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Thread: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

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    Default SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    A member here noticed that I have bikes that I actually ride, one with SRAM Rival road disc hydro system and the other with the current non-series Shimano Road mech/hydro setup and asked for real world impressions vs. online "review" pablum. I wrote something up for him, but it occurred to me that some of you guys might have an interest, so here are my impressions. Flame suit on, just trying to perform a public service here, YMMV, etc.

    I have the SRAM Rival hydro setup on my cross bike, I have the Shimano mech/hydro on my new Winter pink rando bike (my new crush - it is great!). I'll give you some impressions:

    First, know that it is very flat in this Chicagoland region that I ride around in most of the time, so hydro disc brakes in general are total overkill around here. In fact, I would say that at low brake pressure levels like is usually the case around here (i.e., not slamming on the brakes with the inertia of screaming down a big hill), I would say that nice rim brakes are actually better modulation-wise thus overall better for a commuter-type ride for flat areas. The hydro discs are definitely better when wet (although both Shim and SRAM hydros screech when wet), although, again, the braking needs day-to-day here are so low that overall I would still say that rim brakes are better for around here regardless of conditions.

    I have had the chance to ride the SRAM hydros on a pretty gnarly, wet, mountain-bike type ride out in California in March, and they really shined. At those higher braking forces in sketchy terrain, and especially in the wet, they rule over any rim brake, big time. The harder you brake on them, the better the modulation feel. I would say that the lever feel is a little less smooth than the Shimano hydros, but not a deal-killer at all. The SRAM do seem to get contaminated (i.e., screeching sound) a little more easily, but that could just be my impression - it's not based on all that much. I have had to bleed the SRAMs 2X in the last year, but according to my LBS that does a lot of them, this is not too unusual with the SRAM hydros and I can expect a rebleed about 1X/year. They claim the Shimanos are better in this regard, but are not perfect. The SRAMs also seem a bit more finicky on initial setup to get them rolling with no rotor rub.

    You should definitely give both Shim and SRAM hydro levers a feel before committing - they are much larger (fatter and longer) than the SRAM mech levers (and the Shimano hydro levers are similarly much larger than the DA9000 levers on my road bike). They will change your bar reach a bit, so expect that, and make sure you can deal with holding on the larger lever. The Shimanos are a little more svelte, but not a lot. Both levers are fugly IMHO, but I have come to admire SRAM's gutsiness in putting their hydro ugly on full display - that big block on the lever to house the master cylinder can't be missed, but it is honest, it's just out there as pure function. The Shimano Road mech/hydro levers are "sculpted" to look more flowing, but they are also large so the overall effect is actually uglier - they look like a bloated version of a normal road lever. Again, IMHO - beauty is in the eye of the one looking.

    So overall you are hearing that the SRAM Hydros perform maybe just a little worse (not a lot by any means) by these measures than the Shimanos. On the other hand, the SRAM calipers are much smaller and more elegant looking than the Shimanos, which to my eye have an ugly, tank-like appearance. I much prefer the look of the SRAM calipers on the bike. I also really like the SRAM standard of having a 140 rotor on the rear (Shimano std. is 160 f&r) as a 160 on the rear is overkill on top of overkill and I visually like the smaller rotor. In addition, the current Shimano mech/hydro levers shift noticeably worse than the DA9000 - more slop and a cheaper feel to the mechanism. When they release DA9000-level levers and calipers, I will be first in line to replace the current non-series stuff on my pink rando baby.

    So, conclusion is: For what is available today, if I wanted hydro disc brakes, and provided that I could deal with the SRAM doubletap shifting feel (which I totally can), I would not hesitate to go SRAM hydro on my bike over current gen shimano mech/hydro. If I wanted 1X, it would be an even easier choice to go SRAM. The current shimano mech/hydro (I have no interest in di2, and those levers are just as ugly as the mech ones) is quite imperfect and will presumably be updated significantly (in addition to at significant additional $$). When the DA-level Shimano stuff comes out, I predict it will have the elegance of the SRAM calipers and the shifting feel of DA, then it will be preferable to me, but that is speculation. It will probably also be $$, at least until the internet discounters gfet hold of it. I'd look at Force as well, might be doable for small $$ over Rival? not sure on that though.

