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Shimano R785 electric/hydraulic road system

Ben Delaney and Warren Rossiter
October 29, 2013, 14:35,
October 31, 2013, 16:49
Shimano's R785 lever combines electronic shifting and hydraulic braking into one svelte package

Shimano's R785 lever combines electronic shifting and hydraulic braking into one svelte package

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Cyclingnews Verdict:

4.5 out of 5

"Shimano's hydraulic road system trumps SRAM's"

Non-series hydraulic system a precursor to a Dura-Ace build

This article originally published on BikeRadar

In June, BikeRadar first broke down the details on Shimano's new electric/hydraulic levers that can be paired with hydraulic brakes and a Di2 drivetrain.

At Interbike's Outdoor Demo, we had the chance to ride the system with Ultegra Di2 and were pleasantly surprised. The levers feel very similar to standard Di2 levers in ergonomics and braking performance — but with less hand force required. More recently, we've been able to spend a full three days riding them at Shimano's press camp in Sicily.

Shimano has just confirmed that the UK pricing for the R785 brake system will be £499.99. We are awaiting details on US pricing. At first blush, we prefer this hydraulic road system to SRAM's.

In detail

There's still a question of whether or not hydraulic brakes are the way forward, but the main issue that the naysayers have is that there isn't any real ‘need' for more powerful braking. Shimano understand this, so the point of these new brakes isn't improved power but better feel and consistency, regardless of conditions.

Shimano's hydraulic STI unit is significantly bigger than the standard Di2 and mechanical levers. It seems early rumours that the hydraulic hoods would be the same size were a little optimistic.

Comparisons between R785 and SRAM's hydraulic road system are inevitable, and there are a few notable differences between Shimano's hydraulic road system and SRAM's. The most obvious is the lever shape; using electric shifting frees up considerable real estate for the hydraulic internals for Shimano, while SRAM stacks its reservoir on top of a mechanical design, meaning the lever is a little bigger.

Another difference is the strategy and presentation. SRAM launched hydraulic road brakes at the top of its food chain with Red 22 (and also the lower, non-series S-700), while Shimano has begun with only a non-series R785 lever that is neither the top-level Dura-Ace or the second-tier Ultegra. Why? Shimano spokesman David Lawrence said that the company isn't yet satisfied with the product, and feels that improvements in performance, weight and finish must be made before it can be branded Dura-Ace.

In fact, this entire system is still a work in progress – the hubs and calipers are XT mountain models, and the rotors are 160mm, to be reduced to 140mm in the full production versions. Shimano has entered other categories in similar fashion before. Its first compact crank was the R700 – not an Ultegra or a Dura-Ace. And its first hydraulic mountain bike brake was an XT – not the top-of-the-line XTR.

Ride and handling

We got to experience these brakes first hand over the course of three days. The first day included a 17km descent, and our initial impressions were very similar to our first thoughts on SRAM's Red brakes. The braking was consistent, there was plenty of feel, but they did have a tendency to screech noisily once we'd built up a bit of rotor heat.

Video: Shimano BR-R785 hydraulic brake testing, day one. Note: the noise had quietened down considerably by day three.

But by the final day the front disc (which you use more) had become almost silent, although the rear still gave a bit of noisy feedback. We don't doubt that a few more rides, especially in more challenging conditions (Sicily was consistently warm and dry) this running-in time would be reduced somewhat.

Our findings from testing Red certainly bear out with Shimano too. It's not about power – it's about increased control. The key thing to note is that the disc brake doesn't offer too much power – it offers about the same as the new (and frankly brilliant) Shimano Dual Pivot design (found on the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra). What matters is how you can feed it in.

Getting just enough brake force is an effortless experience; a single finger is all it takes. We took on the same descent on rim brakes and could feel the effort through our hands at the bottom with the standard brakes, but with discs we had no such issues with pumped up forearms. If anything, we'd say that the disc brakes are actually harder to lock up.

