Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM
Teardown | First Impressions

Formula Cura Brakes: Teardown

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Jun 8, 2018

Cura VS ROR

Formula Italy's foray into mineral oil brakes, the Cura, has been on the market for well over a year now but I've been ignoring it out of deference for the Italian brands gorgeous ROR brakes. I know that sounds funny, but give me a couple of paragraphs to explain. 

I'm a very value-focused rider so I don't say this often but money aside the Formula ROR brake is the best two piston stopper on the market. Best feel, most power, best power curve, best looking, and absolutely packed with unnecessary but awesome features like the inverted, pull-style, master cylinder and the detents on the reach adjuster. The caliper uses oval-shaped pistons to maximize power without the issues of a four-piston system and they are a joy to ride and to work on. And yes, all that can be yours for just 350 USD per wheel. 

If you have some time here's a link to my teardown of the brakes. My review of the brakes.  And my review of a Shimano Acera level brake that sells for 45 USD per wheel for a bit of contextual grounding.

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

There are a lot of great brakes on the market for less money, but none are beautiful in the sense of the ROR. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

The Cura is still made in Italy but the much simpler architecture of the master cylinder and caliper drops the price by more than 50%. 

Compared to the ROR, the Cura has a significantly lower nerd factor and also lacks curbside sex appeal. It's still made in Italy and the much simpler architecture doesn't necessarily degrade power or feel. The Cura uses a classic horizontal layout for the master cylinder, which is a departure from the vertical orientation Formula has used most often.* Classic Hayes brakes may come to mind with the components laid out but that reflects both companies'' motorsport history. The Cura shares its basic layout and a lot of design details with Formula's current MotoCross brake.

*The notable exception is a horizontal-master version of 'The One' brakes. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

The oval pistons are gone, but the Cura still uses a one piece caliper to maximize stiffness and minimize weight. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

Attention to detail: when your pad spacer doubles as a pad spreader. 

With another test wrapped up, I jump at the chance to put the ROR brakes back on my bike and I've been riding them a lot lately. I serviced the brakes recently with no problem sourcing repair parts from Formula's new Canadian supporter, Alba Distribution. Post-service the brakes were nice and tight - as good as day one. That's impressive and I think very rare for brakes that have seen this much use. 

Which brings me back around to testing a set of two-piston Cura brakes. With the four-piston models in the news, winning DH races and stealing all the attention, this is a chance to compare my two piston ROR experience to the brake that Formula's sponsored riders were racing world cup DH on as well as TRP's massive four-piston Quadiems

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

North Vancouver beer, Italian brakes, Wheelthing's workbench, a bleed kit, and some mineral oil. It's business time. 

At around 150 US per wheel, the Cura is only a few dollars more than a basic SRAM Guide R. A pair is a few bucks more than Magura Trail Sport brakes I've reviewed previously (here). I was going to say that the price is also ballpark to the Shimano M8000 XT 2-piston brakes but the street price on those seems to be dropping regularly. In that company, if they can produce the feel and raw power of the ROR in a simple two-piston design with Formula quality, reliability, and rebuild-ability then I'm in. Even without oval pistons, unique architecture, and sex appeal. 

Teardown & Bleed

As with every NSMB.com teardown, this is a collaboration. First I had to convince Matt at Alba Distribution to loan me a pair of brakes after waxing poetic about how much more interesting, nerdgasmic, and Italian the ROR brake is. Then the hard task began; convincing Jeff of Bikeroom & Wheelthing to give me a hand. 

Jeff is usually quick to crack a beer and help me with these projects but to him, the Cura is a blasphemous brake. Formula has long been in the DOT brake fluid camp with SRAM/Avid, Hayes, and Hope. The other camp is of course headed by Shimano, TRP, and Magura with their pink or blue mineral oil options. Jeff will bleed anything but he's not fluid-agnostic as anyone who's heard his passionate plea for DOT will confirm.  The ROR is a DOT fluid brake. The Cura is a mineral oil brake. Cue Jeff ranting about additives, heat and water management, and people poring mineral oil down the drain "because they think it's environmentally friendly."

