Shimano Saint BR-M820-B | $480/pair
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.