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I tried this question under the components forum, but have had no responses...

I have an R700, and have read on various forums that he brakes are truly awful, that the calipers are junk, and no one understands why Cannondale puts them on their bikes.

I have looked at Ultegra and Dura Ace models, which seem similar in design to the ones made by Cannondale. They are levers that pivot and clamp the rim. They seem to stop OK. (Not like my mountain bike, which threw me off at first.)

Is their truly much of a difference between these models? If so, I would really appreciate knowing why.

Would it be better just to upgrade the brake pads to Kool Stops, or some other type?
 

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Stock brakes on my R500 were OK, not awful. You might try a small investment in Kool Stop pads to see if that helps.

I got a deal on 105 brakes, which are stronger and have better modulation than stock Cdale. IMHO a nice cost-effective upgrade. Ultegra brakes are much prettier than 105, but don't seem to perform much better. No personal experience with DA other than short test rides.
 

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talk to tom at gvhbikes...

i was unhappy with my dale brakes, but still managed to ride them for 2 seasons. just recently, i was interested in upgrading to ultegra brakes and posted a thread in the components forum, asking about the difference between ultegra 6500 v 6600. tom from gvhbikes sent me an email saying he had some extra 6500 brakes lying around and gave me a good deal. you might want to shoot him an email (go to gvhbikes.com).
 

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I have a bike with 105 (and older ultegra, which have almost the exact same feel) brakes and last year aquired a ride with DA brakes.

I am able to grab handfulls of brake with the DA. It's not that the 105 are bad (nor do I imagine are the Cannondale brakes). The 105s are predictable and smooth. I've never had to dump the bike or lost control using them, but they just can't seem to compare to the DA.

I'm sure a large chunk of it is the pads, but I also suspect it is a sum of many little refinements in design and materials that makes them perform so exceptionaly. I haven't tried a new set of ultegras (I've heard they are great as well) but after having these I can't imagine settling for much less. When you think about it, brakes might not be the most fun part of a bike, but when you really need them, you really need them.

All that being said, I think it is more important to learn how to properly use your brakes than upgrading them. Practice hard stops, know your threshold, and get comfortable using your front brake for most of your stopping power.
 
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