Gravel Gear

Lennard Zinn’s season-ending cyclocross component review

Lennard takes a look back at the cyclocross brakes that worked for him during the season

Now that cyclocross worlds is over, I guess I have to rinse the sealant out of my tubulars and hang up my wheels for the season. And it’s time to release my reviews of a whole lot of cyclocross equipment I tested during this racing season.

Season's end cyclocross brake review
Mixing up the Avid Shorty Ultimate on the front with a TRP EuroX magnesium on the rear Photo: Nick Wigston

Here are a few great ’cross brakes:

The new brakes I came to know and love this season are the Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilevers, the TRP CX 9 “linear pull” (i.e., V-) brakes, and the TRP EuroX Magnesium cantilevers. Good performance, low weight, barrel adjusters on the cantilevers, and all being equipped with standard road pad holders for ease of swapping brake pads for aluminum and carbon wheels make them worthy upgrades.

I only have two things to add to Caley Fretz’s review of the Avid Shorty Ultimates, the first one being wondering how he came up with 115 grams/wheel; I weighed them at 133 grams/wheel.

The second thing is a bigger deal. I had no problems setting these brakes up on the rear and on an ENVE fork, but the brake as shipped would not work on an Alpha Q fork. Despite the fact that I have set this fork up without problems with many brakes over the years, the cantilever posts are ever-so-much shorter on the Alpha Q than on the ENVE, and both arms bound up and wouldn’t rotate when I tightened the mounting bolts. As I mentioned in this post, I filed the brass center bushing down on each arm to the point that they would rotate freely. Otherwise, like Caley, I love the stopping power, modulation, adjustability, and overall smoothness of these when set up on the higher-power (narrow-stance) configuration. (I explained cantilever geometry and why narrow-stance brakes are more powerful than wide-stance ones in a previous column.  It’s no wonder that the world champion uses them.

As for the combination of TRP’s CX 9 mini-V-brake on the front and EuroX Magnesium cantilevers on the rear, I have a few things to add to Ben Delaney’s review. Ben and I split up those two brakesets since both of us had Easton full-carbon forks on our bikes that shuddered like mad with cantilever brakes, and both of us would rather have a superlight brake on the rear. To eliminate shudder, I had been running a full-size Shimano XT V-brake;  with a Cane Creek Drop V left lever.

An earlier Zinn setup, with an XTR v-brake with Cane Creek lever
An earlier Zinn setup, with an XTR v-brake with Cane Creek lever

The Drop V lever has a much longer distance from the pivot to the cable hook in order to decrease the leverage and increase the cable pull appropriately to use with a full-sized V-brake. The setup worked great, but, at 224 grams for the brake and 152 grams for the lever, it was considerably heavier than most high-end front ’cross brake setups (for a single chainring, that is). By going to the 158-gram TRP CX 9 and de-gutsing my left Campy Record lever so it weighs a mere 100 grams (down from 167g with the shifter guts inside), I saved over a quarter of a pound (118 grams, to be precise — about the weight of a lightweight cantilever). (Please let me know if you’re interested in sometime seeing me go through the procedure step-by-step for de-gutsing Campagnolo and SRAM left levers.)

The problem I had, which Ben did not, was that the brake is just too powerful when set up with tight cable length so that the pad would come to the rim with only minimal lever pull. The overbraking problem was exacerbated by the fact that my second bike has the Avid Shorty Ultimates on it, which are less powerful, and I could easily go on my nose when not correcting my braking style after a bike change. I didn’t want to give upon my superlight lever, so I just kept de-tuning the CX 9. I put an inline barrel adjuster in the cable, since the brake has no barrel adjuster on it. That allows me to tweak cable tension to the point that I have just the right amount of dead cable pull before the pad hits the rim. That’s sufficient for me to gradually apply the brake and avoid overbraking. It also allows me to switch back and forth between bikes without getting a surprise the first time I hit the brakes on the bike with the CX 9.

We had only one weekend of mud the entire season, so the CX9’s minimal pad clearance with the rim was never an issue. Pad clearance is low because cable pull is high; if you were to run it with a lower-leverage lever like a Shimano Dura-Ace 7900, or, at the extreme, with a Cane Creek Drop V lever, pad clearance would increase.

The EuroX Magnesium cantilevers are very light (107 grams/wheel), brake very nicely, have lots of mud clearance, and are very easy to adjust. They also look great with my bike and Ben’s bike, which, like the brake, are white with red highlights. However, I cannot use the EuroX with a shallow-section rear wheel, because I often kick the right rear brake arm and force the pad under the rim and into the spokes. At first, I thought it happened when I swing my leg off to dismount, but now I realize it only happens when my right foot does not go right into the pedal after a dismount. I have big feet, and my heel can hit the protruding brake arm when twisting my foot back and forth while pushing it forward to clip in when coming over the top of the stroke. For some reason, it never has happened on the left, but I kick the right one at least once per race or training session. It’s not a problem with a deep-section rear wheel, because when I kick it, the brake just bounces off of the rim and no harm done. With a shallow rim, though, it not only goes into the spokes and tears up the pad and the rim decals, but some of the time it also pulls the straddle cable out and releases the arm so that simply reaching down and pulling the brake back into place is insufficient; I have to stop and re-connect the cable. I realize that it could happen with a deep rim as well, like it happened to Jeremy Powers at nationals, but I think it would take a crash to do it.

For those wanting more heel clearance and power, the TRP CR950SL semi low-profile carbon cantilever provides those things at an additional cost of 25 grams.