Promising, but Inconclusive: A SRAM Maven Disc Brake First-Ride Review


Promising, but Inconclusive: A SRAM Maven Disc Brake First-Ride Review

Travis has been clamoring for a more powerful SRAM brake, and the new Maven is definitely that. But one issue in his first-ride review left him uncertain.

By the time you’re reading this, my focus will have already shifted from SRAM’s new Maven brakes to something else entirely. I’ve got to get cracking on organizing my thoughts on a new aggressive 130mm rear-travel trail bike I’ve been testing. That word, “aggressive,” doesn’t just mean a slack head angle and a long wheelbase. Ideally, it also means appropriately aggressive component spec, like thick-casing tires or a thick-stanchion fork. This test bike, for example, has a RockShox Lyric. But I doubt 130 mm trail 29ers were what RockShox had in mind when they introduced the Lyric way back in 2015. The fact that you’re now seeing enduro forks on trail bikes points to a sort of “capability inflation.” Reasonable bikes are capable of increasingly unreasonable feats. That’s why this unnamed test bike also came with SRAM Code brakes. Codes may be a bit behind the gravity pack when it comes to peak power, but they’re still well beyond what I’d call a mild-mannered “trail” brake. Plus, I love how Codes feel. There’s a firmness to the lever stroke and a predictability to the power curve. They just haven’t quite kept up with capability inflation. That’s why I was so excited after I heard news of the new, higher-powered SRAM Maven, and why I’m left so conflicted after testing them.

Quick Hits:

  • Maxima-brand Mineral oil only
  • 18.5 / 19mm four-piston caliper
  • Oversized caliper to resist overheating but also retain optimal heat
  • All models come stock with organic pads (metallic available aftermarket)
  • Maven-specific brake pad shape (not compatible with SRAM Code brake pad)
  • “Stealth” lever shape and hose orientation optimized for … thru-headset cable routing
  • Standard SRAM “MMX” clamp style
  • Positioned as more powerful than Code brakes, which will still continue to be available
  • Four price points available:
    • Limited Edition Ultimate Expert (tested): $600
      • Includes:
      • Front & rear brake
      • Spare metallic pads (x2)
      • Four rotors (180, 200 [x2], and 220)
      • New style 20 mm caliper adapter (x2)
      • Pro mineral oil bleed kit
    • Ultimate (brake only): $300 per wheel
    • Silver (brake only): $265 per wheel
    • Bronze (brake only): $185 per wheel

I’ll start with that excitement before I get to the conflict. I want to take you on the same journey I went on with the Mavens. First, they run on mineral oil. All of SRAM’s other brakes, with one notable exception, use DOT fluid. DOT fluid and mineral oil are not interchangeable, and brake components like seals and pistons need to be made of a material compatible with their respective fluid. DOT is a good choice for disc brakes because it can withstand a very wide range of temperatures. That’s why it’s the go-to in motor vehicles, hence “Department Of Transportation.” But it has its drawbacks. For one thing, DOT fluid absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. So much so that, even inside a brake, enough water can build up that many brands recommend a bleed once every year. Mineral oil is such an improvement in this department that its service life doubles to every two years. Beyond that, I’ve gotten chemical burns from drops of DOT fluid I neglected to wipe off my hands. Yes, I know I should wear gloves when working on brakes, regardless of what fluid is inside them. Mineral oil is still a chemical, after all. But, come on. Even though spinach can harbor E. coli, making a salad doesn’t require the same hazmat protocol as making chicken parm.

That “notable exception” I mentioned is the DB8, quietly released in early 2022. There wasn’t much fanfare around them, and I couldn’t find many professional reviews. Maybe because the DB8 wasn’t about grabbing attention. In fact, you might say they had the opposite goal. The low maintenance, minimal adjustability, and relatively affordable price point aimed the DB8 at people who don’t want to think about their bikes a lot. It’s essentially a mineral-oil version of the Code, and it just happens to serve as proof of concept. They made a pretty powerful brake that stood up to temperature swings and, during testing, could spend two weeks completely submerged underwater without absorbing a single drop. The Mavens run on the same Maxima-brand mineral oil and use the same seal and piston material as the DB8. But the brake design and structure are very different. Maven promises a lot more power, which is what really got me excited.

