Despite all the advances in bicycle equipment over the last decade, we've seen almost no changes in road brakes. The side-pull brake as imagined by Campagnolo and seen gracing Fausto Coppi's bikes at least as far back as the early 1950's is pretty much what we have today. The only major modification we've seen is the advent of the “dual-pivot, ” wherein one arm’s pivot is off to one side while the other pivot is directly over the wheel and runs through the frame or fork crown.
When change is incremental like this, one explanation can be that the component is so perfect, so highly-evolved, that there's nothing to improve upon. Another is that even if it isn't perfect, the only way to improve is through a radical change. This is the tack that disc brake proponents have taken. A third is that people merely lack imagination; a solution might be out there, if someone would approach it with an open mind. This is where the eecycleworks eebrakes fit in.
The creator, Craig Edwards, saw lots of room for improvement in brakes. “A conventional brake is a lame design. Campy had it 50-60 years ago. It’s just been refined, rather than anyone asking, 'does this make sense?' Once I started looking at it, [I thought] there has to be a more efficient way to carry and apply the loads.” So, while working as an architect by day, he took an approach he was familiar with, “I looked at it from a straight engineering standpoint. If you look at a side-pull brake, the load goes up the arm, then the side, then the pivot, then the frame. That's an inefficient way to take a load from the pad to the frame. So if you study the load path of a conventional brake, it's not very good. If you see it from the front, it's one thing; from the side, it's another. From the side, it's pretty narrow, and when you squeeze it, the rim wants to move the brake, so you need something to withstand those forces.”
Edwards wanted to make something that was stiff enough to simultaneously place force on the rim and also resist the forces that are created when applying the brake. He also needed to make something that worked well with modern road bike brake levers. And, perhaps most importantly, it had to stop well, a weakness of many ultra-light designs. Taking a look at the eebrake, it's pretty easy to see that just about everything was re-imagined. The brake is much thicker front to back than other brakes we've used. It measures 3.06cm. Our SRAM Red brakes measure 2.84cm on one side and 2.39cm on the other—and this measurement includes two arms rather than one. The arms are also much shorter. There is no long, curved arm that reaches from the brake mounting bolt to the brake pad, nor an even longer arm that reaches from the side pivot to the brake pinch bolt. Every arm is shorter in length on this brake when compared to conventional side pull brakes. The arms are also thicker, and one of the pivots does dual duty as home to the brake cable pinch bolt.
In rather brilliant fashion, the brake has an oversized mounting head, 12.7mm in diameter, where the brake caliper mounts on the frame or fork fixing bolt. Instead of having the bolt serve to not only secure the brake to the bike but also resist the twisting forces created by braking, the bolt is a conventional size where it attaches to the bike and then has a short, large-diameter stub that the brake attaches to. This stub is hollow and eccentric, and the bolt that cinches the brake to it is also the centering mechanism. There's a lower and higher position to move the brake toward or away from your rim depending on the reach of the frame. This is also done in conjunction with shortening the vertical pad adjustment room at the pad end of the brake. Most side-pull brakes are what used to be called “short reach” meaning they are adjustable from 39 to 49mm when measured from the brake pivot bolt. According to Edwards, the reach of his brakes measure 39-50mm, with 6mm on the “low” mounting position and 6mm on the “high” position and 1mm of overlap. Shortening the reach of the arms also has value in that it further stiffens the system at the brake pad by having shorter arms. Less variation at the brake pad means that the power of the brake, in this case relating to the amount of brake pad movement for a given amount of lever pull, is more consistent.
Because rims come in widths from 19-26mm these days, the brake has to account for that. The solution is zero, one, or two washers between the brake arms and the pad housing, depending on the rim width. It’s simple and easy, though perhaps not the best for people who routinely swap between 19mm and 26mm-wide rims.
