The M4 from Clarks is one of the cheapest four-piston brakes on the market, but does that stop it from packing a punch?
It is also said to be its most powerful brake to date, aimed at enduro and DH riders, as well as those on electric mountain bikes.
Note, that while most brakes systems are priced for a single brake with no rotor or adaptors, the price here is for a pair of brakes, with rotors included.
Clarks M4 brakes specifications
Despite a low overall cost, the M4’s lever is far from feature-free. The clamp is hinged, allowing easy fitting to the handlebar. It might not be quite as refined in feel as more expensive brakes’ clamps, but it’s far easier than a band-on type clamp to use.
The brake lever itself is long – Clarks claiming that it’s a ‘two-finger’ lever. There’s a pronounced up-turn at the end of the lever to keep your finger (or fingers) in place, while gentle dimples on the lever blade add grip.
The lever features a simple lever reach-adjustment screw, located between lever and bar. It’s not the easiest to access, and beware going all the way to the extremes of its adjustment, as you may find the piston bottoms out or you disengage the screw.
Despite this, the range of lever reach is impressive, so these brakes should work for a wide range of hand sizes, and there’s not masses of lever rattle or free-play before the piston is engaged.
At the caliper end, again you can see that the price is low, but there’s little to compromise performance. The four 16mm diameter pistons push on a fairly long, top-loaded, sintered pad.
The hose leaves the caliper at a set angle, rather than featuring an adjustable banjo as found on pricier stoppers.
Bleeding Clarks brakes has proved easy with their universal bleed kit, though it’s clear that the hardware is another place where costs have been shaved (but not necessarily compromised). I tested the brakes with their own 203mm rotor.
Clarks M4 brakes performance
Bedding these brakes in took longer than most, and the process was fairly smelly as I burned off the outer surface of the pads. I was perhaps bedding them in longer than some in the search for extra power, as compared to other brakes they’re not as punchy.
The lever feel is good, though, being fairly firm rather than mushy. I was impressed with the lack of lever body flex, which helps keep the brakes feeling sharp.
That said, there’s not a huge amount of bite in the brake’s initial contact with the rotor. As such, I found myself pulling hard to achieve the braking performance I was after. On a long descent, this is going to contribute towards hand and arm pump.
Here, the longer, two-finger lever, might come into play. It something I tend to avoid (as having more fingers wrapped around the bar is preferable), but at least there’s the option, when you really need extra strength.
I wasn’t overly sold on the lever shape when pulling hard. It’s shallow in profile, the thin blade being noticeably less comfortable than broader levers when hauling on the brakes.
Pull harder, and you do eventually reach the brake’s maximum output. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it doesn’t hit the higher echelons of my group test in the power stakes.
The M4 is, though, a cheaply priced brake. Those on a tight budget could do a lot worse than pick it up from a shop, as it includes rotor and hardware, which are often pricey additions.
Heavier riders, or those who ride steep, technical terrain might want to extend their search and look for a deal on cheaper Shimano four-piston brakes, or perhaps save for stoppers from Magura or SRAM.
Clarks M4 brakes bottom line
Clarks’ brakes are easy on the pocket, but with less cash spent on construction there are some compromises.
Power levels, understandably, are down on pricier brakes, and the lever didn’t blow me, nor my colleagues, away.
However, if you do want to save some cash, and aren’t too heavy or a too extreme/aggressive rider, the M4 will bring you to a halt.
How we tested
This year, our expert reviewers have tested a selection of the best mountain bike brakes, split into two broad genres.
First, there’s a selection of the most powerful stoppers, aimed at downhill, enduro and electric mountain bike riders. We’ve kitted these brakes out with 200mm rotors front and rear to get the most out of their four-piston calipers and tested them on an e-MTB and our enduro bikes.
The second cohort is targeted at cross-country and downcountry riders, who still need plenty of stopping power without upsetting the scales. These two- and four-piston brakes grab onto 180mm and 160mm rotors in our testing, fitted to our downcountry test rig.
Before hitting the trail, we gave each brake a full going over in our workshop. Hoses were cut to get the brakes fitting neatly and to check out how easily they’re bled at home. We weighed and measured them, making sure no detail was missed.
We lined our levers up against SRAM and Shimano shifters to see which play nicely and weighed up the balance of cost and spec in order to reach our conclusions.
Brakes on test
- Clarks M4 review
- Magura MT7 Pro review
- TRP Trail Evo review
- Hope Tech 4 V4 review
- SRAM Code R review
- Hayes Dominion T4 review
- Shimano XT M8120 review
- Magura MT8 Pro review
- Hope Tech 4 X2 review
- Shimano XTR M9100 review
- SRAM Level Ultimate review