Though it’s not as simple as “bigger is better,” bigger certainly helps when it comes to caliper pistons. The Maven uses 19.5 mm “front” pistons, and 18 mm “rear.” They’re bigger than Code’s 16 and 15mm, or even the 18 and 16 mm pistons in the Hope Tech 4 V4 brakes Josh just reviewed. It essentially gives the lever a greater mechanical advantage over the caliper. And of course, the caliper itself is also bigger. And these photos don’t do it justice. The thing is massive. I’ve actually heard people guess at first glance that it was a six-piston caliper. The four bolts connecting the two halves may be part of that, but they’re just there to reign in the intense force trying to flex the caliper apart, channeling that power to the rotor and keeping the brakes from feeling mushy.

And the “mass” of the massive caliper isn’t just about stiffness. It’s about heat. Specifically about heat, if you’ll pardon the physics pun. It would take a lot of energy to get this big hunk of metal so hot that the pads start to lose power, but that phenomenon also works in reverse. There is an ideal operating temperature range for any brake, and it would take a lot of time to cool a Maven caliper until it drops below that range. Speaking of “cool,” no, these calipers are not Eddie Van Halen “Frankenstrat” special editions. The red-and-silver calipers are part of a very limited run of “Ultimate Expert” kits, which will include front and rear Maven Ultimate brakes with ti hardware, multiple rotor sizes, pad compounds, caliper adapters (including a beautiful updated 20 mm adaptor that doesn’t require spherical washers), and a Pro mineral oil bleed kit for an impressive $600. It’s meant to encourage experimentation with the different setups made viable with Maven’s new paradigm of power. There’s also a functionally identical standard Maven Ultimate brake-only for $300 per wheel, a Maven Silver without ti hardware at $265 per wheel, and a Maven Bronze with a more basic stamped aluminum lever blade and no contact point adjustment for $185 per wheel. None come close to the splatter-ano vibe of the Ultimate Expert, but I’m kinda partial to the raw aluminum color of the lever.

The lever’s piston was designed to deliver optimal hydraulic ratio to the new caliper, but the blade contour, spring tension, and pivot position are effectively the same as Code. The most noticeable change was in the shape of the Maven’s SwingLink. Also found on Code and G2 brakes, SwingLink is a small linkage that augments the leverage curve between the lever blade and the lever piston. Early in the stroke, it forfeits power in favor of getting through the lever’s “deadband” as quickly as possible. Later in the stroke, once the pads have contacted the rotor, it instead multiplies that power. The same is true of other SRAM SwingLink levers, but the effects are more profound on the Maven. In fact, the deadband was so short that, for my first time ever, I actually moved my lever’s contact-point adjustment a few clicks in from its tightest setting. It should be noted that, although the contact-point adjustment isn’t a feature on the lowest-price Maven, SwingLink is featured across the board. That’s a departure from entry-level Code and G2 brakes, but SwingLink feels so incredibly good on Maven that I’m glad they kept it on all models. Speaking of “feel,” let’s get into it.

Ride Impressions

Once the rear brake was installed and the pads were aligned, all it took was one pull of the lever and I was in love. It was a lot like a Code; firm and solid. I can appreciate the light touch of Shimano, Hayes and Magura, but there’s something comforting about a Code, G2, or for that matter, a Hope brake. They have broad blades, strong return springs, and an abrupt thud signaling the pads have made contact. The Maven had it all, plus that impressively short deadstroke. But the second time I pulled it, something felt wrong. That abrupt “thud” happened significantly sooner, with the tip of the lever six or seven millimeters further than the first pull. I figured it might just need a bleed or a ride or both, so I moved on to installing the front brake to see if it had the same quirk. It did, but to a lesser extent.

