SRAM’s introduction of the Guide line of brakes was as impressive as it was necessary. The Avid lineup of brakes had had its successes but in recent years inconsistent performance had plagued the brand’s reputation. So they dropped the Avid name and co-opted the SRAM brand and, more significantly, rolled out an all-new design that addressed key issues with the former generation. In the year since then, SRAM Guide brakes have made a lot of people question their longtime allegiance to Shimano. Game on: a brake war is good for the consumer and even outspoken critics from Avid’s recent past have to concede that the Guide is legit.
Today, SRAM is announcing Level: a line of brakes that look very similar to Guide, and use most of the design ID, in a lighter package (achieved in large part by using a 2 piston design instead of the 4 pistons used on the more powerful Guides). We hope to have test product to dig into soon. The full release from SRAM is below the break.
When it comes to braking power and control, we believe in freedom—options. We believe that there should be an absolute best solution for every type of rider and every kind of ride; that there really isn’t a One-Size-Fits-Most when it comes to brakes. That’s the concept that led us to the development of Level, a new brake designed for the needs of modern cross-country and trail riders.
Borrowing inspiration from the Guide, the SRAM Level lineup shaves weight without losing features.
Level BestLevel puts the same proven SRAM brake technology used on the 2015 Downhill World Championship-winning bike into a smaller, lighter-weight package. Braking power and modulation are optimized by matching our DirectLink™ lever design with authoritative 2-piston calipers. Reach adjusters are hidden from outside elements, giving the entire package a clean, confident look. And with five options to choose from, Level makes it easy to find the perfect setup.
Proven SRAM technology, entirely new options: Level
ALL NEW 2-PISTON LINEUP
Incorporates technologies developed on Guide Ultimate’s S4 caliper
As its name implies, this is our Ultimate brake design for cross-country and light trail use. We took the same technology used in the brake that Loic Bruni rode to a Downhill World Championship and packed it into a smaller, sleeker, lighter-weight and XC-optimized package. The carbon-fiber level blade pulls crisp and clean, thanks to pivot bearings and our DirectLink™ design. And it maintains that feel throughout the ride because it is matched to our monoblock, two-piston caliper. This caliper’s superior heat management and smooth piston actuation give you braking power exactly when and how you need it. And the BLEEDING EDGE™ design significantly simplifies fluid maintenance.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
FEATURES AND BENEFITS
WEIGHT 318g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CLX rotor, Ti hardware)
MSRP PRICE $297 | €324 | £249
The SRAM Level Ultimate’s 2-piston caliper looks small and tucks in neatly.
At 318g each including rotor and full length hose, the SRAM Level Ultimate is light AF (as a Feather!)
It has a championship-winning pedigree, and is ready to take all of the punishment you want to give it. Level TLM puts proven SRAM braking performance and consistency at your fingertips, in a sleek, lightweight design optimized specifically for cross-country and light trail use. Power and modulation are delivered via the Level TLM’s alloy lever blade, DirectLink™ actuation, DOT 5.1 fluid and our new two-piston, monoblock caliper. The design provides superior heat management for consistent, fade-free performance all day long, and BLEEDING EDGE™ technology makes maintenance incredibly simple, so your brakes feel great all day — every day.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
FEATURES AND BENEFITS
WEIGHT 356g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CL rotor)
MSRP PRICE $190 | €207 | £159
SRAM Level TLM in grey.
Heavyweight performance in a lightweight package. Level TL packs the same XC and trail-optimized power delivery into a brake set that won’t break the bank. This brake matches an alloy DirectLink™ lever to a lever body that contains the same technology found in the Level TLM, Level Ultimate and Guide series of brakes, for reliability and consistency you can count on.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
FEATURES AND BENEFITS
WEIGHT 370g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CL rotor)
MSRP PRICE $102 | €111 | £85
SRAM Level TL
Level T capitalizes on the same trail-taming brake technology that conquered the 2015 World Mountain Bike Championships, to deliver a powerful and consistent XC and trail-optimized brake set that keeps your capital in the bank. This budget-minded, MatchMaker™ compatible brake set provides all the power of its siblings, keeping you in complete control.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
FEATURES AND BENEFITS
WEIGHT 410g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CL rotor)
MSRP PRICE $82 | €89 | £68
SRAM Level T
The SRAM Level brake levels the playing field with power and reliability stuffed into a lightweight package. This is a no-nonsense performer, but don’t let its understated disposition fool you — Level gives you the art of braking in minimalist form.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
FEATURES AND BENEFITS
WEIGHT 430g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm G2 rotor)
MSRP PRICE $63 | €69 | £53
The brake fluid reservoir on SRAM’s latest lever design is optimized for both performance and ease of use. The PiggyBack Reservoir offers a simple, failsafe way to manage brake fluid, and also allows for ambidextrous lever placement— so you can switch your levers on the handlebar and run them moto without hassle.
