Over the years we’ve ridden countless SRAM brakes, including the gravity fiend’s favorite, SRAM Codes. They seem to be the popular choice for original equipment on nearly any new bike that comes spec’d with SRAM drivetrain and is designed to be ridden hard and fast. SRAM brakes also seem to be one piece of the puzzle that riders are eager to upgrade, citing that “SRAM hasn’t gotten their shit together yet when it comes to brakes.” While the message boards are full of fans and haters, our job here is to remain as unbiased as humanly possible and report on our findings of riding with many different pairs of SRAM Code brakes over the last year or so.
The Code is SRAM’s heavy duty brake, built to handle everything from electric bikes to enduro and downhill sleds. Every Code brake comes with a 4-piston caliper with an expanded piggyback reservoir to increase power and heat dissipation capabilities. SRAM designed the Codes with a mixed piston size of 15mm and 16mm to increase stopping power without making them unwieldy. SRAM claims this gives the brakes 15% extra piston power while their SwingLink and Lever Pivot Bearing tech help the lever feel smooth, buttery and free of resistance while also giving the brakes the modulation and application of power you expect from SRAM products. The downside to the larger calipers is that most Allen wrenches found in the multi-tools we pack are unable to reach the bolt, so trailside adjustments are impossible without a longer Allen key.
The SRAM Code lever also gets an oversized reservoir with 30% greater capacity. Depending on your level of brake there is also a range of adjustments to customize the brakes to suit your body and cockpit. Riders can adjust lever position, bite point, and modulation of power. The SRAM Code brakes come in two different models, the R and the RSC. Both brakes use the same 4-piston caliper design and utilize DOT brake fluid. They have a tool-free lever adjustment, with the Code RSC model having an additional pad contact adjustment to fine-tune the contact point.
Both brakes are available with multiple rotor size options to suit your needs. Our SRAM Code RSC test brakes tipped the scales at 411 grams for the lever, caliper, front brake line cut and bled, and pads installed. The Code RSC retails for $245, and the Code R for $155.
SRAM brakes are some of the most ubiquitous out there, and for good reason. They’re reasonably affordable and when so many product managers are spec’ing their bikes with Eagle drivetrains, it only makes sense to also feature SRAM brakes. Despite their huge presence, SRAM brakes have a mixed reputation among riders. Older models, many of which look almost identical to the Code brakes tested here, were plagued with warranty issues and a general lack of reliability. Even in our own stable we’ve been less than thrilled with the performance of the SRAM G2 brakes. Granted some of those issues have come from product managers making poor decisions and spec’ing the G2s when Codes would have been a better call, resulting in a less-than-desirable experience with SRAM products.
Our long-standing beef with SRAM brakes comes from several brakes that had inconsistent lever feel, even when bled properly, like ten times. SRAM listened to riders here by including features on the Code to improve the bleeding process and reliability. They have increased fluid volume, larger piston size, and an obvious improvement in quality control is present. This has yielded a brake that is an improvement over the SRAM Guide brakes that were the benchmark only a few years ago.
We still had to bleed these brakes multiple times over the course of a season to keep the fluid levels from dropping from pad wear, etc. However, with the fluid levels set properly, the brakes worked flawlessly. Even with the fluid low, our SRAM Codes still operated without fading, a feat that the older brakes could not accomplish. The only gripe we had about this increase in physical size is the addition of the fluid reservoir on the caliper, which sits directly above the pads and caliper bolts. This extra heft makes it tricky to fit an Allen wrench to adjust and tighten the bolt. That little nuisance makes it especially difficult to work on with a stubby multi tool or bit, and prevented us from making a trailside repair on our Trek Slash test bike. Noise control is also improved with the new SRAM Code brakes, and may be a combination of rotor shape or pad material. Regardless, the brakes were noticeably quieter than previous generation models, which was better than music to our ears. The brakes came with metallic pads stock, so switching to a resin or organic material would make them even more muted.
After regularly dealing with frustrating issues over the years from OE SRAM brakes, it’s refreshing to have a reliable brake from them. The new SRAM Code brakes offer plenty of power, modulation and control without having to be serviced as frequently as its predecessors. Next we are hoping they can make some of these performance gains ring true on their G2 brakes. We’d still recommend that riders have a bleed kit on hand and understand how to use it, but know that you won’t need it nearly as often as you did on older brakes. The new features and improved quality of these brakes translated to an increase in reliability that every rider will appreciate. We really like the feel and shape of SRAM lever blades, appreciate the smooth application of power and the way they build up power and pressure, and now with the new Codes it seems the compliments don’t stop there as all-out stopping power is also on-hand. While they might not be first on our list of brakes to lust over, they are no longer the first component on an otherwise nice bike that we’re looking for an excuse to ditch.
Weight: 411g (front);
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