When I looked at the Maven press dossier—something I probably should have done first—I saw that the bleed process includes a mandatory final step called a “piston massage” meant in part to address this very issue. SRAM tells me it’s always been in the user manual, including DOT brakes. But it’s particularly important on the Mavens because of their hydraulic ratio. That mechanical advantage that the lever has over the caliper has the opposite effect when it comes time for the pads to return. The caliper pistons and seals are at a mechanical disadvantage to the lever reservoir. Unless the pistons are positioned just right and the contacting surfaces are prepared, they will return slightly slower than they should. A quick successive pull on the lever will cause “pump-out,” which is what I was experiencing. As SRAM puts it, piston massage is a way to “optimize the friction” between the pistons and seals and speed up the return, minimizing pump-out. To be clear, nothing can totally eliminate pump-out on any brake. I realized while navigating this that it happens on all my bikes, though when I measured them, the average was less than two millimeters.

A brief side note on hydraulic brake calipers: When we pull the brakes, the pistons aren’t really sliding in and out of their seals like fork stanchions. It’s more that the seals are “rocking” the pistons. Like a toilet plunger or a subwoofer. “Sliding” only happens as the pads wear and the brake self-adjusts. A piston massage limbers everything up so that, when the pads and rotors are installed, they will come to rest in a natural place. Sort of like that final bounce you do when setting suspension sag. It’s not something you’ll need to do regularly, but massaging the pistons when a brake is new or its pads are replaced ensures all four pistons can work together the way they’re supposed to.

The mandatory version of the piston massage is pretty simple, and can be done with no tools other than the little plastic pad spacer you’d use during shipping. But that didn’t fix it. So, deeper in that dossier, there was a more involved troubleshooting procedure for this exact situation, but In my haste, I just went out for a shakedown loop, hoping 1,000 or so feet of descending would do the trick. It did not. Sorry to bore you with the play-by-play here, but facts are important. Because when I did do that more involved troubleshooting procedure, which involves extending the pistons much further out of the caliper and then pressing them back in, it still did not totally fix the problem. Nor when I did it again while on a video call with my contact at SRAM. Or when I did it again after my longest ride during the test period. Or when I did it again after swapping to SRAM’s narrower Centerline rotors. Sometimes, it would seem like it got better. I’d have to really search for the pump-out when I walked by the bike to check on it. Maybe it’d still measure close to five mm, but when I was just pulling it, not measuring it, well jeez, it didn’t feel that bad.

Then, I would go ride it. I’d get lost in the flow on a trail I know extremely well. Thanks to some recent California rains, there’s excellent traction out here, and I could make some real poetry of it. I’d be feathering my speed, tapping or re-tapping my brakes during one of the dozens of decisions I’m making every second, and suddenly I’d feel the pump-out again. It was usually the rear brake. It never threatened me with a crash, or even threw me significantly off-line. But it would throw me off my game. Through all the trial and error, the only thing that I found had any real impact on pump-out was heat. If I was on an unrelentingly steep section of trail, the issue would be less noticeable, I assume because the brakes would get hot and things would move easier. Kinda like Bikram yoga. But on the flipside, it would take a while to build up to that optimal heat after not touching my brakes during a chilly two-hour climb. Plus, if I was on a fast traverse that only requires intermittent braking, the bite point would remain unpredictable. Again, this does happen to some extent on all brakes. But it was much more noticeable with these. And that’s the thing. Maven absolutely delivers on the promise of power. SRAM’s claim of a 50% increase in peak power is true, as is their claim you’ll need 32% less effort at the lever. But any unpredictability with that power was unnerving. It had me second-guessing my actions on the trail, and that is not a good feeling.

