by Kevin Shiramizu
Formula has been in the brake game for a long time now. Worldwide, the brand might have struggled for a while to make an impact, whether that was due to distribution issues or just the feeling that this was one of those “other guy” brands. However in recent years, Formula brakes have become a more common sight on the trails everywhere and they have also been getting the thumbs up from people who have the option to ride other brands. With that in mind, we were quite interested to get our hands on Formula's all-new R1 Racing brakes to see how they would stack up.
R1 Racing Disc Brake Highlights
- New pull style master cylinder for better ergonomics and improved durability
- Enhanced Caliper Technology (ECT) for higher rollback and easy installation
- Titanium hardware
- Kevlar braided hose (100cm front / 165cm rear)
- Composite reservoir cap
- Super high polish finish with red anodized accents
- Semi metallic compound pads with alloy back-plate
- 6-inch post mount
- Weight: 267 grams
- MSRP $389.50 per brake
- Options include:
- One-piece CenterLock rotor measuring 160mm / 180mm / 203mm
- Two-piece rotor in 6 bolt I.S. - Red or Black - 140mm / 160mm / 180mm / 203mm
- FCS Feeling Control System - Available in red, black or gold
- MixMaster - Custom shifter mounting perch
- SpeedLock hose quick connect - Mounted at the caliper, master cylinder or inline in red, black or gold
During the unboxing process it seemed like a shipping error had been made. After removing the hefty 2014 product catalog from the box, it felt like there couldn’t be much left in there at all. Well no, it turns out that these brakes are just that light. Clean Ti hardware, aluminum spider rotors, and very trim design on the lever and caliper all add up to not much at all on the scales.
Another feature that jumped out at us straight away was the new pull-lever design. Most hydro brakes on the market action the master cylinder by pushing down on the piston, but the R1 Racing pulls on it instead. We discussed this aspect with Formula at Eurobike and they stated that this design allows for better transfer of power to the piston and creates less overall friction in the system as a whole.
We mounted up the brakes and got ready to hit the trails, eager to discover if the R1 Racings would deliver performance to match their looks, or whether they would turn out “too light” to do the job.
On The Trail
For such a light weight lever, the mount is surprisingly stiff, which I think has to do with the wide base of contact on the bars. You can detect some flex if you're staring at the lever in the parking lot while pumping the brakes, but on the trail this was not noticeable at all. In terms of set-up, this wide base may cause some issues with handlebar real estate depending on the controls you run, but there is a Matchmaker-style mounting perch available to tidy things up a bit if you need it.
Regarding adjustments, you can set the reach of the lever blade to fit your hand size and suit your preference, but there is no pad contact point point adjustment included as standard. As it is, if you are super-picky about your setup, you might find this lack of contact point adjustment a deal-breaker, but in truth, it was easy to adjust to the feeling of these brakes. Nevertheless, if you want it, Formula's "Feeling Control System" is available as an upgrade, for about $50 per side.
The break in period was on par with most other brakes out there today. 40-50 braking cycles per end brought them to life and the first major descent kicked them into gear. After that, the brakes certainly did their job of slowing me down in the parking lot. Now in theory, I like my brakes to be completely on/off and as touchy as an emotionally wrought teenager. However in reality, that kind of brake doesn't give you a lot of control once you hit the dirt. You just end up skidding onto your face. In the parking lot, I was not thrilled about the abundance of modulation in these brakes. Out on the trail though, I found them to be plenty strong for your average XC trail and still capable of keeping things in check on nastier trails that were asking a lot of my 5" trail bike to navigate.The lever pull action on these brakes is smooth as can be, which is great. No one likes gritty feeling levers. It's hard to tell if the pull-piston design is the only reason for that, but it certainly seems to contribute or at the very least not interfere with how the brakes work.
What I was worried about were longer downhill sections and how they would handle the heat. And yes, there is a difference in heat management if you compare these brakes to high-end DH brakes like Saints or similar, but then again, these aren’t being sold as the killer brake to have for Champery World Cup DH. If that is what you need, the Formula RO is your ticket. What did amaze me is how far “uber-light” brakes have come in recent years. It used to be that XC race brakes were just strong enough to keep a hardtail bike in check to tip toe down the 50 foot descent on the XC short track circuit and that’s about it. Now though, I could wail on these brakes for multi-minute descents knowing that there was still a brake I could count on as my arms pumped up. In the end, my forearms let me down before these brakes did and that’s been the case with every brake I’ve voluntarily mounted on my bike. The R1 Racing passed that test with flying colors.
I did experience some jivey turkey warble coming from the front brake, especially during the initial break in period and first ride, but that calmed down soon after. The brakes would chirp a bit when they got quite hot and that seemed reasonable. Compared to the set of brakes these replaced on my bike, the R1's were much more quiet indeed. To this point of the test I've only seen dry and dusty conditions so can't offer an observation on how they will handle once they get wet and muddy.
Things That Could Be Improved
The lever reservoir sits essentially on the bars and could cause clearance issues that may require you to juggle the shifter mounts and/or remote dropper actuator mount in order to put the brake lever where you want it to be. As previously mentioned, there is a Matchmaker-style mounting perch available that should help tidy things up on the handlebars. Out of the box, the adjustments on the brake itself are limited to reach only, and while I got used to how these brakes feel fairly easily, that may not be the case for everybody. We previously mentioned the FCS system which can be retrofitted to provide pad contact point adjustment functionality, but at about $50 per side that adds more cost to an already very expensive brake. At this price point, it would make sense to include this functionality as standard.
The brake lever blade is also a little too much “blade” for my taste. This is a subjective matter but I prefer a wider lever blade for index finger comfort.
Long Term Durability
Light, strong, cheap - pick two. Keith Bontrager's legendary observation still holds true today, for most mountain bike components. Well on the R1's, cheap went out the window several hundred dollars ago and they are about as light as they could possibly be. While I had no issues with the brakes during the test, I would be interested to see how they hold up in a crash. I’m not thrilled at the idea of finding that out and shockingly, the rubber side has stayed down for a while here. Anyway, the lever is held to the bars with a couple of 3mm Ti bolts and I wonder how those will do in a crash. Will the levers slide on the bars, will the blades shear off? At this point I don’t know. Light weight components are rarely made to survive impacts, and additionally, when we're talking racing it's checkers or wreckers so keep that in mind too. If you’re hard on your stuff, get the regular R1s. Pad and rotor wear were definitely in line with competitor’s brakes, so nothing out of the ordinary to report on that front.
What's The Bottom Line?
These brakes do their job. But what is that job? Be shockingly light weight would be the top item on the job description. Beyond that they are reliable and look trick. When it comes time to give these a rating though, I have to take price into consideration and with a tag like that hanging from it, a part has no excuse to be anything other than great. If you gave the R1 Racing and a brake half its cost the blind Pepsi challenge and had me slow down a bike with both, I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one was which. Also, there are a lot more effective ways to shave weight from your bike for the money like in your frame, fork, and wheels. But if you are after dropping as much weight as you can while still having a bike you can properly ride, these brakes will slow you down, make your bike (and wallet!) lighter, and look good while doing it.
For more details, check out www.formula-italy.com.
About The Reviewer
Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.