Product Test: Velo-Orange Grand Cru Brakes

Product Test: Velo-Orange Grand Cru Brakes

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.

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Comments (12)

  • Bill Lucas

    How is the fender clearance compared to Shimano’s BR-R600? I use the Shimanos and they are tight around the tire.

    October 24, 2011 at 5:36 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The clearances on the Velo-Orange brake are uniform around the tire, so you get as much clearance as possible with a sidepull design. Of course, all sidepull brakes will squeeze the fender when you brake. Contrasting this, centerpulls open up instead, because their pivot is below the fender. And much depends on the initial clearance of your bike, i.e., where in the slot you have to set your brake pads.

      October 24, 2011 at 7:21 am
    • Greg

      Jan, when I read this review in the latest BQ, coupled with the Calfee review, I smiled. Great issue, great articles, but I considered asking you if you felt OK. You raved about a V-O product, *and* about a carbon-fiber bike, in the same issue. Is that a sign of the apocalypse? 🙂

      October 25, 2011 at 6:20 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        We’ve tested three carbon bikes, and we’ve liked the performance of every one of them, whether the Crumpton, the Trek Madone or now the Calfee. I can’t say the same about the steel bikes we’ve tested.
        Seriously, we call it as we see it. We try to keep an open mind, and we appreciate it when our readers do as well. In fact, we very much prefer to write good reviews, as it’s much easier and more fun. On the other hand, we know that readers are turning to us for unbiased reviews, so if something is lacking, we will say so. And of course, that is going to ruffle some feathers.

        October 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm
  • George

    I love how all of your citations are for bicycle quarterly articles.

    October 25, 2011 at 5:37 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The article mentions other Bicycle Quarterly tests, which is why they are referenced in the notes. If you have other references that are relevant, please let me know, and I’ll add them.

      October 25, 2011 at 6:08 pm
      • George

        I meant that throughout Bicycle Quarterly, nearly every citation is self-referrential.
        “If you have other references that are relevant […] I’ll add them”
        Really? Is that how it works? The research is done after you reach the conclusion, and then used to bolster your argument?

        October 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The research is in the article, not the references. Original research is different from, say, an undergraduate research paper that summarizes others’ research on the subject. Original research presents new things, which have to be proven in the article itself.
          The references are there to provide evidence for things that we don’t need to prove any longer, because they have been shown previously. So if we write that long-reach sidepull brakes tend to be flexible, we need to provide proof for that. In the present article, we did not test any flexible brakes, but since we have done that before, we simply refer to the previous article. That way, it’s not just something we say, but something we have found in the past.
          Any good research also refers to other research on the same subject, but sadly, there is very little published research on bicycles. We cite it where possible, and you often see citations of the work of Jim Papadopoulos, Raymond Henry, Gary Houchin-Miller, etc. However, since cycling research is not published in well-known academic journals, it is difficult to keep track of it all. Hence I asked whether you knew of any studies that we may not have known about.

          October 30, 2011 at 6:12 pm
  • Keith Andrews

    Thanks so much for the review. I am in the middle of a build (Gunnar Sport) and
    was hoping for options other than the Shimano brakes. I can see the bike dressed
    with these brakes, a SON generator hub … perhaps the new SON 28), an SKF
    bottom bracket and Rene Herse cranks. I have wondered about the overall quickness
    of shifting on the Herse chainrings without any of the pins and/or ramps to aid the
    shift. Would a narrow cross section chain fall and/or wedge itself in between the
    rings from time to time?
    Overall, I would really appreciate a bike such as the Gunnar built with as complete
    a set of Compass Bicycle components as possible … as long as the bike rode in
    a reasonable manner (read “acceptionally well”).
    Keith Andrews
    Batavia, New York

    October 27, 2011 at 5:07 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The Compass chainrings have a pin to prevent the chain getting stuck between the outer ring and arm. The distance between the rings is standard, as on any other modern crank, so there is no risk of the chain falling in between.

      October 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm
  • Joslyn

    The bit about MAFAC Competitions being lighter (any my scale reads 175g, for what it’s worth) does not take into account the extra hardware needed to stop the cable at the fork crown and brake bridge of the bike, which more than offsets the few grams that you might shave by using a brake that hasn’t been made in decades.

    October 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      In fact, we did take this into account. Sidepulls use extra cable housing, centerpulls have the cable stops. If the cable stop is part of the stem and seat binder, it weighs a few grams at most, and is more than offset by the shorter housing. The Mafac brake also has thicker pads. By using thin modern pads, you could save further weight. So if anything, the actual weight difference would be larger.
      I don’t know about your scale, but we weighed the Mafacs and the Velo-Oranges on the same scale, so the weights are comparable.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:11 pm

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