We've been running SRAM's recently released Guide brakes on everything from four-inch 29ers to six-inch enduro sleds without any complaints, but with the release of the Level Ultimate Disc Brake, SRAM has come up with a solution to problem that we didn't even know we had. The Level Ultimate adapts many of the Guide Ultimate's features with a minimalistic design that sheds unnecessary bulk and drops from four pistons to two, marking a clear delineation between the Guide Ultimate's all-mountain and enduro designation and the Level Ultimate's XC and trail focus.
While the Level Ultimate does weigh around 28g more than the XX1 model it's effectively replacing, the claimed weight of 318g for lever, caliper, and hardware knocks a full 42g off of the Guide Ultimate. The most weight-conscious XCers might be put off by the weight gain compared to XX1, but we contend that it's worth it for the Level's functional improvements.
Instead of the two-part body used by almost every other member of the newly minted Level family, the Level Ultimate houses its pair of 21mm pistons in a forged, single piece caliper for net gains in braking consistency and heat management. It's also the only Level model to include a carbon lever and titanium hardware, features that account for a claimed 38g weight difference compared to the Level TLM, the Ultimate's closest in-house competitor. The lever action is also smoother, as the Ultimate upgrades the TLM's bushings to full-blown bearings, making it the only Level brake with bearings.
Like with the all-mountain/enduro-specific Guide brake, the Level design features a host of improvements compared to the oft-maligned Avid Elixir. Among these is the notoriously finicky bleeding of the Elixir, and the Bleeding Edge redesign seen on the Guide brakes carries over to the Level. Bleeding Edge involves a complete re-imagination of the port and fluid path. It requires a specific adapter, but that adapter ensures a tight seal to keep air out and fluid in. The new bladder design also contributes with a shape that reduces air contamination by expunging air from the lever and reserving the lines for fluid only.
The Level Ultimate also features the same heat-dissipating technology as the Guide Ultimate — most notably the stainless steel Heat Shields and the improved heat management of SRAM's DOT 5.1 hydraulic fluid. SRAM claims that the latest generation of DOT resists boiling for three times longer than its predecessor, DOT 4, and the Heat Shield inserts serve as a firewall to separate the brake pads from the calipers so that less heat overall makes it into the fluid system.
The Level's bleeding, bladder shape, and heat management all contribute to importing the Guide brake's consistent bite and lever feel, and the sealed bearings and SRAM's new timing port closure design ensure that the levers themselves maintain the smooth, one-finger operation we've come to expect from SRAM's new generation of stopping systems. The levers are MatchMaker and MMX compatible, and the PiggyBack Reservoirs let you run the brakes moto if that's your jam.