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Shimano’s formidable 4-piston Saint gravity brakes make other stopping systems feel like dragging a foot in the dirt.

A few months back I reviewed Shimano’s XT 4-piston brakes, and have since noticed them on loads of bikes. It’s great to see so many new trail and enduro bikes equipped with real power at the caliper, allowing riders to fly down track faster and more confidently.

After the XT review, several readers asked how the XT 4-piston compares to the Saint 4-piston option. The shortest answer is that they feel far more powerful, and provide a greater increase in confidence and security on the trail than shifting from 2 to 4-pistons did. Shimano reports that the 4-piston XT caliper is 20% stronger than the 2-piston version and my non-scientific assessment is that the Saint feels an additional 50% more powerful still. These brakes are strong enough to get you out of trouble, saving your line when you need it most.

The Saint brakes have been out for a few years now, but the shape and function of the levers are almost identical to that of the XT 4-piston. Both sets of gravity brakes also share the SM-BH90 hydraulic hose and connecting hardware, and pinch the same pads.

These ceramic pistons could use a cleaning, but they are all retracting as quickly as the first ride.

On the trail

I have been riding the Saint brakes for a couple of months now, through heavy dust, thick mud, and downright downpours. Our spring has been a bit indecisive as of late. I tested them with a number of different rotor combinations, and though they played best with rotors from Shimano, they performed impressively with most other rotors of similar thickness. I noticed a significant loss of power with wider rotors, but once I opened up the system and pushed the plungers all the way in they paired well with the thick discs.

The brakes not only instill confidence on steeper and faster tracks but their massive stopping power can help to relieve arm pump and hand fatigue. The light lever feel, attached to truck stopping caliper force requires a low amount of pressure on the lever to stop or skid. On long descents, this translates to less fatigue and more fun. I am a smaller human, with limited time and tolerance for strength training, and both of my forearms together are likely not as strong as one of Myriam Nicole‘s or Yoann Barelli‘s. I love having all of that power at my fingertip, in place of muscle cramps or a gym membership.

I burned through about 2/3 of the original organic pads that come installed in the brakes after a couple of months of almost daily riding and recently swapped them out for a metal sintered set that will work better in less predictable weather. The rear pads were worn evenly, but the front were a bit lopsided, due to my asymmetrical install error. The bite on the metal pads is a touch more abrupt, but I grew used to it after a day of riding.

The modulation of the Saints is something riders seem to love or tolerate, as it is a decidedly personal element. I personally love it. You can feather the lever as lightly as you like, but when it’s time to scrub speed you can make it happen quickly. There is roughly 2mm of lever throw between the brake engaging, and the wheel fully locking up. Riders accustomed to more of a full, barn-door-hinge modulation will need some time to get comfortable with this precise lever actuation. Thus far, the riders I know who have given them a proper try have all converted to the Saints.

Quick spec

  • $240 each (MSRP), often available for less at JensonUSA
  • Weight: +/- 450g each, depending on hose length
  • Usable with finned or non-finned pads, with resin or metallic compound
  • Four-piston caliper
  • Hydraulic hose: SM-BH90
  • Mineral oil brake fluid
  • Tool-free reach adjust

Pro tip: This Slinky-like plastic coil, designed for combining speaker cables, works great to keep your cockpit tidy and quiet. You can easily remove it to clean and swap cables, then rewrap and roll. Find it at your local audio store, and on the web.

Final word

What the Saint stoppers add in bike weight they subtract in seconds on the clock. If you like to trim your times down the race track or backyard shred, these brakes will let you take your speed closer to the edge of what’s possible, and help pull things back when you go too far. With Shimano’s lasting reputation for reliable and consistent brakes that outlast the lifespan of some bikes, I will be taking the Saints into the backcountry with me this summer, confident that they will perform as expected.

Some gear is simply hard to fault, and these brakes are deeply in that groove. They are not light, but like good gravity tires, their robust weight is a benefit in the end. Likely there is a good reason Shimano has not changed them much over the past five years.

Thanks to Shimano for providing the Saint brakes for review.

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