Monday, January 11, 2016

A Fool and His Money...

This just in from Bike Rumor! Yes, more gushing about over-priced boutique components. In this case Paul Components. Like any dutiful bike nerd I read a lot of bike blog stuff and reviews come up, a LOT. Occasionally I'm looking to buy something new and so I do my research and that means reading reviews. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that a handful of the biggest review and content outfits out there on the interwebz simply spew "reviews" out with very little in the way of critical consideration. One regular offender I've found is Bike Rumor. Maybe they're just reporting the "bike news" and not actually reviewing the product. If it's not a review, then apparently it's at least "news" when a company makes something that a bunch of other companies already make cheaper, but for some reason make it the same but more expensive. So you can buy, for example a Paul I.S. disc adapter for $20.

Paul Components I.S. disc brake adapter

Or, you could get the same thing from Shimano for $8.99, Avid for $10.00, or Magura for $11.00. So, yeah. Maybe "Made in America" is worth $11.01 extra?

SRAM Avid I.S. disc brake adapter

My objection I guess isn't so much against Paul Components, because honestly, I have no idea if it really costs $11 more to make a US-made part versus something made in China. I actually have Paul Thumbies on two bikes, and in the past I made use of their short-travel/long-travel drop bar brake interrupter levers. So, I've spent money on their stuff. At least what I bought was functional and innovative rather than just copying an existing design and charging more money for it. Also, judging by a lot of comments of folks following these "reviews" of Paul Component parts, many feel the same way. A lot of this stuff just isn't especially innovative. So, if it's not innovative, all you're paying for is the name and cachet of what is essentially a boutique part. It's like all of that purple anodized mountain bike crap from the early to mid 90s. Purple anodizing didn't make your bike any faster or lighter, but lots of folks were willing to pay more for it.

And finally, don't get me started on their "Klamper" disc brake which Bike Rumor also gushed over back in July. Again, they were just "reporting" on it's introduction and not really offering up any kind of critical review. However, the e-zine Cyclocross Magazine did in fact review the Klamper, and apparently liked it, even though it's neither innovative nor a weight-saving piece of kit. The Paul Klamper uses the same antiquated and tired design of the Avid BB7. Specifically, the Klamper has one moving pad and one stationary pad, effectively bending the rotor inwards to contact the non-moving pad. The only advantage it purports to have is larger ball bearings and some needle bearings. So what does a marginal engineering improvement over an already less-than-stellar design cost you? You can have a single Klamper caliper for $179!!! 

The Paul Components Klamper

If you didn't just spit coffee out all over your computer screen, it's probably because you don't know that you could buy a complete set of Avid BB7 disc brakes - that's caliper AND rotor for $79! That's $100 cheaper than the Paul version. Or, you could buy the even lighter BB7 S which now features stainless steel components and is marginally lighter than a standard BB7, and is still lighter than a Klamper. The BB7 S will set you back $120. That's still $59 cheaper per wheel, or to round up and consider a full set, that's $120 cheaper.

Avid BB7 (the cheaper version - the "S" looks the same, only black instead of grey)

Of course, the elephant in the room we're not talking about, is the TRP Spyre/Spyke family of mechanical disc brakes. The Spyre (road), and Spyke (mountain), are dual piston disc brakes that work in the same manner as their bigger cousins that stop our car and motorcycle wheels from moving. Reviews (if you care to search them out), consistently place TRP mechanical discs at the top of the pyramid in terms of best design, and modulation second only to hydraulic discs. You can buy a caliper and disc TRP Spyke set for $84.99. That's $94.01 cheaper than a Klamper for what is widely considered to be the most advanced, best-performing mechanical disc brake on the market.

TRP Spyke. Far more technically advanced than the Klamper. Lighter and $94 cheaper per wheel!

If you wanted to buy Paul Components so you could proudly proclaim "Made in America" I'm betting you'd have a lot of difficulty managing that for your entire bicycle build. I've always been of the mindset of building my bikes with a mix of affordability and durability in terms of components and frames. The country of origin of my parts has never been much of a concern. Pretty much most of the components you'll buy today come out of factories in China with lots of frames coming from Taiwan. Good quality stuff comes out of Chinese factories just like poor quality stuff. I've have bike frames made in China that were really nice with decent quality welds and good paint, and I've had atrocious frames that looked like they were welded by a child using a Fisher-Price "My First Welder" toy, and painted using spray cans. Those oh-so-affordable Avid BB7s are all "Made in China," and while they're often derided as being little better than rim brakes they're still the standard spec on most bikes using disc brakes.

