The strangest thing happened yesterday at the cyclocross group ride; I gently squeezed the brake levers and the bike quickly stopped.
In my experience, cyclocross brakes typically do a few things. They collect mud, they take time to set up, they squeal when slightly out of alignment, they cause fork shudder … but they seldom stop you effectively. I often joke that ’cross brakes don’t slow you down, but instead just squeal to warn the guy in front of you that they’re about to be rammed.
Much like other aspects of cyclocross “technology,” the brakes are typically primitive and ill-suited to the task at hand. All part of the fun, right?
Anyhow, with this cynical frame of reference, I have been delighted with a mixed set-up of TRP brakes, running the new CX 9 mini V-brake on the front and the EuroX Magnesium cantilever on the rear.
For starters, the CX 9 is quite powerful — a little too powerful, according to some. The 90mm arms are shorter than you’d find on a mountain bike, so the leverage is reduced, but I’ve found the stopping power to be spot on when used with a SRAM Force lever.
Second, both the CX 9 and the EuroX use standard road pad carriers, which is handy for folks who use both aluminum and carbon wheels and swap brake pads often.
Third, it’s easy to set up both pairs to offer good braking and enough cable slack to easily open the brake and remove your wheel. (With some entry-level ’cross cantilevers, it’s one or the other.) Barrel adjusters are not exactly cutting edge technology, but they’re all too rare in ’cross; the EuroX has them but the CX 9 does not.
PROS AND CONS
The CX 9 offers very effective braking, minimal set-up hassle, near elimination of fork shudder and road-lever compatibility. The difference in stopping power compared to standard cantilevers is huge. On the ’cross course, having a CX 9 on the front allowed me to carry more speed further before braking at the last second into a corner. This is especially noticeable on a long steep downhill before a corner. Even in less extreme situations, it’s nice to be able to quickly shave off speed without squeezing the brake levers for dear life.
One friend who is a far more accomplished ’cross racer than I tried the CX 9 and found them too effective. When trying to scrub a little speed in corners, he found the brakes would grab and adversely affect his handling. But he holds a UCI license and is trying to win races; I hold a Cat. 3 ’cross license and am just trying not to hit trees.
The only type of instance I found the brake to be a touch too strong is when approaching a dismount at speed with both legs already on one side of the bike and the right hand on the top tube. With a standard cantilever, you can lightly modulate speed using the front brake without problem. With the CX 9, anything more than a gentle touch can cause the rear end to buck as the front wheel rapidly slows. Yes, you could address this by setting up your brakes moto-style (left lever for the rear, right lever for the front), but this dog is too old for that new trick.
Lennard Zinn found success last season running a full-size V-brake, which he still has on his bike. He originally sought out the V-brake as a solution to fork shudder.
You can adjust the retention springs with a 3mm Allen key. I had to crank down the right arm nearly all the way to get it to match the left so the pair would sit evenly in neutral position.
One downside to the CX 9 is minimal pad clearance. If you never race in mud and have true wheels, clearance shouldn’t be an issue. If you race in slop, however, the CX 9 will exacerbate the mud-clogging issue much faster than cantilevers.
For its part, the EuroX is a very light, wide cantilever with micro-adjustability at a number of points, including the pad’s parallel angle to the rim, the carrier post’s proximity to the rim and the cable tension. It has huge clearance when set up, and then splays wide open for wheel changes when the cable is unhooked. True to its name, it also sports a Euro aesthetic. Its braking power is OK. When you stop a bike, most of the work is done by the front brake. Having a super-strong rear brake could just cause your rear wheel to lock up. So, I found the weaker EuroX to be a fine complement to the CX 9.
While it’s nice in some regards to have multiple layers of adjustability, it also makes initial set-up a bit of a chore. It took a friend and me about 15 minutes to get everything assembled, mounted and dialed the first time with the EuroX. Compare that to the adjustment time for a new road brake.
Still, having a barrel adjuster to dial in tension without getting out an Allen key is convenient, as is the easy quick release. And the splayed-open design offers huge clearance for mud and snow.
In the final analysis, I believe the 148-gram CX 9s to be worth the $130 price for the set. The EuroX Magnesium brakes seem a bit steep at $330. Yes, each one weighs 103 grams, which is light. But the standard EuroX is $149 for a 120-gram model identical in design but without the mag and titanium construction.
Editor’s note: Delaney is editor in chief for VeloNews. A journalism graduate of the University of New Mexico, Delaney is responsible for all editorial content online and in the magazine. Delaney joined VeloNews in 2005 as managing editor, having worked previously for The Santa Fe New Mexican, Bicycle Retailer & Industry News and as a freelance writer for various titles. He’s a former (but never very good) Cat. 1 racer. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two children.