much about them. It’s good to read now that they perform as super as they look. If this review hit the airwaves a few years earlier, I’d a gotten these, back when I had funds.

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