Avid Elixirs for 2012

Avid’s hydraulic brakes are favorites for many riders, but they’ve always been tricky to get a top-notch bleed out of them. The brake line-up is also a bit fragmented right now: there are high-end brakes with the XX and XO models, two Elixir models in the middle with the Elixir CR and R, and one Juicy holdout at the bottom (plus the Codes on the side).

All of that changes for 2012, with the introduction of a complete range of all-new Elixir brakes. I was fortunate enough to be able to preview the new Elixir line-up during the middle of February down in Santa Cruz, California. Here’s the lowdown on the new brakes, plus some shots of the ride experience.

The tech
Avid has known for a while that it was tough to get all of the air out of its current master cylinder design. There were too many places for air bubbles to get trapped in the system, in particular around the nose of the cylinder, no matter how careful you were with a brake bleed. The bubbles would end up back in the hose, and braking performance would suffer. Giant pain in the ass, especially when the brake lever would go all the way to the bar without actually slowing you down.

Rather than tweaking the existing cylinder, Avid went back to the drawing board and designed an entirely new cylinder and new bleed port to deal with the problems. (In conjunction with those changes, Avid also changed the way brakes were bled at its factories in Taiwan, to improve the quality of the factory bleed. That had been a sore spot for many consumers, who were often forced to bleed new Avid brakes before using them.)

Taperbore technology that is inherent in the characteristic shape of the master cylinder of the current generation of Avid brakes – Elixir and Code – uses an open system, which is smaller and lighter than the original Juicy brakes. The problem with the design, though, was that air bubbles were prone to getting trapped in the nose of the cylinder or near the rubber bladder in the centre of the cylinder, or both places. And it wasn’t easy to get the air bubbles from either of those locations to the bleed port. You’d think all the air was out of the system, but in actuality, there were still bubbles trapped in the system.

Here’s the current Taperbore design that you see on XXs, XOs, Elixirs and Codes. Note the bubbles in the system, nowhere near the bleed port.

The revised Taperbore design sees the bleed port moved and angled in to the lever end of the cylinder and the internals – including the bladder – re-shaped so air bubbles were less likely to get trapped in inaccessible parts of the cylinder.

Here’s the new Taperbore design, with the bleed port coming in at an angle. Air bubbles can move much more easily to the base of the bleed port and be removed during a brake bleed.

The other design innovation saw the internals changed to isolate any remaining air bubbles in the cylinder rather than allowing them back into the hose. Avid calls this its new airtrap feature.

The airtrap feature, keeping whatever bubbles are left in the cylinder from travelling into the hose. It’s very, very difficult to get all of the bubbles out of the system, so Avid came up with a way to keep the ones that are left isolated in the cylinder.

The new Elixir internals (top) look considerably different from the Juicy internals (bottom). Note the bubbles caught in the Juicy cylinder. || Photo: Adrian Marcoux

The models
Avid rolled out a selection of new brakes for the media. New Elixir 9 and Elixir 7 brakes were available for ride tests, but Elixir 5, Elixir 3 and Elixir 1 brakes were on display only. And yes, you read between the lines correctly – Juicy is done. Gone. Finished. Kaput. Here are the new Elixirs.

Elixir 9
The Elixir 9 is the top end of the new Elixir brakes available at this time. It’s meant to mate up with the SRAM X-9 component group. Avid says that it’s designed for XC, trail, all-mountain and freeride uses. Weight is 358g, for lever, cylinder, hose and 160mm adaptor. As always, brakes from Avid use DOT fluid.

The new Elixir 9 lever in Storm Grey ano. Reach adjust dial is on the left side, behind the lever. Contact adjust is on the left, while the bleed port comes in from the right. The clamp uses a T25 bolt. || Photo: SRAM

Specific features of the Elixir 9s include the new airtrap feature and bleed location, full forged aluminum lever body and caliper, new bladder, new tool-free reach adjust and a revised caliper (which is still a two-piece caliper).

The Elixir 9, mated with a XLox fork lock-out, on my test bike. It made for a busy handlebar, but it would have been worse without the MMX clamp. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

Other features of note include detents on the contact adjust, detents on the reach adjust and alloy or carbon lever blades. OEM models of the brake will come with alloy levers, while aftermarket brakes will have carbon blades. (A sidenote – contact adjust doesn’t actually move brake pads closer to the rotor. It changes the fluid volume in the cylinder.)

The Elixir 9 caliper. Top loading pads, Avid’s CPS system and a hose mounting system that can be adjusted to fit your frame. || Photo: SRAM

The 9s are compatible with the Matchmaker X (MMX) / XLoc system and the RockShox Reverb height-adjustable seatpost. Rotors for these brakes are available in all sizes, while the brakes come in Storm Grey ano or Black ano. MSRP for the Elixir 9s is $215 per wheel.

Elixir 7
The other brake that was unveiled in California was the Elixir 7, a more price-conscious version of the brake that has the same technology but fewer features. Kind of like SRAM X-7 components. Again, this brake is designed for XC, trail, all-mountain and freeride uses. Weight is 350g, for lever, cylinder, hose and 160mm adaptor. The lighter weight is because this brake loses the contact adjust feature.

The Elixir 7 lever and cylinder in Aero Silver. No contact adjust = lower cost, but other than that, it’s the same. Note, which might be new for you if you haven’t had a look at the latest Avid brakes. || Photo: SRAM

Like the up-market Elixir 9, the 7 gets the new airtrap feature and bleed location, full forged aluminum lever body and caliper, a new bladder, new tools-free reach adjust, a new caliperand the same carbon / alloy lever scenario.

