Hope Tech 3 E4 Brakes Reviewed
Now in retrospect it may have been a bad idea have the two Brits on the NSMB team, Seb and Jon, reviewing the Hope Tech 3 E4 brakes. Misty-eyed reminiscing of the homeland could have swayed their experience with the brakes but they are both professionals and able to put these allegiances aside, right? So with that in mind please take our apologies for the references to old British sit-com characters and the need for beverages brewed from crushed up dried leaves.
The time I came over a little Frank Spencer. Ohmygodohmygodogmygodohmygod…Oh. My. Goodness. This was my reaction when I tore open the box that contained these brakes. I’d like to think I’m pretty even-keeled when it comes to bike stuff. Usually a “cool” or ‘“that’s pretty neat” or “it’s really well done” will suffice. I don’t often lose my calm, metered, neutral bike tester manner on first looks alone, certainly not like I did when I saw these Hope brakes. Brakes that were destined to be fitted to my own bike…oh goodness, I went weak at the knees and needed a reviving cuppa tea.
Maybe I had this reaction because I’m British and Hope is one of those companies that is up there with other British institutions like dark green vintage race cars, dark green and brown prop-driven fighter planes, and dark green Land Rovers. Oh, and a good pub full of brass ornaments and smoky carpets. Either way, when I opened that box and laid my eyes on the exquisitely machined calipers and the stunningly beautiful levers – OK, I’ll concede that the styling of the Hope brakes are a little like Marmite, you either love them or hate them. Personally, I think the mixture of rounded edges and square profiling, especially on the levers, is mesmerizing. It looks like a lever should look. Not just a brake lever but any lever, be it a lever on a steam train engine or a bascule bridge or the controls on a mighty war ship; it looks functional, as if it wasn’t just made to look pretty but hewn precisely because that’s exactly how it was meant to look based on how it is to perform the task that it has been set – I felt like I was having an episode. But I did what was only right, I set back my chin, lifted my chest and locked my upper lip into place.
Let’s start with the levers (since I have an utter man crush on them). This is Hope’s most versatile lever. With reach and bite point adjustment provided via two (on each lever) quite chunky dials the feel of the brake at the lever can be personalized without the need for tools. And these dials do actually work. Shimano’s ‘free stroke’ adjustment seems to do very little, or at least so subtly that the difference hard for an idiot like me to notice, whereas the Hope adjustments do make significant changes. I set them up where I thought they should be set and then as the rides added up and the pads wore and everything burned off that brand new glint I was able to tune them in to perform as they should and feel as I like them to.
The ergonomics on the Tech 3 lever are fantastic. It’s somewhere between the short lever feel of Shimano brake levers and Avid’s lovely, long, hook ended lever. The Hope levers are rounded in a way that they fit into the crease of the first knuckle very comfortably and the speed holes in the lever blade do help increase finger traction. If that is even a thing.
Paired to the four-piston V4 calipers it also makes Hope’s most powerful brake. And were they powerful enough? Yes. Nearly. I’ve been on a rock slab mission of late and having the sheer power to control the descent is entirely possible with the Hope brakes. Start slow and the brakes will hold the speed (or lack of) you want until the inevitable pull of gravity overcomes your body mass on the rock. Modulation is also very good. Shimano brakes, even recent ones do tend to feel like light switches (on or off) or like two blocks of wood are being thrown into the wheel at times. Avid brakes, I find, have superior modulation but now I’ve tried the Hope’s I think they could be a very, very close contender. Where the Hope brakes lose out is on sudden braking from speed, such as when I try imitating Bernard Kerr’s #Stoppiesunday antics. They don’t seem to have that ultimate braking power that halts momentum, something a well tuned Avid and any Shimano do very well.
Now, I’ve visited the Hope factory and I’ve seen the immaculately clean work stations that create these products so I have faith that they will last. If they don’t I also have faith that Hope will never run out of spares to fix any model of brake because if they haven’t got something in stock then they can just program a machine to CNC a new piece. Perhaps Hope products won’t have such immediate customer service as Shimano and Avid products do in North America (drop these two brakes into any half-decent shop and it’s highly likely they’ll have the parts and expertise to fix them), which if you need your bike fixed yesterday then you might want to go with a more generic brake. If you love a bit of brilliant, home-grown (depends on where you call home), world-beating engineering then the Hope Tech 3 E4 brakes are just the ticket.
