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  • Writer's pictureHannah Awesome

The SRAM Maven Brakes Are the Most Fatiguing Brakes He's Tested. Can You Trust Bike Media?

Updated: Mar 13

Dale Stone Sram Maven Brakes

Dale Stone is a professional MTB content creator based in British Columbia. His recent brake reviews have been quite the talk in the mountain bike industry, specifically his take on the brand new SRAM Mavens, which received the lowest score he has ever given to a brake set, despite seemingly glowing reviews from "legacy" bike media. Dale’s reviews clearly have a deep understanding into the engineering of products, with Dale himself having a mechanical engineering degree and bike industry design background. This might be the reason SRAM has reached out to him to talk following the review. Mo reached out to Dale to hear more about his negative experience with the SRAM Mavens, thoughts on honesty in bike media, why he thinks SRAM reached out to him, and if traditional bike media is gatekeeping from the new generation of bike review talent.  

Interview Starts: 

Mo: Hey Dale! Hope you have been great. Your recent Sram Maven review video seems to be really making the rounds and creating quite the buzz. So before we get into it I just want to ask, who are you and what's your background? 

Dale: Hey Mo & Hannah! Hope you're doing well too, and congrats on getting engaged! That review has certainly taken off and seems to be sparking some debate online, haha.

My name is Dale Stone, and I'm a bicycle addict in Vancouver, Canada. I'm a mechanical engineering graduate by study, and before going full-time with my YouTube channel I had been working on the engineering team of a major bike industry OEM for almost 6 years, having a small hand in a few of their award winning mountain bikes. I choose not to mention this in my videos because although it might be relevant, it definitely isn't a requirement for producing honest and accurate reviews.

Mo: Thank you!! And so cool! Yeah I remember you mentioning your past career to me before. Your engineering background really shines through in your reviews on your channel, the water bottle brake actuation demonstration was pretty rad to watch and as someone who is much less mechanically intelligent than you, it was super cool to see things broken down that way. For anyone that hasn't seen the review of the Maven brakes we are talking about here it is (SRAM Maven Review). I highly recommend people watch it as it gives a very good detailed breakdown into the issues you ran into with the brakes. 

I think it's pretty safe to say with a 55 score on the "Dale scale" and your issues with fatigue, you didn't get along with these brakes lol. So to start things off, how would you describe your issues with the SRAM Maven brakes for people that might be looking for a shorter summary? And also so people know, what is your favorite brake currently and why? 

Dale: I'd like to think the water bottle test resonated with many of the viewers too. I'd happily talk about graphs and spreadsheets all day (and I may have overstayed that welcome in the video), but demonstrating my point with something as tangible as the water bottle test is at lot more approachable and still gets the majority of my point across to most viewers, I think!

They certainly weren't the brakes for me, haha. A quick summary of my opinions of the Mavens eh? They are one of the most powerful, consistent and (likely) reliable brakes that I've ever tried. If you've never found a powerful enough brake for your needs then this is clearly for you. They're genuinely almost one of the best brakes on the market. My criticism is that they have some of the stiffest levers around, and the force required to start them moving and get through the deadband is nearly double that of the Shimano brakes that I've tried, which aren't notably light action. I believe that this heavier/stiffer lever force was the primary contributor to these brakes being one of the most fatiguing options I've tried, to the point where I would routinely have to pull over and rest my hands. As I'm sure you're aware from road riding and presumably training with a power meter; even a small difference in watts (or in this case force) can make or break your soul over time. Some riders will be able to handle this additional load, and that's great. But I can't think of a benefit of a stiff lever feel; I certainly believe that a lighter dead stroke force would have contributed to less rider fatigue and make the Mavens appeal to a much broader audience.

My favourite brake is the Intend Trinity. It is truly a work of (expensive) art: it has an extremely light lever feel, a very predictable ramp up in power, and is without a doubt the easiest brake to bleed on the market. I've tried most of the brakes out there in at least some capacity and I have yet to find a better option for me. As always, the hunt continues though! Haha

Mo: That's very interesting! I've ridden with you before and you are definitely a rider that knows a thing or 2 about braking as you have a very "trial-sy" riding style, so that must be some very high regards for those Trinity brakes on the "Dale Score". I will have to look into those! So personally I love SRAM Code RSC brakes and I might actually be one of the few people out there that do. I had a chance to test the Mavens months ago on a bike that is still under embargo, and my personal first thought was that the entire construction of everything seemed way over the top. The brand wasn't able to tell me much about the brakes at the time but I actually thought they were going to be released as an E-Bike brakeset. Then they came out and I was surprised that similar to the Transmission, it was marketed as a brake set for all bikes, both analog and electric. 

So I guess putting our tinfoil hats on, do you think the Mavens are more intended for bikes in the 50-60lbs ebike weight categories that most people seem to be enjoying? Like a YT Decoy or Specialzied Levo or Kenevo? I personally feel like Transmision was meant to be an E-bike drivetrain and they were forced to market it to the masses. I haven't been shy in thinking that transmission is the worst drivetrain or even mountain bike component I have tested in years. In my eyes it makes so much sense for e bikes, not shifting when you want it  but rather pre preprogrammed points because on an ebike it would explode the chain. If it was marketed as an ebike drivetrain I would say its amazing but its not. 

Do you feel like the Mavens might be in the same boat, and do you feel like SRAM and other brands are having to choose whether to market something as E specific or a general product? 

Dale: Haha, I appreciate that! And I’m glad that you had the chance to try out the Mavens in person. I have no doubt that Mavens or even Codes are a perfectly sufficient brake for a number of riders out there. They wouldn’t be as popular if they weren’t! But I wish that everyone could experience all of the available options before making their purchasing decision; I strongly believe that the market share for just about every component would be quite different if that was possible, given that small brands can just not compete with the major player's budgets.

