Avid Elixir 9 Brakes
Avid’s Elixir brakes are a popular stopper on many new bikes, gracing everything from basic models with the OEM-only Elixir 1 up to high-end builds with Elixir 9s (or even the related XX units). Avid’s previous Elixir brakes faced some consistency issues; get a good set and you’ll hear riders waxing lyrical about low weight, high power and great lever ergonomics, but get a bad set and the conversation quickly becomes one of poor bleed consistency, variable feel, stuck pistons and the infamous ‘turkey gobble’. Avid’s brief for the 2012 Elixir range was to keep all the things riders loved about the current brakes but sort out the reliability and consistency issues. With that in mind we’ve had a set of Elixir 9s on test for the last six-months, and we’ve also spoken to a few trustworthy bike shop mechanics, to see just how well they’ve fulfilled their mission. The 9s weigh in at 319g per end with 160mm rotors (sans hardware), which is substantially lighter than most of the competition at the $240 asking price.
Early Avid brakes were difficult to set up drag free, but over the years they’ve been getting progressively better, and we’re happy to report that our Elixir 9s were about as easy as you can get. We simply mounted them with the calliper bolts a little loose, squeezed and held the brake lever, tightened the bolts, and job done; throughout the test they not required readjustment. Although our test brakes didn’t require servicing, our sources reported that the Elixirs are still slightly more prone to developing sticking pistons than some other brands if they’re not kept clean, so if you ride a lot in the mud make sure you at least hose your bike afterwards. Speaking of wet weather, the Elixir 9s seem to maintain their performance in the wet significantly better than, for example, the latest Shimano brakes; although they squeal a fair bit when wet, the overall power is almost the same as in the dry.
Avid brakes have been notorious in the past for squealing, screeching, and gobbling like a terrified turkey. In their latest incarnation these problems have been largely resolved. Whether it’s down to the new drilled (rather than slotted) rotors, or changes to the pad compounds, or a combination of both, we can’t say, but in the dry they were pretty much noise-free, and at no stage did thanksgiving dinner make a trailside appearance. We have heard of specific bike and rotor size combinations setting up resonant vibration within the frame, but these are very isolated cases. The new rotors are amongst the lightest stainless units on the market, and thankfully Avid have also decided to join the rest of the braking world by offering rotors in 160/180/200mm sizes instead of their previous 160/185/203mm.
Moving on to the lever end of the Elixir 9s and we find the same outstanding lever shape that Avid users love. The blade pivot is still close to the handlebar giving a very consistent curvature as you squeeze the lever, unlike when the pivot is further away where full lever travel can make it feel like your finger is sliding off the end of the blade. Also consistent is the power delivery; the Elixir 9s have fantastic modulation, so it’s very easy to scrub exactly the right amount of speed, no more and no less. There’s ample power on tap for anything but full on downhill racing, and all at the tip of just one finger.
The lever perch on the Elixir range is a newer design and we’re not really fans of it. The band that wraps around the handlebar is quite wide taking up significant real estate on the bar, and the stub it bolts to is pushed unevenly into the bar making it rather unfriendly to carbon in particular. Truth be told, we preferred the older, symmetrical two bolt clamp design.
The tool free reach adjuster is easy to use and the pad contact adjuster no longer requires three hands to operate (one will now suffice). What’s more, this adjustment actually makes a significant difference to the feel at the lever, although even at its shortest setting we found there was quite a lot of dead-stroke—it’s probably not the brake of choice if you like them to bite within a few millimetres of touching the lever.
Bleeding the Elixirs still requires a dedicated and moderately expensive Avid bleed kit, and changes to the bleed screw location (due to internal modifications of the Taperbore master cylinder) make it much harder to have the lever’s bleed port facing directly up when bleeding. However, these same internal changes have made the new Elixirs easier to get a consistent bleed with; something that was notoriously difficult with earlier versions. They’re still not the easiest on the market in this regard, but they’re much better than they were, and our particular test brakes didn’t need re-bleeding during the test.
Overall we think the new Elixirs are a big improvement on the previous version. They’re light, have great modulation, lever feel and power—even in the wet. They seem generally quiet and are much easier to service and maintain. The newer clamp isn’t the best, and there’s a little too much dead-stroke for some riders’ setup preference, but if those issues aren’t important for you, they’re a great set of brakes that we’d be happy to use any day on any bike.
Monza Imports (03) 8327 8080 / www.sram.com