My take-away on all of this? Paul Components make some good stuff - Thumbies for example are an excellent product well worth the coin. Paul disc adapters or their own expensive take on Avid BB7s, the Klamper? In my opinion, there's nothing especially innovative there at all. Well, a fool and their money...


  1. Interesting how people can use the same part/component, etc. and come away with such vastly different ideas. I get the complaint about the brake mounts. I'm an American living in Switzerland so the $8-$20 difference gets at least doubled in my case. To the main point, I've got the Pauls and I would compare them to any high end hydraulic with the additional ability to rebuild them, should the need arise. For that alone, I'd almost pay the additional money. However, I've had many Paul made components in my 25 years of mountain biking and I would put them in the 'cream of the crop' for quality components that also look really good (yes, to me, that's just as important).

    As a bikepacker, the ability to rebuild parts with minimal tools is one of my 'musts'. Hence, the reason I avoid companies like Shimano and their Center Lock Hubs (nearly impossible to deal with on the trail) and their, in my opinion, horrible ergonomics. Plus, every hub I've ever used with the Center Lock system wobbles and makes it feel as though my headset is loose. Weird.

    I've tried the TRP's and they were some of the worst brakes I've ever used. To me they felt like they were made out of stamped plastic and pieces of beer can.

    As to the common "Made in America" complaint.... well, frankly, if I'm going to spend my hard earned money, I'm going to buy the best damn thing I can afford, regardless where in the world it's made. Sadly, a large part of American quality has flown the coup over the last 50 years, for all sorts of reasons. That said, I live in the country where DT Swiss and Assos are made and I don't use any of their products either as I, frankly, just don't like what they make.

    Thanks for the review, it made me think a bit. Now, back to work.

  2. Hey Matt,

    Have you ridden the Klamper? Because right now you are just "reporting" on it and not really offering up any kind of critical review.

  3. I honestly don't understand why ANY company would come out with a new single piston mechanical caliper at this point. Having ridden extensively on BB5 (utter trash), BB7 (fine, but very finnicky if you set the inner pad close enough to get decent power/bite point), and low end Tektros (whatever), no single caliper brake will ever match the power, modulation, consistency, or setup ease of the TRP dual piston design. You just can't get around the fact that if you want a firm bite point and serious stopping power that inner pad needs to be VERY close to the rotor - and if you don't do that you'll just bend the rotor til it eventually rubs anyway. I don't think I ever went more than 150mi without needing to adjust them again. Maybe my mtb background makes me too picky about braking, but to me single piston brakes are only workable if you can tolerate really mushy initial contact. TRPs are as close to hydro as you're going to get with a cable. They're not perfect but they're damn good.

    That reliability/serviceability thing is BS anyway, unless you're riding around with spare cable, housing, bearings, and cutters in your pack (and if you did... how's that different from riding with a bleed kit?). I've had shimano hydros on both my mtbs for 2 years with no issues, no bleeds, and there's still no air in the lines. I've had 10x more fiddling with my mechanicals than I've ever had with hydros.

    There's always gonna be a place for mechs - people want to ride in extreme cold, or just can't be bothered to learn how to bleed - but there's no way in hell I'd pay boutique prices for a single piston, no matter how nice it looks.

  4. Well it sounds like you are not the person they are targeting this product towards. To be honest I felt the same way until I rode them. Then I felt the difference and yes serviceability is a big factor for some. If you are building a custom bike ...why would you slap some boring bb7s or TRP's on the bike. Go custom and have rad ride.

  5. To each his own I guess. Some people want bling on their bikes. When I build up a frame I want the best brake my money can get. That's gonna be Shimano if I want hydros, TRP if I want cable, or Hope if I want a "custom rad ride". AND I can get hope hydros for almost the same price as these chunky, mechanical, single piston Pauls.

    And if serviceability is a factor... do you carry ball bearings, housing, and cable when you ride? Cuz if not, there's really no difference between being able to fix a ball bearing brake and knowing how to change seals/bleed hydros.

  6. Has anyone who is bashing them actually rode the brake?. Just because they are single piston doesn't mean they are the same as BB7's or less powerful than TRP's.

  7. So a needle bearing where Avid uses a plastic washer, hardened ramps with bigger bearings, and features to stabilize pads and the ability to change lever throw aren't innovative?

    I guess everyone's entitled to their concept of 'foolish'...

