by Noah Sears
The RO brake from Formula promises monster power in a svelte package. Unlike its class competitors which use four pistons, the RO uses two large oval pistons. With half as many pistons, rather puny looking pads, and a complete weight of 360g (claimed, with 160mm rotor), surely, I thought, the RO was a dainty little trail brake masquerading as a big-hit brake? Boy was I wrong.
Formula RO Disc Brake Highlights
- Polished and anodized finish
- Oval pistons
- 18% claimed increase in power over "The One"
- 160mm, 180mm, and 203mm rotor sizes
- Removable handlebar clamp
- Flip-flop master cylinder assembly
- Forged lever blad with integrated tool-free reach adjust
- Weight: 360 grams per brake
- MSRP:$359.50 per side
I've been a cheerleader for Shimano brakes for ages, never displeased with their power, spoiled by their adjustability, and wowed by their sheer reliability. The big S's brakes have only improved over the years, and you'd be hard pressed to find a negative review of the latest generation. Previous to testing the RO's, I had Shimano stoppers on both of my daily drivers. My tried and true Tallboy LTc had a hodge-podged setup of XT 785 levers and original Saint calipers - slightly ghetto, but totally flawless in operation. My new Bronson C had just been equipped with complete XT 785s replete with fancy-shmancy IceTec rotors. My preferred lever setup is nearly touching the bar, so close that when friends feel my brakes they think they're in need of a bleed - close-in with a long pull. This is easily achieved with Shimano's generous reach adjustment and lever shape. However, this setup was impossible with the Formulas, no amount of fiddling with the reach and bite adjustments could get the levers anywhere near what I was used to. Initially I was bummed, and it took a few rides to adjust to the setup. Not wanting to mess with fluid levels, I simply lived with it and I'm glad I stuck it out. Within a week or two, and with a little bit of pad wear, the brakes began to feel natural - probably equal parts familiarity with the setup and break-in. Then I fell in love.
On The Trail
Simply put, the power curve at the lever is dialed. There is no on-off feel present here, pull hard and deep if you're panicked or gently and gradually for smooth, progressive stops. Absent of this well articulated modulation the RO would certainly be too powerful, but in this execution the available and abundant power on tap is inspiring. A 180mm front and 160mm rear has proven to be plenty strong, and fade free, everywhere I've tested it - from Enduro racing in Angel Fire, park laps in Whistler, and even a heli drop in Pemberton that would have boiled a lesser brake.
Things That Could Be Improved
Noise is not the RO's strong suit, these puppies have a tendency to howl like a wolf at extreme temperatures or when first introduced to moisture. In either case there is no accompanying decrease in performance. The noise has stayed consistent with pad and rotor swaps, and I've used both the two-piece and standard rotors. Speaking of rotors, Formula's own rotors seem to be a little tougher to source and come with a premium price tag. I guess that's to be expected from an ultra high-end brake, but it still stings. I suppose you could pick up another brand's rotor, but I personally like to keep things matching.
Alignment is a bit trickier with the ROs than with certain other brakes. There is very little space between the rotor and pads, so even the slightest misalignment yields the dreaded (and extremely obnoxious on long, steady climbs) "shing-shing" from the rotor. Even with seemingly perfect setup these brakes will occasionally rub when hot. I'm beginning to think the oval pistons may be more prone to getting cocked than their round counterparts.
Long Term Durability
In three months of testing, I've been through the stock pads already and am currently using EBC's red compound without any appreciable difference in performance. Pad wear has been reasonable given the riding environments. Seldom a week has gone by that I haven't done considerable lift-accessed riding or racing. No bleeding has been necessary and no play has developed in the lever - these brakes seem solid.
What's The Bottom Line?
If you're looking for power, modulation, and reliability in spades, the ROs have it all. Additionally, they are incredibly light for the performance on offer. The only downsides are a bit more noise and a more involved setup procedure - a trade-off I for one will gladly take. The price tag is certainly steep, but in this case, you do get what you pay for.
For more details, visit www.formula-italy.com.
About The Reviewer
Noah Sears eats, sleeps, and breathes mountain biking. During the decade he has been in the bike industry, he has managed a well-known destination bike shop, written for several publications, been a sponsored rider and product tester for various manufacturers, and is currently leading the marketing and product development efforts at Mountain Racing Products. A Colorado native and now Fruita local, there is no shortage of idyllic singletrack right out his back door. He has been racing downhill and super-D events since 2006, but thinks he has found his calling with Enduro. His hammer and plow style of riding puts the hurt on his equipment - and his body. The amount he has spent to fix broken bones and replace broken parts over the years likely exceeds the GDP of a small country. He's all but sworn off 26-inch wheeled bikes, preferring to ride wagon wheels or at least 'tweeners. He also freaking loves Strava.