If you peruse the current batch of purpose-built gravel bikes, you will undoubtedly notice that disc brakes have become the preferred stoppers for this increasingly popular segment of the two-wheeled market. Cantilevers and v-brakes, once considered the choice for unpaved riding, now rate a distant second for bespoke gravel rigs. But what about those bikes that can’t accommodate discs or cantilevers? Older road frames with sport-tourer or club-racer geometry are ideal candidates for gravel grinding, and companies such as Black Mountain Cycles, Gunnar, Rivendell, Surly, and SOMA offer contemporary frames spec’d with the extra clearances needed for fatter, gravel-friendly tires. For riders who wish to stick with conventional caliper brakes, Velo Orange’s Grand Cru brakeset ($170 MSRP) provides the necessary clearance and stopping power.
The term long-reach is a bit of a misnomer. If you’re old enough to remember when racing bikes make the transition from centerpull to sidepull brakes, you know that today’s long-reach caliper is what used to be known as a standard-reach brake. Terminology and history lesson aside, the Grand Cru brakes are designed to fit frames and forks that require recessed, allen-style mounting bolts, and have a reach of 47mm-57mm. The dual-pivot design is compatible with modern integrated brake/shift levers, and Velo Orange offers the brakes in polished silver or black anodized finishes. Our sample pair weighed 357g, including mounting hardware and pads.
The first thing you notice about the Grand Cru calipers are the thick, squared-off arms. This gives the brakes a distinctive, industrial aesthetic, but more importantly, the extra material helps improve the longer calipers’ stiffness. Velo Orange claims that the Grand Cru brakes are some of the stiffest long-reach calipers they’ve tested, and while we weren’t able to quantify the brakes’ stiffness, they did feel more rigid than Shimano’s BR-R650 long-reach calipers (we equipped both brakes with the same pads and levers). In use, the Grand Cru brakes had a very linear feel. This was a welcome contrast to the distinct on/off action of some dual-pivot calipers. The Grand Cru brakes could be easily modulated and controlled with integrated brake/shift levers from microSHIFT, Shimano, and SRAM.
During our review period, we tested the Grand Cru brakes with rims ranging from 19mm to 25mm wide. Adjusting the brakes to accommodate the different rims was quick and easy, and required only a T30 torx key (included with the brakes), and 2mm and 4mm wrenches. In use, the Grand Cru’s stock (blue) brake pads proved to be a step above the typical OE (original equipment) inserts, and remained squeal-free for the duration of the testing. As good as the stock pads were, braking power–especially modulation–improved noticeably when we fitted SwissStop’s BXP inserts. If you’re looking to boost your brakes’ performance, we definitely recommend SwissStop’s line of replacement pads (which are available for rim and disc brakes).
On our Black Mountain Cycles test rig (designed for 47mm-57mm brakes), the Grand Cru brakes easily cleared 32mm Clement X’Plor MSO tires. Fitting even wider tires was no problem for the brakes, but tire size was ultimately limited by the frame and fork’s clearance. Although the calipers themselves have clearance for wide tires and fenders, the quick-releases don’t open wide enough to clear certain rim/tire combinations. This is not unique to the Velo Orange calipers, though, as we’ve run into the same issue with other long-reach calipers.
The Grand Cru brakes prove that cantilevers or discs aren’t required for exploring dirt or gravel roads. If you’re riding a bicycle that needs long-reach calipers, you’ll probably run out of (tire) traction or flotation long before you run out of braking power. The Velo Orange brakes may not have the mud clearance offered by cantilevers, but their compatibility with modern integrated brake/shift levers makes them a boon for folks who don’t want–or need–a cross or gravel bike for mixed-terrain riding.
Disclosure: Velo Orange provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.