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

Being a mineral oil system, I needed a fresh bleed kit for the Cura. Otherwise there are no speciality tools required and every bike shop should have what they need to do a full rebuild.

The Cura bleeds up using the same push-pull double-syringe method that was popularized by SRAM/Avid if you started riding after the turn of the millennium or Magura rim brakes if you're old and want everyone to know it. This method is slightly more involved than the syringe-and-tub method that Shimano uses but it's the best way to maximize air removal from the system. As Jeff is fond of saying, "bubbles are jerks." I can't overemphasize that while the Cura bleeds up exactly the same as the ROR and Avid, the same bleed kit cannot be used for both systems. Keep your mineral oil and DOT bleeding tools separate. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

This simple circlip holds in the replaceable bladder and plunger assembly. 

The Cura brake is a quick and easy system to bleed. For the rider that is only in the market for mineral oil systems, Jeff and I agree it's the most straightforward perfect-bleed-every-time brake on the market. If that fluid preference is driven by a desire to have a lower environmental impact from your preferred recreational activity, the fact a piston or bladder can be changed versus recycling-and-replacing an entire master cylinder assembly is a big plus.*

*For mineral oil brakes, the TRP Quadiem  shares this feature. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

That's simply everything going on: a one-piece master cylinder body and a simple plunger setup. Every part is individually replaceable. 

The bleed itself takes the same amount of time as bleeding up a current SRAM Guide or Level brake, which is to say it's a quick process and generally perfect after the first bleed. A testament to the simple design of the Cura, this was by far the fastest brake we've torn down and put back together. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

Did I mention to make certain to have a separate Mineral Oil bleed kit even if the fittings cross over from DOT brakes?

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

Did Jeff's preferred bleed method overcome his angst over Formula's change from DOT to Mineral Oil? Maybe. 

Internal Routing Stress Reduction

Formula Italy has really gone out of their way to take the wind out of my internal brake routing rant with their Speed Lock connection. Picture the zero loss fittings on an air compressor hose.It works exactly like that. There's a failsafe in the form of a retaining ring preventing the system popping apart and rattling down some rocky jank, but with that pushed out of the way the brake line pops off of the caliper quickly. The steel fitting makes it easy to use a magnet to help route the brake line through the frame. Then pop it back into the caliper and go for a ride. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

The Speed Lock fitting. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

Use a pic to remove the failsafe. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

The brake line pops off for easy internal routing. 

I've built a couple different bikes from the frame up recently which both had unhelpful brake-and-internal-routing combinations. I don't own a bike with internal brake routing but if I did this would definitely be feature I would look for. 

Setup

There is no trademarked Servo Wave or Swinglink wizardry here trying to achieve both simple drag free setup and good lever feel. Like Hope, Magura, and TRP that means a bit more time nailing that initial drag free setup. As with the latter three brands, the minimal deadband at the lever is achieved by having the pads sitting quite close to the rotor compared to what Shimano or SRAM is doing. The trade-off for the extra set-up time is a very consistent power curve. The harder I pull on the lever, the more power the brakes deliver. Or as my friend Uncle-Lou says: "I modulate with my hands". 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

On calipers where the pads sit close to the rotor, an equal piston position is key to drag free performance. Jeff's trusty tool dates way back to when Hayes dominated the market. 

Put another way, I can't just squeeze the brake lever, tighten my caliper bolts, and head out for a ride expecting drag-free performance with the Cura.  The secret is to spend an extra couple of minutes to get the rotor centred between two equally activated pistons. At this point, the pads sit close to the rotor for a solid, engaged, initialization but spin drag free. Knowing my caliper is centered to the rotor also means if a pad starts dragging in the future I'll know my caliper is in the right position so as long as my rotor is straight it's just a matter of resetting my pistons. 

This has been my experience with the ROR brake as well as Hope E4 and X2 brakes I've owned, a range of Magura brakes, and the TRP Quadiem brakes I tested. In all cases once my caliper position is set up properly I never have to loosen the caliper again until I swap the brakes. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

I think Jeff is a bit grumpy here that the brake hose exit position is not adjustable. The way some frames position the rear caliper makes #cableporn impossible without at least 90° of adjustment. 

