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Growtac Equal Brakes: Unleashing Japanese Craftsmanship

Growtac is a manufacturer from Tokyo that applies Japanese-level craftsmanship to all its products including its new brake calipers called The Equal. Like most things from Japan, these brakes are beautifully engineered and easy on the eyes. Immu has been testing the Equals over the past few months in Thailand to see how they function. Roll on.

Growtac Equal Brakes: Unleashing Japanese Craftsmanship

Years ago, I cycled and wild-camped through Japan. We finished our days in various local hot springs called Onsen. One night, I entered the onsen and felt as if I had been zapped with a cattle prod. Yes, there was an electric current running through the water! My mind screamed! Later, I found that this type of hot spring is called "Denki Buro” or electric bath, designed to relax muscles. I saluted the fearlessness of the Japanese in using this deadly combination of electricity and water to relax. This experience developed my trust in Japanese innovation and its ability to create new things.

When Velo Orange announced they would be the exclusive dealer of Growtac Equal brakes, the mechanical disc brakes made in Japan, I was immediately interested. I was impressed by the Equal design, colors, cable-actuated system, and overall innovation. It sounded like a disc brake I could easily fall in love with and potentially replace my TRP Spyres with Shimano Ultegra 6800 brifters. I'll say it, I love mechanical brakes. They are easy to understand and maintain. All you need is a spare set of inner cables and brake pads and you're ready for any adventure.

Sorry to all of you hydraulic brake lovers out there but Growtac Equal brakes are purposely built mechanical brakes. As you may know, mechanical disc brakes use a cable-pulling system while the hydraulic ones use fluid to transfer braking forces. There are three main parts to a disc brake system: the brake lever, the transmission, and the brake caliper. The braking power of a hydraulic system is indeed higher than the mechanical type due to the loss of tension in the wiring system to the rotor pinching force. So why did Growtac insist on developing and releasing mechanical brakes? There's a story behind that. Let's have a look!

The Growtac Story

It's not really debatable that the move from rim to disc brakes has made a huge impact on the industry. Most complete bicycles are now equipped with hydraulic disc brakes with the belief that they provide stronger braking power. However, Growtac didn't accept this and wanted to create a brake that provided users the freedom to choose a brake that best suits their style of riding. But who actually is Growtac? Growtac is a Japanese manufacturer founded in Tokyo in 2002 that develops and sells mechanical disc brakes, indoor cycling trainers, apparel, and all sorts of bicycle accessories. They identified three vital challenges of mechanical disc brakes to design around: lower braking power, heavier weights, and simply, a poor image in the market. This led to the Equal Disc brake which claimed to be a new generation of mechanical disc brakes, overcoming the cons of existing mechanical systems.

Unboxing & Installation

The packaging of the Equal brakes impressed me—simple, neat, and premium like many things in and from Japan. The package includes two disc brake calipers with brake pads, two special outer casing sets, a warranty policy, a user manual, and installation instructions. I tested the post-mount version so instructions include how to install the hard outer casing. However, if you ordered a flat-mount version, the package will include one adapter set for a flat mount (front, 140mm/160mm), and one mounting bolt set for a flat mount (rear).

Installing the Equal brakes is similar to other mechanical calipers. However, there seem to be more steps and more instructions to follow due to the special features of the brake. It might take longer to install for non-mechanic cyclists. Growtac has provided the detailed installation guide in this link. Though the installation is detailed, I had both concerns and positive comments during the installation.

My first concern is that you must pay full attention to the outer casing installation because it affects braking power. Two types of outer casings come with the brake set: soft and hard (compressionless) outer casings. For those using a drop bar, use the soft outer casing for areas with curves or tight bends, and use the hard one for the part where the brake wiring is straight like a downtube area. For flat bar users, it is recommended to use only the hard outer casing, but if the rebound is too strong with unfavorable effects on handling, use the soft option the same as the drop bar. The difficulties for me appeared when I had to connect soft and hard outer casings with the outer connector. The connector can come off during assembly or usage and you need to secure the connector with plastic tape or electrical insulating tape.

The feature I loved most during installation was the caliper center marker. It makes the disc rotor centering simple as ABC. You just tighten both sides of the brake pad adjustment screws to let both pads out until the center marker is in the middle of the disc rotor to finish the centering process. That's it! The brake-leverage gauge and Danger Zone marking (the triangle with the exclamation mark) do help during the installation as well. They help us quickly find the proper cable pull of brake levers and provide effortless adjustments along your ride!

