TRP Slate T4 Brakes
In 2016 Aaron Gwin surprised us when he chose TRP as his brake sponsor. Before then many riders hadn’t heard of the brand and more questions arose when they learned it was a branch of Tektro, which is most well known as a bargain brake brand. Since then concerns were put to rest with the Quadiem downhill brake proving that its reliable. TRP continues to grow and the brakes adorn the bikes of other big names like Brendan Fairclough and the Scott/Velosolutions team.
The Slate T4 trail brake has been in TRP’s range for roughly five years. They’ve seen some changes since Gwin began working with TRP, but the brakes tested here aren’t part of the G-Spec range*. Aside from the paint and G-Spec logo, the differences aren’t visible to the naked eye. The Slate T4 brakes feature a steel piston, while the G-Spec version features the steel/ceramic hybrid similar to the Quadiem. Tool-free reach adjustment is included but isn’t indexed on the T4.
*G-Spec is TRP’s label for their premium brakes which include Gwin’s input in the features.
Fewer features and no pro name emblazoned on the brakes mean the regular Slate is cheaper, retailing for 119.99 USD/end or 239.98 USD for a set. The G-Spec version of the brakes cost 30 USD extra at each end and 60 USD more for a set.
TRP’s Slate T4 brakes feature a four-piston design, tool-free reach adjustment, a dimpled lever blade designed by Gwin, and pads that are top loaded into the calliper. Similar to the Quadiem downhill brake, any non-finned Shimano Saint pad will work with the Slates, great for users thanks to readily available Shimano pads. Those discouraged by DOT fluid will be pleased to learn that the Slates push mineral oil.
As with the Quadiem brakes, the Slate T4 features a simple push rod system rather than the magic of SRAM’s Swinglink or Shimano’s Servo Wave. While the SRAM and Shimano technology allows for a simpler setup process, it doesn’t always result in an optimal one. TRP notes that the Slate architecture uses fewer parts which leads to a more efficient and inexpensive manufacturing process and, they claim, more reliability. The lever is longer and provides more power and control without the big brands' more complex systems. TRP’s master cylinder design produces a more linear feel and they claim the longer lever delivers improved modulation.
“I think that the biggest thing is the modulation that it allows us to have without having to make an expensive brake.” Cody Phillips – TRP’s Marketing & Technical OEM Sales Coordinator
Setup and Trail Time
Fitting the Slates was easy and after trimming the lines, a quick bleed with a Shimano bleed kit had everything feeling great. If you don't already have a bleed kit, TRP offers one for 14.99 USD. Coming from old SRAM Codes, the longer, different shaped lever took some getting used to, but by the time they bedded in everything felt fine.
The lever felt great and I prefered it to the current wave of SRAM brakes. The girth of the Shimano lever blade is smaller than the Slate but has a similar, comfortable feel. There's more throw than I prefer but once I got used to the long lever there were no problems and overall they feel great on the trail.
The Quadiem’s have been touted for their modulation and the Slates share this attribute. There’s an exceptional amount of control offered and at no point do they ever get catchy, even when a slip causes an accidental, aggressive pull. They’re incredibly consistent throughout the throw of the lever, providing tons of control but I found myself seeking more bite. After some hard rides the organic pads were swapped for metallic pads and the front rotor was increased from 180 to 203mm.
As one would expect, braking improved with the larger rotor and metallic pads. The initial bite that I was after still wasn’t there but the brakes remained consistent, never becoming vague or showing any signs of fade, even on trails that consistently cause issues with DH-grade products. They did overheat in the most extreme scenarios but even in such situations, the feel at the lever remained the same. It was at the calliper that the issue presented itself, with the rotors starting to rub consistently.
Once the brakes had a chance to cool down, which took a few minutes, it was back to sliding down the side of the mountain. It wasn’t long before they began to rub again but I was impressed that lever feel remained consistent throughout, despite the expansion of fluid in the system. This ride resulted in the pistons needing to be reset, but these trails have caused the same issues with DH brakes, which also required post-ride maintenance
I spoke with TRP about the experience and was reminded that the brakes were being used above their pay-grade. The Quadiem would be better suited to the type of riding I was doing because these are a trail/xc brake. They also reminded me that Slates are SLX level brakes that offer the benefits of four pistons.
Nevertheless, the performance of the Slate T4 is impressive. It took riding sustained steep decents in hot weather to get them to show a weakness, despite them being a low-price trail brake. There’s plenty of braking power in 90% of riding situations and for the 10% there’s not, only a well setup DH brake would calm the nerves. Compared with the competition, there’s equal power and greater feel than the equivalent Guide brake and while the SLX offers more bite and stopping power — the Slate offers greater consistency.
With the G-Spec Slate having the hybrid pistons I’m curious if for just shy of 300 USD you can have a trail brake that works with more consistency than a number of DH brakes. Judging by the consistency of the Quadiem’s, which feature the same piston design as the G-Spec Slate, it’s entirely possible. If so, these would surely be one of the most consistent feeling brakes on the market and at a great price.
A legitimate issue I experienced with the Slate T4 concerned the lever reach adjustment. The tool-free adjuster is excellent but the reach would shift during rides. Blue thread lock is used in place of index positions and it didn’t take long to wear out. Once worn the adjusters would back themselves out and eventually I found myself resetting the reach, threading the adjusters in after every trail. It’s easy to do but it would be much better if they stayed where I set them. Re-applying thread lock cured the problem only for a short time.
It’s worth the extra 60 USD for a set of the G-Spec Slates, which include an indexed reach adjuster. The extra money also gets you the steel/ceramic hybrid pistons, which will also benefit the brake’s consistency; a no-brainer. On the other hand, anyone seeking a trail/XC brake capable of punching above it’s weight will be happy. Add the incredible modulation, consistency and reliability, and you’ll be over the moon with the performance of the Slate T4.
Head to the TRP website for more information on the Slate T4.