The brake shoe is similarly a unique design. It fits Shimano/SRAM-dimension pads, but the aluminum holding the pads in place is much more reduced, more skeletal than anything else we've seen, and there's no dwarf-sized “wheel guide” hanging off the bottom. The shoes also don't have a fixing bolt, instead relying on a small tab to hold the pads in place.
Looking at the brake from the front, it seems complicated. All the linkages make it look very mechanical. Some people, and we're among them, have a generalized worry about linkages. They seem to make the component more complex and more prone to wearing out or failing. This brake seems to be the rare case where we don't see this happening. Our feeling is that these concerns are unfounded because the parts seem to be very precisely machined (individual pieces are forged then machined), are pivoting on bushings that don't seem likely to wear out and don't need maintenance, and their pivots are sufficiently large in diameter that they probably won't be overtaxed.
The linkages do a number of good things. They make the travel just about even on both the left and right side. We think they're even, but don't have the means to measure to be certain. They keep everything close together, which is good for system stiffness, better cable routing, and better for aerodynamics.
The innovations continue all the way up the eebrake. The barrel adjuster has about 10mm of vertical adjustment, is small, light, and because it isn't fixed to the brake but sitting on a curved arm, will always be in alignment with the brake and housing. The adjuster fit is incredibly close; you won't be able to fit a ferrule between your housing and the adjuster because the diameter of the barrel is 8.2mm. According to Edwards, Shimano housing is in the 6mm range, and he had to make sure it would fit Shimano. (He seems to have gone about designing a number of adjustable elements with Shimano + 1 in mind). He also states that the only cable housing he wouldn't recommend with his brake is Yokozuna as the housing diameter is much greater than anything else he's encountered.
To keep weight down, most of the brake parts are aluminum that has been forged then machined, and most of the threaded parts, save the frame mounting bolt, are titanium. The Ti bolts need to be greased and it's best to adjust them with a torque wrench.
Before putting the eecycleworks brakes on the bike, they are impressive-seeming stoppers. A quick trip to the scale confirms that the gram-shaving worked. The front brake with all the hardware, including spacers and pads, was 91g. The rear brake 93g. Spacers weigh less than 1g apiece. As a point of comparison, our SRAM Red brakes weigh in at 140g for the rear and 136g for the front.
Between the low weight and warnings in the instructions, we had some trepidation installing the brakes. We took everything apart and greased all the little pieces, as recommended. We got out the torque wrench, as recommended, to make sure we didn't over tighten any bolt.
Setup was actually very easy. We got the right side of the eccentric frame mounting bolt on the first try and torqued that fixing bolt into place. Got the brake shoes to the right height and torqued them into place. We used the barrel adjusters to fine-tune the distance from the pads to the rim when at rest. The only hiccup was in using the housing and cables that were already in place. Because of the design, we needed longer cable housing but shorter cable. Edwards estimates an extra quarter inch, and it is so noted in the installation instructions. For the rear, we found an extra piece of housing and installed that. For the front, we ran the housing a bit shorter than we would have liked, but it was still functional and low-friction.
Our one surprise was how the adjusting barrel seemed to strip the low-friction coating off our Gore cables. We wondered if this was from the tight fit. Turns out, Edwards says Gore cables should fit with room to spare. Perhaps it was because the cables were a year old and the ends have been exposed to the elements all this time.
Set up accomplished, it was time to take them on the road. Know that our bias is toward simple brakes. Much of the brake discussion, from single-pivot brakes to dual-pivot to whether or not cantilever brakes stop well to disc brakes seems misplaced. The grip between the ground and tire seem to be the real limiter with braking. This is one of the reasons why disc brakes seem like overkill for most road applications, and considering all the design changes discs would necessitate, it seems like a solution that few really need badly enough to justify the cost. That written, a system that is stiffer all around should brake better because it takes less input and the input is easier to modulate. And, arguably, you should also be able to start braking later, which could increase your overall speed.
The only time you'll think about stiffness is when you have a brake that is markedly different from your current setup. We've adjusted to many different brakes over the years; this time of year we're switching back and forth from cantilevers to side pulls without issue.
