WHAT: Avid BB7 Mechanical Disc Brakes
HOW MUCH: $120 (suggested retail price per wheel)
I distinctly remember testing the first generation of cable-actuated disc brakes—back in 1998. We had a set that came spec'd aboard a Giant full suspension bike we were testing at BIKE and, man, they were nothing short of terrifying. My publisher at the time came across a draft of the review we were giving the Giant and read our flaming review of the disc brakes, which soured an otherwise glowing review of the bike. "Come on," he pleaded, "these things can't really be that bad! Isn't there a way you can soften this up?"
I then put him on the bike—in our flat parking lot—and had him pedal to about 15 miles per hour. I then told him to try and come to stop. The brakes did almost nothing to halt his momentum and he wound up hitting the chain link fence at the other end of the parking lot. Shaken, he handed the bike back and wobbled away.
I think the final version of the review stated that the Giant was great, but that safety and common sense required that you actually remove the brakes from the bike and slap on a pair of Hayes before you ever brought the bike home.
That experience with the Giant further confirmed my belief that all mechanical disc brakes were crap. If you wanted reliable, powerful disc brakes, you needed to go hydraulic.
Then Avid came out with their mechanical disc brake in the Fall of 1999 (if memory serves me right…hell, maybe it was 2000…dates get blurry, you know) and completely changed that paradigm. The brakes boasted incredible stopping power (even though they only came with 160-mm rotors at the time), easy installation and damn-near trouble free performance. Other brands tried to follow suit—Hayes and Shimano both introduced mechanical competitors, but neither came close to matching the Avids.
With technology advancing by leaps and bounds each year, it's hard to believe that the mechanical disc brake market hasn't also changed dramatically in the past five or so years, and yet, that's about where we stand (as of the summer of 2005, anyway). Avid's Ball Bearing 7 disc brake still beats the snot out of the competition.