SRAM G2 RSC BRAKE REVIEW
Words by The Loam Wolf Crew
Photos by Dusten Ryen & Adam Lievesley
Our team has tested nearly a dozen different sets of SRAM G2 brakes for this review from riders along the entire West Coast and our tech editor over in the UK. It has been a long process with lots of notes and we’re ready to share our opinion on these trail-oriented brakes. For years, SRAM has provided a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to their brakes, at least for us at the Wolf Den. Apparently, we’ve got bad luck as we’re the only media outlet citing brake consistency issues and problems with longevity.
Looking back in time, SRAM (formerly Avid Brakes) had a legendary brake called the Elixirs. Those were replaced with Guides, which made some improvements but still left quite a bit to be desired from many who rode them. SRAM’s next evolution in their Trail brake line is the G2 (Guide 2). These brakes are SRAM’s attempt to regain a good reputation in the trail to light enduro brake category, a brake they’ve called the “Mini Code.” Overall, we are fans of the SRAM Code brake family and were excited that SRAM focused on improving the reliability and consistency in the G2 brakes. Did they succeed? Well, that depends on which set of brakes are in your hand.
When compared with the Guide, the G2 is an evolution rather than a revolution. The lever shares the same ergonomics, the system looks very similar and is largely the same within. However, a combination of small touches here and there bolstered the performance enough for SRAM to find it worthy of the mini-Code nickname.
Caliper body stiffness was a large focus for the G2, which was increased thanks to a narrower pad-pocket and some extra material around the bolts that clamp each side together. These two changes produced a claimed 7% power boost, as well as producing a more direct feel. The hose was changed to a more flexible material to reduce the chance of kinking. The glands in the caliper have been updated to hold the piston seals in a more effective manner, which should also improve the consistency of the brake as the pads wear. They developed a new pad compound, Power Organic, which they claim to offer more power without losing the organic pad feel.
A great feature we love is that all SRAM G2 brakes have tool-free reach-adjust on the ambidextrous levers with Matchmaker bar clamps. SRAM uses their Bleeding Edge bleed port on the caliper for replacing the Ravenol DOT 5.1 fluid; and Power Reserve geometry on the levers to maintain the straightest lever pull possible for improved ergonomics. Ergonomics, comfort and lever feel are things SRAM does very well. The calipers house 4 phenolic pistons, touted to offer better heat management than their metallic counterparts, with a pair of 14mm and a pair of 16mm pistons to increase modulation and reduce pad noise.
The G2 brake series continues to use the R, RS, RSC and Ultimate naming system for ease of identification and features. These range in price from entry/mid-level through to decidedly premium. At $138 for G2 R, you get a Directlink lever with a constant pull ratio and bushing pivots. Opting for the $158 G2 RS gets you the improved Swinglink lever that varies the pull ratio throughout the travel to allow for more pad clearance to begin with and more modulation later in the stroke. Moving up to the $184 G2 RSC adds in Contact Point adjustment to tailor the feel of the brakes, stainless steel hardware and adjustable hose angle at the caliper. The jump up to the flashy $286 G2 Ultimate adds a carbon lever blade that pivots on sealed bearings, titanium hardware to shave weight and the option for polished silver or black with rainbow hardware to add some bling to your machine.
Most of the test bikes we’ve been running with the G2 brakes have featured the RS or RSC model, but the majority of notions should run true for the remainder of the range too. Often the bikes we test will end up on terrain that’s slightly above their intended uses, especially when it comes to riding trail bikes on steep trails, but we account for this when it comes to publishing our opinions on products. And realistically, we doubt we’re the only riders taking trail bikes into enduro/DH bike terrain. So perhaps some of the blame here should shift towards bike brand product managers not spec’ing the correct brake for the bike, which ends up only hurting SRAM’s image in the long run and means customers have to spend more money, and time, upgrading brakes on their new bike…. We digress.
