SRAM Guide Brakes: Reviewed

Words Pete Roggeman
Photos Kaz Yamamura
Date Oct 21, 2014

In March of this year, SRAM announced their new Guide brake, which was notable for several reasons:

1) It was the successor to both the XO and beleaguered Elixir four piston brakes
2) Introduction of a brand new lever design, with Swing Link technology replacing taper bore of old
3) The Avid brand was left behind, signaling that future brakes would be labeled SRAM instead


I’ve been running SRAM Guide brakes on the Santa Cruz Nomad since July. I loved the XTR brakes they replaced, but the Guides never made me miss them.

Morgan’s article when they launched did a good job of laying out the technical details of the new Guides, and I highly recommend giving it a look if you want to dive into detail, since there’s a lot to see, but the biggest advancement is Swing Link which delivers a better range of adjustability for reach and engagement due to the relationship between the cup seals, timing port and piston assembly, as well as a better method of dealing with the relationship between the closed system and how it deals with air bubbles.

I’ll leave the in-depth tech to that article, and instead cover how they’ve performed on the Santa Cruz Nomad I’ve been using as a long term test platform this year. It came stock with XTR brakes, so as a Shimano brake evangelist I had nothing to complain about, however I was curious to see if the Guides would offer better modulation (a traditional SRAM/Avid strength) and more importantly, whether they put a few SRAM brake bugaboos behind them.

Installation and Set-Up

The Guides are ambidextrous, making installation easy, though the rear line came with a lot of slack and required a bleedless hose shortening, which worked well thanks to Dave Tolnai’s write up. Otherwise, no issues getting them set up and bedded in. Matchmaker mounting, what did we ever do without you?


SRAM’s Matchmaker mounts were a revelation when they were introduced several years ago, but I still appreciate them every time I install a new component or make a change. The contact adjustment is the dial, while reach is controlled by the knob. Also, check out that sweet lever pivot bearing.

Between the Guides’ Reach Adjust and Contact Point Adjustment, it was dead easy to get them set up to feel great on the bar. The alloy lever has a nice hook, (which I daresay trends a bit more towards the angular feel of a Shimano lever), and holding it on your index finger’s crease is comfortable and confidence-inspiring. Engagement is positive but not indexed – squeeze more, get more power.


The Guide caliper is a dual diameter four piston unit, just like the XO Trail. Pad replacements are tool-free, and getting them centered over a rotor is simple.

Lever feel is a huge issue for most riders, and I’m as fussy as anyone. I like to run my levers pretty close to the bar, meaning that a lever has only a short span of movement within which I can either feather or pull, depending on how close my Oh Shit Meter is getting to the red line. On one hand, I love the well-defined On/Off of a Shimano brake. On the other, their Servo-Wave driven lever setup sometimes means I can’t modulate as well as I’d like to, and like most riders, that means I grab a little too much brake sometimes. Ask any racer – that’s a huge problem.


SRAM’s 1x drivetrain revolution has moved my preferred seatpost remote location from the right to the left. An under the bar Reverb mount is perfect, in my opinion.

But while SRAM’s brakes usually offered better modulation, other problems have plagued them on a pretty consistent basis. The old taper bore lever shape didn’t deal well with air bubbles. Fade was a problem. Then there were the dreaded turkey-gobbles, which not only sounds horrid, but also can rob you of confidence. We all want a silent bike, and in cold or wet conditions especially, that just wasn’t happening. And so it’s been the consistency, silence, and positive lever feel that has had me singing Shimano’s praises.


Push the lever away from the bar with one hand while using the other to turn the reach adjust knob. Not as well-built or easy to use as some of the competition, but it gets the job done, and dialing in reach and pad contact to be consistent between both sides was easy.

Riding the Guides

All the tech and setup and feel is well and good but I needed to ride ’em and see how they felt. Had SRAM done their homework with the redesign and put some of their past inconsistencies behind them? After a few local rides on trails I know well, their first real trial was on one of Whistler’s gnarly classics (coincidentally built by SRAM PR Manager Tyler Morland): Gargamel. The upper half winds through forested groves, dropping down short, steep slopes. Further on you find yourself on granite faces that feed into pitches of shale and paving stones.


The Guide caliper. An open system with four pistons in two diameters, forged aluminum with stainless steel hardware, and tool-free pad replacement.