Our first lever pulls with Campagnolo Ergopower 10 activating the eebrakes felt pretty light. Like a soft touch was all that was needed to not only engage the brake but keep it against the rim. Compared to our SRAM brakes, this seemed to have less pad travel for equal lever pull (or more lever pull needed to perform equal pad travel). “Hard” braking was pretty easy, too. We never felt like we needed a death grip on the levers to stop the bike quickly. Skidded a bit a few times, but nothing where we overdid the braking. There were a few panic stops where we started to skid and controlled it well. But overall, after a few weeks, it was back to being a brake.
Maybe we did start braking later, but it was hard to tell. We definitely got used to the feel. Our cantilever setup seems to have stiffer return springs, so they have the “snappy” feel we used to know and moving back and forth just seemed to take several minutes to get used to the feel of each. With ee, the brakes seemed to slowly increase pressure on the wheel as we pulled the lever farther. It resulted in a confident sense that, while minimal hand power was needed to stop, there was plenty of power left if we really needed to make a fast, emergency stop.
Edwards warns against using feel as a way to mentally calibrate the power of a brake. “If you have a super powerful brake, it will squish the pads. It will feel soft, but it will move them. If it moves the arm a lot, it will feel hard. How they feel is not a great indicator of power.” We'll add to this that in the days of Campy dominance, a stiff return spring was often what people discussed when talking about brake power. That spring was what your fingers worked against all the time and that you could feel it pushing back and hear the lever crashing hard against the brake lever body was what people were told was a good brake.
We did some wheel-swapping for a few races and other times when we needed to adjust for a few mm of rim width. The barrel adjuster was fine and easy and took moments. We didn't make a point of swapping in 26mm wide rims. Since we're lazy about such things, we probably would have tried to adjust cable length before pulling out the washers, but removing washers does seem smarter, if for no other reason than to make sure the brake pads hit the rims squarely.
Brake pad swaps are really easy. There are probably people out there who are uncomfortable because of the minimal hold the brake shoes have on the pads. While they do come out easily when you want to pull them out, they didn't seem to come out accidentally. But part of our comfort might have to do with the years we spent with Campagnolo brake shoes, which had nothing other than friction holding the pads in.
Breaking a spoke reveals what we see as the one weakness of the brake. The quick release. Even Edwards admits it isn't an ideal setup. “If I were to criticize my own brake, the (lack of an) adjustable quick release is a weakness. I couldn't figure out a good way to get it in there without adding weight or eliminating the things I wanted to accomplish. ” But as he pretty correctly points out, if you break a spoke on a low-spoke count wheel, even opening up the quick release all the way likely won't be enough.
Twice during our time on the eebrakes, we broke a spoke on a 24-spoke rear wheel. We opened up the brake and rode home. No rear brake. On other brakes, we would have probably opened up the quick release, backed down the barrel adjuster, and maybe even adjusted the cable so we could at least use the rear brake a little.
One thing to be aware of with the quick release is that it opens up the brake on one side, not both sides equally. It gives you room to get your wheel in and out, but it shouldn't be used as a measure of how centered the brake is on the wheel.
In terms of performance, while we generally prefer a little less lever travel for the brake pad movement we had, stopping was bliss, the best brake experience we've had thus far. The adjustments were easy, even the eccentric stub, which some people have complained is hard to set right, was easy for us to do. The quick release is a liability, but breaking spokes is pretty rare these days. And if we're racing, we're on low-spoke count wheels, which will be useless pretty quickly with or without the quick release working perfectly.
The only thing with the eecycleworks eebrakes we couldn't get used to was the appearance. We had seen these on a few other bikes before trying them ourselves. We never quite warmed up to the aesthetic. It's something about the graceful curves and off-center cable placement of side pull brakes that has come to mean road bike brakes to us. So long as we're behind the bars, we're really happy with how they stop.