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Tandem brakes- wet or dry

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Tandem brakes- wet or dry

Old 09-06-19, 01:12 PM
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Tandem brakes- wet or dry

We’re ordering a new tandem and need to decide on brakes: Ultegra hydraulics or TRP Sphyre mechanical.

Any my thoughts or recommendations?

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Old 09-06-19, 05:12 PM
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I can't directly answer you question, but I'll offer my $.02 in case it helps.

We upgraded our previous DaVinci Joint Venture from Avid BB7 to TRP Hy/Rd. That is the cable activated hydraulic version of the Spyre. If you do decide to go cable-activated I can definitely recommend the Hy/Rd. They were outstanding and we subjected them to some long, technical descents (on 200 / 203 rotors) where they performed very well. They do need the pads/rotors bedded in after changing pads or cleaning the rotors. I forgot to do that once and it was a little scary the first time I grabbed the levers and the bike didn't react as quickly as I expected.

On the DaVinci I did the modification to the brake's level arm to adjust the pull for the Campy brifters which were on that bike. Without that mod the levers didn't pull enough cable, but that is only a consideration if you're running Campy. The advantage of the Hy/Rd over the Spyre is they are self-adjusting as they wear. They required a bit more force at the lever than the Ultegra Hydraulics do, but were vastly superior to the BB7s. We could only *barely* fit the brake into the rear triangle of our large/small frame, which is why we ended up with a 203mm rotor in front and a 200 in the rear. Yes, the 1.5mm difference in radius was needed to make it fit.

Our new Joint Venture has Ultegra Hydraulics with 203mm Ice Tech rotors. They took a few miles to break in, but now they have the best power and modulation I've ever experienced. I'd rate the Hy/Rd at about 8.5 out of 10 and the Ultegra hydraulics at 9.5 out of 10, holding back a half point because surely they'll eventually find some small way to improve them. I can stop the bike (team weight ~ 300+ lbs) with one finger on each lever. Modulation is good in wet or dry conditions.

I have the same brakes on two single bikes with 140mm or 160mm rotors and the feel isn't as good as it is on the tandem. The combination of the larger rotors and heavier bike improves the feel of the brakes. Unless the cost difference is prohibitive I'd recommend the Ultegras.
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Old 09-08-19, 02:01 PM
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I've used mechanical disc brakes, hydraulic disc brakes, and the TRP hybrid.

Just for braking (i.e. brake power, ease of application, and modulation) IMHO hydraulic is the hands down winner, and absent other issues (frame compatibility, brifter comaptibility, cost) I would absolutely go with hyraulic.

The two mechanical set ups we've used (bengal, and shimano) the braking power is just not acceptable.

The TRP hybrids are a nice answer if you need to use cable actuated levers, for some other reason. The TRP hybrids offer good stopping power. but they still require more effort and do not modulate as easily as a pure hydraulic setup. They also can be a bit finicky on the cable setup to allow enough cable travel to avoid bottoming the brake lever before fully actuating the brake. This may be more of an issue depending on the particular brake levers. (and compressionless housing and a hack on how to route the cable to the brake can help with the issue.)

So IMHO, strong recommendation to spec hydraulic if you can, TRP Hybrids if your setup does not lend to full hydraulic, and just say no to fully cable actuated discs
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Old 09-08-19, 02:05 PM
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As to Alan F's point about the cable routing hack for the TRP hybrids, the cable pull issue is still an issue with shimano brifters, albeit less than with Campy.

It's a balancing act setting up the brakes so you have plenty of pull, without having the brakes so tight the bakes rub.

So i think even with Shimano levers, the change in routing may still be a good idea.
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Old 09-09-19, 06:19 AM
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If you go mechanical a "must" would be to install compressionless housing. If you do that I think breaking is okay, while without it's not good.

For us we need good stopping power, while fine modulation is less important so hydraulic is not really necessary. I'm satisfied with what the housing upgrade did (Yokozuna Reaction). If I had the choice I'd certainly pay a fair bit extra for hydraulics though, but in our case the bike we wanted didn't exist in a build with hydraulic brakes.
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Old 09-09-19, 12:46 PM
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We have Avid mechanical brakes on our Cannondale. I upgraded to compressionless brake housing and did a lot of finagling to get acceptable modulation and stopping power. They stop quite well. That said, they need a lot of... well, finagling to keep them stopping well and to keep them from rubbing. If building up or rebuilding I would go hydraulic, no question. The Shimano hydraulic on my MTB work fabulously and are trouble-free.
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Old 09-10-19, 02:15 PM
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Hydraulic without question

Tandem cable lengths are so long it's hard to achieve acceptable braking on the rear brake. With hydraulic a proven and reliable technology on bikes, I can't imagine why you wouldn't make this choice. Unless you're planning on loaded touring down long descents where boiling the hydraulic fluid may be an issue. If you were brake overheating would still be a concern with mechanical discs anyway.

