Formula ROR Brakes: Reviewed

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Jan 11, 2017

Formula ROR

It’s time to change the brake pads up front on my Formula ROR brakes. The pad material is a few hairs from bare metal and the rotor is still in great shape. Surprisingly the braking feel has remained constant through the entire life cycle.

I’m in no hurry to remove the brakes from my bike but this seems like a good opportunity to follow up on the performance of Formula’s unique high-powered oval two-piston brake caliper and pull-style master cylinders.

Formula RO Brake

The smooth lines of the ROR’s one piece mono-block caliper are still impressive months into our relationship. Braking power and lever feel have been consistent, and excellent, through the entire life cycle of a set of pads.

The brakes show some signs of wear and tear. Mainly cosmetic. All from the crashing.

In the shop the left hand lever blade has a bit of vertical slop. The right is tight as new.  I seem to always crash on my left hand side – thanks to the icy hard pack snow that has been local conditions I have some wicked bruises to prove it, so this isn’t really a surprise.

Otherwise, I’m happy to report that Formula ROR brake performance is of the ‘as good as new’ variety.

Formula ROR Brakes

When trail conditions get slippery, greasy, or perfectly polished poor brake and tire choices become very obvious. The ROR brakes bring great power and control. They are helped out here by a Maxxis Minion DHF 3c 2.5″ and a Maxxis Minion DHR 3c WT 2.4″.

FEEL

On the subject of the how the brakes are in the shop. A few people I know with extensive experience riding Formula’s brakes commented on how similar the ROR feels to other Formula products. I will agree that squeezing the lever in the shop has a similar ‘pumped up’ feeling.

On the trail it is entirely another matter. I’ve always enjoyed the appearance and quality of Formula’s brakes but I’ve never ridden a set that I really liked before now. But these… I love these brakes on the trail.

Formula ROR Brakes

The ROR lever blades are much thinner than I am used to, but comfortable in house. Combined with the unique pull-style master cylinder they’re easily the best feeling Formula brakes I’ve used.

Yes, they have a significantly firmer initial lever feel than other brakes I regularly ride. Similar to other Formula brakes even. But, just like the X-Fusion Trace fork, once you get them on the trail performance is excellent.

There is great initial power and the power curve is easily modulated by pulling harder on the brake levers.

POWER

The Formula ROR is the most powerful single piston brake I’ve used. It doesn’t have the initial pad-clapping rotor smack of Shimano’s ‘Trail’ series brakes but the initial power is good and there’s plenty on tap for slowing down 29’er hoops with mean tires.

ROR Brakes

Formula attributes the impressive power of two piston ROR to the unique oval shaped pistons.

The feel of the RORs is very similar to the set of Hope E4 brakes, 4-piston, brakes I owned previously. Of the main OE-spec brakes I’d compare the feel most closely to the SRAM Guide series. In my experience the Formula has more power on tap than either of those brakes.

Advertised as a DH brake, I will say that the Formula ROR does not compare to Magura’s MT7, Shimano’s Saint/Zee, or SRAM’s Code series brakes. Those brakes offer more power for less effort.

Uniqueness Revisited

Powerful, beautiful, lightweight, and exotic; I covered the design details of the Formula ROR in my previous teardown article with Jeff of Bikeroom. The relatively huge volume of the master cylinder and detents on the lever reach adjustment are impressive. In the bike industry the pull style radial master cylinder and oval pistons are unique to Formula.

ROR Brakes

Relatively huge reservoir for brake fluid, there’s a spring in the lever barrel that provides effective detentes, and the master cylinder piston is pulled – not pushed – by the lever to actuate the brake.

It’s not about being unique for uniqueness sake. The reach adjustment range – particularly how close to the bar the lever can go – is the best of any radial master cylinder I’ve seen.

Consistency

The lever feel on most brakes varies slightly over a ride and between rides. With the Formula ROR I’ve had by far the most consistent feeling brake I have used.

That isn’t to say that a bit of variation is a deal breaker. It hasn’t been for me, but it is definitely a differentiator here. The RORs pretty much feel the same all the time. This includes the entire pad life, from brand new to almost at the metal, and they did not require a bleed to change pads. In fact, just push the pistons back in, swap the pads, and ride. It was the fastest pad change I’ve done.

