Mechanics for many of the top U.S. cyclocross racers have spent their time building new bikes and making last-minute adjustments for their riders following SRAM’s mid-December hydraulic disc brake recall. With the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships set to open Wednesday in Boulder, Colorado, some of those riders are returning to cantilever brakes, meaning a load of work for their wrenches.
On Dec. 7 Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) won the first day of racing at the Deschutes Brewery Cup in sub-zero temperatures. He was aboard his Cannondale SuperX with SRAM Red HydroR hydraulic disc brakes. The following day, in Denver, in conditions that were about 15 degrees warmer, Brady Kappius (Clif Bar) won on the same model SRAM brakes — brakes that five days later would be recalled for failing in cold temperatures.
Murmurs spread from the West to the rest of the cyclocross community that mechanics were bleeding SRAM HydroR brakes in the pit during the Deschutes Cup — an incredible task, given the extremely low temperatures — and that riders were experiencing brake failures in Colorado.
Days later, on Dec. 13, SRAM announced a complete recall of all hydraulic road brakes, including the Red and S-700 HydroR rim and disc brakes. The Chicago-based components maker encouraged riders to stop using the brakes immediately, but for nearly every amateur, and even some professionals, swapping out brakes wasn’t in the cards as they were racing the following day — many in state championship events.
Tom Hopper, former U.S. champion Jeremy Powers’ mechanic at Rapha-Focus, detailed his response to the recall for VeloNews, outlining the team’s move back to Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilever brakes.
“I learned of the recall the same time as everyone else,” said Hopper. “We were traveling and when we got to North Carolina on Friday, we had BB7 SL [mechanical disc] groups that had been shipped to our hotel.”
Time was short, however, and Powers raced the following day at the North Carolina Grand Prix, and won, on the recalled Red HydroR brakes.
“As a team we made the decision to run the hydraulic brakes that weekend and deal with any consequences after,” said Hopper. “I was confident we could get through the weekend, no problem. We had our normal four-bike fleet and the temperatures were unseasonably warm.”
After the weekend in North Carolina, the team decided it would race on cantilever brakes for the remainder of the season, requiring complete new bike and wheel builds ahead of the Jan. 12 national championship race.
“We made the decision that, since we’re going to Europe after nationals, that cantilevers are the best option. I needed to glue a batch of tubulars anyway,” said Hopper. Since the mid-December, Hopper has glued 12 rim brake wheelsets. He has also built four cantilever bikes for Powers, and mechanic Mike Heenan has built four bikes for Powers’ teammate Zach McDonald.
Hopper and Heenan aren’t alone. SRAM is the most widely used components maker among the top teams in U.S. cyclocross. The Cannondale team of Johnson, Ryan Trebon, Curtis White, and Kaitlin Antonneau, and the Cal Giant-Specialized team of under-23 national champion Yannick Eckmann and Elle Anderson have each used the hydraulic disc systems during the 2013-14 season.
Kappius, who planned to start the Colorado state championships two days after the recall announcement, reached out to SRAM sports marketing liaison Richard Breininger. SRAM was unable to get 11-speed Red 22 mechanical disc levers to Kappius in time for the event on Sunday, so he rebuilt his two Stevens bikes with SRAM Red 10-speed drivetrains and Avid BB7 mechanical discs, then swapped drivetrains again to full Red 22 drivetrains the following week.
“We gave each rider the choice between the Avid Shorty Ultimate and BB7 RSL,” SRAM road public relations and media manager Michael Zellmann told VeloNews. The choice was essentially to continue using the same frames and wheels, but with the mechanical disc brakes, or start from ground level and build new bikes and wheels for the cantilevers. Many amateurs — whom SRAM is servicing on-site this week in Boulder with replacement parts — are facing the same decision with time running short before the five-day nationals open.