Italy… the land of fast cars, high fashion, fine leather shoes, Monica Bellucci and promiscuous politicians. Italians can’t be accused of lacking passion for what they do. Products of any kind coming from Italy always somehow capture a certain style while also being very effective at what they are designed to do.
Cycling has a strong following in Italy and the presence of companies such as Campagnolo, Pinarello, Giordana and other fabled names have a part in that. Italy is also home to two companies well known in the mountain bike world: Marzocchi and Formula. The interesting thing about these two companies is that they both came to mountain biking from the world of motorcycles, but obviously with different areas of expertise, Marzocchi being suspension and Formula’s being braking systems.
Formula has been making brakes for mountain bikes since the early 1990’s yet this is the first time I have been able to ride a set. They are not a brand that you see on bikes very often though they do seem to be creeping into some manufacturer’s spec sheets with Rocky Mountain having them on a number of their bikes over the past few years and Specialized in the current year. Given the presence of Shimano and SRAM in local bike shops you can also see why Formula might not have a very strong presence in the aftermarket here in Canada too.
I had the new “budget” brake from Formula to test, the C1. The instantly noticeable difference between this brake and the rest of the Formula range is the brake lever. This lever has a more traditional look than the rest of the range and features a replaceable cartridge master cylinder. I’m not sure how useful I would find that feature but apparently it makes for easier serving. Out of the box the brake impresses with components that are nicely finished and a quality feel due to the lack of plastic parts.
The hardware that is supplied with the brakes is all titanium, even the rotor bolts which common on any budget brake from other manufacturers. Another nice touch was the finishing on the rotor itself. I haven’t seen a stamped one piece rotor where the rough edges have been painted such as these and it just all adds up to a reassuring quality feel to the components. The lever doesn’t have bite point adjustments but does have the old school style of lever reach (using an allen key). For me this doesn’t give me too much pain in getting the lever set up but for some riders this may be a concern.
Out on the trail the brakes took the usual amount of time to bed in and I did a few laps of the block to get them up to safe braking levels to be taken off road. With the great riding conditions that we’ve had recently I’ve had a lot of opportunity to test the brakes on all kinds of descents and in both wet and dry conditions. Once the pads and discs were fully bedded in braking power was definitely on par with current two-piston offerings on the market.
The feel of the brake is very different from the Shimano XT brakes that I was coming off of with a much softer feel to the lever once the pads were against the disc – which actually makes for slightly more controlled braking in my mind. I didn’t experience any fading of the brakes on longer descents but on one of my muddier rides I did feel that the rear brake had pumped up a little, pushing the bite point of the brake a little further out.
So while I was out riding with Morgan recently he asked me the crux question; “Would you put your XT brakes back on?” My response wasn’t instant and I paused to think about it. I do prefer the lever shape on the Shimano brakes, that short lever with the really pronounced hook to the end means that there is no question that your finger is hooked onto the lever… but.. and the big but is that once the brakes are at the bite point and you are applying power, I actually prefer the feel of the Formula C1.
So would I re-fit my XT brakes? For now I don’t think I will and I will keep running the C1’s to see how they stand up for a while longer. Overall the Formula C1 is a worthy competitor to other brakes on the market and ultimately the decision on whether to buy them will come down to price and whether you like the lever feel.
Surprisingly good performance out of the “budget” Formulas… ready to take some market share?