"Compressionless" housing offers an advantage, but it isn't really compressionless. It just has less compression than the standard, which is already designed to have minimal compression. That fails to address cable stretch. I'm surprised someone hasn't started marketing "stretchless" cables, which would be a misnomer anyway. Hydraulic fluid is indeed "compressionless," (for our purposes at least) although it sits within cylinders, lines and fittings that are not "expansionless." They expand minimally, but still expand a little bit.
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Old 09-10-19, 02:49 PM
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Not intending to hijack the thread, however, when specifying hydraulic, either new or retrofit, does one need to worry if the calipers will hold up to the demands amd stresses a tandem/team will dish out?

If so, beyond reading that they are suitable for a tandem from the manufacturer, i can imagine asking the manufacturer would typically result in the legalese answer: no.

If not, have there been any cases of hydraulic brakes failing on a tandem?
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Old 09-11-19, 10:21 AM
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The TRP Sphyre mechanical is best suited for single riders who are less than 200 lbs or ride at moderate speeds. Hydraulic disk brakes is the industry standard with mechanical brakes relegated to entry-level bikes. Since tandems are considerably heavier, it's hard to understand why tandem manufacturers would even spec a mechanical disk.

The Hy/Rd is much more powerful than Sphyre and it's only a $130 upgrade (F & R). Since the Hy/Rd is cable actuated (with hydraulic calipers), it compatible with non-electronic shifters. The Hy/Rd is also easier to maintain because the hydraulic pistons auto-center.

The Ultegra hydraulic is even better than the Hy/Rd (10-20%) but is more expensive and harder to install (eg. extra long hydraulic hose). It's even more expensive if you want to combine hydraulic disk brakes with Di2 or eTap shifters. A minor issue is that the hydraulic brake line makes the Di2 shifters slightly more bulky. The newer ST-R8070 may have a slimmer fit than the ST-R785.

As to reliability, I've never heard of a hydraulic disk caliper failing. It's possible to over-heat a rotor if the rider has poor braking technique (eg. drag the brakes). Remember that disk brake is an established technology, and has a successful track record over many decades on mtn bikes, motorcycles, and cars.
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Old 09-12-19, 08:49 PM
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We found TRP Spyre a lot better than the Avid BB7 for braking but we are using 203mm discs with the rear disc being a Hope V2 vented disc which managed fine on our recent tour in Italy. The only annoying thing is having to adjust the brakes for pad wear which can be a bit awkward trying to adjust the inboard pad.
I am interested to try the Yokozuma cable/hydraulic brakes which will be the next ones I try. As there is no reservoir the brakes do not auto adjust but as the adjustment looks very simple I don't think it's really an issue. I've set up a lot of the Shimano hydraulic brakes and find them a pain to get them dialled in they way I like. I find the Sram brakes have a much better feel but I don't know if there is any real difference in stopping power.
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Old 09-13-19, 08:21 AM
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My 2 cents based on our 2 tandems.
One is a ChiCom road tandem with standard caliper rim brakes that are marginal. It will stop but not as well as I would like.
The other though, is a mountain tandem that we use for bikepacking. When bikepacking, being able to perform a mechanical repair in the field is of paramount importance. 50 miles from civilization is not a place to try to bleed brakes. Combine that with the fact that our tandem uses S&S couplers adds other levels of complexity that mechanical brakes avoid.
For brakes it has the following.
  • 203MM disks. I upgraded to these before our last long trip.
  • TRP Spyke calipers.
  • I believe that I am running Avid brake handles.
  • JagWire compressionless brake housing from handle to caliper.
On our recent ride on sections of the Tour Divide route from Banff Ab. Ca. to Kalispell, Mt., our fully loaded bike and team weight was around 430# Team was 340# and bike was 90#. It was a load. We had many long descents on gravel and rocky mountain roads and the brakes were flawless. Not once did I ever wish that I had more braking ability.

From my road and mountain riding, I know that things don't necessarily equate equally between the 2, but for stopping the load that we were carrying, the mechanical Spykes were flawless. I did have to make some adjustments after a day or 2 descending in all of the dust and dirt, but that was very straightforward. Much easier that the typical BB7s that I use on my mountain and bikepacking bikes.
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Old 09-17-19, 12:11 PM
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Just a couple of datapoints based on our two Co-Motions:

For years we rode a Speedster with dual-pivot rim brakes. We were satisfied, but there were a couple of occasions where I did not have the braking force I would have wanted, plus I was always aware of dumping too much heat into the rims.

Now we ride a Machiatto with TRP Spyre's front and rear. Braking force is at least as good as the dual-pivots, and likely better since I don't worry about heat management. Pad replacements and adjustments are cake.

We're a light team (300lbs = team + bike), so YMMV.
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