Nashbar Jail Brake Review

The cleverly-named Nashbar Jail Brake calipers are a budget pair of road calipers that won’t break the bank (see what I did there?).  For just $35/pair, they are targeted at riders who want an upgrade over stock brakes but don’t want to reach deep into their wallets.

With aluminum arms and a steel spring, the calipers weigh a reported 173 grams per caliper (346 grams total), including hardware.  The might not be boutique TRP R970 SLs, but they aren’t 600 dollars, either.

This review consists of two parts: An unboxing and my initial impressions and a long-term review after I’ve put at least 400 miles on them.  I have not posted the long-term review yet (as of January 1st) and have 0 miles on them. If you want a short summary of the pros, cons, and bottom line, skip to the bottom of the review.

Product shots:

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The brakes come in a small, brown box with a small, albeit very detailed instruction manual.  The manual includes thorough instructions on installing and adjusting the brakes that are easy to follow.  Manual includes proper torques for all bolts.

The brakes themselves are plain but sleek, a semi-glossy black throughout with silver brake cartridges and hardware and a small, off-center Nashbar logo on the bevel.  If you’re building a ‘stealth’ or minimalist bike, as seems to be popular these days, these calipers will fit right in.

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Although certain calipers, like the golden Planet X CNC Calipers can add a major bling factor to your road machine, brakes are generally not the place to add visual flair (although it can show attention to detail).  Small and out of the way (and almost always black) it’s usually a better idea to save colorful touches for other places like bars, saddle, or wheels.

The box is bare aside from the two calipers, secured by small zip ties.  The brakes include all hardware necessary for the caliper itself, although it would have been nice if cable ends had been included (if you’re replacing brakes, you’ll need two crimp-on cable ends).  The mounting stud on the rear caliper is shorter than the mounting stud on the front caliper, for mounting purposes.

Pre-installed in the brake cartridges are stock Nashbar pads.  You can buy Nashbar replacements, although I’d recommend getting the Shimano replacements, which are proven to be quality and are only five dollars more.  Interestingly enough, the brakes are designed so that the front of the brake pad engages before the back.  I’m guessing that this is how the brake provides for modulation.  There are a few things to note about this approach:

  • First, there will be more wear at the front of the brake pad.  For small engagements, the pads will only contact the rim in the front.
  • Braking modulation will increase along an exponential curve.  That means that squeezing the lever two mm at first will result in much less stopping power than when squeezing the lever two mm when the brake is already almost fully-engaged.
  • Brakes may wear faster in the front, but the rear of the brake will not wear very much at all.  After a few months, or upon replacement, expect to see the pads worn in a slant.

No pre-installation maintenance needs to be done to the calipers, although the brake pads come folded into the brake arms, to compress the calipers into the box.  Just use a 4mm Allen key to put the pads perpendicular to the arm, in preparation for installation.

For installation you will need:

  1. 4mm Allen key (pad adjustment)
  2. 5mm Allen key (cable stop and mounting stud)
  3. Small Philllips-head (pivot adjustment)

You may also need a 2mm Allen key if you wish to swap brake pads.

Installation is standard.  Simply take the silver nut that is threaded on the mounting stud, pushing the mounting stud of the correct brake through the hole, and secure the stud on the other side with the nut.  Make sure that the brake and its pads face the right way.  To do this, locate the rear/front brake based on the stud size (see above) then adjust or rotate the pads so that the ‘forward’ lettering and arrow point towards the front wheel.

From there, thread the brake cable through the cable-adjusting barrel, securing the housing in the barrel, pinch the brake arms together until they are 1 mm away from the rim on both sides, and secure the cable in the cable pinch mechanism.

You’ll next need to center the brakes.  Make sure your wheel is centered in the dropouts first.  The easiest way to center the caliper is to twist it with your hand.  Rotate the brake with your hand until the pads are aligned.  Don’t worry; the brake mounting nut will not unscrew.  If you still need further adjustment, tighten or loosen the Phillips’ head screw on top.  Tightening the screw (turning clockwise) will move the pads, looking at the caliper’s logo, to the right.  Loosening the screw will, of course, do the opposite.

Bike Nashbar now recommends that you squeeze the lever tightly ten times.  Presumably, this stretches the cable and makes simulates initial wear.  You may need to re-tension the cable after doing this.

During installation, I ran into a few problems.  Most prominent was that the included nut was too short for the front brake.  I had to use the nut from my old brakes to secure the caliper to my fork.  This may or may not be specific to my frame, but it’s still disappointing to see that all necessary materials were not included.

There are also some accessibility issues that clearly weren’t thought out.  For instance, once installed, you can’t see the ‘forward’ lettering on the back brake, to check the correct alignment.  Also, the quick release of both calipers blocks the adjustment of that side’s brake pad.  I had to open the quick release then adjust the pad, then close the quick release.  These small mistakes are almost to be expected.  These brakes are probably re-branded OEM brakes.  It’s very, very doubtful that Nashbar designed and manufactured them themselves.  These are the drawbacks of buying budget cycling componentry.

My first impressions aren’t only negative, though.  As far as I can tell, there’s no flex in either of the brake arms, even when I pull the lever all the way.  The cable pinch bolt holds the cable tight and the arms do not flex.  Also, all bolts and adjustments (including the pivot adjustment bolt) work as intended.  There are no problems so far.

Comparable Products:

Product

Price

Weight (pair)

Nashbar Jail Brake

$35.00

346g

Shimano Tiagra

$54.88

375g

SRAM Apex

$61.79

306g

Campagnolo Centaur

$70.95

315g

Tektro R540

$79.99

328g

Shimano 105

$83.98

306g

*The difference between the lightest set and the heaviest set is 69g, which is the weight equivalent of drinking4 tablespoons of water before riding.  Price difference is about 22 dollars

Overall, these brakes seem to be promising.  Extremely cheap, seemingly well made, we’ll have to see how they turn out.  I’m going to put 400 miles on the brakes and then I’ll post my long-term review.  As of now (12/30/2013), I have 0 miles on the brakes.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • No perceivable flex under full power

Cons:

  • Included mounting nut was too short.  Installation would have been impossible without my old nut.
  • Some usability issues when installing

Bottom Line:
I can’t make a conclusion yet, as I haven’t ridden the brakes.

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