The other fear with disc brakes is overheating. Pushing a disc to its limits and boiling the fluid will mean a big loss of power with potentially dire consequences. Like SRAM, Shimano has certainly done its homework. SRAM tested on some of Europe's toughest descents, and Shimano seems to have been sharing the same roads.

Test riders suited up with diving weights and full body armour to raise the rider weight to 130kg made sure the brakes could handle the extremes. They even tried runs where they dragged the brakes all the way down Mount Elba, maintaining a speed of 15mph for 10km, just to try to cook the brakes. The testing only finished in August this year, that's why Shimano were reluctant to give us any weights for the system – even at the official launch we were still riding a combination of production and prototype – it's Shimano's policy not to release weight details until after the first full-production run.

Shimano has combatted heat issues with finned pads that it's appropriated from the mountain side of the company (the pads are packaged with mountain bike groupset logos too, so they are essentially the same), as well as the Ice-Tech Freeza rotors. The rotors have a steel outer on both faces, sandwiched between an alloy. This is because the alloy absorbs heat faster the steel, drawing away heat from the surface to stop it building up too quickly. Shimano claims that this sandwich design reduces heat by 150ºC.

One mildly irritating point is the tinny rattle caused by the lever head vibrating against the body of the hood when riding over rough surfaces with your hands on the tops. When riding on the hoods, your hands absorb the vibration and eliminate the problem. But unweighting the hoods, when road conditions are choppy, results in noticeable noise. The reason for this is that hydraulic road levers (both Shimano and SRAM) by design lack the cable tension inherent in mechanical systems, so there is nothing holding them tautly in place.

In all, our first impressions of Shimano's discs are good, if not great. The downside is that they are Di2 only, which means it'd be a fairly big investment to get discs now. SRAM may have an advantage here with its non-series 10-speed option sitting alongside Red.

We couldn't say which system is better without some straight back-to-back testing. Thankfully that shouldn't be far off – we already have Red in the office ready to be built onto Decade's classy titanium Tripster ATR, and Shimano will be shipping our test groupset very soon. Once we've built that one too, then we'll get some direct comparisons between the two (and standard brakes).

Pro opinion

Road racer Andy Schleck, guest of honour at Shimano's press camp, had some positive things to say regarding the disc vs rim debate.

Plenty of people have claimed that pros don't need or want them. But Andy had a different take: "If you're descending in the wet, especially on lightweight carbon rims then there is often water on the rim braking surface. That means you need to brake early, to give time to clear that water. In turn, that often means you are dragging the brake into corners with no guarantee of when braking is going to happen.

"On a long descent in hot conditions, they way a brake feels at the top is different to how it feels at the bottom once the rim has become hot. Mostly this results in a ‘grabby', sudden brake feel."

Braking feel and adjustability

When braking on the road, the Shimano R785 levers and hydraulic feel similar to Dura-Ace mechanical calipers in terms of the ratio of lever pulled to brake force applied at the wheel. With SRAM's Red 22 Hydro-R system, the levers have to be pulled noticeably more for the same amount of braking. In both cases, the finger force required is less than a mechanical system.

Whether using the brakes to shave off a little speed or to pull up quickly for an abrupt stop, the system engages quickly and predictably, with plenty of throw left at the lever.

The levers can be adjust for reach (how far the lever sits in neutral position from the handlebar) and what Shimano calls free stroke (the point in the pull of the lever at which the brakes begin to engage). Both adjustments are made with screwdrivers underneath the hood.

The brakes use Shimano's mineral oil, and servicing them is identical in both process and tooling to the company's mountain bike brakes.

Where this will pop up

Are disc brakes the future of road bikes? It's looking that way

Are disc brakes the future of road bikes? It's looking that way

As the R785 system is becoming available later this year, cyclo-cross bikes will be the first to arrive with the product as original equipment. Then road bikes will begin trickling out with Ultegra Di2 and perhaps Dura-Ace Di2 and hydraulic brakes. Its potential adoption for sales as a standalone group, if it comes, will be months, if not years, away.