  8. Needle bearings, bigger bearings, whatever. All Paul has done is dress up a shitty design. It's still a caliper that works by bending the rotor. Bending the rotor = shitty design. No matter how nice you make it look or chisel it out of billet aluminum or whatever, it's still a shit design.

    1. And the Trabant and Ferrari are both cars...

    2. Interesting that so many people (you included) feel free to spew forth drive on the internet and others but it as gospel. Until you've actually USED a product, extensively, you're really not justified in talking about it in any sense other than the theoretical or aesthetic.

  9. First of all it's nice to see some mature, balanced and well informed article and comments ;-)

    As a long term bike mechanic and ACTUAL OWNER of a Klamper (front) brake on my drop bar commuter, I can state it as a fact that it works just as well as hydraulic systems.

    Klamper piston is guided by three pins that ensure perfectly square alignment, thus eliminating the problem of that e.g. BB7s and all other mechanical calipers suffer from after a while. Once you adjust it, it stays that way with NO RUBBING. All the improved internals also make a difference to the performance and overall feel comparing to other brakes.

    It's pretty clear that despite of what some keyboard engineers may claim, neither a steel cable nor a single moving piston aren't a limitation for executing a remarably functioning design. Klamper is simply what other calipers have never been.

    P.S. Remember gents. There is a big difference between having opinions and being opinionated.

  10. The Avid BB7 is designed and built like a toy in comparison to the Paul Klamper. I've used both. They'll both stop a bike, but the Klamper is far easier to set up and adjust. You get what you pay for.

  11. There's a lot of articles about the Klamper where the writer doesn't actually have them, and focus on the single piston and the price. None of which are helpful for braking performance, feel at the levers and long term use. You have none of this in your article.

  12. You didn't actually ride the product. Hell, you didn't even handle the product. Not only that, you didn't even state on a theoretical level why the single piston design is bad. You didn't note that the brake allows you to switch between short and long pull levers, something no other brake offers.
    Let's just suppose the single piston design really is bad... Even if that is so (which again you don't justify), you seem to think that better tolerances, better bearings, and a far more robust caliper don't count for anything. You're saying better quality doesn't make a difference in function.
    None of what I have said means that I think the Klamper is a good or bad brake. It just means you haven't justified any of your claims.
    The only valid point is the one about price. The brake is expensive, no doubt.
    I'm not a Paul groupie- I've owned and ridden some of their products and had mixed luck.

  13. I'd like to illustrate one of the flaw's in the author's (Matt's) logic. So, Matt says that the Klamper is just an upgraded BB7. According to him, the BB7 is no good. According to Matt, because the Klamper is basically an upgraded BB7 (with better materials and better, larger bearings), the Klamper (which he has not ridden) must also be no good.
    Let's step back, though. Let's take a brake which uses basically the same single-pistn design as the BB7, but which has WORSE build quality than the BB7. Let's take for example some Tektro mechanical brakes. If better materials and execution are rounding errors, then the Tektro brake should be very nearly as good as the BB7.
    However, we all know this is not true: the BB7 is by almost everyone's accounts a more powerful brake with a more solid lever feel than Tektro's mechanical brakes. This proves that better materials and execution using the same design do lead to better brakes. Why should the same not be true of the Paul Klamper, which uses a very large caliper, larger ball bearings, and also needle bearings?

  14. I stuck a pair of short pull Klampers and Paul canti levers on my Niner Sir9 to replace the awful sram brakes that came with it. I was a bit skeptical about going "back" to mechanical brakes after having hydros on it, but I really wanted to try them. To be blunt, the Klampers work great. Powerful, extremely easy setup, clearly a quality product. The canti levers are really nice too, but one issue is that you need to adjust the reach before setting up the brake...I'm glad I did that. I'm totally sold on these, even though they are expensive. Sometimes you just got to pay for quality.

  15. My Co-Motion Pangea Rohloff came with the TRP Spyre. I am quite heavy and the performance compared to rim brakes was not good. I have S&S couplers and need to be able to take the bike apart. So I tried the HY/RD. I did not like how much lever pull was left so changed to the Crazy Bars and Paul Canti Levers. This helped allot but a leak developed and annoyed me. I purchased the Paul Klampers a couple of weeks ago. I use The Paul Canti lever and Yokozuna Compressionless cable housing to the stops and Rohloff cable housing and a Jagwire lined end cap on the rear housing piece. These brakes are as good or better than my Magura HS66 rim brakes on my Tandem. Don't be a winier.