Known for their outstanding power and beautiful finish, Trickstuff brakes are masterpieces. They’re also pricy and hard to find, especially in North America. But it’s not just about what’s on the outside that counts. The pad material Trickstuff developed is also pretty special, and you can get their pads for nearly any brand of brake. So Travis Engel slid some Trickstuff Brake Pads into his Shimano SLX brakes, and started stopping.
Trickstuff brakes are legendary. Most of us will never encounter a set in the wild. I met someone in Portugal who owned a pair, and it was like that time I got to play my cousin’s Neo-Geo; None of my friends believed me. But it happened. I swear.
The very small German brand works in very small quantities, which means long waits and high prices. The set I want (the four-piston “Direttissima”) costs about $600 a wheel. And the Trickstuff page opens with a disclaimer about delivery times that essentially reads, “Stop asking.”
A lot like Hope Tech, everything Trickstuff makes has a jewelry-quality finish. But unlike Hope, these brakes focus more on peak power than wide modulation. And it might actually be too much peak power. I’ve descended less than 50 vertical feet on a set of Trickstuff Diretissimas, so what the hell do I know? But I’m sure I could adapt. They. Just. Feel. So. Good. Take the firm bite point of a SRAM Code, add the broad machined lever blade of a Hope 5, and give it more power than Shimano Saints.
Trickstuff was purchased by DT Swiss about a year ago. So, maybe there’s a bandwidth increase on the horizon if DT Swiss follows the playbook written when Scott bought in-frame-shock pioneers, Bold Cycles. But for those of us looking to get a cheap taste sooner than later, Trickstuff also manufactures pads to fit most mainstream brakes. They’re relatively easy to get in the US (through overseas distributors), cost about $20 a wheel (plus shipping and VAT), and make some lofty promises. So, I got two sets each of their Standard and Power pads (omitting their longer-wearing “Eco” pads), as well as a pair of their lightweight and heavy duty rotors. And I’m impressed.
Both pads are classified as organic, which scared me at first. Organic pads are usually for budget brakes and generic replacements and people who just can’t handle that icky scraping noise. But these organic pads are far less pedestrian. They lean into the material’s capability to steeply ramp up bite force, while inflicting less wear and tear on the rotor. I tested them in a set of four-piston SLX brakes, replacing stock, sintered Shimano pads. I also had two pairs of Trickstuff’s rotors when testing. Not surprisingly, they’re high-tech too. Both are approximately 2.0mm thick, same as the relatively thick SRAM HS2 rotors. But there’s both a Heavy-Duty version and a skeletal Ultra-Light version. both with the full 2mm thickness, though the 140mm and 160mm Ultra Light one is 1.85mm thick. With fresh rotors installed, I dropped in the pads. Not wanting a shock to the system, I started out with the Trickstuff Standard pads.
As someone accustomed to sintered pads, Trickstuff’s organic pads felt surprisingly familiar. On most other organic pads, just lightly feathering the brakes doesn’t really do much. I usually have to go deeper in the stroke to get any significant bite. But the initial power comes easy with the Trickstuff Standard. There’s a smooth but positive introduction of force that really only differs from sintered by being noticeably quieter. Or at least, it was quieter for me. I’ve read some user complaints about howling Trickstuff pads, but there are a lot of variables in that equation. I just know mine added up to silence … as long as the rotors were dry. Compared to my stock Shimano pads, it took about an extra 100 feet of heat build-up to stop the squealing and get to work. But as long as the rotors stayed hot, braking in both wet and dry conditions were equally superb, much like sintered pads. Same goes for their resistance to fade over sustained braking. It would eventually happen, but the Trickstuff Standards took about the same amount of behind-the-saddle steep descending as stock sintered pads to noticeably lose power.
Where the Trickstuff Standard pads start to diverge a bit from my sintered Shimanos is in high-intensity braking. There was a noticeable “hammock” in the increasing rate of bite force near the very end of the power band. It made for a wider spread of mid-power braking before the peak, but the sharp increase could be a tad unsettling. Even though that peak wasn’t sharp enough to unexpectedly send me over the bars, I think I liked Shimano’s sintered pads better in this respect. There was more warning as I reached maximum stopping force. Although Trickstuff’s Standard pads offer significantly more net stopping power than any organic pad I’ve used, aggressive riders will probably prefer the predictability of a sintered pad. On the flipside, the Standard pads shine as a higher-powered alternative to traditional organic pads, while maintaining their benefits regarding longer rotor wear and, in my experience, less noise.
Again, I do believe it is possible for brakes to be too strong. There is a limit to what our tires can hold onto and what our bodies can brace for. But if there’s even a reasonable amount of modulation, I like having endless power on demand. It decouples the forceful squeezing of the levers from the forceful control of the handlebars. That’s exactly what I felt when using the Trickstuff Power pads. Compared to both the stock sintered pads and the Trickstuff Standards, it’s as if the Power pads offer a ten-percent increase in initial stopping force. Those light taps were noticeably more responsive, and any subsequent increase in power would follow a more predictable, more linear trajectory. They responded like stronger sintered pads through most of the stroke, and also did not fade any earlier than the stock pads. But there was still that steep ramp-up in power at the end, even if it came as less of a surprise than with the otherwise mid-powered Standard pads. That took some getting used to. The Power pads offered me my first experience of “too much.” Whenever I would go as-hard-as-possible to get up on my front wheel around a switchback, or simply to avoid catastrophe, they locked up a split-second earlier than I was expecting.
But within a single ride, I was able to adapt. I learned that my braking fingers didn’t have to rev into the redline nearly as often. It made those hectic late-braking situations a little less hectic because, as long as I had a sense for how much traction I had, I felt secure that I could harness all the stopping power I needed at any moment. And because I didn’t need to harness that power most of the time, my hands and gripping muscles were less fatigued at the bottom of a long downhill.
What Trickstuff pads offer is not only for shredding. Everyone deserves better braking. On an overloaded bikepacking bike or an underpowered XC rig, the experience is just better when you don’t have to stress to stop. It’s like electronic shifting which, like it or not, allows for a less encumbered ride. These pads made speed control feel more intuitive. Slowing down was less like an action, and more like a choice. And I didn’t even need to get on a waiting list.