Review: Shimano SLX Disk Brakes

When I bought my Whippet frame about 18 months ago, the intention was always to upgrade the components that I transferred from my original Gary Fisher, and with that build up a commuter bike. As you probably saw in one of my last photo blogs the commuter bike is all built now. One of the key components to upgrade was the brakes.

The previous bike had Deore M535 brakes on it, which largely I had always been very impressed by; due to their value, reliability, lack of maintenance and robustness. As a result when I started looking for upgrades, my mind was slightly in favour of a Shimano set up again. I was happy then when I put the question to the best forum in the world: 'Twitter', that Shimano brakes came up often as a recommendation for their easy maintenance and good performance.

As is often the way it seems, the SLX version of this year's brakeset was almost identical to the XT version, just with a slightly different lever body design and a very slightly (just a few grams) heavier total weight. As a result I went for the SLX version, which also blends in well with the other SLX components that I've used throughout the rest of the bike. I ordered the complete brakeset from Rose Bikes in Germany for a total of £110 (without disk rotors). A bargain by any standards. After using the brakeset for the past month or so, here are my thoughts on it:
  • The first thing that makes the brakes stand out is their compact lever design. With a good quality hydraulic disk, single finger braking is more than adequate and leaves the other fingers on the bar, ready for gear changes and additional control. By playing to this advantage and using levers that are just long enough the SLX brakes have a far neater and easier to use design, whilst also helping to reduce the weight of the lever body.
  • The levers also have a reach adjustment using a small knob on the lever body. This neat little feature is actually very useful, as you can alter the adjustment so easily that it encourages you to do so more often. Improving the feel of the lever for technical downhill sections when 'lever grab' could be too tempting, and even allows you to increase the reach when you are wearing chunkier gloves for example. 
  • The lack of rotors may initially seem like you are getting short-changed, but in reality it can be a bit of a blessing. I had a good XT rotor that I had recently bought, which I have used on the front and works very well. I then bought a discounted Ashima Air Rotor (one of the lightest rotors out there) for the back. I could get away with this as I only use the bike for XC and there is no risk of over-heating the rotor, although if you look at tests on the Ashima, the metal alloy that they have used means it is incredibly heat resistant and similar to the Icetech Shimano Rotors. 
  • The caliper design is compact and neat, with a set of decent resin pads provided. The adjustable hose angle means that it can fit neatly into the 'Inbound' caliper mounting on the Whippet frame.
  • The brakes have plenty of power, easily enough for an XC bike and I expect enough for a downhill bike as well, especially if you coupled it with some larger rotors.
  • Like all Shimano disk brakes the system uses mineral oil, rather than dot brake fluid. It is far nicer to work with as it's less corrosive, so it won't burn through your hands when you are bleeding the brakes!
  • Pads are easily removed with a split-pin holding them in and a top or bottom removal option. One of the differences with the XT model caliper is that is has a threaded bar that replaces the split pin. However, the threaded holes for the bar are still present in the SLX version of the caliper, and a bar is provided in some replacement disk brake pad packs, so there is the option of making that upgrade very easily!
Overall a great brake-set and fantastic value. It looks set to last a good few years and provide more than adequate power for my usage. A worthy upgrade!
Available from Wiggle Bike Shop (Link)


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