Throughout all this, my contact at SRAM has been incredibly responsive. We’ve had calls on weekends and early mornings when it was still dark in his corner of the world. Though his business card may say “Public Relations,” it’s probably covered in greasy fingerprints. He’s a product guy who’s been getting his hands dirty for years, working behind the scenes of a lot of important things in modern mountain bike design. I know what I’m about to say sounds downright meme-able to anyone who’s ever worked in a bike shop or otherwise had to call in a warranty, but he tells me my brake is the first consumer-ready, non-pre-production Maven that has had such a persistent issue with pump-out. And I believe him, but I don’t know that there are enough Mavens in the wild yet for me to feel comfortable counting my experience as a statistically insignificant anomaly. And also, I can’t ignore the elephant in the room.

The Elephant in the Room

SRAM has had a clean, reliable track record for a while now, even as their market share has steadily grown. But brakes are a touchy subject for them. I won’t bother with a full retelling. This review is already running too long. Plus, official details are scarce. Basically, SRAM has had two models in the past sixteen years that are dark spots in their history: Elixirs and Guides. Early Elixirs had a design that made it extremely difficult to bleed air bubbles from the lever (the above left lever featured a bleed port that made it less susceptible), and Guides suffered widespread failures due to a problem with the chemical makeup of their main piston seals. Internet mountain bike forums are full of people who see a systemic connection between these two failures. I don’t think I’m being naive when I argue that’s not true.  I only bring it up because anyone out there who got burned with one of these brakes might be brimming with schadenfreude upon hearing me say I had an issue with a new SRAM brake. But I strongly suggest we wait and see.

As is often the case with just-released products, there wasn’t a reserve stock of production Mavens waiting to be sent out in case one journalist had an issue. Hopefully, I’ll soon be able to give them a second chance. If I do, you’ll be the first to know, because—and this is the thought I want to leave you with—the Mavens might actually be fucking amazing. My issue truly could be a fluke. Go read a few other reviews today. I know I will. I sincerely want these brakes to deliver on their potential. Having more power than you need is a wonderful feeling. And I’ve never felt that more than I have with these brakes. During my short time on the Mavens, I did about 15,000 feet of descending, and a lot of it was sheer beauty.  When I wasn’t doing the quick successive feathering pulls that were most likely to result in pump-out, I felt more secure than I ever have. Not only was there always more power waiting for me if I needed it, I always knew I wouldn’t have to white-knuckle if I wanted it.

That sensation, combined with the minimal deadstroke, seemed to transform braking from a physical action to an emotional one. It was a choice, not an effort. My arms and wrists could tune the bike’s pitch and yaw, while the tips of my index fingers could conjure a speed adjustment, forceful slowdown, or an instant lock with only the slightest movement. It took some getting used to, but it made it easy for me to work on my stylish nose manuals around switchbacks, or to blip my rear wheel loose to line up my trajectory out of a chaotic rock section. I even ended up running organic front pads and metallic rear because I liked the wider mid-power modulation up front and the quicker onset of locking force in the rear. And that’s with a 180 rear, 200 front rotor combo. On my Code brakes, I had seriously considered going to a 220 front rotor, but I’d much rather have a set of Mavens. And I’ve ridden a lot of different brakes. If you manage a perfect bleed on a Shimano Saint so its bite point doesn’t wander, it’s not too far from what these offer. And a Hayes Dominion A4 edges out Code when it comes to low-effort, high-return. But the brake I thought of most when riding the Maven was the Trickstuff Direttissima. Try them once and you’ll be hooked. Unfortunately, the only way to catch the dragon is to fork out $1,200 and wait at least six months. With Maven, you can get that sublime sensation for half the price from SRAM. Though for now, it may be wise to still do just a little bit of waiting. Watch this space.


  •  Could be the most powerful brake you can buy
  • Low-maintenance mineral oil
  • Short deadstroke if you want it
  • Adjustable deadstroke if you don’t
  • So powerful, it makes organic pads or smaller rotors a viable option
  • Firm, flex-free feel
  • Thorough full-system bleeds are user-friendly.
  • Common MMX matchmaker for easy dropper remote compatibility
  • SwingLink leverage multiplier on all models
  • Broad range of price points


  • I don’t yet know if other Maven brakes or Maven users will have the same issue I did

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