In short, a great test of any bike and its componentry, brakes being especially important on some of the exposed, steep pitches, but also on the shorter ones where you simply need to maintain control and then get off the binders and let it ride again. It was one of my best days on the bike all year. Power is there in spades when you need it, but it was the modulation that I noticed: gone was the need to grab brake, instead I was using just enough, and then carrying speed nicely into the next section.

Fade? Nope. Pump? No, sir.

Other tests: the EWS Queen stage, from Top of The World all the way down through the Whistler Bike Park, where they were perfect; or 4,400′ vertical laps in Penticton this past weekend, in the steepest sustained conditions I may ever have ridden, where they did fade (the pads have worn quite a bit) but a wheel removal and pad contact re-calibration fixed them up nicely.


I’ve put a lot of time on the Guides and other than one case of fade that necessitated wheel removal and pad contact re-calibration (5 minutes, no big hassle), they’ve been problem-free.

Recently the Fall rains have come to the shore, where the only complaint I can find has been that they can be a bit grouchy in cold and wet conditions. Once heated up they’re fine, but until then you’ll be playing with a little less power than you’re used to. But the bottom line? I have the confidence to carry more speed, knowing I can dump a bit if need to, and my tendency to grab a bit too much brake is being cured. Subsequent time on Shimano brakes has kept the trend moving positively, but I’m giving some credit to the Guides for reminding me not to squeeze too hard.

Other Thoughts

The new Centerline rotors are supposed to run more smoothly and with less heat and vibration than the HS1 that preceded them, and come in five sizes (140, 160, 170, 180, and 200), though our testers came with 180mm HS1 rotors. No biggie, because one of the pleasant surprises about the Guides has been the lack of turkey-gobbling and squealing. Yes, I had a little this past week in horribly wet conditions, but my Shimano brakes would have been the same – once heated, they both feel great, but a sustained period of pedaling will mean that the first time you call on them, they might talk back a bit.


The reach adjust knob works fine, but you have to push the lever out from the bar in order for the knob to be adjusted easily. It is a light feeling plastic – not as solid as the competition – but it works fine. The contact point dial is great and can even be played with while pedaling.

The bearing lever pivots? So solid. Great construction quality.



Also available in silver.

With the Guide, SRAM have made a big step in brake tech. Is it enough to quell the complaints? In my mind yes, but some shop owners and product managers may take slightly longer to forget the past. For my money, this is a high end brake worth considering, and ready to challenge the current title holder from Osaka.

There are three models of Guide brake:

Guide RSC (as tested) is the top of the line, with Reach Adjust (R), Swinglink (S), and Contact Adjust (C), as well as the bearing in the lever pivot and metallic pads, for $199 USD per side (without rotor).
Guide RS will save you $50 and omits the Contact Adjuster, and also substitutes a bushing in the lever pivot and organic pads instead of metallic.
At $129 USD, the Guide R maintains Reach Adjust but has a simpler Direct Link lever and organic pads.

Are you a SRAM fan, or have you been sitting on the sidelines waiting for them to step it up? Are you convinced the Guide is the answer?


Trending on NSMB


bill  - March 14, 2016, 4:56 p.m.

SRAM XO1 & Guide RSC brakes on my Mojo HD3 working well and not missing Shimano XTzzz. Another write up covering some of these points:


Danny B  - Oct. 26, 2014, 8:51 p.m.

I am intrigued by your statement "beleaguered Elixir four piston brakes". If you were to say beleaguered two piston brakes, I would have said sure, of course. The classic 2-pot Elixirs and Juicys were all round slated by and riders and mechanics. With good reason they were down on power, noisy, unreliable and maintenance heavy.

The new 4-pot Elixir Trail brakes (X0,X9 and X7) are another story entirely. All the reviews that I have seen about these brakes have been favourable. I personally have been running a set of X7 Elixir Trails on my 6″ trail bike for the past 18 months and they are fantastic brakes - head and shoulders above the performance of the XT M785's on my XC bike. They have way better modulation, power is comparable and a better lever shape than the XTs. Gone is the turkey gobbling of old (even with sintered pads). Yes, they get noisy when wet but then again so to my Shimano brakes.

Certainly, as the Trails still use dot fluid, they will require more frequent bleeding than a brake using mineral oil, but again nothing like the older 2-pots (I have re-bled my front brake once). The only problem that I've had with my trails is that the pin holding the pads snapped during reinstallation. Shimano's trad. split pin is a more simple and better solution.

Sram/Avids 4-pot brakes are very good and shouldn't be tarred with the same brush as their 2-pot namesakes.


