Second Look: Hayes CX Disc Brakes

When I reviewed the Hayes-equipped Volagi Viaje in 2014, hydraulic disc brakes for drop-bar bikes were very much a rarity. Since then, cable-actuated brakes have taken a back seat to their hydraulic counterparts. That’s not to say that mechanical disc brakes have gone the way of all flesh. Hayes’ CX brake may have been off my radar for a few years, but my curiosity was piqued when All-City spec’d the company’s $1999 MSRP drop-bar Gorilla Monsoon with Hayes’ mechanical calipers.
Hayes CX Expert disc brake drop bar gravel mechanical caliper
Throwback to 2014’s review of the Hayes-equipped Volagi Viaje.
Since its introduction in 2014, Hayes’ CX Expert brake has remained essentially unchanged. The CX’s one-piece caliper utilizes a single-piston design (meaning the inner pad is stationary), and fine-tuning is performed via the built-in barrel adjuster. And unlike the competition (Avid BB7, Paul Klamper, TRP Spyre), only the Expert’s inner pad position is adjustable (via a 5mm hex key). Without mounting hardware or adapters, one CX Expert caliper weighs 195 grams (verified). You might think that setting up the CX calipers would be more difficult due to the brakes’ design. That’s actually not the case, however, as the Hayes calipers are some of the easiest to install and adjust. Mount the caliper (with bolts finger tight), install the cable tighten the cable fixing bolt (without pre-loading the actuator arm), and center the caliper with Hayes’ Feel’r Gauge to center the caliper over the rotor (you can use two business cards in a pinch; one on either side of the rotor). Snug up the caliper mounting bolts, and then set the necessary pad/rotor clearance by backing out the barrel and inner-pad adjusters.
Hayes CX Expert disc brake drop bar gravel mechanical caliper
CX Expert caliper and 160mm Hayes rotor on the 2018 All-City Gorilla Monsoon.
With their stock semi-metallic pads and 160 mm rotors, the CX Expert calipers proved more than adequate on both my Salsa Vaya and the aforementioned All-City demo bike (full review coming soon). Using the Hayes’ recommended setup techniques, I actually found the front brake on both bikes to be a little too powerful. Backing out the inner pad adjusters and adding more slack to the systems was all that was necessary to increase the front brakes’ lever travel (although I did manage to lift the Vaya’s rear wheel off the ground during one panic stop on dry pavement). Although my initial experience with Hayes’ CX calipers took place on the Shimano-equipped Volagi, I relied exclusively on SRAM’s Apex 1 and Force 1 (mechanical) levers this go-round. Both SRAM controls pulled enough cable to prevent the levers from bottoming out, but the Vaya’s compressionless Jagwire housing made a noticeable difference in braking power and lever feel. That’s not unique to the Hayes calipers, though, as I’ve found that the Jagwire housing’s added stiffness improves other cable-actuated brakes’ performance. And while the CXs may not possess the light touch found on hydraulic systems, the Hayes calipers do an excellent job of balancing modulation and power while avoiding the on/off feel found often associated with cable-actuated brakes.
Hayes CX Expert disc brake drop bar gravel mechanical caliper
Hayes CX pad (left) and SRAM road hydraulic pad (right).
Whether using mechanical or hydraulic brakes, I usually favor organic brake pads due to their reduced noise. I might give up a little power compared to metallic pads, but I really dislike squealing brakes. During months of testing (in both wet and dry conditions), the Hayes’ stock semi-metallic pads have been blissfully quiet. As an added bonus, the pads seem far less prone to fading on long descents. The CXs’ relatively small pads do have one drawback, though, and that’s increased wear. But thanks to the calipers’ magnetic retainers, replacing pads is easy (although you do have to remove the wheel). If you’re shopping for mechanical disk brakes, then you probably know that cable-based systems lack the automatic pad adjustment found on hydraulics. And even when meticulously fitted with the best cables and housing, mechanical setups can’t match the light touch of hydraulic brakes. That said, if you’re looking for a simple, affordable mechanical brake that performs as well as–and in some cases, better than–competitors’ pricier models, Hayes’ CX Expert is certainly worth considering. Disclosure: Hayes Bicycle Group provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.