So are discs the future? On this and SRAM's evidence we'd suggest they are. Yes, a hydraulic road brake system is heavier than a mechanical rim caliper system. Lawrence claims Shimano's system adds roughly 300g — not including additional potential weight on the frame and the fork. And for the pros, a lot of issues need to be sorted. For the UCI there's the issue of parity across the board – it'd be dangerous for half the peloton to have the massive advantage these brakes offer.

The other issue is standardisation of equipment for neutral service. As mentioned before, our bikes ran 160mm rotors, but Shimano recommend 140s. The problem is that there aren't that many bikes with post-mount fittings to take the reduced size. Should the road follow mountain and go through-axle? Brands such as Storck, Focus and Giant, with their new CX bike, seem to think so.

With Shimano's rim brakes already quite functional, many riders and even many shop owners are asking what the point is. Shimano, as with SRAM, points to 'consistent braking across all conditions,' and 'better modulation and more power for less finger input.'

It's worth remembering how long it took mountain bike brakes to evolve to their current high-performance state. They've had more than a decade of development – for the road we reckon it'll be three to five years before we see what disc brakes are capable of. Road bikes have the advantage of the mountain bike designers doing most of the groundwork – now it's a question of adaptation and evolution.

For most of us, the positives will outweigh the negatives. Better, more consistent braking is going to make you faster and safer, and how can that be a bad thing? Ultimately you, the riders, will dictate whether this system truly takes off or if it remains a novelty.