I always ride with tools and don't tend to faff much with my bike on the trail, so I prefer the clean look and premeditated actuation of tool-required lever reach adjustment. Formula Italy obviously agrees with me but at the same time feels the market pressure to offer the tool-free reach adjust on the Cura. The diminutive final product is very clean looking, but the tiny adjuster barrels are such that I prefer to just use a 2mm hex key in the end on the rare occasion that I want to change the reach slightly. 

Also, and I know this is a totally frivolous thing to whinge about that has absolutely no on-trail performance benefit, I miss the little detents when turning the ROR reach adjuster. I get it, 350 USD brake vs. 150 USD brake but it is an awesome little extravagance that my inner-bike nerd enjoys.  

First Rides

I'll head right to the personal preference factor and say that the Cura lever blade itself is very comfortable. Both the shape and size. I know I'm stuck in the past but I'd love to see just a bit more of a hook on the end for those who run the brake levers close to the bar. After a bed-in the power is impressive and the power curve is very predictable. It will certainly take a number of rides to split hairs between the Cura and ROR and for a first impression that's a bold example of relative value. 

Riders with really tiny hands will be better serviced by the inverted vertical master cylinder of the ROR or the Magura Trail Sport with HC levers, but I do not have long fingers and the Cura has ample reach adjustment for me. 

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

The lever blade shape and width is excellent. I'd go as far as to give it a nod over the ROR. I prefer to use a hex key rather than the tiny tool-free reach adjuster - thankfully both options work here.

Formula Cura Brakes AndrewM

The one-piece caliper contributes to a relatively light system weight. The front brake, without a rotor or adapter, was 350grams. 

The Cura isn't cheap - see my Shimano Acera review linked above - but I think a 150 USD a wheel, fully rebuildable, Italian made, brake with excellent power and ergonomics in a simple two-piston system has loads of potential. We're due for some rain here so my full review will include modulating down greasy steeps and speed checking loose-and-dusty summer conditions.

In the meantime, there's more information on the Cura on Formula Italy's website here

Comments

Endur-Bro
+1 Andrew Major
Endur-Bro  - June 9, 2018, 9:25 p.m.

These brakes seem to have everything going for them. Except being able to walk into a shop and walk out with pads.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Endur-Bro
Andrew Major  - June 10, 2018, 9:15 a.m.

So, I totally agree with you. Same could be said for Magura and it’s an absolute selling point that TRP brakes can use Shimano Saint pads (although many shops only seem to stock the finned ones). Shimano XT and Avid Guide pads win for last minute availability everywhere.

My counter point is that I’m an absolute advocate of having the next set of pads at home. It doesn’t cost any more $ than buying them when needed and it means replacements are available 24-7.

Reply

Endur-Bro
0
Endur-Bro  - June 10, 2018, 11:29 a.m.

Every time I order a new set of Saint brakes I order a few extra sets of finned pads as well. 

that’s the current knock against Hope/Magura/Formula etc. Hypothetical scenarios where people haven’t done proper bike maintenance leading to a ruined road trip due to no pad availability. And lack of OEM penetration. 

Did not know TRP only able to use non-finned pads. 

The fact the Cura are user serviceable, should be able to get small parts as needed, use a SRAM style bleed system, all pluses IMO. I just went looking for a set but online were sold out in black. Might wait for the Cura4 to drop in september.  This whole DOT 5.1 or mineral oil debate is of no concern for myself; I’m aware one isn’t the anti-Christ and the other isn’t unicorn tears. 

I’m now curious if the new Gen XTR will address Shimano Brake issues.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 10, 2018, 2:48 p.m.

There's certainly the "I'm in MOAB and just spilled brake fluid all over my caliper because I didn't bleed my brakes before my trip and now I can't get pads for my relatively rare brake set" factor. It's not a concern to me but I know riders who buy the most mainstream parts possible for parts anytime anywhere factor. 

Every time I go on a road trip with other people I'm surprised how little folks bring in terms of spares. 

.

I always tell the story of my friend in high school who, having walked thirty minutes from his car to a pay phone, received the following words of advice from his dad:

"Son, it costs the same amount of money to fill the top half of the tank as the bottom."

