The alternate working title of this post was "Ken Perras Was Right", but that sounded too much like click bait.
I've never been a lover of the "Servo Wave" (greater initial pad movement) of Shimano's current (and last) generation brakes, but being asked often (as someone with no monetary interest) for brake advice my recommendation has generally been the Saint/Zee.
Saint if you want "Made In Japan" and gold accents. Zee if you want the same power at a significant cost saving (Made in Shimano's own factory in Malaysia?).
In reference to my thinking (do you see what I see?), compared to the XTR Trail/XT/SLX brakes (and if you love yours that's great) where I find they have tons of initial "BITE" but that's that, I find that once you are through the initial Servo Wave pad-clapping the harder you pull on a Saint/Zee brake the more power you get from them (depth of power?)
Great brakes, a bit heavy (if you care… Honzo couldn't give a…), super easy to work on, very consistent performance, very reliable, nice lever feel. Easy to recommend.
I've been running M820s since ~ they came out and I have had M810s and M810s with XTR Trail levers before that.
I'm currently riding a set of Magura MT7 brakes which would be Magura's equivalent of the Saint (Made In Germany) vs. the MT5 which is made overseas -- with one caveat worth mentioning: where the Saint/Zee are basically the same the MT7 and MT5 have different lever configurations and if you wear smaller than a size large glove the MT7 will not come in close enough to the bar for you (the MT5 has a much greater range of lever reach adjustment).
Compared to the Saint the MT7 has a ridiculous amount more power. RIDICULOUS. And the lightest lever action of any brake I have ever used. Unlike the Shimano SW levers the power curve is very consistent, which is a good thing because until you get used to the brake there is a fine difference between a light feathering and accidental front wheelies.
Running a 7" Rotor with a 29" wheel the power is unlike anything I have used short of the old floating caliper Gustav system, which (as KPerras mentioned) has no where near the refined lever feel.
There are two pad options. One that is a solid pad actuated by two pistons (a la Saint/Zee) and the other which uses a separate pad for each piston (what I am using).
Anyways, if you own Saint or Zee brakes they are awesome, but if you are in the market for a new set of brakes before you drop the coin if you can find a set of the new Magura 4-Piston brakes to try out (even for a parking lot spin)… I've always been a fan of their products in general (I've previously owned Gustavs, '06 Louise FR, '07 Louise BAT, '09 Marta SL), so I wasn't skeptical in trying the MT7 but I was blown away.
If I was outfitting a second bike I would go MT5 w/ the MT7 style independent pad set-up.
I will report back on long term reliability.
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