Shi­mano Saint BR-M820-B | $480/pair

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This ver­sion of the Saint brake was re­leased years ago. It might not be all that new, but it’s still one hell of a brake. We prob­a­bly could have tested the new XT 4-pis­ton against the Code. It turns out that power-wise, it would have been a more ap­ples-to-ap­ples comparison. But there are a cou­ple things about that: First, we started this test be­fore those new XTs came out, and sec­ond, the point of this thing was to test SRAM’s strong­est brake against Shi­mano’s strong­est brake. And the Saint is still Shi­mano’s most-strap­ping stopper.

On the fastest, long­est, most pun­ish­ing de­scents, there’s noth­ing that beats the con­trol and se­cu­rity of hav­ing a set of Saints on your bike. They de­liver an un­godly amount of power with an un­prece­dent­edly light touch. There’s no doubt that I can go much hot­ter into cor­ners and scrub more speed in less dis­tance with these brakes. On back-to-back runs, specif­i­cally try­ing to brake as late and as hard as pos­si­ble, I felt more com­fort­able lay­ing off the Saints for a touch longer. Even if that only amounts to a few feet, that could mean sec­onds off a race run. These things are ex­cel­lent at short­en­ing brak­ing zones. They’re per­fect for rac­ers who are try­ing to stay off the brakes as much as pos­si­ble, and then grab­bing fist­fuls be­fore each cor­ner.

And, giv­ing credit where it’s due, these Saints are a whole lot less grabby than they used to be. It’s much eas­ier to mod­u­late power with these, but they’re still pretty grabby com­pared to the Codes. When I was a big pile of flesh and metal ca­reen­ing down a moun­tain­side, the Saints had just the right amount of bite, but it was easy to grab too much brake when the trail evened out a bit—es­pe­cially while I was get­ting used to them. Each time I’d swap back to my Saint-equipped test bike af­ter be­ing on other bikes, it would take my fin­gers a whole ride to re-learn the soft touch they re­quire at lower speeds or shal­lower grades.

But, they’re con­sis­tent as all get-out. Un­like the in­con­sis­tent dead-band is­sues I’ve had with some XT and XTR stoppers over the past cou­ple years, I was con­fi­dent that the Saints would bite at the ex­act same spot in the stroke each time I pulled them— some­thing that’s es­pe­cially crit­i­cal when try­ing to push brak­ing zones.

I love how Shi­mano’s reach ad­just­ment is in­fi­nite in­stead of hav­ing notches like SRAM’s brakes. But when­ever I’m run­ning Shi­mano brakes, I can never seem to get ev­ery­thing on the bar sit­u­ated just how I want. They’re es­pe­cially in­com­pat­i­ble with SRAM shifters—which I sup­pose makes sense con­sid­er­ing they’re com­peti­tors. Still, if I could al­ways get my brake levers, shifter and drop­per levers per­fectly po­si­tioned every time, like I can with SRAM brakes, I’d be that much more in love with them.

There’s an­other thing about the Saints that both­ers me, and it’s a gripe of mine with pretty much all cur­rent Shi­mano brakes: Those stupid finned pads are con­stantly rat­tling in the calipers. SRAM brakes are more prone to mak­ing noise while brak­ing, but at least they don’t con­stantly have me won­der­ing if there’s a bolt com­ing loose on my bike. For­tu­nately, Shi­mano still makes rat­tle-free non-finned pads that work in these brakes.

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