Jerryek  - Oct. 23, 2014, 3:53 p.m.

Soooooo…..long term test of the Nomad coming soon???


cxt3000  - Oct. 23, 2014, 5:15 a.m.

I got the rs model this summer and from what i read about theese brakes and how they actually feel, I couldn't believe how much better they really were. The level of control with theese brakes is nothing short of phenomenal. I never lock them unless on purpose. To shorten the cables, it was just cut and reconnect. No bleed. The rear brake lever does feel a bit softer but I don't mind. Works perfect anyway. I've had elixir CR's and x0's before and since I know how to bleed them near perfectly, I never had any problems with those so I expect much better from guides.


kain0m  - Oct. 23, 2014, 1 p.m.

I've heard the "don't need to bleed after a cut" story so many times, yet it was never true. Usually they will work fine - unless you put the bike upside down or ride hard. Then you have got a nice and soft brake lever, until the bubbles have finally risen int the reservoir again. You're better off to just bleed them than to find out trail-side that yet another air bubble has risen gone into the brake hose


cxt3000  - Oct. 23, 2014, 10:58 p.m.

I regulary put my bike upside down for a few minutes before i start riding. Helps the totems get some oil up in the legs so they perform from the start. Brakes don't get softer. Not at a noticable level anyway.


ibeaver  - Oct. 28, 2014, 11:01 a.m.

I support Uros about the unscrew, cut, screw, and poke back in with the last screw shortening procedure and require no bleed afterwards. I had the back brake softer, just a bit, but a couple turns on the contact adjust ( i have rsc) then they both matched 🙂

I am / was a formula guy since I replaced the juicy's on my rocky slayer 70. Think that was 10 years ago. But now… the T1's are replaced…. and I'm not going to put them back on even if the guides break (no pun intended :-p)


cxt3000  - Nov. 4, 2014, 5:39 a.m.

There is one thing I did when cutting another pair of brakes. I put the lever in an upright position so that the oil couldn't drip out and filled it with a bit more brake fluid (all the way to the end of the thread). I've had the caliper hanging down so the oil couldn't drip from the hose, then assembled it back and the rear brake was near perfect 😉
But you can do that only with the brakes off the bike..


Nouseforaname  - Oct. 22, 2014, 2:13 p.m.

"Tool free pad replacement". You keep using those words; I do not think it means what you think it means.
Using an Allen key to remove the pin holding the brake pads in place = using a tool.


Rob Gretchen  - Oct. 22, 2014, 11:51 a.m.

No Thx… Formula, Shimano and Hope on my bikes…


Cave Johnson  - Oct. 22, 2014, 10:52 a.m.

This all sounds great but my X0's felt great the first few rides too. Let's talk long term reliability and having to bleed your brakes every week. When I see that the guide can deliver a full season of performance under heavy use then maybe, MAYBE, I will give them another shot.

I realize I may have a few trust issues…..

Pete Roggeman  - Oct. 23, 2014, 10:33 a.m.

Cave, that's fair, and one review shouldn't be expected to send you to the other side of the ship. For context, I've had 40-50 rides on the Guides. Not one bleed.

Todd Hellinga's review on the Norco Sight went up this morning and he has had a similar amount of time on the Guides, and loved them.

Do with that info as you will.


t.odd  - Oct. 23, 2014, 4:18 p.m.

I can confirm that the Guide RS brakes I used on the Sight were totally problem free and 100% reliable for the 2.5 months I've been using them. Zero complaints from me.


nick  - Oct. 22, 2014, 8:52 a.m.

Is it the rotor or the caliper that has fixed the turkey gobbles? I'm wondering weather a rotor upgrade can help my Elixirs?


Brock Fisher  - Oct. 22, 2014, 9:38 a.m.

I have found that the Shimano rotors help stop turkey gobble but what really helps it is cleaning and oiling the brake pistons.


kain0m  - Oct. 23, 2014, 12:57 p.m.

Strange. My SLXs with XT rotors "turkey gobble" like mad… I guess it is just a combination of brake caliper, rotor, etc. My Formula K24 used to stutter like crazy, but it stopped once I went from the original 220mm 2-piece Rotors to Hayes V9s.


Bavaria 2.0  - Oct. 22, 2014, 7:32 a.m.

Maybe. But probably not. SRAM is too far gone in the brake dept. Major trust issues. It will take a few years to regain that lost ground - or maybe never.


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