When it comes to our annual brake test there’s a traditional ceremony that we always have to perform. This involves emailing Clarks Cycle Systems at least two or three times to make absolutely sure that there hasn’t been a monetary misunderstanding. We always come away satisfied that we’ve definitely done due diligence, but still not really believing the price tag on the M2 brakes.
To put it another way, the price isn’t wrong and you can buy a full hydraulic brake set including 160mm rotor and bracket for less than the price of most 160mm rotors on their own.
There’s a slight caveat in that they are only sold in pairs, so you’re actually getting two brakes, rotors, brackets and all of the relevant bolts. That potentially means a set of rotors and adaptors that you don’t need, but you can always barter with the shop or just sell them on.
Unlike a lot of budget brakes, the Clarks M2s are a tidy, modern and well finished unit weighing 475g. The bar clamp is now fixed (original M2s were almost identical to Shimano Deore including a hinged bar clamp) so you’ll have to shift grips to get them on/off. A relatively long lever also compensates slightly for the lack of bite, and while our long-term sets have developed wobble it’s never got distractingly bad.
The callipers are neat, too, with a Hope-style red anodised bore cap feature on bodies shaped very similarly to SRAM’s Level brakes. They take Shimano pattern pads, though, which makes finding spares easy, and both brake feel and power improve if you upgrade to high quality aftermarket pads.
It’s well worth investing a bit more cash when replacement time comes around, too, as basic stopping power is pretty feeble. In terms of dyno testing, they only deliver 60 percent of the decceleration of a Deore brake and 50 percent of that of a SRAM Guide. And while initial bite is OK, there’s not much increase in grunt if you haul them harder. That means we’d definitely recommend the 180mm rotor versions for most trail riders.
Otherwise there’s a tangible amount of squeeze and modulation coming through the lever rather than just the stiff, wooden on/off feel of most ‘bargain’ brakes. This is really obvious when you’re trying to surf the edge of tyre traction on greasy descents. It also reduces the arm pump and numbness of long technical descents, which is particularly valuable on a brake that’s likely to be fitted to cheaper bikes with correspondingly cruder suspension, frames and tyres.
Because they never generate much stopping heat they handle proper mountain use fine if you can cope with the level of power. While we’ve seen some issues reported elsewhere, we've had no reliability issues with our original long termer set despite three years of continual use, and subsequent brakes have been equally trustworthy.