2nd Look: SRAM Guide Brakes

SRAM Guide “R” and “RSC” Brakes

[Editor’s Note: SRAM released the Guide line of brakes in the middle of 2014 with a new design to address consistency issues with the previous Elixir model. Blister reviewer Noah Bodman reviewed the Guide brakes last fall, and Marshal Olson now offers his take after 1400 miles of use.

Marshal Olson reviews the SRAM guide RSC Brake, Blister Gear Review
SRAM Guide RSC Caliper & Lever
  • Caliper Design: 4-piston, dual diameter caliper
  • RSC Adjustment: Tool-free Reach Adjust, Contact Point Adjust, Banjo Adjust
  • Pad/Holder: Top-loading
  • Intended Use: TR/AM/FR

System: Open System

Usage to Date: RSC – 1000+ mi; R – 380+ mi

Blister’s Measured Weight: 375 grams

MSRP: $199 / brake

Adjustment Options

The SRAM Guide brakes come in 3 configurations:

“R” has reach adjust, “RS” adds a swinglink feature to increase the mechanical advantage of the lever early in its throw, and the most expensive “RSC” adds pad contact adjustment.

I tested the “R” version on my hardtail and “RSC” on the full suspension bike.

Braking Performance

Many folks, myself included, had issues with fade and irregularity in lever pull with the previous Elixir brakes. These issues can be attributed to the Elixir’s tapered internal design, and absence of a bladder to expand and contract as fluid heats up. A bladder in the master cylinder also mitigates the effects of air in the system, and makes the overall system a little less sensitive to imperfection in your bleed.

The new Guide lever restores the conventional bladder design (dubbed “PURE Bladder”) which was found in the original Avid Juicy brakes, as well as in most brake systems presently on the market. This design maintains a nice, crisp lever feel long term, not only when the brakes are fresh off a bleed – which was an issue I experienced with the Elixir.

I have well over 1000 miles on my Guide RSC brakeset, and I have yet to bleed them. They feel crisp, smooth, and powerful and I have not experienced any fade.

Marshal Olson reviews the SRAM guide RSC Brake, Blister Gear Review
Marshal Olson on the SRAM Guide RSC Brake.

Both the Guide R and RSC brakes have a modulation feel which I immediately felt at home with.

I pretty much never lock-up or skid the rear tire unless I intentionally grab a ton of brake to release the tire and box a corner. At the same time, the only blown corners while riding have been the result of rider mistakes, rather than overshooting and not slowing down fast enough.

Weight (and Price)

My overall desire this summer is to “downbike”  my ride. The RSC brakes are 49 & 53 grams-per-side lighter than the Shimano Saint brakeset I am pulling off the bike, and ~10g-per-side lighter than the Shimano XT, the benchmark for the category.

Furthermore, the Guide brakes are weight competitive with many of the topshelf brakes on the market (Magura MT7, Formula R0, Hope E4, etc), while also being 2/3 or 1/2 the price of these other options.

Saving 100g on the bike while saving money and without making a performance sacrifice has been great.


In Noah Bodman’s review of the Guide, he mentioned some issues with hand cramping. I haven’t experienced anything like that.

The levers easily adjusted for my XL-sized hands, and have felt very comfortable the entire test period. I run them in the middle of their adjustment range for the Reach Adjust, the Pad Contact all the way out (i.e. early), and have about a 1 centimeter gap between my grip and the brake lever for one finger braking.

Also, my shifter (SRAM) and dropper remote (KS or Thomson) fit without issue around the brake location, which is nice.

Brake Pads

Both brakesets I used came with organic compound pads. I swapped to metallic pads on the “RSC” equipped full-suspension bike, and have run it with 180mm rotors.

The “R” equipped hardtail utilizes 160mm rotors and organic pads. The organic pads have tended to be a bit quieter, especially after fast and rough descents with significant braking, but they have a less defined initial bite, and an overall less aggressive feel.

I personally prefer the metallic pads on both bikes, and will replace the organic pads with metallic on the hardtail once they are toast.

Of note, neither brake pad sets are ready to be replaced, but the organic pads show about the same amount of wear as the metallic pads at only 1/3 the mileage, and less abusive riding at that.

Bottom Line

I find it interesting that many gravity SRAM athletes are running the Guide brake lever matched to the Code rear caliper. The Code caliper has larger pistons and therefore more fluid displacement and clamping force. I see that as a great sign that the Guide lever is a marked improvement over the Elixir’s tapered master cylinder design, which is spec’d on the Code brakes.

Beyond that, my personal experience is very positive. I am stoked SRAM/Avid has finally done away with the Elixir design for trail/gravity use, the Guide bladder design is much more reliable. I really have nothing bad to say about the brakes, other than my personal preference for metallic pads over the stock organic pads. Other than that, I can’t recommend these enough. Their weight is more than competitive, and their price is compelling.


5 comments on “2nd Look: SRAM Guide Brakes”

  1. I’m surprised you mentioned that they’re competitive weight wise. This may just well be my next set of brakes.
    SOmehow here in the Philippines shimano and some other bike parts are just plain and simply cheap. we can get the brakeset for only $150, the r model and $160 – $170 for the XTs. among other things, the RSCs complete set cost around $280…

    wonder why that’s the case.

  2. These sound promising.

    Can you comment on the new Centerline rotors? Are they less likely to squeal/make turkey noises than older versions?

  3. Hey Marshal, thanks for the review. My new (enduro) bike comes with Guide Rs and I’m considering if it’s worth upgrading to the RS or RSCs. What do you think from your experience?
    Many thanks, Jon

  4. Hey do you notice a creaking sound when pulling on those levers? Not sure if its a SRAM thing but my old deore brakes did not make any noise compared to these Guide R levers.

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