Powerful and consistent brakes allow us to ride faster. As counterintuitive as that may sound, it’s an indisputable fact that we all realize when emergency braking into unexpected turns or awkward compressions. The Italian engineering team at Formula has clearly experienced those day-saving moments and designed their Cura 4 brakes accordingly.
Formula has been producing hydraulic braking systems for motorcycles and mountain bikes since the switch away from cable-actuated deceleration. They even made stopper systems for a little brand called Avid at one point. Before releasing this new 4-piston model in 2018, the brand proudly had the only 2-piston brake powerful enough to be mounted on some World Cup gravity sleds, and Loïc Bruni won the 2017 DH World Champs with the Cura 4 prototype he was testing. The engineers took their time to create something better than what they already had, and having used both systems I’d say they nailed it.
The Cura 4 levers use the same master cylinder as the original Cura, with easily accessible bleed ports at the ready when it’s time to refresh the oil. The rider’s right side lever can be clamped with a Mix Master adapter to integrate Shimano or SRAM shifters. Lever blade placement is adjustable, but pad contact (bite) is not.
The 4-piston caliper, made of two pieces of forged aluminum, houses two identical sets of 18mm-diameter pistons. I experienced some trouble with the leading two pistons not retracting as far as the trailing two on one of the calipers. I tried pressing them in evenly and bleeding the brake a couple of times, but that didn’t change the situation. I later pushed the pistons out and cleaned and lubed the outer surfaces, and the brakes have been working well since. This is an issue that happens with most 4-piston calipers that get used 5-7 times per week, which is why I check them regularly and was able to quickly remedy the issue.
Finally, the hose on the Cura 4 brakes can include an optional Speed Lock device that allows users to detach it from the caliper without introducing air or losing oil. The brakes I received don’t have this feature, but I can see how it could be helpful for folks who need to swap brakes frequently, or who fully rebuild their bikes between races.
Installing and setting up the Cura 4 is as quick and easy as any mineral oil brake system, devoid of toxic fluids to monitor. The symmetrical levers can be mounted on either side, hoses quickly swapped and flip-flopped, and their identical shape means you only need to carry one spare lever for a week of park livin’ or gravity racing. Cutting hoses and fitting barbs is a familiar process, and the brakes come with enough hose for your limo-length DH bike. Formula recommends only using their specially formulated mineral oil in the brakes, which may not be available at your local shop. For that reason it’s a good idea to pick up a bottle along with your brake purchase.
|Suggested retail price||Black: $208 / €174; Polished and Gold: $218 / €183|
|Weight||379g each with hardware and 160mm rotor|
|Pads||Organic (factory installed) or metalic|
|Colors||Gloss black, polished alloy, gold|
|Hose lengths||175cm front and rear|
|Six-bolt rotors||160mm $27, 180mm $29, 203mm $35|
The original Cura 2-piston brakes are laughably powerful compared to other 2-piston calipers, markedly outperforming some 4-piston brakes in terms of sheer stopping force. Their relatively immediate bite feels akin to a Shimano Saint, which requires a good amount of “getting acquainted” time for some riders. I enjoyed the sensation that my trail companions termed “on/off” modulation with the 2-piston brakes and wondered what the brand would tweak or improve with this updated 4-piston model.
Slowing, skidding, and stopping in the dirt
The most palpable element that changed between the two brake models from Formula is their lever modulation. If Cura bite power can be compared to a Saint, the Cura 4 lever modulation feels more comparable to a top-level SRAM brake like the Code RSC. The lever action is just as light and responsive, but the space between slowing and skidding is wider and more manageable. It’s possible to apply the exact amount of braking force you need without overdoing it, and there is plenty of power available when you need to bring the lever all the way in. The resulting modulation is likely more accessible to a wider variety of riders and riding styles.
Personally, I prefer a razor-sharp bite point, with tight feathery modulation, so it took me a few rides to warm up to the Cura 4. The broad modulation felt unnecessary and exaggerated, compared to the “on/off” sensation my fingers know so well. After a few rides, the wider power range grew on me, and I have since learned to appreciate the nuanced lever feel.
The Cura 4 are sold with a set of organic pads installed, and I decided to swap them out after a few rides for a more familiar metallic bite. The difference between pads is significant, and riders could certainly experiment with a mix of compounds to find the feel that works best for them. Formula recommends swapping in new rotors or cleaning them thoroughly before changing pad compounds.
The one shortcoming I experienced with these brakes is that the levers can’t be adjusted close enough to the handlebar. I am missing the last third of my left index finger, which means I have to brake with the second knuckle instead of the third. Shimano and SRAM levers can be adjusted close enough to the handlebar to accommodate my stubby pointer, but with the Formula brakes adjusted all the way in I had to open my hand up more than I was initially comfortable with. While this ergonomic shift became unnoticeable over time, riders with small hands might struggle to set the Cura 4 lever in a position that feels natural.
As with their suspension components, Formula doesn’t currently make any entry-level or budget braking systems. Their focus is locked on designing race-worthy gear, and they have done precisely that. The Cura 4 brakes deserve a spot at the top of the performance parts heap with the best of them, and I’m confident that you’ll agree should you decide to give them a squeeze.
Thank to Formula for providing the Cura 4 brakes for testing and review.