The Elixir 7 caliper is virtually identical to the 9 caliper. || Photo: SRAM

The 7s are also compatible with the Matchmaker X (MMX) / XLoc system and the Reverb. Rotors for these brakes are available in all sizes, while the brakes come in Aero Silver or Storm Grey painted finishes. MSRP for the Elixir 9s is $179 per wheel.

Both of the new Elixir brakes will be available in April 2011.

Other Elixirs
As noted, the Elixirs will span the entire range of hydraulic disc brakes from Avid. That’s not really surprising. What is somewhat more surprising is that each of the brakes will use the new Taperbore technology, all the way down to the Elixir 1. Which will cost you a measly $79 per wheel. Holy crap, that’s cheap for a hydraulic disc brake.

SRAM representatives at the launch were coy when asked whether the technology would spread further up the product line than Elixir 9, but what that means is, “Yes, it will be but we don’t want to confirm price or launch date at this time.”

The Elixir 9 and 7 will be the most popular brakes for bike manufacturers, compared to high-end offerings, so it makes sense to get these brakes into production before the others. That allows bike makers to spec these brakes on low, mid- and selected higher-end bikes for 2012, the bikes that will make up the bulk of their sales for the year. That’s a smart business move for Avid.

Expect to see other / high-end brakes from Avid – XX, XO and Code – with the new airtrap feature and bleed location some time before the end of the 2011 calendar year.

A prototype XX cylinder with RockShox’s keronite finish. No branding, but that will be coming. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

Rotor revamp
The other big change from Avid for Model Year 2012 will be new rotor shapes and sizes. Avid is bringing its rotor sizes in line with those from Shimano and Formula, and will be producing them in 20mm increments, as well as revising the shape and braking surface. The new braking surface is designed to offer more contact and less pulsing than the previous G3 shape.

The new rotors come in three series: HS1, which are available on all brakes from XO to Elixir 3 in 140mm, 160mm, 180mm and 200mm sizes; HSX for XX brakes in 140mm, 160mm and 180mm; and HSXCL in 140mm, 160mm and 180mm sizes.

A new HS1 rotor in the 180mm size. || Photo: SRAM

HSX rotors are lighter than Avid’s current G3 CleanSweep rotors, and offer smoother braking due to the redesigned braking surface. G2 rotors, in the current shape, are still available for Elixir 1 and Avid mechanical discs.

Not surprisingly, Avid will also be turning out new adaptors for the new rotor sizes. The new adaptors are lighter than current Avid adaptors, and will come in a full range of sizes and configurations to fit all frames and forks out there.

A diagram showing the new adaptor options from Avid. || Diagram: SRAM

The big question I had when I heard about the new rotor sizes was, “What about everyone who is running 185mm or 203mm rotors? Are they going to have to buy new rotors and adaptors?”

Short answer is, “Eventually.” Avid plans to support the existing rotor sizes for at least the next two years, so stock up on those sizes if you’re particularly fond of them.

Ride impressions
We were able to do two rides on the new Avid brakes, and first impressions were positive. The trails were reminiscent of riding in BC – climb to the top, rip down. This time, though, it was in the forests around the University of California Santa Cruz.

My test mule – an Ibis Mojo SL, with 140mm of travel. The bike was equipped with a Revelation fork and Crank Bros. wheels. I really enjoyed the bike, and will hopefully be able to spend more time on one in the future. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

The first thing I noticed about the brake was the ease with which you could adjust the reach and contact adjustment. Detents in the adjustments made it possible to set up both brakes the same way. Additionally, the contact adjustment in Elixirs actually works, compared to the contact adjustment in Shimano’s new XTR brakes.

The author, weaving his way through the trees, eagerly awaiting the downhill. || Photo: Adrian Marcoux

I’m also a fan of the levers on Avid brakes. Big guy with big hands + bigger levers = happiness. They’re very comfortable levers, and the combination of reach adjust and contact adjust mean that you can set the levers up exactly the way you want.

A famous mountain bike photographer once said that blurry photos were art. Behold art. And a fast section of trail near the bottom of the hill. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

The riding itself in Santa Cruz was interesting. Steep sections of trail that was at times loamy and other times sandy made for some challenging moments. The fact that it was wet worked in my favor, though, and I was able to clean parts of the trail that forced a few other members of the group off their bikes. Score one for the Canadian.

This is definitely steeper than it looks. The roll-in was fast and twisty, the trail was wet and there was a 90° turn to the right, at the bottom of the photo frame. Thankfully, my trusty Avid Elixir 9s helped me clean this section with ease. (Imagine that was said in a cartoon narrator voice.) || Photo: Adrian Marcoux

The first ride I did on the new Avids was with a 6″ rear rotor. Those of you who have read my articles before know that I’m not the smallest guy, so I put that tiny little rotor to the test. By the time we got down to the truck, it was seriously blue. But the brakes were doing just fine, apart from being a bit noisy. Another plus for the new Elixirs.

Riding in Santa Cruz was a blast. The forest was fast, fun, challenging enough to keep you on your toes and the climbs were manageable. Oh yeah, the scenery was pretty sweet as well. || Photo: Adrian Marcoux

Final thoughts after two days of riding: the Elixirs are a nice brake. Performance was good (and even better once I switched to a 7″ rotor), the features were useful and worked well and I liked the ergonomics of the brakes. I’m going to wait until I have a few months of ride time on my local trails here in BC – and a few bleeds in the home workshop – before I pass final judgement on the Elixirs but I’m optimistic. Avid has taken what was a fairly good product and addressed its major shortcoming, as well as bringing that technology to the masses with Elixirs at virtually every price point out there. 

Stuart Kernaghan


Like the look of the new Elixirs? Think you’re going to buy a set for yourself as soon as they’re available? Head to the boards and break it down.

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