If I’m riding fairly flat trails, I enjoy the TRP brakes and find that they shine in conditions with poor traction because of the modulation they offer. My finger sits nicely in the lever, and the brakes are silent in all the conditions that I’ve encountered. I’m running TRP’s stock, semi-metallic pad compound that they advertise as offering minimal noise and maximum stopping power. But while I agree about the lack of noise…
I’ve found that on descents I tend to drag these brakes because they don’t have very much power. My corner entry speed is significantly lower than with current Shimano or SRAM brakes. I’ve thought about sizing up from my current 180mm front rotor to a 200mm front rotor for these brakes, but that seems a bit absurd on a trail hardtail.
If TRP offered a grippier pad, I’d try it. Internet searches yield complaints that the TRP Quadiem brakes took a while to bed in, but offered increased in stopping power after some use. So I hoped that the Slates might gain some power with more riding. However, with 20 days on these brakes, I haven’t noticed much of an increase in stopping power since the first day.
All of this low-power-brake-dragging means that my time on these brakes as been essentially an extended test of their resistance to brake fade. I’ve found that the Slates aren’t quite as good as Shimano brakes with Ice Tech pads and rotors, but they only fade a little on long, fast descents. On the whole, the Slates hold up well and don’t fade significantly.
I bled the brakes about halfway through the test to see how the fluid was holding up. The bleed process was essentially identical to Shimano’s. (I was even able to thread the Shimano bleed tool into the TRP lever, which made my life easier.)
The brakes use mineral fluid so you don’t have to worry about stripping the paint off your frame if you spill any, but you can’t find it at your local auto parts store.
After 12 days of riding the fluid was still clear, but there were a few bubbles in there that came from the factory (I didn’t need to shorten the hose on either brake, so this was the first time I had opened them up). Lever feel was a bit firmer after the bleed, but stopping power didn’t change dramatically.
VS. Shimano Deore/SLX/XT/XTR Brakes
All of Shimano’s offerings are pretty similar in terms of braking performance, so I’m lumping them together. The TRP brakes have slightly better modulation than Shimano brakes. Their ergonomics are similar, but they allow you to move the lever much farther out from the bar. The dimpled lever on the TRPs feels like the one on older XTR Trail brakes or new XT M8000 brakes. However, the Shimano brakes crush the TRP brakes in terms of power.
Again, lever shape and ergonomics are pretty similar, but the SRAM and TRP brakes are more comparable in terms of reach adjustment. The Guide and Slate are on par for modulation and both are slightly better than the Shimano brakes. The Guides also provide significantly more stopping power than the TRP brakes.
VS. Older SRAM/AVID Elixir and XO Series Brakes
I prefer the lever feel and modulation of the TRP brakes. The TRP brakes also do not make funny noises like the SRAM offerings do. I’d take the Slate over these older SRAM options even though the Slate are a bit less powerful.
Magura Louise Brakes
The lever feel is significantly better on the TRPs, but both power and modulation are worse. I’d love to compare to the newer Magura MT brakes, but I don’t have any time on them yet.
Neither their performance nor their price allows for a compelling argument to buy the TRP Slate instead of current Shimano or SRAM brake offerings. If you live somewhere with long and/or fast descents, you will be disappointed in their stopping power. The Slate brakes do have a good fit and finish and limited brake fade, however, so I’m going to keep tabs on TRP to see if they continue to improve their brakes or introduce a grippier pad compound.
At the recommendation of TRP, I tried the Shimano Saint/Zee D02S Metal brake pads in the TRP Slate Brakes to see if they would provide a performance boots—specifically to see if they would improve the overall stopping power of the brakes.
The Shimano pads fit right into the TRP Slate calipers. I was easily able to slide them in from the back of the caliper without needing to remove the wheel. I give TRP an A+ for ease of pad replacement.
I then re-aligned the calipers and bedded in the pads with a few hard stops down a paved hill. Over the course of 10 stops, the braking power rapidly improved and surpassed the performance I had been seeing with TRP’s stock pads. But after another seven rides with the original brake pads and four rides with the new metal pads, the Slate’s stopping power was still less than a Shimano SLX brake, and the Shimano pads were ever so slightly noisier in the Slates than the stock TRP pads had been.
So I tinkered a bit more, and tried adjusting the lever reach to get the maximum leverage. I also tried resetting the caliper pistons and re-aligning the calipers to make certain the rotor was centered between the pads. There was no difference in performance after I made these adjustments.
It is quite possible that an expert mechanic could get more power out of these brakes than I could. But one of the greatest points of differentiation between older brakes and the current Shimano and SRAM offerings is the brake-to-brake consistency and ease of setup. I haven’t encountered a bad Shimano or SRAM brake in recent years, and I’ve been able to get great performance out of them without much effort. I haven’t been able to get the Slates to deliver that kind of consistent power.
But for anyone running the TRP Slate Brakes, I would definitely recommend replacing the stock pads with Shimano metal pads. The power improvement is subtle, but significant.