Launched quietly in 2019, the catchily-named BL-MT501/BR-MT520 is Shimano’s entry-level four-piston brake, sitting just below the Deore range.
Despite its pocket-friendly price, the brake still has a reasonable number of features, and if previous testing is to be believed, leaves many wondering why one should spend more.
Shimano BL-MT501/MT520 disc brake details
Save for bite-point adjustment, the basic MT501 lever (listed at £31.99 here in the UK) comes with all the features I’d expect, but with correspondingly less premium-feeling materials.
It attaches to the bar with a hinged clamp that requires a small 2mm Allen key to ‘unlock’ it, which has both advantages (it doesn’t swing open when you’re trying to insert the bolt through the respective holes) and disadvantages (it’s a bit annoying having to open extra tools on your multi-tool, for example).
Having a hinged clamp is great, though, at this price. The bolt doesn’t get the rubber grommet that pricier Shimano brakes do, which effectively makes it a captive bolt, so take care not to lose it.
The left/right-specific lever also gets Shimano’s ServoWave linkage. This makes the early part of the alloy lever’s stroke push the pads in the caliper further than it does later in its stroke. This allows for better power management when you’re hauling on the brakes and means Shimano can increase pad clearance at the caliper end – handy in mucky conditions.
The two-finger lever has reach adjustment, with a 2.5mm Allen bolt head located on the outside of the lever pivot – this makes it far easier to access than on some brakes, where the adjuster is held inside the pivot.
The lever doesn’t get the extra flex-support block that brakes higher up Shimano’s hierarchy do, but I didn’t find the lever flexed too much and the lever blade was comfortable under my finger.
At the MT520 caliper end, four pistons push the non-finned resin pads, and they’re held in place with a split pin. This is cheaper to produce but fiddlier to operate – you’ll either need needle-nose pliers or be a dab hand with a flat-head screwdriver (and risk scratching the caliper’s paint) when changing pads on the trail.
The hose exits the caliper at a fixed orientation. The front hose is 1,000mm long and the rear is 1,700mm – potentially a touch short for the longest enduro and DH bikes.
Bleeding the brakes is moderately easy, using Shimano’s syringe and bleed pot system. It’s a case of pushing fluid up the system, letting it drain back down a touch and then following a couple of extra steps to make sure the bleed is as good as possible.
While I managed a decent bleed, following the instructions that came with the brakes was a bit of a struggle because they’re a cover-all set of instructions, showing a range of bleed types.
It’s worth noting that the bleed nipple on the caliper requires a 7mm spanner, not something many DIY spanner kits come with as standard in my experience.
Shimano BL-MT501/MT520 disc brake performance
Blind tested, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between these brakes and those costing more.
The lever action is light – lighter than that of the XTR and SLX brakes I also had on test – which makes fine adjustments to the brake lever’s position easier and means less strain on your fingers on long descents.
That’s despite the MT501 lever still having the ServoWave linkage in there, which helps make setting up the brake easier and adds a touch of modulation that may otherwise not have been there.
“Power, from the four-piston caliper, is also very impressive. There’s a good portion of bite when the pads first contact the lever that gives a reassuring feeling that you’re about to start decelerating, though its modulation is more pronounced than Shimano’s more expensive brakes. However, some people will definitely appreciate this.”
In its mid-stroke, it’s easy enough to modulate the power on offer, though the usable range of lever squeeze is perhaps less than offerings from SRAM and Magura – things happen with the Shimano brakes a bit quicker.
Squeeze the lever harder and there’s plenty of power on tap too. It’s not up there with the most powerful brakes in this year’s disc brake test, but considering it’s around half the price of a lot of the brakes, it’s exemplary in its performance, and compared to similarly priced options, blows most of them out of the water.
Shimano BL-MT501/MT520 disc brakes bottom line
For the money, it’s hard to look past Shimano’s MT501/MT520 brakes. They offer excellent levels of power, with a positive, crisp lever feel and get you down the trail with plenty of easily accessible control.
There are a few quirks with Shimano’s construction choices, but I have no issue recommending these brakes.
How we tested
We rounded up 12 powerful hydraulic brakes to find out which are the ultimate speed-scrubbers.
To get to know what it’s like to live with these brakes, we asked the brands to send us their official bleed kit, then trimmed the hoses to our ideal length.
As such, we’ve cut and bled every set we tested to see just how easy they are to maintain. Then we saddled up to see how they performed on the trails.
Overall braking power is important, but so too is the ease with which you’re able to access that power – if you have to squeeze the lever really hard, that’s likely to lead to arm pump. Brake ‘feel’ is another key aspect – it’s subjective, but some people like a really grabby feel, while others prefer the power to progressively build as you squeeze the lever. We also needed to work out just how powerful the brakes are, and how resistant to heat build-up.
So, with the help of both leg power and some electrical assistance, we took them to the top of some of the South West’s steepest slopes and pointed our bikes downhill to see how these 12 stoppers coped.
Note: Weights and prices are for a single brake (caliper, hose and lever, but no rotor or adaptor, unless otherwise stated).
Also on test
- Clarks M2 Disc Brake
- Formula Cura disc brakes
- Hope Tech 3 V4 disc brakes
- Magura MT Trail SL disc brakes
- Magura MT5 disc brakes
- Shimano BL-MT501/MT520 disc brakes
- Shimano SLX M7120 disc brakes
- Shimano XTR Trail disc brakes
- SRAM Code RSC disc brakes
- SRAM G2 Ultimate disc brakes
- Tektro HD-M285 disc brakes
- TRP Slate T4 Evo disc brakes
|Price||EUR €132.00GBP £100.00USD $145.00|
|Weight||612g – calliper, hose and lever - for front and rear|
Fluid: Mineral oil
Weight: 297g (f) 315g (r)
Adjustments: Reach (TD)
Details: Hinged lever clamp; I-Spec II ready
|Brake type||Hydraulic disc|