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    I have been really impressed with the SRAM hydros I've set up lately. I really like the lever throw compared to Shimano. The TRP Hylex feels really nice too.

    As far as looks, I'm numb to it all at this point. I just want parts that work and feel good in my hand. It's a new day.
    Mike Zanconato
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Quote Originally Posted by zank View Post
    I have been really impressed with the SRAM hydros I've set up lately. I really like the lever throw compared to Shimano. The TRP Hylex feels really nice too.

    As far as looks, I'm numb to it all at this point. I just want parts that work and feel good in my hand. It's a new day.
    Zank, you make a great point on the lever throw. If I could do it again, I would likely go SRAM Red hydro on my rando bike as the lever throw on the Shimano mech/hydros is huge and slams into my (svelte) rando bag. This problem is exacerbated by my insistence on using 40cm bars, not a lot of real estate there. I deal with it by only having one click of travel available (due to bag interference) but it kind of sucks. I see why rando guys don't like STI (I'm sure they have other reasons as well). The SRAM throw is much shorter and would work on that bar/bag area much better.

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    To complete your experience :

    -shimano ST-RS685 levers hoods don't work well with handlebar with a traditionnal bend (round). You have to cut them a bit on the lower side so they stay seated on the levers. It is annoying but the fix is easy.
    -there is a very short throw between no brake at all and full braking power which means on loose terrain they are harder to modulate than sram hydros.
    -shimano mechanical levers+calipers combo are boat anchors compared to the Sram's. There is easily something like 150 to 200gr difference between ST-RS686 and Sram Force/Red.

    So I'll put it like this:
    -if you are looking for a purely road bike and are not a weight weenie, choose the Shimanos.
    -if you are looking for a lightweight setup and don't mind the additionnal bleed once in a while, choose sram.
    -if you are looking for allroads (i.e. suitable to gravel, dirt) or cross, and don't mind the additionnal bleed once in a while, choose sram.

    I'll add that in my experience the best modulation comes from the TRP Hylex and I'm very excited about the upcoming Sram eTap hydros.
    --
    T h o m a s

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Quote Originally Posted by sk_tle View Post
    To complete your experience :

    -if you are looking for a lightweight setup and don't mind the additionnal bleed once in a while, choose sram.
    -if you are looking for allroads (i.e. suitable to gravel, dirt) or cross, and don't mind the additionnal bleed once in a while, choose sram.
    how does it come that you have to bleed some once in a while? i have read a lot about discs and all say go hydro, reading this does not make me want to use hydro brakes on a touring bike.

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Quote Originally Posted by StR View Post
    how does it come that you have to bleed some once in a while? i have read a lot about discs and all say go hydro, reading this does not make me want to use hydro brakes on a touring bike.
    Well you have to change cables / housing on your mechanical rim brakes once in a while. Same with hydros.

    Once in a while can mean 6 months or 2-3y depending on the people using them and the particular model which is perfectly acceptable on a touring bike. I didn't say you have to bleed them every other week. Some people are afraid of the bleed process. I'd say it just requires different tools and some additional protection (gloves and a pair of glasses) but it is not necessarily more difficult than changing cables / housing. Those who are afraid of it are still free to have it done by the LBS. Nothing to be afraid of atmo.
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    I've not tried SRAM but have had Shimano for a month now and couldn't be happier, Yorkshire is very hilly and wet so these have been a godsend. The all-weather performance definitely gives you a bit more confidence descending.
    -Matthew Broadbent

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Is there a DA version of the system planned for mechanical ? Because my short version review is that the current levers just suck ass.

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Yes, there will be mech/cable, Di2/cable, mech/hydro, Di2/hydro.
    Mike Zanconato
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Thanks for the review. I see a lot of negative regarding SRAM road hydro with Shimano being held up as the only worthwhile choice. Nice to see someone with experience on both.