I remember him being so pissed - having had the whole time walking to a gas station, buying a jerry can, and then back to his car to think about his dad smugly sitting thirty minutes away drinking a beer - but it's a lesson I took to heart. 

I'm not saying everyone needs a bike shop at home but cables, housing, a chain, brake pads, and tire sealant cost the same to have around as to buy the night before a big ride.

Reply

mzro
+1 Andrew Major
mzro  - June 10, 2018, 6 a.m.

Thanks for the article. Cura seems got a lot of praise from the media recently.

Currently, I am torn between Formula Cura and Magura MT Trail Sport. How do they compare? Power, modulation... I anticipate Cura is a little bit better but MT Trail Sport is quite cheap here in EU, around $160 per set. Thank you.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 mzro
Andrew Major  - June 10, 2018, 9:24 a.m.

I think the Trail Sport is an awesome system - there is also certainly a bit more power up front, in this case, with the Magura four piston caliper.

Magura has two lever blade options so they will fit a larger range of hand sizes well. For tiny hands I think the HC lever is the best option on the market.

I’ll call feel at the lever a wash for now but it’s early days in the test and I haven’t ridden in all conditions.

Pricing is the same here so it comes down to preference (surprisingly powerful simple 2-piston vs more powerful 4-piston front / rebuildable vs. not rebuildable).

Hard to argue with the value Magura is delivering in your market!

Negatives of Magura vs Cura:

In my experience the Magura pads wear out quite quickly. Pads are a consumable but if you ride a lot this could affect comparable cost of ownership.

The Magura MCs are not rebuildable. Technically you can take them apart and put them back together but there are no parts available. They have the excellent 5-year leak proof guarantee but, again if you ride a lot, if a lever gets sticky or sloppy the only recourse is replacing the master.

Hope that’s helpful.

Reply

mzro
0
mzro  - June 10, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

Thanks, that's very helpful. I agree, MT Trail Sport value for money is hard to beat here in Europe. Also, they are supplied with one-finger HC levers which I really like. Almost for same price I can get MT5 but with regular 2-finger levers (which I don't like). Of course HC levers can be bought separately but they add $50 to the price.

Mostly, I am a little bit scared off by Magura's brakes bleeding procedure. I like simplicity of the Cura.

I am also interested in recently announced four-piston Cura 4 but it's not available yet and price is unknown.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 mzro
Andrew Major  - June 10, 2018, 2:35 p.m.

I think the Formula (Avid) two-syringe method is the system that every company should use; however, bleeding the Trail Sport really isn't hard. The secret is to remove the caliper from the frame and have it oriented higher than the master cylinder when attaching/removing the syringe: 

https://nsmb.com/articles/2018-magura-mt-trail-sport-bleed-how-first-impressions/

Reply

T-mack
0
T-mack  - June 10, 2018, 5:44 p.m.

I'm running the Magura MT5 brakes. Maguras bleed technique is whack imo, ive got a way better system that works so easily. Too much to explain but I feel its a shame that they get a bad rep because of the bleed procedure.

Reply

zigak
+1 Andrew Major
ZigaK  - June 12, 2018, 1:11 a.m.

T-mack's last theorem: I have discovered a truly marvelous technique of bleeding, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

:)

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 12, 2018, 8:47 a.m.

ZigaK, we only have to wait 358 years and then someone will explain it to us!

TassieEWS
0
Nic Tomlin  - July 26, 2018, 2:07 p.m.

Great review. I have small hands, 7cm inside index finger. I want these but suspect id be better with the magura MT trail?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 27, 2018, 9:31 p.m.

The levers on the Cura will dial in as close to the bar as you like so it really depends on how much of a hook you like at the end of your brake lever. Like the TRP brakes, the lever starts to feel very straight - to me - when dialed in. I like a pronounced hook.

Apples:Apples the inside of my index finger is ~7.5cm if that's helpful. Cura works great for me but smaller hands I think the Magura Trail Sport with HC levers is the best buy on the market - if you like a pronounced hook on the lever blade.

Reply

TassieEWS
0
Nic Tomlin  - July 29, 2018, 10:41 p.m.

Tnx heaps. More broadely, i wonder how much hand size affects rider comfort/fatigue and ability. Are juniors, women and small hands properly catered for?