TIMING PORT CLOSURE
A hydraulic brake’s timing port is the connection between the reservoir and the master cylinder bore. When the lever is squeezed, a cup seal passes this area and closes the port, which pressurizes the system. SRAM’s new timing port closure system, features durable seals and an ultra-smooth cylinder bore finish producing dependable braking power and consistency.
CONTACT POINT ADJUST
Some people like the instantaneous power of a short lever throw. Others prefer the feel of a longer throw. With Contact Point Adjust, you can pick the position you want your fingers to be in when your brakes are engaged. It’s a quick and easy way to customize the feel of your brakes without having to move the pads. It’s also a way to balance both brake levers to feel exactly the same.
Brake lever fit and feel is a personal thing. Riders have individual positioning preferences, as well as unique hand sizes and finger lengths. Reach Adjust makes it easy to adjust your lever for maximum one-finger control for everyone.
SRAM’s DirectLink™ lever design produces a solid, positive feel the second you squeeze the lever to engage the brake It offers a no nonsense solution to give you precise control.
This refers to the time between the moment you engage the lever and when the pads contact the rotor. SRAM technologies such as SwingLink balance the dual demands of minimizing deadband and optimizing modulation for braking finesse and control.
SRAM’s new brake lever design includes a reshaped bladder that helps regulate and reduce air bubbles. The bladder is specifically shaped to evacuate air from the lever and push the fluid exactly where it’s needed. The result is improved back-pressure relief, which produces dependable braking power and consistency.
We’re still two months out from Sea Otter…
SRAM’s new Level brakes bring technology from the brand’s Guide platform into a lighter, single-piston design. The new brake is intended for cross-country or mellow trail use. This new line of stoppers will become available between now and June.
Based on Guide, the actual lever is more compact and shaves some weight. Internally, it sports the same timing port closure mechanism, same seals, and same expandable bladder reservoir. For weight savings and simplicity, every version of the new brake requires a tool for reach adjustment.
The Level caliper includes the same stainless steel heat shield employed on the Guides. SRAM built the Level calipers with only two pistons as opposed to Guide’s four with the intention of keeping weight low. Higher-end Level models feature a one-piece caliper, while the rest are two piece.
Replaces SRAM XX– Carbon lever blade– Lever pivot bearings– Ti hardware– Alloy backed pads– “Bleeding Edge” bleed port– MatchMaker mount– Claimed weight: 318g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CLX rotor, Ti hardware)– Price: $297
Replaces SRAM X0– Alloy lever blade– Lever pivot bearings– Ti hardware– Alloy backed pads– “Bleeding Edge” bleed port– MatchMaker mount– Weight: 356g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CL rotor)– Price: $190
Replaces SRAM DB5– Two-piece caliper– Alloy lever blade– MatchMaker mount– Weight: 370g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CL rotor)– Price: $102
Replaces Avid DB3– Two-bolt clamp– Weight: 410g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm CL rotor)– Price: $82
Replaces Avid DB1– Pinch clamp– Weight: 430g (direct mount, 800mm hose, 160mm G2 rotor)– Price: $63
As with just about every industry, there are always two main brands that people pledge their allegiance to...Chevy trucks vs. Ford trucks. iOS vs. Android. In the bicycle world, it’s SRAM vs. Shimano, ESPECIALLY when it comes to brakes, people will argue for days why one is better than the other. This post isn’t about how one brand is better, but more of a side by side comparison between SRAM and Shimano brakes. Both brands perform very well; each just has characteristics that might appeal to one rider over another. Let’s dive in!
The SRAM brake line-up includes the Guide Series (RE, R, RS, RSC, and Ultimate), the Level series (Level, Level T, TL, TLM, and Ultimate) and the Code series (R, RSC). SRAM has directed the Guide Series brakes as their All-Mountain/Enduro brake line up and the Level series is directed more towards the XC/Trail riders. With the Guide series having a four piston caliper (even in the RE model), that leaves you with great stopping power for an unbeatable price! The Level brakes have a two piston caliper but that's all that is really necessary for XC/Trail riding since you won’t be jamming down too many steep descents. The Code series is geared towards the super aggressive Enduro/DH rider and uses a larger PiggyBack reservoir and 4 bigger diameter pistons which will provide that reliable and consisntet feel that SRAM brakes are known for.
SRAM brakes are known for having great modulation. Basically what this means is that you will have more control over your braking force before they lock up. Brakes with less modulation will lock up much quicker. Some people who have ridden SRAM brakes years back might have some preconceptions about them, but the SRAM Guide series is the best line-up of brakes they have produced and are lightyears ahead of previous models. The stopping power of the SRAM brakes combined with the superior modulation will give you ultimate control over your bike. Note: SRAM brakes are run by DOT 5.1 fluid.