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    I thought the Shimano standard was 140mm front/rear? So long as you're using their RT99 rotors at least. That's what I'm using on my own bike, and it works great. Next time I go to the mtns I'll put a 160 on the front though, just for a little more peace of mind.

    I like that Shimano's system makes a lot more effort to deal with heat, which can be a real issue when riding in the mtns. On the flip side, the DOT fluid used by SRAM has a higher boiling point. I've gotten my Shimanos so hot you couldn't touch the cooling fins on the pads, and even the QR lever was very warm. It would be cool to see some independent testing of both to see what it takes to overheat both systems.
    Last edited by dgaddis; 05-20-2016 at 06:25 AM. Reason: piece of mind
    Dustin Gaddis
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    they have the RT81 in 140 mm now. Now we wait for the RT86 :)
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Quote Originally Posted by sk_tle View Post
    Well you have to change cables / housing on your mechanical rim brakes once in a while. Same with hydros.
    I am lazy, change cables when shifting starts to fail, means many many km ;)

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Good to hear a real life comparison.
    I have been running di2 hydro for just under 1000 miles. And have had hydro discs on mtb since they first came out many many years ago.

    On the road - zero issues with heat using 140 ice tech rotors. This includes a lot of climbing ...on the east coast which mean steep terrain with a lot of turns.

    Mtb - the reason mtb disc experience is relavent is that these systems have around for a long time and get abused. Any modern shimano system (only can comment on shimano for the last 10 years) has been a set it and forget it exercise. Any bleed maintainance that has occurred was because I felt like it. Not because there were any issues. I likely could have gone 5+ years without rebleeding.

    Touring - I have done a lot of remote touring over my cycling life and understand the need for bullet proof gear and/or gear you can fix. From the perspective of trusting discs for touring, I would have no issue. From the perspective of extra weight on the bike, I would look at the larger rotors.
    Brian McLaughlin

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Quote Originally Posted by StR View Post
    I am lazy, change cables when shifting starts to fail, means many many km ;)
    I'm lazy too, I don't like washing my bike so I change the whole bartape / housing / cables when the tape starts getting smelly.

    I haven't been able to convince the ministry of finances that I needed a new bike every couple of months because I'm too lazy to wash and maintain my bike. :|
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    This report makes me happier than ever with my 9000 and Spyre brakes. The shifting is as good as any shifting I've used and the braking is as good as I need it to be.

    That said, I've toyed with the idea of trying one of the cable/hydraulic hybrid brakes like the Juin Tech.

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    Owning both the juin tech on my CX bike and the shimano hydro/mech on the road bike I can say the shimano are miles ahead of the juin tech as far as braking power go. On the loose stuff however I prefer the juin tech as they are more linear in modulation which means better control when at the edge of locking the tires. I bought the shimano hydro/mech thinking of them as an interim solution that would be transferred to the CX bike when campy release its stuff but now I'm not convinced I would put them on my CX bike given that lack of linearity and the additionnal weight.
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    I also have both SRAM and Shimano hydro. SRAM is force, Shimano is Di2. I have no problem with the SRAM shifting, but I LOVE Di2. As far as the brakes go, I like a firm lever, and much prefer the SRAM hydros over the Shimanos. I have done all sorts of funky things to try to reduce the lever travel needed with the Shimano brakes, but have only been slightly happier. My levers almost have to bottom out on the bars before they are fully engaged. If I could match the Di2 with the SRAM brakes I'd be super happy.

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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    The Hylex Di2 climber switch hack is awesome.
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    Default Re: SRAM Road Hydro vs Shimano Road Hydro - Musings/Review

    I love the stopping power of the SRAM hydro set up on my CAADX. Came recommended over Ultegra by the only mechanic in town I really trust. It performs great and saved me on the road in heavy rain when a distracted driver decided to ignore my blaring 700-lumen front light and pull in front of me. However, I seem to have to mess with the calipers constantly to alleveate rub on the rotors. There seems to be no rhyme not reason to it, and it occurs randomly on either wheel with no changes made in between. It is perplexing.

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