In Issue #111 of Singletrack Magazine, James & Wil put the superlight Level Ultimate disc brakes from SRAM the full going-over
In 2014, SRAM pulled a complete U-turn on the fate of its hydraulic disc brake line when it introduced the now-ubiquitous Guide. With powerful four-piston callipers and brand-new lever internals, the smooth and reliable Guide brake has proven to be popular with trail riders and enduro racers alike. For a rundown of the Guide’s performance, check out our review of the SRAM Guide RS brake.
Two years later, SRAM unveiled a lighter, sleeker and smaller version called the Level. Aimed at cross-country racers and trail riders, the Level features a similar lever design to the Guide brake, but with a more compact twin-piston calliper at the other end.
As the name indicates, the Level Ultimate is the top tier model of the Level range. In essence, it’s the spiritual successor to the Avid XX disc brake, with a pared down design giving both a very clean looking and reasonably lightweight brakeset. Weight for the test pair came out at 434g, without hardware or rotors. Compare that with 406g for Magura MT8s, and 396g for Shimano XTR M9000s.
In pursuit of gram removal, a minimalist approach has been taken by SRAM’s engineers for the number of adjustments on offer. You can adjust reach for the carbon fibre lever blade with a 2mm hex key (no tools-free dial), and that’s it. For an even cleaner cockpit, combine the levers with SRAM shifters and RockShox remotes via the MatchMaker system.
In use, the Level Ultimates are incredibly smooth. And powerful. The carbon lever blade feels lovely, and a sealed pivot bearing ensures silky rotation. Although not as firm feeling as the Guide brakes, the delivery of stopping force is progressive. The Level Ultimates modulate well and they do have a resolute bite point. It may feel a little softer and lighter in its action, but it is rock-solid, and firmer than Shimano XTR.
We’ve been testing the Level Ultimate brakes on both lightweight cross-country bikes and heavy-duty trail bikes. Throughout the test period they’ve been reliable performers with a consistent delivery of power. But it’s their high-speed power and control that has surprised us most for such a lightweight cross-country brake. Even strapped to a big 29er trail bike with 180mm rotors, there’s been no lack of raw power and no issues with fading when travelling at warp speed down steep hillsides.
Rather than the quad 14/16mm pistons on the Guide calliper, the Levels feature dual opposing 21mm diameter pistons in each calliper. The body itself is made from a single piece of machined alloy, resulting in a lighter and stiffer structure that also has fewer seals overall. To manage heat build-up, the Level Ultimates run alloy-backed pads, and additional stainless heat shields between the pistons and the pads help to strip heat away from the DOT 5.1 fluid.
In addition to the heat-mitigation measure, SRAM has also made these super-easy to bleed thanks to the Bleeding Edge design with its plug-in syringes. Clever, and in our experience, highly user-friendly.
While they’re superlight and targeted towards the Lycra crowd, the SRAM Level Ultimates are pure and simple – just really good brakes. They’re smooth, reliable, easy to live with, and they deliver excellent modulation and power.
|Product:||Level Ultimate Disc Brakes|
|Price:||£238 per end, rotors £35ea|
|Tested:||by James Love for 5 months|