Tested: Hope Technology Tech 3 E4 Hydraulic Brakes
Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord
Looking through the history books of mountain bike technology, Hope Technology features prominently and with good reason. They made their first commercially available mountain bike disc brake in 1992, and by the mid-nineties they were seeing massive success with their C2 hydros. Even more ubiquitous than their brakes, the company is also known for its hubs, a staple of many a wheelbuilder’s arsenal, not to mention a multitude of CNCed goodies ranging from seat collar clamps to headsets. “Proudly made in Barnoldswick, UK” reflects Hope’s heritage and its continued commitment to in-house production, which today takes place in a modern facility where 55 CNC machines run 24/7 pumping out anodized alu bits for distribution in over 40 countries. We laid our hands on the latest brakes to come out of Hope Mill, and the least you could say is that we were curious to see what they have to offer. Read on if you are too…
Hope Technology Tech 3 E4 Brakes Highlights
- Rigid CNC'd one piece caliper made from T6 aluminum alloy
- 4x16mm phenolic pistons
- Ergonomic lever design to fit around other handle bar items
- The Tech 3 lever is directly compatible with Shimano I-Spec shifters, separate Sram Direct Mount also available
- Tool less bite point and reach adjustment
- Post mount 9.74 caliper with adapters to suit all mount options
- Top entry pad fitting
- Anodized for durability
- Available to fit 160, 183 and 203mm front and rear rotors
- Weight from: 266g (standard hose), 300g (braided hose)
- MSRP: approx. $280 USD (per side, including rotors and mounts)
If anything defines Hope’s identity, it’s CNCed aluminum. Ever since investing in their first CNC machine in 1992, this is how most of Hope’s products are made. Pulling the latest generation E4 brakes out of their box, you can’t help but be impressed by the workmanship on display. The design is still “industrial”, for lack of a better term, but the whole package is streamlined and looks distinctly modern. We tested the E4s with Hope’s floating “saw” rotor, which adds even more purposefulness to the look, as well as resistance to warping (a design inherited from the motorcycle world).
The E4s feature 4 pistons per caliper, with the caliper itself CNCed from a solid block of aluminum. Hope says it is more difficult to manufacture this way but it improves the stiffness of the caliper, and thus the feel of the brakes at the lever. Hope brakes have been made this way for many years already, but as previously mentioned, the overall technology has come a long way. The general design as well as the CNC work has created a brake that is fully up to date yet distinctly Hope’s own.
The E4 is Hope’s enduro-specific offering. It shares the Tech 3 lever with the V4, its bigger brother, but instead of 2 staggered pairs of pistons of different diameter like on the V4, the E4 makes do with 4 identical pistons per caliper. You save about 80 grams per side with the E4, while retaining most of the power of the V4. The pads (sintered or organic are available) are loaded from the top.
Mounting up the E4s for the first time was straightforward. The initial wrenching session was a pleasure, quality hardware and perfect machining and tolerances made for a smooth experience in the workshop. We used a SRAM-compatible add-on from Hope to mount our shifter directly to the brake lever (Shimano I-Spec shifters will mount directly with no need for the add-on), and Hope-supplied postmount adapters to accommodate the 203mm discs. Hope recommends aligning the calipers directly to the disc (with the help of markings on the calipers themselves), and then letting the self-centering design take care of aligning the pistons accordingly, as opposed to the “squeeze the lever then tighten down the bolts” method. We had a couple of somewhat lazy pistons out of the box, but with a little TLC and gentle prodding, it all aligned nicely. We were ready to hit the trails.
On The Trail
Hope’s Tech 3 lever shape and adjustability are perfect. The lever blade feels very natural to squeeze, and the huge range of adjustability on offer both with regards to the bite point as well as the reach means that no matter how you prefer to run your brakes or what size your hands are, the E4s will accommodate you. Both bite point and reach are completely mechanical adjustments, all the action takes place between the lever blade and the piston. There are no moving parts involved in adjustments inside the actual lever body. There is also no direct connection between the lever blade and the piston, which helps to avoid damaging the piston and main lever body in case of a crash. The initial feeling at the lever was solid, there is not much softness to the system even with the standard hoses we ran for the test (Hope also offers braided hose options for all their brakes). No mushiness here.
They very first outing with the E4s was a bit of an anticlimax. Coming off tests of several other brakes in the same category, the Hopes exhibit a completely different feel at the lever. There is absolutely no grabbiness, and the power delivery comes in a very linear fashion. Hardwired to anticipate quick power delivery at a light touch of the lever, we often found ourselves not applying enough pressure at the start of the lever blade’s travel (the lever’s return spring is also quite firm which further contributes to this phenomena). The best way to describe the difference is that the Hopes feel less powerful at the start of the travel, but more powerful as you get into the stroke. With many other brakes, a lot of power comes on early, but they then require a lot of force on the lever to get the last bit of power out of them. The Hopes build up power gradually, and the action is in the pressure on the lever as opposed to the travel – once at the bite point, they really don’t move much more, instead they react to pressure on the lever blade. This threw us off for the first couple of rides, but once we got used to it and “reprogrammed” our fingers, these brakes started to really shine. There is a lot of power on tap here, but above all, it’s this modulation that makes the E4s stand out. No more pulling to the grip looking for that last bit of power, just squeeze harder and you WILL stop. Coupled with remarkable consistency, riding with the E4s has become second-nature to the point that many other brakes now seem unnecessarily sharp and not very comfortable in use. And, with so much braking power in reserve, our hands seem a little bit less prone to fatigue during long runs.
