Friday, June 26, 2009

Avid Elixir CR Review - aka Ode to the Juicy 7

On my big bike, I was using a set of first year production Juicy 7’s for the past several seasons. They were great brakes, but were feeling their age compared to the newer Juicy 7’s on my hardtail. My friend really needed some brakes, so I sold him the old Juicy 7’s and decided on a set of Avid Elixir’s for the big bike, after hearing good things. Shortly thereafter, I needed the Juicy 7’s for another project bike and decided to standardize the Elixir’s to my hardtail. So, that’s how I ended up with Avid Elixir CR’s on both of my bikes.


Selection and First Impressions

First up, I’m not super impressed with how the Elixir line of brakes is set up. You have the cheaper model with no contact adjust and an aluminum lever (Elixir R), and you have the CR with a carbon lever and the reach adjust. I think there’s some other OEM options, but these are what most of us have to choose from. I’ve never, ever craved a carbon lever, but I felt like contact adjust is a must. To me, contact adjust is what made the Juicy 7’s such a nice brake. You could just dial them in to exactly where you wanted them. Any new brake going on to my bike had to have this feature. So I bought the CR’s. For a pretty hefty premium over the base model. And they’ve already come up with an “improved” version with a magnesium lever and a shorter contact adjust barrel. It’s a real kick-in-the-balls to buy the newest of the new and have that usurped within the first month of ownership.

The brakes arrived and, I have no pictures, but the packaging was beautiful. The thing I love about Avid is that everything comes standard. Two different sets of adapters for the front, hose barbs and crush washers for setting the line size. The only thing missing is a small bottle of DOT 5 for brake bleeding.

The brakes themselves look pretty bad ass. The black is nice and the red ano goes well with other X-9 offerings. The new G-3 rotors look good. The calipers look beefy and the new pad spacer highlights a great feature of the Elixirs – top loading brake pads. This just makes so much sense. You can see how much pad you have left. You don’t have to squeeze your fingers into a ridiculous nook to grab the old pads. I haven’t swapped them out yet, but when I do…oh boy. As well, the inboard location of the banjo is nice, as it keeps the lines inboard and out of the way.

The levers I’m not totally sold on. I like that the reservoir is essentially built into the lever, but the whole thing looks a bit larger than it needs to be. I won’t go into the internals of it, as others have already done that and I don’t think it really matters to most of us, as long as they work well.

Installation, Bleeding and Set-up

The brakes installed…well, just like any other disc brake system. Once again though, all the Avid hardware is really nice. Deep torx heads on the rotor bolts. Nice hardware and adapters. It makes me happy as a mechanic to put this sort of stuff on my bikes.

Bleeding is just as simple as it has been in the past. Note that Avid has slightly changed the order of things though. Bleed the line from the caliper…squeeze the lever and bleed the caliper…then bleed the lever. Not a huge change from the old (caliper, then line, then lever) and I’m not sure why they’ve swapped this around. It’s all just as easy on the Elixirs as on the Juicy 7’s. Shortening hoses is the same process as well.

Once the brakes are on, setting them up isn’t without it’s nitpicks. First off, the reach adjust is incredibly difficult to turn. It’s probably easier to use the knob than it is to fish around in the back with a tiny allen wrench, but still, it’s tough to turn and this seems like something that could be fixed. I leave mine all the way out, so it’s not really a problem for me.

Next, the contact adjust is a nice feature and the Elixir version (in line with the brake line) is touted as an improvement, but I’ll take the spinny Juicy 7 knob any day of the week. Easier to visualize, easier to turn and no need to spin your hose around as you make an improvement.

Riding Impressions

Everything that I’ve read about the Elixir’s goes like this:

-More power than a Juicy 7

-Less power than a Code

-Great modulation

I can honestly say that I don’t really feel much of a power difference between this and a Juicy 7. If Avid says it’s there, it’s probably there. My hands still feel tired at the bottom of trails that they used to feel tired on. I don’t really feel like I can stop faster on a sniper drop line. This isn’t a bad thing, at all. I’m just saying that if you’re expecting a serious upgrade from your Juicy 7’s, don’t be surprised if you can’t feel it.

Now, the bad. Well, first up, these brakes really like to be warmed up. If you’re dropping into a trail on a wet day, oh my god…mine seem to howl like crazy for the first 15-20 seconds or so. Maybe this is to do with some sort of strange combination of my set-up…but I’ve gotten really loud noises out of both of these brakes and it seems to be attributed to being wet and cold.

Next, with brake feel…as I said above, power and modulation are both great. However, I just don’t like the feel at the lever of these brakes. Scratch that. I prefer the feel of the Juicy 7’s (with stock aluminum lever blades). I’m primarily blaming the carbon levers and I’m sure that with a set of straitlines (when they develop an Elixir lever) or even the standard aluminum levers, it would feel better. But that kind of sucks. You’re forcing people to pay a premium to buy a carbon lever if they want the contact adjust. It makes it difficult to justify spending even more money to upgrade the levers. When I hop back on a bike with Juicy 7’s, the lever just feels right. Solid. Firm. Precise. The Elixir CR is just not as nice.

Next up, the front brake on my hardtail is giving me fits. This brake is by no means seeing the kind of abuse as the brake on my big bike. It’s probably overkill on a hardtail. My problem is that I can never seem to get this brake on center. Once I do get it on center, it seems to be rubbing by the end of the ride. At first, I attributed this to air in the lines. I didn’t touch this brake out of the box, I just bolted it on and rode. After a week or two it was obvious that the brake came to me with air in the lines. If the bike got flipped upside down, it would be mushy for a few minutes and then firm up. As well, as mentioned above, it was impossible to center and would always be dragging at the bottom of a downhill (due to the air expanding, I assume). I bled the line and the problem with turning the bike upside down remains. But it still won’t remain on center. Somehow. The sucker is tight. Is this due to the really, really long bolts on a 7” adapter? I had the same set-up on my Juicy’s and it never moved. Or is it something else? I can’t figure it out and it’s really pissing me off. No problem on the other three brakes, but this one is giving me fits.


Conclusion

Anyhow. My verdict. Nice brakes, but if you can get Juicy 7’s for a better price (or already have them), then stick with those.

4 comments:

Richard said...

I have a set of these. They are great when they work, but the rear goes soft on me with out warning and that blows! I think they came with air in the lines and I'm calling Avid to bitch big time. They should send me a free bleed kit.

Dave said...

Ya. I hear you. I bled the rear when I put it on the bike, but I didn't touch the front. I had to bleed it about a month in. That fixed it, but they still seem to go wonky for a few minutes whenever you turn the bike upside down.

Thomas John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas John said...

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