Pros: Great ergonomics – identical with Di2 levers; reach and stroke adjustments; brake lever action feels like mechanical – but stronger
Cons: Tinny, rattling sound when riding with hands on tops (without cables, the lever head has nothing to pull it snug against the hood body); lack of standard Shimano tiered branding (it's not Dura-Ace, it's not Ultegra, so what is it?); dull finish
BikeRadar verdict: 4 ½ stars
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Crydda More than 1 year ago
This is all getting a bit over the top and rather daft. Seems to me like these are just gimmicks; trying to create a market, that isn't really required.
roadcrossmtb More than 1 year ago
Try riding it. It's better. Way better. Braking is more consistent, predictable, and reliable, especially on carbon rims and especially in the rain. I have it on all my cross bikes and I will never go back to rim brakes. No, it is not required, but man is an enormous performance enhancement to any bike. Just ask your mountain bike.
QuienEsMasMacho More than 1 year ago
Exactly, on your cross bike vs. a 50-yr old antiquated cantilever brakes that never worked well in the first place, it's way better. On an MTB, where weight is secondary to traction, and you can use 7-8" rotors, it's great. On the road, it only makes sense downhill, in the rain, and with carbon rims. You don't need deep section carbon rims on mountain descents. Problem solved.
Thomas Leveille More than 1 year ago
Actually rim brakes just barely work in the rain, even with good alu rims. The difference with disc brakes is shocking. We just get used to crappy braking in the rain but being used to the worse is not an excuse to seek for better alternatives.
Thomas Leveille More than 1 year ago
should have been : "being used to the worse is not an excuse to avoid seeking for better alternatives"
heartofthesouth More than 1 year ago
I have had a Volagi, with disc brakes for two years, I am a distance guy, 67 years old. I love the brakes, less stress on the hands for long descents, no worries about a hot rim and they work in the rain. Not being a pro, wanting brakes that work, couldn't ask for more!
Dennis Bean-Larson More than 1 year ago
Crydda: they said that when 8 speed came along, and clipless pedals, and padded shorts too.
QuienEsMasMacho More than 1 year ago
Just 10 years ago, you could have the bike that won the Tour De France for $3-4k. That bike now costs $10-13k. 8-speed & clipless did not add 330% to the cost of a bike. This is about cost/benefit - not to mention that small-rotor-disk systems create substantial new problems on the road precisely under the conditions they purport to counter (long, heavy downhill use - see below).
Oxygen Vector More than 1 year ago
Nonsense Quien. For $3-$4k today you can get a bike capable of winning the Tour. And its a lot, lot better than the stuff of 10 years ago. Try the Kestrel RT1000 SL $3500 on Bikes Direct.
Thomas Leveille More than 1 year ago
you say :This is about cost/benefit - not to mention that small-rotor-disk systems create substantial new problems on the road precisely under the conditions they purport to counter (long, heavy downhill use - see below). Which problems are you talking about ? I've bombed swiss alpine descents for weeks this summer with my hydro TRP Hylex brakes without any issue.
QuienEsMasMacho More than 1 year ago
+1 w/ Crydda. This is a solution in search of a problem that 99.9% of cyclists do not have. If you are not earning a living racing, but still chose to do a ride w/ 5-10 mile technical descents in the rain, there is a FAR simpler solution: USE ALUMINUM RIMS. I still own a 20 year-old MTB w/ XTR V-Brakes, aluminum rims & a ceramic braking track, and they can still match or beat the braking power (not to mention weight!) of any XC disk brake w/ rotors under 160mm, wet or dry. To sum it up, here is the industry's hydraulic proposition to road riders: Go out and buy a new frame w/ disk mounts: $3000 Buy new carbon-rimmed disk wheels, so you can claim some sort of "benefit": $2500 Now pay us a premium for a brake system that adds 300g, but zero braking power: $800 Don't have a Di2 group to recycle? We're "upgrading", so Dura Ace it is, another: $2000 Awesome, I'm just over $8000 in, and still don't have a saddle, post, stem, bars, tape, tires, cages or tubes. Whatever, for those who get off on lighting cigars w/ greenbacks, then I'm sure this sounds like a fabulous proposition. Me? I've charged the biggest alpine descents in Europe & N.America on aluminum rims, and never had a single braking issue, wet or dry. I presently own a half-dozen Strava KOMs on long, technical descents here in the Sierras, and I have those because I DON'T ride my brakes. Want to be "faster & safer"? Use your brain, avoid carbon rims, and practice your cornering technique. Total cost: $0
roadcrossmtb More than 1 year ago
I own an old hardtail with XTR Vs and ceramic rims too. They are better than straight up aluminum rims, but nowhere close to my XTR disc brakes. Nowhere. Your KOMs would be better with disc brakes, if that's what you're into. I just like to ride cool stuff that works. Discs work better, whether you think you need them or not.
barn yard More than 1 year ago
you need a LOT more braking power mountain biking than you ever will on a road bike. then we can get into the whole traction/contact patch side of things. disc brakes revolutionized MTBing. they will do no such thing for road riding, people still won't be too keen to ride in the rain :)
lightclimber More than 1 year ago
