Tested: Shimano’s New R785 Hydraulic Disc Road Brakes

Brakes Disc

Shimano unveiled its new hydraulic brake system for road at the beginning of November. Photo Credit: Shimano/Eric Wynn

The first four days of November presented interesting times in the world of disc brakes for road bikes. Over the weekend, Shimano pulled together a group of cycling editors from North America and Australia to show off its new R785 hydraulic braking system along with its updated Ultegra 6870 Di2 electronic shifting gruppo, which we will address in a separate upcoming post.

That little pow wow went down on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, and featured plenty of product testing time, including one day when a handful of editors (RoadBikeReview included) rode up and then down the famed Haleakalā Crater. With a peak elevation of 10,023 feet, this-36-mile ascent is one of — if not the — longest paved climbs in the world. Can you say four hours of near continuous uphill pedaling time? We can. It’s spelled, U-G-H.

There was similar sentiment coming from the HQ hallways of Shiamno’s main rival, SRAM, albeit for far different reasons. On November 4, the Chicago-based component maker announced a recall for what it called a “technical issue with respect to a narrow production range of its RED 22 and S-700 road hydraulic road brakes (both rim and disc).”

The statement went on to explain that the unidentified issue was a “performance and safety concern” but that “there are no reported failures in the field.” Affected serial numbers of the SRAM recall range from 36T30993767 to 42T39407156, which according to SRAM represents 3,553 sets of brakes. Further SRAM claimed that based on its “investigative and quarantine efforts with our customers” it expected that there are fewer than 500 brakes worldwide in the affected range that are at dealers or have been purchased by consumers.

If you’re curious whether or not this all applies to you, the serial number can be found on the brake caliper (rim or disc) and on the outside of the box containing the product.

No one at Shimano would comment on the record about the plight of their rival. But obviously the timing wasn’t bad considering the Japanese component maker had been beaten to the punch, as SRAM road hydraulic disc brakes have been on the market for months, while Shimano’s wont be showing up at the consumer level until later this month.

But enough about the business of road bike brakes. Let’s talk about Shimano’s new offering.

Hood size will of course be a hot topic of debate as this new system makes its way to consumers. Photo Credit: Shimano/Eric Wynn

What’s New From Shimano?

The nuts and bolts of Shimano’s new R785 system consists of three parts: a hydraulic shift lever, a brake caliper and a rotor, the later two appearing to be re-branded XT components borrowed from its mountain bike line. There is also a hydraulic hose line that replaces the traditional brake cable.

The most common questions regarding these new offerings are or course how big is the new lever and what’s the overall weight penalty? The answers are bigger than a traditional lever (but not the towering size of the SRAM hydro offering) and 342 grams not including the extra frame material required for caliper attachment front and rear (about 125 grams).

It’s also worth noting that the 342-gram number is in relation to the brand new Ultegra 6870 group, which on its own is 126 grams lighter than the old 6770 group.

It’s also critical to note that this new hydraulic braking system is only compatible with Di2 electronic shifting systems, be it Dura Ace, Ultegra or the company’s internal hub Alfine drivetrain group.

Pricing has yet to be announced, which Shimano attributes to fluctuating exchange rates. But based on already-available U.K. pricing, expect it to come in somewhere in the $800-$900 range.

Why Only Electronic?

By only offering compatibility with Di2 systems, Shimano is pushing consumers into more expensive electronic shifting gruppos that use the E-tube system (10-speed Ultegra 6770, 11-speed Ultegra 6870 or 11-speed Dura Ace 9070). But they adamantly claim that this was not the primary intent, though they would not offer much detail when asked when/if a mechanical shifting offering would follow, only saying, “We’re always working on new products.”

So why electronic first?

“When you look at development, the main factor was that the Di2 lever had much more open space to work with [than a mechanical lever which has to include room for cables], so from an engineering and resource allocation standpoint — and how quickly we could bring something to market — it took less time and effort to develop an [electronic-compatible] system,” explained Dave Lawrence, Shimano America’s road and pavement product manager, who has in Hawaii to act as lead mouthpiece during the three-day press camp. “Honestly it was more timing than anything. Our goal long term is not to limit choice.”

So yes, we’ll probably see a mechanical shifting hydro shift lever from Shimano at some point. And based on the rate of change going on in the industry right now we’d guess that will be next year.

Is Bigger Worse?

Intended or not, Shimano is happy to be winning the hydraulic road brake shift lever fashion war. While SRAM’s oversized lever, which is mechanical shifting only, has taken more internet heat than a Miley Cyrus dance routine, the size of the new Shimano lever has created just a mild stir.

Shimano did have to make one concession, though. Due to spatial constraints, the R785s have only one E-tube port, meaning you cannot add sprinter shift buttons. And if you want to run satellite shifters (climbing for instance) you’ll need to install a five-port junction box under the stem.

Check out Page 2 to read our initial test impressions.

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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  • DrSmile says:

    Thank you for an informative non-biased pro review! The 1795g wheelset seems like a heavy additional weight penalty to pay. Let’s hope Shimano develops lighter Dure Ace level wheels soon. I liked descending Haleakala much more than ascending it! The Campy brakes on my Breakaway didn’t have any issues slowing me down though (even though I got drizzled on too), as you state off-road may be a better application for discs.

  • aclinjury says:

    So how does the 135mm hub fit the 130mm rear spacing on current frames??

    • Jason Sumner says:

      aclinjury — The answer is they dont. The 135mm hub will NOT fit on a 130mm-spaced frame. If running a steel frame it’s possible to cold set it wider, but most disc brake frames are 135mm spaced. Have been for some time. A couple companies were going with 130mm rear spaced disc frames, but they were a minority. At this point the industry has essentially decided upon 135mm as the standard for disc brakes. It makes sourcing hubs, etc much easier. Thanks for the question — and visiting the site.

  • mikebike says:

    + 342 g for the brakes + 125 g for frame + fork, and how much for heavier Wheels?
    Are we talking 800+ grams here?

  • scarecrow says:

    Jason if you still have access to a disc brake road bike this is what I would like to see from a test. Take the old motorcycle cornering drill of using a white line to gradually move your braking point closer to the turn entry on a disc bike vs. a dura ace brake bike. Use a 180 turn coming off a little hill or something like that. You will find out pretty clearly if the disc lets you brake later/harder into the turn. Try it in the rain as well if possible. If the disc is better you should be able to enter the turn later and still make it through with a good line etc.

  • Randonneur says:

    To the all-weather touring cyclist, there is a very important aspect of disc brakes that seems not to be addressed by any disc brake reviewer:

    How is pad-to-disc clearance controlled???

    Every mtn bike with disc brakes has the same problem: inadequate user adjustability in the field. When the wimpy pad return spring fatigues or breaks, or when the rotor becomes warped due to heat or collision, then there is no way to adjust the pad further away from the disc.

    … and if you don’t think this is a problem, you must have a full-time mechanic. I can’t remember the last mountain bike ride i’ve ridden where someone didn’t enounter a dragging disc at some point on the ride. On the road, perhaps the duty cycles are less, but the effects of a dragging disc are even more annoying.

    Brake manufacturers need to solve this problem, and reviewers need to start doing some serious testing instead of just the usual gushing of positive comments for anything with a major brand name on it.

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