The majority of bicycle components have around a three year lifespan before they become out-dated or have worn out and need to be replaced. This makes it all the more significant that we are able to write up a review on a set of Hope brakes that have been ridden for a grand total of five years on three very different bikes. Five years is a long time to be running the same set of brakes so let’s take a look at what makes them different from the rest of their competitors.
Hope has long been known for their CNC prowess and the E4 and X2 brakes do nothing to diminish their reputation. Hewn from a solid block of 2014 T6 Aluminum, (Aerospace grade for those keeping track) the calipers and levers feel sufficiently rigid and up to the task of keeping the massive braking forces in check. Hope has also opted to still display the toolpaths of the endmills on the calipers and levers, demonstrating to their customers that they do indeed machine their products as well as reducing overall cycle time to help cut the overall cost to the consumer. This manufacturing choice combined with anodizing of the aluminum and the laser engraved graphics keep the finish simple and touch labor to a minimum to help reduce the overall cost of what is a proudly “Made in England” product. That isn’t to say that with the cost saving measures that this is an inexpensive product with the brakes priced at around $250 per brake. So aside from the CNC’d calipers and levers, what do you get for your money?
You get some of the most adjustable brake levers in the market all for some pretty reasonable weights. Hope breaks (pardon the pun) their stoppers into two separate categories when it comes to naming with the E4 and X2 monikers denoting the number of pistons in the caliper and the Tech 3 describing the exact master cylinder/lever specification that they pair with the calipers. The Tech 3 master cylinders come equipped with brake levers that are adjustable for both reach and brake point contact; and when we say brake point contact we don’t mean in the same way that certain Japanese manufacturers build in their brake point contact adjustment, these adjustments really work. Both the reach and brake point contact adjustments are manipulated through the use of two small, knurled, indexed screws on the levers and they definitely do work. We have been able to dial in our preference for lever position and brake point contact with absolute precision all while riding thanks to the tool-less shape of the levers. The levers themselves do also deserve an honorable mention with their shape being able to work for both one and two-fingered braking styles and the addition of small holes drilled into the lever providing that extra bit of grip for the finger. Lastly, the levers can also come equipped with a SRAM or Shimano shifter adapter, allowing the user to clean up their cockpit.
Hope does get their brake levers right, but we would be remiss to ignore the efforts that they put into their calipers as well. The E4 and X2 calipers carry over the same CNC’d aesthetic from the levers/master cylinders making their CNC origins very obvious. The distinguishing mark between the E4 and X2 that we are testing calipers is the number of cylinders that each caliper has with the E4 carrying four cylinders while the X2 carrying only two cylinders in their billet bodies. Both calipers do share similar pad retention methods with a threaded pin that gets screwed into the caliper body and then retained with a spring clip over the end for an extra measure of security. This makes working on the brakes a breeze as pulling the pads only requires a pair of needle-nose pliers and a 3mm Allen wrench to pull the pads out the top for replacement.
While the all-aluminum construction does lend itself to a hefty feeling, the brakes do still weigh in at a respectable weight of 250g for the front E4 and 265g for the rear X2. While not XC brake weights, this still puts the Hopes in a respectable weight bracket.
Now that we know what the brakes are made of, it becomes a simple question of how they work and whether or not they are worth the premium over more conventional choices of brakes.
Power and modulation are two separate things that can easily get conflated during a test ride. If a brake with less power and poor modulation is ridden, it can often feel like a strong brake until you start to find that after that initial bite, you just don’t slow down very quickly. Conversely there are other brakes that have a soft bite and yet builds to seemingly endless amounts of power. The Hopes tend to fall in the latter category with an easy to modulate feel and more braking power the harder you squeeze them. It does mean that if you are used to the way a Shimano brake has their hard initial bite that you likely won’t feel that it has the same power but give it a squeeze and you will have no problems locking up either wheel. What this does get you is an increased sensitivity to brake pressure in low-traction situations; something the English are very likely to know about given their often slippery terrain. The feel at the lever is also very notable in the lack of flex in the machined aluminum lever leading to a very solid feeling brake. Every subtle movement of your finger on the lever is translated into an instant reaction at the caliper. This, paired with the smooth and contoured shape of the levers led to a very comfortable braking experience. It should also be noted that the reach and brake point adjustment of the Hopes is second to none with the knobs being easily adjusted while riding with gloves although there should be little need to do so as these brakes exhibit no fading while riding even over the longest descents. Other manufacturers, take note; this is how you design a lever.
The brakes that we rode were set up with the four-piston caliper up front and the two-piston caliper in the rear. This combo, paired with a 203 and 180mm rotors front and rear respectively, proved to further emphasize the strong braking characteristics for the V4 caliper in the front while allowing easy modulation with the X2 caliper in the back. We never experienced any situation where in slippery conditions we were afraid to touch the brakes for fear of accidentally locking up the wheels. Conversely, in high-traction situations, we never failed to find the power that was required to slow down for the rapidly approaching corner, proving that the Hopes were the incredibly reliable choice. We could see upgrading to a V4 caliper in the rear if you have a habit of heating up the rear brake but for our uses and in the terrain we ride, we had no issues and prefer the additional modulation for the rear brake; something very useful for manual or wheelies.
Over the course of our five years of use and abuse, the Hopes have only just now started to hint that they might need to be bled. Try to find that kind of reliability on any other brake. In that same span on time, we also went through two sets of brake pads which, at only around $20 per wheel, come in as some of the least-expensive brake pads on the market. These two facts combined with the simple construction of the brake have made the Hopes exceedingly easy to work on and maintain although very little has been required to keep them in top condition.
What all of this amounts to is a finely-crafted brake with power and modulation matching or exceeding any other brake in the market that are respectable in weight and easy to maintain. So, where is the catch? Well, that comes down to price. Both the Hope E4 and X2 with Tech 3 lever come in at roughly $200 per brake MSRP without rotors. This puts them in line with the top offerings of Shimano and SRAM all before adding on the necessary rotors or adaptors. Compared to Shimano or SRAM, Hope also doesn’t have any budget models that offer similar characteristics at a lower price point. While the initial cost may be high, the overall cost of ownership is quite good when you start to factor in the cost of maintenance and spare parts.
Would we recommend these brakes to our customers? Absolutely we would and without hesitation. They are some of most reliable, and consistent brakes that you can purchase today and will have few headaches down the road. We would only hesitate to recommend them if someone is particular about needing the immediate powerful brake feel that is common with Shimano or SRAM. Otherwise, for us, the Hope E4 and X2 brakes are our favorites for any application.