A couple of weeks ago I had to take my new Bronson back to Bothy Bikes for them to return the Fox 34 forks to Mojo for a warranty issue. While I was up in Aviemore I thought I would get a ride in, so borrowed Bothy Bikes’ demo Bronson. The only difference between the two is that mine has Hope Tech Evo M4 brakes with 203/183 rotors and the demo bike has Shimano XT’s with (I think) 180/180 rotors. An interesting opportunity therefore to directly compare the two brakes on otherwise identical bikes so please excuse the long post.
I should state up front that I love Hope brakes and have used them for the last 6-7 years, but will try to be as objective as possible. The trails I used were the slabs area just across the A9 from Aviemore village that gives a nice choice of fast semi technical singletrack trails with around a 5 minutes descent time. The best way to do the comparison is to split it into two sections:
Power and Performance
Design and Build
Power and Performance
Firstly forget about power. Which has more power and which comes out on top of the theoretical brake power tests in the mags is completely irrelevant. All you need to know is that both brakes are easily capable of locking up both ends using one finger braking.
How they deliver that power is quite different though. Anyone going from Hope to Shimano like me will find the Shimanos a bit grabby with not a huge amount of feedback with which to judge the lock up point. Going the other way round I can imagine a Shimano user at first finding the Hopes at first underpowered and a bit dead. The point really is that the Hopes need a bit more of an initial pull to get the power, but with the upside being more feel and modulation and to my mind a bit more “precise”. Very similar to jumping into a racing car compared to a normal road car – the initial impression is “where are the brakes?” as you have to give the pedal quite a shove to get the initial bite but ultimately lots of power and control. I am sure that with a longer ride I would have started to get more used to the Shimano characteristics.
The reach and bite point adjustability of the Hopes is better than the Shimanos and I personally love the feel of the Hope levers. One negative of the Hopes is that for some reason they don’t work well if you like to run them with the levers almost to the bars, but I didn't try this configuration with the Shimanos so I can't compare them in this respect
Design and Build
I will state right up front that I love the engineered look of the Hope lever/reservoir units and callipers. Looks and added bling capability aside they are also very crash resistant, the levers can be easily bent back into shape if needed and Hope are legendary for spare parts and serviceability if needed. The floating rotors are also lovely in combination with colour matched Hope hubs. In comparison, the Shimano lever/reservoir units and callipers look merely functional, to my mid a bit ugly, and probably not as crash resistant, but of course these things have no impact on performance for 99.9% of the time. The Shimano rotors especially look pretty low rent.
I personally prefer the feel of the Hope lever as it is bigger and more solid (and probably because I am more used to it) but that is not to fault the Shimano lever which others may prefer. The Hope lever is much longer than the Shimano which could be a positive or negative from your point of view. One thing it does allow is for the reservoir to be mounted well inboard so there is enough room for both shifters and a Reverb remote mounted under the bar, outboard of the brake.
As for set up, I don't have any experience of bleeding the Shimanos, but the Hopes are dead easy just using a spanner and bleeding downwards. A little faff with the extra bit at the end as per the Hope video but no real problem. The Hope callipers are 4 pot compared to the Shimano 2 pot so are more of a fiddle to get properly set up and I ended up having 3 goes before they were right
For me the Hopes are clear absolute winners because of their feel in use, build quality, adjustability and looks. However I accept that others will prefer the feel of the Shimanos as this is subjective personal preference. That is not saying that the Shimanos are anything less than brilliant brakes, but all things being equal, in my opinion the Hopes are better. All things are not equal however, because the Tech Evo M4's are more than 50% more expensive than the XT's. In fact if you take my set up with braided hoses and big floating rotors, the M4's are probably around double the price so it is equally clear that the Shimano brakes are far and away the best value for money
So the good news is that we have the choice of two different brakes with very different styles and equally brilliant in their own way. Which is best is just down to personal preference and priorities.