Ultegra ST-R685 shifters and BR785 hydraulic brakes review

About year ago, I decided to change my brakes, and also shifters on bike. It was long journey, because I changed many things before without good results. This post is not only a review for Shimano Ultgra ST-RS685 shifters and BR785 brakes, but also some comparison to other, mechanical brakes. If you don’t like long post, there is small version: yes, it’s a very good choice to exchange brakes to hydraulic. They are much better than mechanical, and if you will be not stingy, you will not have to do anything in long time. After a year, I really don’t see any downsides of this change and can only regret, that I didn’t do it earlier.

Fighting with Avid BB5

When I bought my Planet X bike, it has original brakes and shifters – it was Shimano 105 5700 for 10-speed and Avid BB7 road bikes. Shifters were pretty good, but me had some issues with changing rear gears. It was never precise and problematic. In about half a year, I exchanged all to 11s and Ultegra 6800 with mechanical shifters. It was great choice and engine now worked perfectly. And works perfectly still. But what about brakes? Avids BB7 are one of the strongest mechanical brakes for bikes according to many users over internet. In my opinion, it’s true – they are very strong with pretty good modulation. Pads doesn’t matter: they are good with both resin and metal pads. The problem is that these brakes uses two separate pistons, both need separate adjustment. Manual is clear, and the whole procedure is simple and quick.

So, where is the problem? I had to used my bike with two wheelsets, one for road, one for gravel/CX/terrain. Both wheelsets had the same hubs, DT Swiss 350 for centerlock rotos and Shimano cassettes. But on every swap, I had to adjust both brakes, even if I used DT RWS on my 9 mm wheels. I was tiresome and time-consuming and I bought second wheelset to make this quick, faster than swiping tires. Tried do something with that, tried to adjust brakes “in the middle”, but in result and because of very often usage, I slightly damaged adjusters and brakes power was much worse than in the beginning. Then, I decided to exchange them to something else: TRP Spyre-C mechanical brakes. Why still mechanical, why these brakes? It requires to changes only brake calipers, and this model uses two pistons in the same time. It should resolve my issues with time-consuming adjustment every time.

TRP-Spyre C better but…

TRP Spyre-C really resolved these issues. But these brakes also were not perfect. The main problem was braking power – lacking of this power. It’s super important on bikes, in particular, during riding on mountains and fast road downhills with cornering. TRP were light, very fast to adjust, but too weak. I decided to looking for a purposes and solution. I have read a lot about that and found some information, then I decided to exchange cables from shifters to brakes, also exchanged housing, no result. I tried few different pads, resin, metallic, mixed, still no result. Finally, I have read that… It’s normal in these brakes and users can improve them only by changing some internal parts. Sorry, it was too much for me and I decided to use them, as they were. It was compromise, because I was be able to swap wheels quickly and without issues, but have limited braking power. Not a big price for occasional trips in mountains.

Moving to hydraulic brakes

Someday I found a very nice offer – hydraulic shifters with brakes from Ultegra 11s group in a very good price. I didn’t think long and bought them. Then gave the bike to service, because I don’t have enough knowledge and required tools to mount hydraulic brakes and vent them. A year has passed since then, and I don’t want to change the brakes anymore! Now the brake power is more than enough. I tested them on road, during city riding, in gravel paths, on more difficult terrain probably for MTB and also during riding on mountains. In all these cases, power was more than I needed. Also, I’ve never had any issues with overheating or losing power during breaking – it happened sometimes with old brakes, but not on hydraulic.

Modulation is also great, as on all hydraulic, good prepared brakes. I can adjust braking power very smooth. Swiping wheels: also, very quick, the same as with TRP Spyre. I must dismount current wheel, mount new one, then loosen the brake caliper. Then press brake shifter – then pads are approaching the rotor and center caliper automatically. Finally tighten the caliper, and it’s all. Only about minute per one wheel. What about maintenance? I rode a lot during this year. Outdoor, but also indoor on trainer. There are no any issues and I didn’t have to visit bike service anytime. It just works. Also pads. Not sure, maybe it’s because such connection: I use Ice Tech brakes, 160 mm XT rotors and XT metallic pads with radiators, but they are still ok! After something about 6500 km they don’t require exchange to new ones.

Conclusion: only hydraulic brakes

What can I say… I can regret only one thing – that I didn’t consider moving to hydraulic brakes much earlier. After that change, I finally closed the brakes topic in my bike. Now they are perfect and I can only use them and exchange pads when I will be required. Disc brakes on road bikes are very nice and work without problems, but looking for cheap, maybe sometimes simpler solutions is not always good choice. I know, that many people use mechanical brakes without issues, and it’s ok – if you don’t swap wheels. There brakes are also much earlier to repair in emergency situations, but hey… More than year, and I didn’t have any problem. For me, choice is simple: use hydraulic brake if it’s possible.