In my never-ending quest to find the best brakes for my commuter bike, I recently bought a set of TRP HY/RD's. TRP released these this spring, and the initial reviews from their press day were glowing (see, for example, Cyclocross Magazine, Cycling News and Bike Radar). While I had been running the venerable Avid BB7's on my 2013 Kona Jake, the reviews were just so good I had to give them a try.
What follows is my initial report after one 18-mile ride.
The day I stumbled across the reviews, I couldn't find them in stock anywhere, but I setup an alert on Universal Cycles and within a couple of days they had them available. I actually bought these brakes about three weeks ago, but I've been too busy riding to get them installed. I finally got them on the bike this weekend and put them on the road this afternoon.
These brakes are designed as a kind of cable/hydraulic hybrid. They work with ordinary cable-actuated (short pull) road levers, but the cable pulls an arm on the brake caliper that uses a self-contained hydraulic system to move the brake pads. When I first read about these brakes, I remember a few people asking questions along the lines of "What's the point of a hydraulic caliper that is operated by a cable?" It seemed like a fair question, but I can now tell you that it's a question you only ask if you haven't tried these brakes.
Personally, I know just enough about brake system design to be wildly misguided. I understand the basics of how hydraulic systems transfer force, and I understand the effects that inner cable stretch, outer cable compression and friction have on a cable operated brake. For the purposes of this review, however, I'm going to pretend I don't know any of that and just talk about how the brakes work. They're great!
Here's the box they came in with TRP's hastily translated marketing hype.
Note: "Greatest modulation than mechanical ones." If that's what it takes to get these on my bike before the end of summer, I'll take it.
Basically, what I get from all that is that among the traditional benefits of hydraulic disc brakes you get the nice modulation, dual moving self-centering pads and automatic pad wear adjustment. You, theoretically, give up a bit of the loss-less power transfer from lever to caliper, but on the flip side you probably won't ever have to worry about bleeding your brakes (though there are instructions for that).
Although the pictures from the marketing day reviews show what appear to be Tektro Lyra rotors, these brakes actually came with something a bit more substantial.
They also came with this mounting hardware:
Standard bolts, plus two IS mount adapters -- one labeled 180F/160R and one labeled 160F/140R. Note: this is what comes with the "160mm" version of the brake. Some retail sites (including Universal) refer to this as a "front" brake, but that is just referring to TRP's recommendation to use a 160mm rotor on the front and a 140mm rotor on the rear. The calipers are identical. The only thing that changes is what size rotor you get and which mounting adapters are included.
Here's a final shot of both calipers in the box to give you an only slightly out of focus view of both sides.
I decided to stick with the 180mm front and 160mm rear Avid HS1 rotors that I already had installed on my bike, so I bought two "front" brakes and left the rotors in the box. I probably could have kept my Avid mounting adapters too, but I swapped in the TRP adapters just to eliminate that as a possible source of trouble. To minimize the cable drag, I opted for Jagwire Ripcord "compressionless" brake cable housing and teflon coated inner cables.
Installation was very easy. The HY/RD calipers have a little screw that locks the actuating arm in place while you tighten down the brake cable. Then you unlock the actuating arm and squeeze the lever to center the caliper body before tightening the bolts that hold the caliper in place. I had no troubles with this. With everything bolted in place, I made some minor tweaks with the built-in barrel adjusters to get the lever pull the way I wanted it and I was ready to ride. (Update: Don't do this! It turns out that 1.5 turns of the barrel adjuster closes off the hydraulic system and they don't self-adjust for pad wear anymore.)
One or two of the reviews mentioned that cable routing to the rear brake might be an issue, but I actually found that it was a bit smoother than my old BB7's.
I got the chrome-bodied version of the brakes, which are a bit on the shiny side (at least until it rains). The calipers are fairly huge, but I think they look OK.
So now let's talk about how these brakes perform.
First off, let me be clear that I was fairly happy with the performance of the BB7's. My only complaints were about their tendency to squeal and the fact that to get the power I wanted out of them I had to keep the pads close enough to the rotors that some minor scraping was a frequent fact of life. They did stop the bike very well though, especially with my oversized rotors.
Waiting for the first ride, I really built up some high expectations in my mind. My first impression was "OK, they're pretty good but I'm not overwhelmed." That was while I was riding back and forth in front of my house trying to do a little bedding in. I'm not clear whether bedding in is really necessary when installing new brakes with old rotors, but I did it anyway. After 5-10 minutes I headed down the steep hill from my house, dragging the brakes now and then to keep my speed under control. At the bottom I went with a full stop from about 25 mph. At that point, I was very satisfied. Over the next 18 miles, I kept finding myself more and more satisfied.
Overall, I don't have the kind of memory that allows for a really great comparison between brakes. I would definitely say that the stopping power of these brakes is better than the BB7's, but certainly not an order of magnitude better. What is an order of magnitude better is the way they feel and sound. Today was dry and sunny, so I don't want to get to attached to the sound but it was very nice -- quiet, even and relatively low pitched. The feel was outstanding. An easy squeeze on the lever and the brake started to engage, and the more I squeezed the firmer the braking became -- just as you'd hope.
Let me say at this point that I never skid my rear tire on dry, even pavement with any brakes. Part of that is because I'm a heavy guy with small hands. Part of that is because I use wide tires with great grip (700x35 Marathon Supremes). Mostly, though, I think it's because I have a mental block that stops me from braking that hard unless I'm in an actual emergency situation. That said, everybody who talks about brakes having "enough power" talks about being able to skid the rear tire. So I headed out to a local MUP, found a nice smooth stretch with nobody to run into, cruised up to around 15 mph and grabbed a handful of brakes (front and rear) from the hoods. The rear tire immediately went into a skid. So now I can check that box and go back to braking just hard enough not to skid. I guess the take-away is that these brakes have more potential stopping power than I'll use most of the time.
Do I have any complaints? Not yet. The true test of a disc brake, of course, is how it performs in the rain (and what it sounds like). I don't expect we'll be seeing any substantial rain around here until September or October (even after I've said that!). I'll update this review after I see how that goes. By then I'll probably also know how the brakes respond to pad wear.
Update: We've had some rain but I made some idiot moves on the setup, so I'm still undecided about how they work.
Update: See my 1000 mile update in post 67. Executive summary, I've had some problems but they've been fixable.
Update: See post 68. The previous fixes didn't stick and TRP ended up sending me a new set of brakes.