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After I just got off the Shimano XTR Race brakes with about 600 miles on them, I didn’t think I could get better, lighter, and more consistent brakes for my XC bike. Boy was I wrong.
I have about 300 miles on the Magura MT8 SL brakes and I am thoroughly impressed and can say the Magura MT8 SL brakes are an improvement in every way from performance, weight, setup, bleeding, and customer service.
Magura MT8 SL, SL might stand for “Super Light” but not when it comes to braking power. I am very impressed with the stopping power of my little MT8s with their 160mm rotors. These are on an XC bike, so we aren’t talking massive downhill descents. But as many of you know, XC courses are getting increasingly more technical, so the brakes have to live up to more challenging and aggressive downs. These brakes held all the terrain any of my races have thrown at them. I had a 180mm on the front, but switched it to 160mm (b/c grams) and haven’t looked back, still plenty of power on 160mm.
With my XTR I felt fade sooner, even with all their fancy Ice-Tech Rotors, Finned pads, etc I was constantly having to re-adjust the lever to find the sweet spot for cold vs warm brakes.
One thing that makes Magura handle the heat better than Shimano is the rotors are 2mm thick (still some of the lightest at 96g on the market) opposed to 1.8mm thick like all other rotors, and having a thicker rotor means it takes more to get hot, and are stiffer to handle more forces.
Round 1: Magura
Round 2: Magura, but not noticeable, XTRs are still very light!
This is where I had the most difficulty with my XTRs. I constantly felt like my lever was in a different place each time I rode, so I was constantly adjusting the lever placement. To adjust the levers you need a tiny M2 and the bolt is tucked deep inside the lever (so impossible to adjust on the trail with a multitool) and each time I adjusted I just prayed I wouldn’t strip the tiny bolt. Another issue was both of my XTR’s levers had a terrible creak under hard braking and sounded like they were under too much stress, not the most confident inspiring noise to hear. On the other hand, setting up my cockpit and getting the Magura MT8 in the most intuitive place was very easy. The MT8s were a lot more straight forward. The lever reach adjustment screw is right in front of the lever so easy access with any multitool. The lever itself is a nice sturdy carbon fiber lever with improved 1-finger ergonomics, it feels nearly as stiff as the aluminum HC lever I have on my MT7 brakes.
Round 3: MT8. MT8’s Adjustability, ergonomics, and lever feel are good improvements over XTR.
One reason I really liked Shimano was their use of Mineral Oil, mostly b/c of its near-infinite shelf-life and you don’t have to worry about the chemicals of DOT fluid. So both win there.
But for some reason, I was never able to get a good bleed from my XTR brakes and needed a professional mechanic to finish the job. Whereas the Maguras were much easier for me to bleed and top off after sitting for the offseason.
I know this isn’t typical and many people report Maguras are tricky to bleed, and Shimano as easy; but the opposite was true for me. So YMMV.
Round 4: Tie, personally for me, Magura's are easier.
When my XTR brakes started to have oil flow issues, I reached out to Shimano and their response was basically, “We have never heard of the issue, please see local dealer for help.” This response is fine, I get it, but I would have liked some more feedback on things I can test, or troubleshoot before going to a bike shop.
On the other hand, Magura has next-level customer service. I have had 2 issues with my brakes (different models) and they reply quickly with either a replacement part being sent or ideas on how to address the issue. On my last experience, they went as far as not only sending me the replacement part but also including a new rotor and brake pads. Compared to other bicycle manufacturers customer service, where you feel like you have to sell your soul to get them to listen to you, Magura is very human and eager to take care of you.
Round 5: Magura, Shimano has okay customer service, but my experience with Magura’s service is on another level.
While the XTR Race brakes are considered industry standard for light-weight consistent brakes, while they are great brakes, and if they come on your bike, I wouldn’t change them. But if you are looking to upgrade the brakes on your XC bike, check out Magura MT8, or MT8 SL. The Magura MT8 is on another level and leave Shimano in the brake dust, in every way.
Give Magura a try, you might wonder like I do, why more people don’t ride them on their bikes. Two very economic and powerful brakes worth considering are the MT4 two-piston at $110, or MT5 four pistons at $125.