As much as I do love a good conspiracy theory, I think the boring reality here is that there is just a lot of overlap between what makes a good e-bike component and a long travel mountain bike component. A good example here is the Shimano MT520 brakeset. It was marketed to OEMs as an e-bike brakeset, but they turned out to be great for long travel mountain bikes too! This is a very interesting point though, and I have no doubt that SRAM’s engineering team had both target demographics in mind when they designed the Maven. If I had to put my tinfoil hat on I would bet that ON AVERAGE e-bike riders tend to be a bit more open minded when it comes to component selection than mountain bikers. If this is true, then it would make the most sense for anybody to market products that are relevant to multiple categories to the audience that is the least open-minded. If we look at SRAM’s product landing page for the Mavens, their aspirational imagery of downhill racers with dual crown forks make it pretty clear who the marketing department has identified as their target consumer. I’d bet that this strategy does not dissuade e-bike riders from purchasing these brakes, but marketing them in the opposite way would likely result in fewer sales. After all, how many times have you heard mountain bikers complain about e-bike specific components being ridiculous, whether justified or not? SRAM has one of the best marketing teams in the entire industry and I’m sure they’ve had many discussions at length about this exact topic, haha. Am I way off base with this mildly-hot take?

I won’t bite on your Transmission comments, not because I fully disagree, but because they’re worth their own long-form video in the future. 😉  I know another content creator has plans to cover this topic before I do… 

Mo: Interesting and I am sure you are probably more right with that rational take, but I will be keeping my tinfoil hat on. Now I have to ask, did SRAM reach out to you after your review video and if so what did they have to say if you can share? Also I can't help but feel like the reason your video resonated so well with people is the honest feeling I got while watching the video. Do you feel like bigger review sites can maintain a level of integrity while also not burning the marketing dollar bridge that is SRAM? Like you mention their marketing team is huge and I'm sure their advertising budget is as well?

Dale: I'm glad that honesty was one of the themes you took from the review, that was exactly what I was going for and is a very important part about being a credible reviewer.

SRAM did indeed reach out to me within 24 hours of the video going live which they deserve big credit for. One of their PR reps from Bellingham wanted to establish contact and invited me out for a ride sometime to discuss things. I'm sure there will be some back and forth before anything publishable is discovered, which is fine.They haven't suggested anything of the sort, but I'm the first to admit that there is a non-zero chance that my sample was particularly stiff or there is a significant variation between batches. If my review turns out to be a statistically significant outlier then I'd be more than happy to retest another brakeset and applaud SRAM for reaching out first. Time will tell!

Integrity is a huge point for sure. There's always a balance between providing truly unbiased product reviews and actually being able to pay rent, you and I both know that. What matters is how professional affiliations are disclosed to the viewer or reader. If one review site has a much more positive take on an objectively bad product than the rest that doesn't inherently make them guilty, but it does raise some red flags that would warrant a closer look. I feel that in general a lot of the major publications tend to be a bit too soft on everyone. As far as I'm aware none of them are extremely well off financially and they rely on loaned products in order to make review content in the first place, to varying extents. There will always be some level of bias, conscious or unconscious as long as the bike industry continues to let review products go to reviewers as "gifts", or let them be purchased at insultingly low prices. Disclosing industry relationships between companies and individual reviewers along with stating what level of compensation is being offered in exchange for product reviews would go a long way. I could rant about this topic for hours so I'll stop here, haha. Do I believe it is possible? Absolutely. But I don't think we're there yet, and some outlets have significantly more work to do than others.

Mo: Couldn't agree more on the disclosure aspect! And super interesting on them reaching out. I'm very interested to hear how that will play out. Do you think they would have reached out to you if your video was just as viral, however you had a more positive experience? Also do you feel like there is any gatekeeping when it comes to companies and product reviews? It seems like new media doesn't seem to get the same treatment in my eyes as "traditional media" even though it seems like general consumers are looking more and more to new media? 

Dale: I'm not sure if they would have reached out if my experience was more positive. My intuition says probably not, but our conversation has not gotten far enough for me to truly understand their reasoning. Stay tuned, I'll keep you posted haha.

I see what you're saying, and I generally agree. In many ways the bike industry is stuck in the past. A ton of brands of all sizes still don't view YouTube as a serious platform, or creators on it as competition to the traditional websites. This mentality also extends to athletes who 90% of the time are ultimately just a marketing tool. To us this seems insane, as we have the potential to individually pull in view and watch time numbers that are an order of magnitude higher than traditional media with salaried marketing teams can. Although I was too young to remember it, I'm sure this gradual transition away from traditional web media and towards video-centric media is not dissimilar to that of the transition from print to web. I haven't  personally experienced any gatekeeping, but I do feel that a lot of brands don't take social media as seriously as they should and will end up paying for it in the future. It's hard to miss the elitism vibe from the usual suspects in traditional media though!

Mo: Look forward to hearing more about that conversation with SRAM. Last question for you, what is something you want people to know about what you have planned for the year? Are you still looking to do more reviews? Anything people can look forward too? 

Dale: I'd like to get into more review style content this year! Currently I'm on the hunt to find the best brakes ever, so people can definitely expect many more brake reviews in the near future. I'm also a lover of all things quirky and weird, so if there's anything you or any viewers have in mind then please let me know. Things like linkage forks, revgrips, the raised reverse stem... they're my kryptonite, haha. And of course, lots of high quality riding and adventure content sprinkled in between.

Thanks again for reaching out Mo & Hannah, see you on the trails next time you're up here eh!

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