Let's Ride

The Equals were tested on a 7-day bikepacking trip under various conditions, from dusty roads to muddy tracks with numerous steep descents.

Full-Stop Breaking Power

While soaring down the hills with my weight over my seat bag, the Equals never “screamed” as you would expect from new brakes. Without a doubt, the Equals provide finer control and stronger braking power than my previous TRP Spyre. With Equal brakes, I can stop how I want on any terrain. From my perspective, the combination of soft and hard outer cables allows for better power transfer. Also, the unique vertical cam structure for better cable routing also plays a major role in the outstanding braking power.

Reliable Brake-Leverage Adjustment

This unique adjustment function allows you to set the Equal brakes to suit your preferences, usage, weight, and grip strength. Unlike other calipers, the brake-leverage gauge and Danger Zone marking are on the caliper's body to adjust the brake feeling that suits you. There is no doubt about when to adjust the pads. Immediately adjust the pad clearance when the gauge is near the Danger Zone to avoid brake failure.

No Sweat Brake Pad Adjustment

For those who find adjusting brake pads on mechanical calipers complicated, you will definitely love this feature on the Equal brakes. Two adjusting screws located on the inner and outer sides of the pads allow for a quick adjustment whenever you need it. Despite this ease of adjustment, be careful to loosen the rubber plugs covering the screws as they fall off quite easily. Yup, I already lost one which might affect it when water leaks in the system :(

High-Quality Brake Pads

The provided resin brake pads give the right brake feelings, no screaming, and stand up to wear and tear. Mine are still looking good after a few trips. The pads are manufactured by Vesrah, a Japanese Manufacturer that specializes in producing high-quality after-market brake pads. The pads can also be replaced with Shimano pads such as K04 (metal), K03 (resin), and K05S-RX (successor to K03) as informed by Growtac. We tried replacing them with Shimano K05Ti-RX Resin Pads which worked great.

A Lightweight Mechanical Disc Brake

The Growtac Equal caliper weighs only 136 grams while my TRP Spyre weighs 154 grams. Growtac claims that the Equal Brakes are the currently world's lightest mechanical disc brakes using ultra-high-strength duralumin (age-hardenable aluminum alloy) as the material and machine for most of the caliper parts.

Disassembly & Maintenance

Growtac also mentioned that the Equal brakes can be disassembled and maintained leading to longer-lasting stability and performance. I still haven't had a chance to disassemble the calipers as they are brand new. Once I get a chance, I will update you with a detailed review.

Short-Pull Brake Levers Only

Bad news for you mountain bikers with long-pull brake levers, the Equals are currently only available for short-pull levers only. If you are using a flat bar with long-pull levers and want to try the Equals out, switch the levers to Paul Components Canti Lever or Shimano road brake levers for a flat bar.

Wrapping Up

After spending many days screaming oohs and aahs descending long steep routes, the Growtac Equal Brakes have become my new trusted braking companions. The braking force is perfect and the maintenance is super easy and understandable for all users. The quality materials, brake-leverage adjustment, special outer casings, and no sweat pad adjustment show that Growtac has put all focus on the user's needs. I would strongly recommend the Equal brakes to all riders who often cycle in remote areas or plan long tours. The necessary parts are easy to source and you can maintain the brakes on your own, from anywhere. The brake also suits those who love colorful bike decorations.

On the Velo Orange website, Growtac Equal brakes are $350 USD for the flat mount and $390 USD for the post mount version. With this price, the Equal Brakes are in between Paul Components and TRP Spyre. If you are more interested in more color options, lighter weight, and additional features, the Equal Brakes will serve you well. You can get them both on the Velo Orange and Growtac websites. With Growtac Equal brakes, I'm now saying "goodbye" to all stress and saying "hello" with a happy face to all technical descents!

✓ Pros
A high braking force with fine feelings for mechanical disc brakes
Easy adjustment and maintenance
Swappable between bikes easily
Compatible with Shimano pads that can be sourced in local bike shops
Practical rotor centering and Danger Zone markings
Rad design
✕ Cons
Might take more installation time for non-bike mechanic cyclists
No rotor included
Available for short-pull levers only
Rubber plug covering pad adjusting screws easily fall off
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