Clarks caught our attention when it released a new range of performance-orientated brakes under the CRS (Clarks Race Series) for several reasons. It wasn’t just the lever and calipers' striking resemblance to existing products that piqued our interest but also the promise of performance at a staggeringly low price tag. At £200 for the set, including rotors, they present incredible value considering the best mountain bike brakes often demand more outlay just for a single brake, without a rotor.
I had to get my hands on a set to see how these price-conscious brakes performed on the trail. I have been riding these brakes for six months now and so far the CRS C4s performance has been very impressive.
Design and specification
The levers are pretty chunky, with a large protruding fluid reservoir on the top of the lever body and a machined angular lever. The lever blade has room for one or two-finger braking and has holes drilled in it – presumably improve grip and lower weight. Inside the lever is a reach adjustment thumb screw which can also be adjusted with a 2mm hex key.
The handlebar clamp is a minimal affair using a machined band to loop around the bar and sandwich the lever body. The levers are secured with a single T25 bolt and feature a ridged texture on the inside of the clamp to give a better purchase on the handlebar.
Included with the front and rear brakes are two Clarks branded floating rotors, a 180mm for the front and a 160mm for the rear. If you want to go bigger, Clarks also has 203mm sizes available separately. Not only is it unusual for a brake to ship with a rotor, the CRS C4s come with floating rotors, which in theory should deal with heat build-up better.
Not only do you get rotors but there is also all the mounting hardware, a 180mm adapter, plus bards, olives, and other little parts. The pads included with the brakes are finned and the calipers are compatible with Shimano pads so spares shouldn’t be a problem.
Let's touch on the weight of the brakes for a second too. Considering the price, CNC construction, and chunky lever I expected the brakes would be on the heavier side. However, on my scales, they were surprisingly light. With the front brake weighing in at 233g and rear 252g (including uncut hoses, stock finned pads, and full bleed), they are lighter than the likes of Hope’s Tech 4 E4 brakes (290g) and even manage to undercut Shimano’s XTR 4-piston caliper (262g claimed) and SRAM’s Level Ultimate Stealth four-piston ( 277g claimed). So they are properly light and properly cheap, but how do they perform?
Fitment and setup were pretty straightforward, the handlebar clamp bolt is a little fiddly to line up but otherwise, it was a simple process. The factory bleed is good too and hasn’t required any rebleeding since fitting. At 800mm the front hose might be too short on longer travel bikes with wide bars, so if your fitting to an all-mountain or enduro bike you may need to source a longer hose and bleed the brake. Pads bedded in super fast too and were soon delivering full power.
Lever feel and power delivery is progressive and very similar to SRAM. The bit point is crisp and there’s no discernible flex in the CNC lever if you find yourself really hauling on the anchors. The tool-less lever reach adjustment is stiff and awkward to turn, but offers an impressive 25mm of adjustment which should cater well to a wide range of hand sizes.
The CRS C4 can dish out a load of power too, allowing me to ride hard on steep and fast trails. The brakes also seemed to deal with heat exceptionally well so the power was consistent from the top to the bottom. Even on long steep descents that involve constant brake dragging they didn't seem to fade or lose power.
Considering these brakes are aimed at gravity riding, it is a little surprising that Clarks has specced a smaller 160mm rotor at the rear, rather than opting for at least 180mm front and rear. That said, unless I was riding really fast or steep trails I rarely missed the extra power that would be offered by a larger rotor. If you need more power you can buy CRS 180mm rotors for around £20.
Clark’s CRS C4 brakes offer an impressive amount of power and modulation, especially when you consider the price. Lever feel is really consistent and power is delivered smoothly and predictably, they are also surprisingly one of the lightest four-pot brakes on the market too.
Although the CRS C4 might not quite match the ultra-refined performance of top-end brakes like Hayes Dominion T4, SRAM Level Ultimate Stealth, or Hope Tech 4 E4, the fact you could buy three sets for less than one pair of the SRAM or Hayes makes them mind-blowingly good value.
Tech specs: Clarks CRS C4 brake
- Price: $N/A / £200.00 (front and rear, including rotors)
- Pad options: Clarks VRX801 finned pads (Shimano XT 755-756 compatible)
- Weight: Front brake 233g / rear brake 252g / 180mm disc 135g / 160mm disc 108g