Noise

In the shop and test riding my bike the Formula brakes make a minor ‘warbling’ sound when the brakes are applied. Once the system heats up, on any reasonable length of descent, it goes away. The sound is an issue I could resolve and it happens up front and, more noticeably, in the rear.

Formula ROR Brakes

The ROR is a more ‘metallic’ sounding brake than others which I attribute to the pad compound. The life of the pads is impressive for how much power they help deliver.

I’m persnickety as… but I haven’t found the sound bothersome on the trail.  A couple of people who rode my bike on trails said exactly the same thing, although I have had to explain it more than once in the parking lot.

Generally the Formula’s have a more ‘metallic’ sound to them and I would attribute this to the pad compound. The pad life has been impressive for the power delivered. By contrast the very powerful Magura 4-piston brakes get about 1/2 the pad life up front but are quieter in operation.

The Best Brakes?

I don’t hide the fact that my personal favourite brake system is Magura’s MT Trail. I bring it up because the system is in many ways the polar opposite of the ROR. It has fat lever blades. The lever feel is much softer and spongier than the near instant-on of the Formulas.

I bet this will be the best brake you ever use” – Jeff Bryson

Both brakes actuate the piston radially but the Magura uses a tradional push-style configuration. The molded construction of the Magura master cylinders doesn’t look svelte or Italian. The Trails use mineral oil where the ROR uses DOT-4.

ROR Brakes

The Formula ROR brakes are unique. They look, and ride, differently from anything else on the market. And they’re awesome.

The point is that based on my usual preference I am surprised just how impressed I’ve been with the ROR brakes. Power and control on the trail is excellent and they’ve held up well to use and abuse.

Premium Products

If there is a cut on the Formula ROR it’s that it is a premium product. Attached to that is a premium price. In this case an SRP of about $350 (USD) per wheel and a street price similar to Hope’s V4 and Magura’s MT7 once you add rotors.

A rider who puts stock in the intricate machining, 100% serviceability, made-in-house attitude, and the performance of the ROR will likely consider the overall value of the brakes. Compared to a Shimano SLX or ZEE brakeset solely on price they are expensive.

The Formula ROR is a brake system for someone seeking more than Shimano and SRAM are offering. Exactly what ‘more’ is will depend on the rider. I like how they look, bleed, come apart, go back together, and ride in a variety of conditions which is more than I can say for brakes from either of the S brands. I’m sold.


Shimano vs. SRAM? Or is it time to try a different braking system?

 

 

Comments

0
Jan. 14, 2017, 11:25 a.m. -  Jason West

I love my E4s. The tech 3 levers and feel is awesome!

Reply

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Jan. 12, 2017, 6:13 a.m. -  Rob Gretchen

I've ridden the ROs and T1s in the past… very powerful brakes in my experience…. has Formula impoved the rollback of the pads to prevent rotor rubbing with this iteration?

Reply

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Jan. 12, 2017, 6:56 a.m. -  DrewM

Great question Rob. The short answer is yes. Pad retraction is such that rotor contact/noise is not an issue with the system working perfectly. Both Jeff and I had experienced the problem with past units.

The longer answer is - like Magura - the pads sit quite close to the rotor (compared to SRAM or Shimano). It makes the brakes a bit trickier to set up drag free and more sensitive to tweaked rotors. I get a slight rub (noise) leaning my bike into steep left hand uphill turns that I attribute to a rotor I tweaked in a crash.

The other improvement over past Formula brakes is definitely the way that power is controlled with a more refined feel at the lever.

Reply

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Jan. 12, 2017, 9:39 a.m. -  Rob Gretchen

The only brakes I haven't tried are the Magura's… If I wasn't so happy with my Hope E4s I would give it them a go for sure.

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Jan. 12, 2017, 5:42 p.m. -  DrewM

I loved everything about the E4 (lever feel, engagement, adjustability, serviceability, appearance, made-in-house) except the raw stopping power which I felt was similar to the SRAM Guide.

I would love to try the V4!

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