As with just about every industry, there are always two main brands that people pledge their allegiance to...Chevy trucks vs. Ford trucks. iOS vs. Android. In the bicycle world, it’s SRAM vs. Shimano, ESPECIALLY when it comes to brakes, people will argue for days why one is better than the other. This post isn’t about how one brand is better, but more of a side by side comparison between SRAM and Shimano brakes. Both brands perform very well; each just has characteristics that might appeal to one rider over another. Let’s dive in!
The SRAM brake line-up includes the Guide Series (RE, R, RS, RSC, and Ultimate), the Level series (Level, Level T, TL, TLM, and Ultimate) and the Code series (R, RSC). SRAM has directed the Guide Series brakes as their All-Mountain/Enduro brake line up and the Level series is directed more towards the XC/Trail riders. With the Guide series having a four-piston caliper (even in the RE model), that leaves you with great stopping power for an unbeatable price! The Level brakes have a two-piston caliper but that's all that is really necessary for XC/Trail riding since you won’t be jamming down too many steep descents. The Code series is geared towards the super aggressive Enduro/DH rider and uses a larger PiggyBack reservoir and 4 bigger diameter pistons which will provide that reliable and consistent feel that SRAM brakes are known for.
SRAM brakes are known for having great modulation. Basically what this means is that you will have more control over your braking force before they lock up. Brakes with less modulation will lock up much quicker. Some people who have ridden SRAM brakes years back might have some preconceptions about them, but the SRAM Guide series is the best line-up of brakes they have produced and are lightyears ahead of previous models. The stopping power of the SRAM brakes combined with the superior modulation will give you ultimate control over your bike. Note: SRAM brakes are run by DOT 5.1 fluid.
The Shimano brake lineup itself has its similarities to SRAM in that they offer a number of different price points for the brake line-up. The Shimano Deore and SLX are their lower level and less expensive 2-piston brakes. Then you have the XT and XTR levels that are the more expensive, higher level brakes. The XTR brakes, when compared with the XT brakes, have finer machining in some areas and are lighter due to use of carbon and titanium pieces. The XT and XTR brakes were designed for the XC/Trail/Enduro rider looking for the best and most consistent braking that Shimano has to offer. Then you have the Zee and the Saint brakes. Shimano designed the Zee brakes as their budget gravity brakes whereas the Saint line is their top of the line gravity brake.
One thing riders notice right away when riding Shimano brakes is how snappy they are; they have a ton of bite! Some people really like a hard bite and having the ability to lock up the wheels, but others prefer the smoother modulation of SRAM brakes. One thing is for sure when you buy Shimano brakes: you will have the ULTIMATE stopping power on a CONSISTENT basis. Note: Shimano brakes run the Shimano Hydraulic Mineral Oil.
Though these brakes have their differences, make sure you try them both if you get the chance. One brand isn't better than the other; they more or less just have a different feel to them. We also did a video review and compared the SRAM Guide RSC brakes vs the Shimano XT brakes. Enough reading, go ride your bike!