The unchanged lever ergonomics over their Guide and Code counterparts are just fine with us, and a real highlight of SRAM brakes – they just feel natural underneath your finger. Without a doubt SRAM has the most natural and comfortable feeling lever blades in the game, and we love them for that. The tool-free reach adjustment is a great feature and makes getting them in the right place simple as can be. The Contact Point adjustment is fairly effective to fine-tune the feel of the brake and get the front and rear feeling roughly the same. This contact adjust does seem to be more effective with fresher pads, offering a narrower adjustment range when things get worn close to replacement time, but certainly works better than the likes of the Shimano offering. We’ve noticed that getting the G2 calipers aligned perfectly can be a little fussy at times, and much like the Code it can be difficult to access the caliper with a multi-tool but it’s not quite as tight down there.
One thing is for sure – the G2 being called a Mini-Code, is open to your interpretation of how much power and consistency you think a miniature Code should have. When it comes to hard braking efforts on relentlessly steep terrain there’s not a comparable amount of power to the Code. If you’re looking to ride an eMTB, or extended steep descents you should be opting for the Codes, especially if you’re a heavier rider.
On the terrain the SRAM G2 brakes are designed for however, they do offer a good level of power, and feel noticeably more solid and reassuring under the finger than the Guide predecessors. The excellent lever feel is retained like other SRAM brakes, in the way it modulates and gives feedback to allow you to minimize locking up over loose and slick ground. On sustained descents when there’s a serious amount of heat buildup in the system, the lever feel remained largely unchanged on some brakes while many others began to fade and have inconsistent pull. The stock Organic pads also begin to feel glazed and lose their peak bite. With the stock Organic pads, the noise issues that plagued SRAM brakes in the past are long forgotten, with near silent performance aside for the most part, save for the occasional puddle-induced squeal. The Power Organic pads improved bite as claimed and seemed to outlast the stock pads, but still fell short of their metallic counterparts, especially on sustained braking efforts. We’re big fans of metallic pads, and those would be our suggestion here.
In terms of issues, the G2 brakes have largely represented a positive improvement over the Guides and we’re happy to see the gains made. On a couple of our brakes the caliper or pads would become slightly off-center and require a small tweak, whether it be down to something slightly off with the brake or mounting hardware we can’t be sure. We had a couple of issues with the slimmed-down material around the matchmaker clamp breaking after some minor tangles with the ground. Our larger issues come around pistons sticking, and the sluggish feel that that produces. Would disassembling the brakes, pulling and lubing pistons help? Yes, it would but in an effort to ride these test bikes hard and in a way most non-mechanic riders would, the ride time we put in before feeling sluggish, sticky brakes and reduced performance is a bit less than ideal. Granted the most troublesome set of G2s we tested were on a Specialized Levo SL, and while it’s still supposed to be a light weight eMTB, we don’t think G2 brakes should be spec’d on any eBike. Extra weight aside, the fact eBikes allow riders to get so much more vert and ride way more downhills makes the choice for spec’ing a Code easy to make.
The Wolf’s Last Word
SRAM’s G2 brakes are undeniably better than the outgoing Guides, but are they the Mini-Codes we hoped for? For our application and desires, no. They may be for some, but this Trail-level brake definitely belongs on trail bikes that aren’t going to be seeing tons of long, steep downhills. They definitely do not belong on eMTBs and we think product managers and SRAM’s sales team are doing a disservice by allowing them to get spec’d on eBikes as it will not be a great representation of what SRAM is capable of, with brakes like the Code being such a better option.
Who are G2 brakes for? Riders who don’t want the big, burly Codes for weight concerns or are spending time on mellower XC to trail terrain. We’re thinking they’d be great on 100-140mm bikes. Highlights for us include great modulation, when they’re not overheating, possibly the best ergonomics and lever feel in class, and a streamline appearance and integration with SRAM’s shifter/dropper post levers. Overall, the SRAM G2 brakes are good Trail-level brakes, when they’re good. Unfortunately, it just seems that, whether through assembly and bleed process by bike brands or other internal issues, the consistency between brakes is not the best and we’d like to see that improved.
Weight: 255g (front RSC, 900mm hose)
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