Product Test: Velo-Orange Grand Cru BrakesJan Heine
I mostly talk about our projects in this blog, including products we develop at Compass Bicycles, but rarely discuss those of other manufacturers. This might lead to the impression that Bicycle Quarterly does the same. However, the magazine is independent from Compass Bicycles – as is explained here.
In every issue of Bicycle Quarterly, we publish tests of products from other companies. Our tests are totally independent of whether that company advertises in the magazine, or whether their products compete with the products that Compass Bicycles sells.
We simply call it as we see it, with little concern to who is making the product. We send a copy of the review to the manufacturer, so they can comment. We either integrate their comments into the review, or we publish them as a sidebar. (Quite often, the company agrees with our review, and has no comments.)
Following is an example of a Bicycle Quarterly product test from our current Autumn 2011 issue:
Test: Velo-Orange Grand Cru Brakes
Test bike: Calfee Adventure
Test distance: 795 km
Weight: 177 g (front brake with pads)
Price: $160/set (with pads)
Country of manufacture: Taiwan
Sample provided by: Calfee
The Grand Cru Long-Reach Brakes offer great braking power and excellent modulation. They are among the best long-reach brakes we have tested.
Wider tires and fenders offer many advantages. However, sidepull and dual-pivot brakes that provide enough reach to clear 28 mm or wider tires often tend to flex so much that their ultimate braking power is insufficient.(1) While cantilever or centerpull brakes can avoid this problem, they require or at least work best with frame-mounted pivots. Many bikes are not equipped with these pivots, and thus must be equipped with sidepull or dual-pivot brakes.
Velo-Orange imports long-reach brakes and sells them under their “Grand Cru” brand. The brakes are machined from aluminum and polished, with an attractive appearance. Their weight of 177 grams is 13 grams lighter than Shimano’s BR-R600 (formerly called “Ultegra Standard Reach”) brakes. Only classic centerpull brakes are lighter.(2)
Riding the Grand Cru Brakes
Near Golden Gardens in Seattle, there is a set of downhill switchbacks that is a great test for any brake. After a long run to gather speed, there is a bumpy right-hand turn that is slightly off-camber and has a sharply decreasing radius.
I braked gently to scrub off some speed, then continued to apply the brake slightly to increase traction on the front wheel and help the bike turn into the corner. Half-way through the turn, the radius suddenly tightens. I applied a little more brake, and was glad for the good modulation of the Grand Cru brakes. As the bike turned in sharper, I let go of the brake lever as I approached the limits of tire adhesion. I rounded the corner without drama, then righted the bike and moved my hands next to the stem. In the aero tuck, speed built quickly.
The 180° hairpin at the bottom of this stretch approached quickly. This curve also is off-camber and has to be taken very slowly. I braked hard, and the bike decelerated so much that I was pushed forward. If I had not braced myself against the handlebars before applying the brakes, I would have flown over the handlebars.
The front wheel unloaded as the bike went over a little bump, and the front tire emitted a little squeal. Instinctively, I had opened the brake as I felt the compression of the bump, and the front tire never lost traction. The brakes slowed so well that I released them sooner than planned, and turned into the corner under light braking. (Mental note: Next time, you can brake a little later with these brakes.)
As this short sequence showed, the Grand Cru brakes offer superb stopping power combined with excellent modulation. Compared to other dual pivot brakes, the Grand Cru brakes are light, yet they are very stiff. The brake action was linear, making the brakes easy to modulate. The brakes never squealed during this test. If there is a gripe about these brakes, it’s that the quick releases do not open wide enough to clear 31 mm-wide tires.
Our sample was equipped with blue brake pads, which provided much more friction than the brake pads Velo-Orange sells separately.(3)
Overall, the Grand Cru dual-pivot brakes are among the best long-reach brakes available today. They offer excellent stopping power and modulation together with reasonably light weight. They may cost more than Shimano’s long-reach brakes, but they are worth the money. Recommended! —JH
This article was sent to Velo-Orange for review.
1 Limitations of Long-Reach Brakes. Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 3, p. 32. Test: Medium-Reach Dual-Pivot Brakes from Cane Creek and IRD/Tektro. Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 7, No. 2, p. 50.
2 A Mafac “Competition” brake weighs 160 grams including thick pads and all mounting hardware for frames without brazed-on pivots.
3 Bike Test: Ellis 700C Randonneur. Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 9, No. 4, p. 22.
Click here to read more samples from Bicycle Quarterly, including a full bike test.