First Impressions: Grand Cru Long Reach Brakes

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 made 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.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Velo Orange Grand Cru SwissStop BXP

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.

First Impressions: Louis Garneau T-Flex LS-100 Shoes

Unlike their paved-road counterparts, off-road cycling shoes need to blend walkability and pedaling efficiency. For shoe manufacturers, the challenge of balancing stiffness with flexibility and comfort is no small feat (bad pun intended). Louis Garneau‘s feature-packed T-Flex LS-100 ($249.99 MSRP) shoe is equally adept whether you’re pedaling or hoofing it.

Constructed from a combination of microfiber fabric and mesh, the LS-100’s upper features a BOA quick-attach closure, and forefoot Velcro strap for a secure fit. The carbon and reinforced-nylon midsole offers increased stiffness, while the deeply-lugged outsole and flexible toe area enable improved traction when walking. Louis Garneau includes winter and summer Ergo Air insoles, as well as two styles of toe studs.

Having narrow, low-volume feet, I often have a difficult time finding cycling shoes that fit properly. The LS-100 features what Louis Garneau refers to as an elite fit, and I opted for the same size as my other cycling shoes (44.5). The result was a no-slip fit that remained comfortable on longer rides. Initially, I was skeptical that the lightweight BOA closure would be as secure as a ratcheting buckle system, but the former proved to be solid, and free of pressure points.

During the course of this review, I tested the Louis Garneau shoes with Time ATAC and Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals. The soles’ deep tread required minor modification to clear the Crank Brothers’ platforms, but the Time cleats were compatible as-is. Whether pedaling out of the saddle, or coasting over rocky trails, I never noticed any excessive flex or hot spots. Thanks to the Louis Garneau T-Flex design, walking was much less awkward than with other cycling shoes.

Pedaling efficiency doesn’t come at the expense of comfort, though. The Ergo Air insoles offer plenty of cushion and support, while the padded heel cups and collars are easy on your ankles and tendons. Removing the carbon T-Flex Power Blades increased ventilation slightly, but I couldn’t detect any difference in stiffness or efficiency. It’s too soon to report on long-term durability, but after five months of use, sole wear has been minimal, and the shoes’ uppers and fittings remain solid.

Disclosure: Louis Garneau provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: Clement X’Plor MSO 700×32 Tires

In April of 2012, we reviewed Clement’s 700×40 X’Plor MSO tires. More than two years later, that review continues to be one of this site’s most-read articles. Riders searching for a high-volume 700C tire that can handle dirt and pavement are well served by the 40mm X’Plor MSO. But what if your bike can’t accommodate such a large tire? Clement has you covered with their 700×32 X’Plor MSO.

The 32mm MSO features the same low-profile tread pattern as its larger sibling, but scaled down slightly to fit the narrower casing. At the recommended maximum 75psi, our sample tires measured 32mm knob-to-knob (30mm at the casing) when mounted on Mavic Ksyrium Elite S wheels. Actual weight for our 60tpi tires was 325g (Clement also offers a 120tpi version).

Like the 40mm version, the MSO’s tightly-spaced tread pattern proved to be smooth and quiet on paved roads. While the larger MSO had more of a peaked profile, the 32mm size featured a rounder, more circular profile (which made for more sure-footed cornering). As with other similarly-sized tires, it took a little experimentation to find the best pressure for balancing comfort and flat/rim protection (60psi front and 70psi rear worked well for dirt and gravel).

While Clement’s 32mm X’Plor MSO may not offer the performance of a conventional cyclo-cross tire in loose or muddy off-road conditions, it’s perfectly at home on hardpack trails and gravel roads. Where the tire really shines, however, are those rides where you want to piece together paved and unpaved sections for a day of two-wheeled exploring.

Disclosure: Clement provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.