After Seb’s misty eyed reminiscing of flat caps, whippets and cups of strong tea I am going to attempt to put my allegiance to Queen and Country aside. I won’t mention the harsh moorland, rocky outcrops and shale slopes that tests the will and has shaped some of the mountain bike products that the Brits hold dear to their heart. No, I won’t do that. I will get my digestive biscuit and contemplatively dip it into a cup of earl grey and bring you less rose tinted thoughts of these here Hope brakes.
There really is little need to stray from the mainstream when it comes to disc brakes. My favoured brand of brakes are Shimano. They have a range of reliable and strong brakes that suit every budget and application. Some of the deals online to furnish your bike with a XT setup front and rear will cost you less than one Hope setup which have a US MSRP of $250, but can be found for $200 on-line.
For some though, the aggressive nature of the Shimano brake as pad hits disc can see them looking for something else. SRAM Guides are so far holding up well and have a brake lever that can be setup to have a softer initial bite and more progressive power application. So between those two why would you pick a Hope brake instead?
Well it is something different to the norm and that will definitely be consideration for some. For others it will be aesthetics or that they have always wanted to own a set of Hope brakes since they first lusted over them in the pages of a magazine 15 years ago. So with the Hopes are you losing function in order to get form, whatever that form may be to you?
Well with 4 Pistons per caliper they certainly shouldn’t be short of power. Once again the metal working tools have been working hard to take a block of aluminium and turn out the one piece body, aiding power by avoiding any flex that might afflict a caliper bolted together. The pistons are phelonic rather than metallic which allow less heat to transfer to the DOT 4 fluid, avoiding the brakes pumping up under hard and long braking.
The intricately machined brake levers – while reminiscent of a robot’s armpit – fall nicely to the finger and are really easily adjustable for how you prefer your brakes to feel. There is the obvious adjustment to move the lever reach, but there is also adjustment for that independently adjusts the bite point and effective pivot distance. Do you want lots of mushy power with a bite point right at the bar? These levers can do that. Do you prefer to have a sharp feeling brake with barely any travel before they bite? These levers can be set up to do that too.
I am admittedly fussy about my lever setup. I run my levers quite flat to the bar and I also require the bite point to be when the lever is parallel to the bar – something that I have found helps with arm fatigue. With all the adjustments on the Tech 3 lever I was able to get really anal about my setup and get it totally bang on to my liking. Lever shape is not quite as nicely hooked as my favoured Shimano lever but the curve of the lever does fall nicely under my digit and feel good when having a sphincter puckering moment.
The discs are two piece with an aluminium (it is British so I’m spelling it with the extra i) spider and a stainless steel braking surface. The profile of the discs has been used by Hope for some time and is very distinct with its saw tooth type profile to help clean the pads of filfth, something that abounds when riding around Yorkshire. The spiders can be ordered in a plethora of colour options to suit even the craziest bike colour schemes.
In use my experience and conclusions were very similar to Seb’s. Initial bite is not as sharp as a Shimano brake and takes some digital calibration to dial in the response on the first ride. Once you have dialed yourself in, the Hopes provide a lot of faithful well-modulated power.
What stood out for me was how consistent the brake feel was from the top to bottom of a descent. With other brakes that I’ve ridden recently you can definitely finish a long descent with the brake lever feeling a touch wooden and having to apply more pressure to arrest you. The Hopes seem to avoid that which left my fingers fresher for post riding activities such as grasping a pint glass full of ale and a Cornish pasty.
My fingers have been enjoying the change from the norm, but I know that the comments section of this article will be filled with people questioning the need to stray from the two big S options. It’s especially hard when some of the prices offered online for a set of brakes can be significantly lower than 200 bucks front and rear. It is a good point, but there are those of us who really like to have those steps away from the norm and thankfully the Hope Tech 3 E4 brakes also bring great power and reliability with their hand-crafted looks.
Well there weren’t too many obscure references… but a Cornish pasty is different from pasties, right?
Would you pony up the extra $ for a set of Hopes?