I don't know why you're getting downvoted, roadcrossmtb... It's not possible to have V-brakes + ceramic rims brake as well as the latest XT/XTR discs. I love riding my old school 90's bikes, but let's not kid ourselves. The modern MTB disc brake technology is light years ahead of any top of the line CNC'd V / XTR-V / Magura Raceline +ceramic rim, etc from those days. Maybe Quien needs a lesson in riding fast. Here it is bro: I'll take your Sierra mtn. DH KOMs by riding faster into the turn, with precise strong and late braking that you can only dream of with your V-brakes.
Thomas Leveille More than 1 year ago
nonsense. Disc brake proposition will go down to the entry levels. There are already a lot of sub 1000€ entry level aluminum CX bikes with disc brakes. I would say the price difference with a comparable bike with cantilevers is around 150-200€. Here is my current setup : carbon frame with disc tabs : around 700€ carbon rims + lightweight QR MTB hubs + CNspoke aero 424 : around 500€ Standard road group with bar ends + TRP brakes : If you recycle, less than 500€, brand new around 800-1000€ depending if you go 105 or ultegra level. Chasing KOMs in descents on public roads is fundamentally stupid and careless. And it doesn't prove anything : I have more use of my brakes on city streets than alpine descents.
stringcatt More than 1 year ago
So what. After the few switchbacks on the Whitney Portal, Onion Valley or Glacier Lodge who needs brakes for the remaining 10 to 12 miles of straight, 8% road. Lucky you, BTW.
mhuntergt13 More than 1 year ago
I think this will end up being way bigger than electric shifting. Disk brakes open up so much flexibility in rim design, especially with carbon. It's advantage in bad weather will be biggest feature. Imagine having aero carbon wheels that brake better than the best aluminum rims out there. Pros will realize the benefit in conserving energy on sketchy descents. No more wondering if your brakes are going to work. Your average Joe will appreciate the comfort and reliability. In addition, no wore having your wheelset's brake track wear out. If you ride in horrible conditions with grit and destroy your brake track, you just replace the rotor and pads as opposed to the whole wheelset. It will obviously take time like everything else to trickle down to a reasonable price and a standard, practical and reliable design but I would bet any competitive rider will be riding these in 5-10 years. These are only a few of the benefits.
pub_cap_scott More than 1 year ago
Discs are already taking over the cross scene. So worst case scenario, we will have cyclocross specific group sets. The derailleurs for the most part can be the same, unless they want to incorporate a tension system like some mountain rears to help control the chain when going over rough surfaces. Front's could have top and bottom pull set ups, and then the cross specific compact crank with smaller chainrings. Yes, this is getting extreme, and they don't have to be this specialized, but it is a market where discs will thrive.
brucegolla More than 1 year ago
None of the Euro cyclocross pro's use discs.
boojum1 More than 1 year ago
Bruce, check the bike of Lars van der Haar, current World Cup Leader.
brucegolla More than 1 year ago
Ok I see it, most of them don't then. I like dics but it just seemed like pro cyclocrossers are not using them as much as I thought they would. I wonder why?
barn yard More than 1 year ago
you like dics?
brucegolla More than 1 year ago
It's funny though, they have pics of his black Giant with discs in a showroom and in the photos of him racing he's riding a rim break one. I would choose the disc model for wet mud but who am I? not Lars VanderHaar
Thomas Leveille More than 1 year ago
No. He won the last two world cups on shimano hydro discs. I wouldn't go as far as saying he won because of those brakes, this would be false. But the fact he choose them show it is a respectable choice. Remember that pro CX and road are full of very conservative people.
Bil Danielson More than 1 year ago
As a devoted XTR mtb'er, I love the idea; looking forward to the fully refined version at the DuraAce level.
bxcountry More than 1 year ago
I recognize the benefit of discs but I am not so sure about hydraulic. Yes, on my mountain bikes they have great feel but from a maintenance standpoint they are a hassle when compared to rim braking. I bleed my hydraulics myself and do not enjoy having to perform multiple bleeds a year on my SRAM brakes. Additionally, it is clear that the pro peloton, if/when they adopt discs, will all change simultaneously. There remains the same risk in the amatuer ranks if there is a mix of disc and rim systems but I just can't see forcing all amatuer racers to convert at the same time. It is not a matter of simply changing braking systems. The braking force differences between systems require one to change framesets, wheels and mechanical/electric controls as well. This is an innovation that demands tremendous investment. I race in all weather including hale and freezing rain at the US Masters Road Nats this year and off road so I recognize there are times when are safer. I am still not a fan of this "innovation".
Thomas Leveille More than 1 year ago
I don't buy the argument of mixing braking systems in a peloton. Especially in the amateurs ranks there are lots of bikes of different quality and level of maintenance. There is probably more braking force difference between a badly set up rim brake with worn pads + rims and a shiny new road bike than between equally adjusted rim and disc brakes setups. What cause most of the crashes in a peloton is inattention and response time, not braking power. Riders are usually down before they had a chance to slam the brakes.
Chainstay99 More than 1 year ago
I want disk brakes for my winter bike but I might as well buy a new bike since it's so expensive to convert
Krivak More than 1 year ago
I think disk breaks will never be used in PRO peloton because it slow down wheel changes. We see it in the dispute about fork dropouts