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Road bike rim brakes: A buyer's guide

Cyclist magazine
25 May 2021

Here’s our run-down of the best road bike calliper brakes for those yet to convert to disc

When choosing a bike, how quickly it stops barely figures in most riders’ calculations. Knowing that brakes tend to sit low on the wish list for the majority of riders, some bike makers will cheekily substitute cheaper alternatives rather than matching them with the rest of the groupset.

Nine times out of 10 when we get a bike in to test and find ourselves wondering what’s up with the braking, it’s because a pair of unbranded callipers have been snuck in instead of a set matching the rest of the build.

This means that most of the time the best replacement brake option will be the model that matches your bike’s groupset – or if you fancy an upgrade, the groupset a level above.

That’s not to say you can't mix and match – assuming you check that everything remains compatible. 

Below are six of the best options from the biggest names in braking.

The best road bike rim brakes

Shimano Ultegra BR-R8000 Brakes

First seen on Shimano’s flagship Dura-Ace brakes, the snappily named SLR-EV dual-pivot design has now trickled down as far as the 105 level. It’s a clever, leverage-boosting mechanism that seriously increases the available stopping power.

However, SLR-EV equipped brakes do need to be matched to the specific compatible Shimano levers, as they require a different amount of pull, limiting compatibility. While the default response to any new standard is a roll of the eyes, we’ll forgive this one because in our experience these brakes are boulevards ahead of anything else.

These latest versions have also been widened to play better with broad tyres up to 28c. Weighing around 180 grams per end, like always, Shimano’s second-from-top Ultegra line is the one to aim for if you’re looking to balance performance and price.

Sram Red 22 Carbon Brakes

These brakes are made to match Sram's top-flight Red eTap groupset, and despite being non-disc they’re as high-tech as you’ll find. For a start, they’re made of carbon fibre not aluminium.

This not only leaves them light at 260 grams per pair, but it also allows them to be sculpted into an aerodynamic shape. With the body of the brake made into a wedge-like shape, even small details like the barrel adjuster have also been pointed away from the wind.

Arriving with high-spec SwissStop Flash Pro pads fitted as standard, the calliper itself has also been designed around modern rim standards. Allowing it to work happily with wider rims and tyres, these are probably the smartest calliper brakes anyone will ever design.

Campagnolo Record Dual Pivot Brakes

Never afraid to go its own way, for years Campagnolo offered a choice when it came to its brakes – either select dual pivots front and rear, or employ a lighter and less-powerful single pivot brake at the back to reduce the potential of locking up the rear wheel.

However, with powerful disc brakes becoming the norm, it’s now ditched this option. Meaning all its callipers finally work as well as their rivals, the rest of the brake’s design has also been overhauled.

Now compatible with tyres up to 28c, their aerodynamics has been improved thanks to a radical reshaping.

Still featuring quality bearings and titanium hardware, they also still retain one of Campagnolo’s better quirks. Unlike most other brakes, the release mechanism is located in the lever, not on the calliper.

This boosts reliability and makes for super quick wheel changes as you can easily release the brakes before coming to a halt.

Cane Creek eeBrakes

Eeeee is the noise you’ll make when you see how much these brakes cost. Eeeee is the noise you’ll make when you pick them up for the first time. And Eeeee is the noise all rim brake riders make heading into a wet corner.

All that said, these are among the lightest, and definitely the best-looking calliper brakes on the market. Whittled away until almost nothing remains, Cane Creek has still kept them stiff enough to be practical in their operation.

Largely aimed at hill climb specialists or lovers of exotica, they’re composed of a mixture of aluminium, titanium and stainless steel. Happy to work with Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram levers, they weigh a scant 85g per end and come in an outrageous range of anodised colourways.

THM Fibula Road Brakes

THM Fibula brakes

Necessary? No. Lust-inducing? For a certain demographic, certainly! This 120-gram (without pads) brakeset from German brand THM is the lightest you’ll find. Made of carbon fibre, even their return springs are composite rather than steel.

Recently updated to play better with modern rims standards, they’re now compatible with rims between 19 and 30mm in width. Using a clever leverage-boosting linkage, they manage to provide similar performance to dual-pivot callipers, but at an incredibly low weight.

Using a pull-ratio that’ll work with Shimano, Sram or Campagnolo they’re a staple fixture on some of the world’s most exotic and expensive racing bike builds.

Read our full review here

Buy now from THM for €,1230

TRP R879 Brakes

While the brakes on offer from the big three groupset makers are all pretty hard to fault, there will always be people who want something a bit different. These beautifully made brakes from TRP certainly fit the bill.

Coming with pads for both aluminium and carbon rims, you’ll have the right pair whatever your set-up. With the girth to accommodate rims up to 27mm wide, they’ll work with all but the broadest of carbon wheels. Just check you’ve got levers with the right amount of cable pull before you hit buy.

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