The best thing a new product can do is to change your opinion and expectation of other products in the same category. In other words, be a game changer. And if you ride cyclo-cross, Avid’s Shorty Ultimate cantilever is just that. It's hands down the best 'cross canti we’ve ever used.
It's so good, in fact, that it makes the competition immediately seem sub-par – especially anything with a wide-profile design. And the difference this makes to your riding makes us think that disc brakes really could catch on in cyclo-cross.
Having more brake than you need is generally a good thing. And for cantilevers, in dry conditions, the new Shortys seem to have more than enough power, when set in their narrow profile position. Equally as important as power, though, is good modulation. Otherwise, all that power is basically useless. Here too, the Ultimate fares well.
While the brake will work with Shimano’s new brake levers that feature longer cable throw, it offers the best performance when paired with a SRAM lever or an older Shimano unit. It can be set up with either a wide or narrow profile to its arms, and while we tried both options, we settled on the narrow stance for both front and rear use, which SRAM says offers upwards of 20-percent more power than the wide stance.
Shorty Ultimate: Fully featured, with exceptional performance
The wide stance is all but un-usable on the rear because the arms get in the way when riding and remounting. At the front, we decided that the small amount of extra rim clearance the mode provides is not worth detuning the brake's power for. After a couple of weeks of messing around we settled on the narrow profile and then just rode the snot out of them.
Something everyone will appreciate is the brakes’ very simple setup. There’s no bending of posts or fussing with open-ended wrenches (save for spring tension adjustment). Setup is only marginally more difficult than that of a linear style brake, on account of having to set the straddle cable height. Another thing: the smallest Allen bolt is 3mm, which will surely reduce the chance of rounding out bolts and increase overall lifespan.
3mm cable pinch bolts better resist rounding
At first the performance of the brakes didn’t make a real impression. Instead, their prowess kind of snuck up on us and it was only after we went back to a competitor’s wide profile product that we realised just what Avid have developed. In short, braking with the new Ultimate is more powerful, more consistent and has better lever feel than anything else currently out there.
Clearance is adequate, as is the brake’s weight of 129g per wheel (with all accompanying hardware). Even the price is reasonable at US$98 per wheel. The Ultimate’s feature set keeps pace with any other brake on the market, too: in addition to offering conversion between wide and narrow profiles, the Shorty comes with an in-line straddle cable adjuster, benchmark pad adjustability and acclaimed SwissStop brake pads for alloy rims.
The Ultimates are slightly heavy when compared to the lightest ’cross brakes but well worth the sacrifice
Though what the pros ride isn’t always indicative of the real worth of a product, Zednek Stybar won the 2010 world championships in Tabor, Czech Republic on Shorty Ultimates while they were still a pre-production prototype item. Even more compelling is the fact that godfather of ’cross Sven Nys – who happens to be sponsored by Shimano and TRP – rode them in this season’s opening events. If you’re wondering, Nys too settled on the low-profile position.
While we didn’t have one negative experience with the Shorty Ultimate’s setup or performance on multiple bikes with both SRAM and Shimano components, we've heard through the grapevine that the brakes are very dependant on brake post length tolerances. Avid product manager Paul Kantor told us that the Ultimate wasn't initially equipped to handle the new 1mm shorter brake post standard introduced by Shimano a few years ago. Now, however, the brakes ship with an extra spacer so they should work fine with all brake post mounts.