A sizable hunk of innovation happens in reaction to something rather than out of necessity. In our sporty little subculture, when brand Z sees that brand Y is making 4-piston brakes, brand Z responds with a “far superior” model of their own. The oft-incremental nuances of that new model are its innovation, and we inch toward better bikes accordingly.
Every once in a while, engineers take a different approach by ignoring most of what’s going on in the market and focusing on creating the absolute best product possible. That’s what the folks at Trickstuff have done with their Direttissima 4-piston brakes. These beautiful pieces of machinery are as powerful and comfortable as mountain bike brakes get — for now.
So what makes them so much more powerful and light than the competition? We posed that question to Jan Borghoff of Trickstuff, and he replied piece by piece. Starting at the master cylinder, Jan says “the BMC piston is 20% smaller than standard pistons and the mechanical ratio of the lever blade is higher and more progressive (knee lever effect) which results in a much higher hydraulic pressure at a given finger force.” In short, the design allows riders to apply increasingly more pressure to the brake fluid with less input from the finger.
Not all of the Trickstuff refinements are performance-based. Jan mentioned that the way the hose attaches to the lever is also unique, and offers a pair of advantages. “Our fittings are reusable. This is practical and saves resources. A repair of the brake hose can be done without much trouble. In addition, the solution is visually much more elegant than a pressed version.”
At the far end of the hose, things are a touch simpler. While there are distinctive elements in the caliper design, a good portion of the brake’s power and unicorn-ness is held in the lever. Asked about the pinchy end of the brake, Jan said, “The calipers feature the same piston diameters as most competitors, and their stiffness isn’t bad either. The brake power mainly comes from the architecture of the master cylinders. Our caliper’s low weight and high stiffness are due to high tensile aluminum alloy and the sophisticated shape and profile.”
My Direttissima sample took about one whole second to align and set up before they were ready to ride. I asked Jan how they could be so quick and simple to align, where most calipers from the competition require some fiddling to find the quiet spot. “We try to manufacture the caliper piston bores, the seal grooves, and the piston diameter and piston surface with the highest possible accuracy. We’ve been working hard to achieve this precision over the years together with our CNC production in the Black Forest.”
Another piece of that rapid install puzzle is the rounded edge profile on the brand’s rotors. This is another innovation bred from necessity. “World cup racers and former world champions asked us to accelerate the wheel change during a cross country race after a puncture. For many bikers, the installation of the rear wheel (mainly) is a real struggle since the outer edge of the rotor and the lower edge of the brake pads tend to collide. A solution was needed. The installation with our brake rotors is much easier and visually it is also an eye-catcher. A solution can sometimes be so easy.”
Trickstuff also designs brake pads to fit nearly every MTB braking system on the market. Made to spec in Taiwan, the brand’s pads are some of the strongest on the market. You’ll sometimes find them in the brakes of World Cup DH and EWS racers, regardless of their component sponsors. The new E-Nox pad has 25% more pad material thanks to a thinner backing plate, ready to slow the heft of e-bikes and promising bonus miles between pad purchases.
Before jumping into the review, we want to point out that every element of the Direttissima brakes, apart from the pads, is designed and made in Germany. The brakes are then assembled to the customer’s specifications in their Freiburg factory. In an ever globalizing world, there are few companies that can fully oversee their products’ creation. This is a key element in the high €450-per-brake price tag, and for a lot of satisfied customers, the Direttissima are worth every penny.
Direttissima on-trail performance
Bleeding the Direttissima system is slightly more involved than with other brakes, but not enough that it should deter any accomplished home mechanic. Mounting or moving the brakes between bikes is easier than most, as there is no olive and barb to cut off and reinstall in order to get the hose through internal routing ports. The brakes come with a biodegradable fluid that’s similar to mineral oil, and you can replace it with mineral oil in a pinch. You can also fit different pads if the original Trickstuff size isn’t available, including Shimano XT BR-M755/756 and Hope Mono M4, Tech M4, Stealth Race E4, and Tech 4 E4 pads.