The Shimano brake lineup itself has its similarities to SRAM in that they offer a number of different price points for the brake line-up. The Shimano Deore and SLX are their lower level and less expensive 2-piston brakes. Then you have the XT and XTR levels that are the more expensive, higher level brakes. The XTR brakes, when compared with the XT brakes, have finer machining in some areas and are lighter due to use of carbon and titanium pieces. The XT and XTR brakes were designed for the XC/Trail/Enduro rider looking for the best and most consistent braking that Shimano has to offer. Then you have the Zee and the Saint brakes. Shimano designed the Zee brakes as their budget gravity brakes whereas the Saint line is their top of the line gravity brake.
One thing riders notice right away when riding Shimano brakes is how snappy they are; they have a ton of bite! Some people really like a hard bite and having the ability to lock up the wheels, but others prefer the smoother modulation of SRAM brakes. One thing is for sure when you buy Shimano brakes: you will have the ULTIMATE stopping power on a CONSISTENT basis. Note: Shimano brakes run the Shimano Hydraulic Mineral Oil.
Though these brakes have their differences, make sure you try them both if you get the chance. One brand isn't better than the other; they more or less just have a different feel to them. Enough reading, go ride your bike!
Piggybacking on the popularity of its Guide brakes, SRAM earlier this year released the lighter-duty line of Level hydraulic disc brakes. Level utilizes the same technologies as Guide-namely the move from SRAM’s TaperBore closure system to a more common timing port design-but in a sleeker and lighter package.
I've been able to pile up a significant number of miles on the Guides, simply because they were specced on both my 140-millimeter-travel 29er and my 200-millimeter-travel downhill bike. Curious to see where the Levels fit in given how versatile the Guides have proven, I slapped a pair on my trail bike.
The Level Ultimate brakes feature top-loading, alloy-backed resin pads, and two-piece rotors.
Pricing ranges from $63 per wheel for the base-level version to $297 for the top-end Level Ultimates tested here. SRAM says they’re designed for cross-country racing and “light trail use.” What exactly that means is up to interpretation, but regardless the Level Ultimates were developed to replace SRAM's prior top-shelf endurance racing stopper, the XX. For a whisker under $300 per wheel, the svelte Ultimates include a carbon lever with bearings at the lever pivot, titanium hardware, alloy-backed resin pads, two-piece CLX rotors, plus SRAM's Bleeding Edge bleed port and MatchMaker handlebar mounts. My set of Level Ultimate brakes with two 180-mil rotors, uncut hoses, and all mounting hardware weighed a total of 795 grams.
A carbon lever blade and minimal external adjustments speak to the Level's endurance racing intentions.
The Levels use the same timing port closure mechanism, seals, and expandable bladder reservoir employed on the ubiquitous Guides. What you won't find on the Levels are on-the-fly lever-reach or pad-contact adjustments. The pad contact position is preset, and for weight savings the reach distance adjustment requires a 2-mil hex key. The most visually obvious difference between the two brakes is at the caliper. The Guides have a powerful four-piston design, while the Levels keep weight low with a smaller two-piston platform. The Ultimate and $190 TLM models are constructed with a one-piece caliper, while other brakes in the Level line are assembled from two separate pieces.
Guide brakes have been universally praised since their release, and with good reason-they have excellent stopping power and modulation, and reliability has been solid. Personally, I've always noticed that they have more resistance at the lever than most brakes, which can be tiring on hands and forearms-especially on long, rough downhills. The Levels, however, feel lighter at the lever with a smoother and more tactile-feeling engagement with the rotor.
The handy MatchMaker handlebar mounts offer multiple positions for attaching a dropper post or shifter lever.
The undulating and moderately rough terrain of my cross-country oriented test loops proved to be the ideal proving ground for these new stoppers. The ergonomic levers provided quick input to the brakes to scrub speed on command, and the organic pads held their own on moderate descents. When ridden on steeper and rowdier terrain, the Levels could keep speed in check, but occasionally felt under gunned on steep, rotor-barbecuing sections of trail.
But even in in those situations, the Levels didn't fade or cause me to lose control. Instead, they maintained a consistent input of power to the rotors. Guides have a deeper power reserve, which makes them extremely versatile, but for a brake designed with endurance racing in mind, the Levels provide solid stopping in a sleek, lightweight package. The top-shelf Levels are positioned as an XC race-oriented product, but depending on one's riding style and local terrain they're also a worthy option for less-aggressive trail riders.
Blueprint: From Elixir to Guide
Palmer’s Picks: SRAM Guide RSC