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On test: eecycleworks eebrakes, December 22, 2008
Ultralight stoppers with no compromises
Who says you can't have it all when it comes to lightweight brake calipers? Cyclingnews technical editor James Huang finds eecycleworks' eebrake to possibly be the best featherweight out there - but be prepared to pay for its stunning performance.
The eecycleworks eebrake road calipers are definitely in elite company what with their superb 198g total weight per pair (with pads and hardware!). Yet light weight isn't their only claim to fame as their overall performance far exceeds expectations of what a sub-200g set of brakes should be.
Instead of the usual dual pivot, single pivot, or cam-enhanced single pivot configurations used by many of its peers, the aggressively machined all-aluminum eebrake uses a leverage-enhancing multi-linkage design that will probably remind some of WTB's long gone Toggle Cam or the old Campagnolo Delta. Like the Delta, eecycleworks uses a solid linkage instead of the WTB's roller and cam plate to actuate the separate left and right arms but the entire package is far more compact and heaps lighter. And unlike the Delta, this brake will actually stop you - quickly.
Stiffness is a clear priority as well: though there are five pivots per caliper, each one is widely braced and rotates on low friction bushings and large, hollow and hard anodized alloy axles - the two main pivots measure 10mm in diameter and the others aren't much smaller. The nearly 30mm-deep main body mounts to a stout 12.5mm-diameter hollow stub and the entire setup is highly symmetric front-to-rear and carefully arranged such that there are virtually no out-of-plane or cantilevered bending forces.
Add in some titanium hardware, laser-etched graphics, ingenious tool-free machined pad holders, yada yada yada… you get the picture: weight is bad, stiffness good. This is the sort of design obsessiveness we could get used to.
Reign it in
Pull the brake lever and the caliper linkage quickly brings the pads to the rim before gradually transitioning to a high leverage ratio mode that yields astounding power that is easily on par with - if not better than - weightier bits from Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM.
Even in dicey situations like fast, decreasing-radius downhill corners where some other lightweights have occasionally let us down in dramatic fashion, the eebrake has clamping power to spare and you don't have to yank the lever all that hard to get it, either.
Power is one thing but control is another entirely and thankfully the eebrake excels here as well with precise modulation thanks at least in part to its stiff construction - caliper flex is virtually non-existent. The non-linear progression and slightly soft lever feel takes a bit of getting used to, though, and it is surprisingly easy to apply too much brake at first. The eebrake requires a fairly light touch but afterwards the big-name stoppers suddenly seem like they require a lot of effort.
In spite of the multitude of pivots, our test pair was also utterly quiet with nary a squeak, rattle or buzz to speak of.
Hold your horses
Installation is somewhat tricky and it is here that design Craig Edwards' (formerly of Sweet Wings fame) obsessive design may have gone a bit too far. In the aim of maximizing stiffness, the caliper mounting stub is slightly eccentric and the pad slots are unusually short. According to Edwards, the combination yields the same adjustment range as conventional brakes but maintains shorter and stouter arms, plus the eccentric stub also allows for a bit of lateral translational adjustment as well.
That may be so, but the eccentric design also needlessly complicates setup and cuts down on tire clearance. A concentric stub and longer pad slots would sacrifice a trivial amount of stiffness but add a lot of convenience, plus it would also maintain the easy one-bolt centering adjustment. Moreover, being able to accommodate out-of-dish wheels is a nice thought but anyone shopping for US$500-plus brakes that is rolling around on improperly dished wheels or a misaligned frame should perhaps reconsider their priorities.
Housing length is critical for smooth operation and it's important to set the linkage geometry according to the included instructions in order to get optimum braking performance. Those with a good understanding of how the eebrake works can also exploit its flexibility somewhat to dial in the lever feel but the narrow tuning range also means it will be difficult to accommodate wider rims like some of the latest HED models.
Our test pair initially arrived with low-force main springs that intended to provide a particularly light feel. These worked well on the front brake but the rear's extra housing and additional friction was a bit too much to overcome and yielded a somewhat spongy feel - and this was on a bike with very clean external cable routing and fresh cable and housing.
Newer models now come with a stronger spring that provides a noticeably snappier response and the two are easily interchanged. Ultimately, we found the soft front and firm rear springs to deliver the best balance so hopefully production units will include both.
The integrated quick-release lever adds virtually no weight to the system but is strictly an on-off affair and it would only take one whacked wheel in a race to miss the adjustable cam of some other more conventional calipers. Likewise, the barrel adjuster is fully functional but is somewhat of a pain to use, especially while riding.
Lastly, these suckers are ungodly expensive, particularly in a time of global economic crisis. True, they are among the most capable stoppers of any we've tried - regardless of weight - but the list of potential buyers is undoubtedly shorter today than it was a few months ago. We would be interested in seeing an alternative lower cost version that tacks on a few grams but retains the phenomenal braking performance.
A solid 'A' for the ee
If you've got the cash and are ok with their angular look, the eecycleworks eebrake will reward the buyer with that rare combination of ultralight weight, truck-stopping power and precise control. Though there are a handful of quirks, they are easily overcome and thankfully only have to be dealt with during installation.
Riders living in flatter locales will certainly have other viable options but for those making regular visits to the mountains that want the ultimate in chi-chi brakes, the eebrake is one of a select few that will help you get up a tick faster and won't try to kill you on the way back down.
Price: US$519 (pair, no pad inserts); US$559 (pair, w/ SwissStop Yellow
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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com