I found myself wanting to tape a reminder to that bike that reads “über powerful brakes” after my first few rides with these super-charged stoppers. They are so much more powerful than any other brake I have pulled on that it was almost frightening. Then I got used to them. Now, I don’t want to ride with anything else. That added power allows me to ride faster with less hand fatigue, and to incur additional risk knowing that these brakes have my back. Can I afford a set on every bike? Unfortunately not.
For gravity riding, brakes are our throttle and motor combined, and the best ones allow us to let go longer and ride faster with the confidence that they will do the scrubbing when asked. No other brake on the market provides the level of precision and power that these do, and once you’re properly acquainted they will shave seconds off your personal records.
While not spelled the traditional Italian way, the name of these brakes means “very direct” in Italian, and they will back up that moniker. The lever feel is notably light and smooth, as Jan noted above, requiring less energy from your finger to actuate than other top-shelf speed-scrubbers. Riders who experience a great deal of arm pump or hand pain on long descents will love these brakes. I don’t find myself squeezing with all of my might to slow down, nor over-gripping the handlebar to give my braking finger a steady platform. Instead, I can ride with a more open and relaxed hand, and my grip remains strong toward the day’s final descent.
These brakes are undoubtedly direct, and that powerful precision is dolled out naturally across a smooth lever stroke. The progressivity that Jan mentioned begins where you would normally start squeezing the lever harder to add power, allowing you to maintain consistent pressure on the lever as it ramps up for you. Once this lever-feel became intuitive all of the brakes on my other bikes felt underpowered and barbaric. For some comparisons, my Shimano Saints feel plenty powerful, but I have to be careful with the lever’s brief modulation as it will lock up the tire with very little movement. The Direttissima power-band feels easier to modulate than the Saint, without providing an unnecessary amount of range and lever-throw like SRAM and similar brake systems can. The closest comparison I can make between the Direttissima lever feel and that of other brakes is with a Hope T3 V4. They are similarly smooth, but the Trickstuff system offers an even better modulation range and far more forceful stopping power.
There is no pad adjustment on the Direttissima. You can dial the lever blade back for kid’s hands, or out for adult mitts far larger than mine, but the pad position remains fixed. Most riders who truly care about pad position have a pocket full of tricks to dial the plungers in during the bleed process, so this shouldn’t be an issue. For the rest of us, the pads contact the rotor with just a few millimeters of lever throw, so we’re good to go.
I paid close attention to piston movement and contraction with these brakes. Given their price and claims of precision, I had high expectations that the pistons would compress and retract all together at a consistent rate without much change over time. Your wallet will be sad to know that Jan’s statements around precise machining and functionality are all true. To my marginally-trained eye, the shiny, hollow Direttissima pistons move smoothly in unison today, just as they did when I installed them. While this may seem like an expected trait for any 4-piston caliper, it’s in fact a rare exception. If you squeeze nearly any other brake set that’s been used daily for more than six months, at least one of the pistons will move like a cold turtle — affecting the overall power and performance of the brake.
A final comparative note on the Direttissima is that the brakes continue to perform well as the pads near the end of their service. A lot of good gravity brakes start to lose power as the pistons extend and the pads wear thin, but that hasn’t been the case with these. The thick rotors naturally keep the pistons a touch further inboard, and I have been able to run the brand’s Power pads down to the last squeak of material without a drop in stopping performance.
Now for a brief vignette. While sitting in the gondola at Pila Bike park, my front wheel flopped sideways causing my brake lever to hit something hard enough that the lever fitting inside the hose snapped. While this could have happened with any brake, I’m glad it happened with this one as the Bionol fluid that leaked all over my bike and the cabin floor is non-toxic — far better than being painted in caustic DOT4 or 5 fluid. I sent the brake back to Germany so the engineers could inspect the damage, and they had it back to me fully serviced in two days. While riders living outside of Europe might have to order the fitting and swap it themselves, it’s nice to know that customer service is a high priority for the team at Trickstuff.
Surely we can’t all afford a set of Formula1-level brakes like these, but it’s good to know that there is something this good out there. The work that Trickstuff engineers are doing to make top-quality brakes without compromise shows all of the other companies how high they can jump. Now we have to wait for brand Z to react to that higher standard while these German engineers continue to improve their already impressive products.