Given most of us, with smaller hands,  cant try different brakesets, could be a great test/article?

I would expect that the setup that maximises hand grip and 1 finger only braking is the best/safest and less fatigue setup.

Maguras HC3 might be leader with this. Note, i asked Magura who advised the HC3 wont fit the cheaper Trail sport model.

Cheers!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 29, 2018, 11:34 p.m.

What advantage do you feel the HC3 lever would deliver? The HC lever is the equivalent of the max power and best lever angle for smaller hands in a lighter, simpler, less expensive package.

Whether they're well catered to with OE spec or not depends on what bike brands spec on a given model but there are options that are good for small hands at every price point. I'm being especially picky in trying to differentiate between two excellent choices in brakes assuming an aftermarket purchase.

Answered re. "fatigue" below.

Reply

TassieEWS
0
Nic Tomlin  - July 30, 2018, 1:21 a.m.

Yep, thanks, im running sram level tlm's which i find lose power over medium length descents, especially the rear. I am using 2 fingers to compensate, which is not great.

My theory is for those with smaller hands, the importance of 1 digit braking and hand grip is much higher than those bigger hands...?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 30, 2018, 1:47 a.m.

I think contact points are of roughly equal importance to all riders (physical dimensions aside) and the issue you’re having is more related to power.

It’s a point of some debate, but personally I think the Level brakes are crap (though the lever blades ‘feel’ good) and that SRAM puts right in their marketing material what the brakes are intended for (Light XC - the cynic may say the intended terrain is in their name) and that companies spec’ing them on trail / all mountain / and even Enduro bikes are doing a disservice to their customers.

A product of where I ride, I’ll always take a few gram hit for good brakes. Code, Quadiem,MT Trail, Saint, Zee, and Cura are all good.

Coming off the Level - where, in my experiences, most riders on aggressive terrain will have the same issue generating power that has you using two fingers - a set of basic Guide brakes have impressively better power. Your hands will thank you with either upgrade you’re looking at.

scoleman
0
SColeman  - July 28, 2018, 3:12 p.m.

Timely question as I also have a 7cm index finger, just had my first ride on the Curas, and had a set of MT Trail Sports on my last bike.

With the barrel adjuster bottomed out, the lever blade on the Cura is just right for me.  MT Trail Sport still had some adjustment leeway when I got it perfect, so if you like to run your levers super close to the bar, they'd probably be the better choice (and much easier to access the adjustment).  I also prefer the HC lever shape, though the Cura levers aren't bad - I just run them significantly more inboard than I would with the Magura HC levers or with Shimano.

Reply

TassieEWS
0
Nic Tomlin  - July 29, 2018, 10:44 p.m.

Awesome, tnx heaps. I want the Cura engeneering with the HC lever i think. 

As above, do you have a feeling for which brake reduces fatigue better?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 29, 2018, 11:42 p.m.

The Cura has a bit less power than the Trail Sport (2-piston vs 4-piston) so some folks may want to go up a rotor size for the front brake with the Cura. I personally run both with 180mm rotors. 

Other than that I don't find either lever shape leads to more/less hand (finger?) fatigue if that's what you're asking. Both lever shapes work awesome for me.

I was simply noting that for riders that prefer a generous hook at the end of their brake lever the Magura HC delivers that through a broad range of reach adjustment whereas the Cura starts to feel 'straight' when dialed closer to the bar. 

I know a few riders who don't like the HC lever but prefer the lever shape of the standard Magura lever, TRP Quadiem, etc and for those riders (regardless of hand size) the Cura would be a better fit.

So again, just talking about preference, not performance.

Reply

scoleman
0
SColeman  - July 31, 2018, 11:30 a.m.

Hard to say which is better from a fatigue standpoint as I haven't ridden them on the same trails.  I switched bikes when I moved, and trails where I am now (with the Curas) are significantly steeper and with much longer downhills than where I was when I had the Maguras.  The only comparison I can make with the Curas is vs. Shimano XT, which is what originally came on my current bike.  I notice much less hand fatigue with the Curas than I was getting with the XTs - they seem to have a bit more power on tap as well as much better modulation.

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