The second stand-out feature of these brakes is the design. They are very easy to work on, and crucially, to bleed. Bleeding Hope brakes is an open reservoir process that uses a one-way bleed port on the caliper to flush the system from the top down, and it produced a perfect bleed on our first try. An added benefit is that no syringes or other special tools are required. The only thing you have to watch out for is the orientation of the rear caliper, on most frames it will require standing the bike up or removing the caliper to make sure the bleed port is on top. Plain sailing from there on, and our bleed has proven absolutely reliable over a couple of months of riding. And as everybody knows, as long as you know you can stop, you can go...
Working on the E4s in general is a pleasure, the machining is top notch and the tolerances are tight. Brake levers and calipers are easily rebuildable, and there are a lot of good how-to videos on the Hope website for all the DIYers out there. As previously mentioned, Hope recommends keeping the caliper perfectly aligned with the disc, and then working on carefully aligning the pistons and the pads to let them center themselves. This works best if you regularly clean and lubricate the pistons, which is also easy to do. Sometimes a piston would get a bit lazy and not retract fully, which led to a bit of brake rub at the end of prolonged sections of braking. Other than that, the brakes do not exhibit brake fade, nor did we feel any real pump at the lever as the brakes heat up. Very consistent in use. They are not very noisy, a little bit of a high-pitched squeal under light braking sometimes (mainly with dirty pads), and a bit more vocal in the wet, par for the course.
We’ve been riding in dry conditions mostly during this test, and the pad wear on the organic pads seems good. Lots of life left in the first pair after two months of fairly intensive riding (non lift-assisted). The pads load from the top of the caliper which makes replacing them easy to do when the time comes.
Things That Could Be Improved
Hope’s floating disc features a central spider that is a bit thicker than a regular disc. As a result, it runs very close to the brake mount adapter, to the point that it can rub in spots. This rubbing is not audible, but it wears the color off the spider with time as dust and sand is pulled between the surfaces. Hope is aware of the issue. On their own hubs, they have 1 extra millimeter of offset added to the disc mount to accommodate the thicker floating disc spider. For us, running an e*thirteen TRS+ wheel and a Rockshox Pike saw a slight amount of rub. Running the non-floating version of the disc eliminates the issue of course.
Getting all 4 pistons to work in perfect harmony can be a bit finicky at times, the pads run close to the disc and need to be perfectly aligned to run drag-free. Regularly cleaning the pistons helps with this, to make sure they are all sliding in and out smoothly. It is a simple process, squeezing the lever with the pads out (insert a suitable spacer to ensure the pistons don’t fall out) and then cleaning and lubing the exposed piston area with a little brake fluid. Forcing individual pistons in and out by holding the others in place with a pair of pliers as you squeeze the lever can also help free up a stubborn piston.
The Tech 3 lever design is not ambidextrous, so if you have a bike that requires frequent swapping of brakes from side to side, these may not be the best choice (although if you take care, you can swap the hoses over easily without having to bleed the brakes again).
Finally, the lever blade features a series of small holes drilled into it, to provide additional grip. This works fine with gloves on, but the holes feel a bit rough on the skin when riding gloveless. Kiwis beware.
In terms of weight, these are not the absolute lightest brakes in this category, but that’s counting grams and we would never trade the reliability or feel of our stoppers for a few grams.
Long Term Durability
2 months is not a lot of time when it comes to brakes, and not enough to form a definitive opinion on long term durability. What we can say is that so far, everything is perfect. Pad wear is good, and the performance of the brakes is consistent from ride to ride. Apart from the rubbing on the spider of the floating brake rotor, the finish on the levers and calipers looks new. Taking into account how easy these brakes are to service and rebuild if needed we would expect to get years of riding from the E4s.
What’s The Bottom Line?
There are a lot of options out there when it comes to brakes, but Hope’s E4 stands out in more ways than one. Visually, these brakes have an identity all their own. The industrial design has become refined without losing its character. Functionally, Hope nails it. The brakes are easy to work on, offer great power, consistency and reliability in use, and they add a dimension to the way they modulate braking power which is certainly different to anything else we have tried – and for the better. There are a few other brakes that offer even more outright stopping power (Hope’s own DH-specific V4 is one of those), but the way Hope delivers the power in the E4 is a great benefit on the trail. Add to that the huge range of the reach and bitepoint adjustments, and the E4s emerge as a very serious contender for anybody looking to stop on a dime.
More information at www.hopetech.com.
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.