Friday, 8 May 2015

Shimano Deore M615 mountain bike brakes review: Good and cheap

How good are the Shimano Deore M615 brakes?. Is there a huge difference in performance between Shimano Deore entry-level model and the more expensive XT or XTR?. Read on to find out our test conclusions.
Overall Shimano entry-level groupset performance and quality have greatly improved in recent years and Deore brakes are not exception. Over the years Shimano has gradually incorporated in the cheaper or entry-level models, some of the brakes technologies used in the more expensive brakes like Shimano XT or XTR.
The current Shimano Deore disc brake is indeed an affordable entry model of the Japanese brand, with some nice features like the Servo Wave leverage cam or the I-spec clamp, allowing the attach of an I-spec ready shifter to the brake lever's clamp directly.
The M615 is a basic and not extremely light brake system but makes a solid impression like other Shimano products, with first-class material and surface qualities.
The weight of the Deore M615 brakes is 521g (front brake with 203mm adapter included), quite high but not excessively compared with the more expensive models like Shimano SLX or Shimano XT from the same brand. 
Shimano Deore M615 lever and calliper

The master cylinder and lever looks cheaper than the three times more expensive top group XTR, but has almost identical ergonomics and still clean workmanship, ensuring that apart from the appearance the Deore is a very solid stopper.
The two-finger ergonomic lever is very solid and the reach can be adjusted with an Allen key. Shimano M615 brakes also feature a one way funnel based bleed system which allows easy service.
Like in all Shimano range, non-corrosive mineral oil is used as a less hazardous hydraulic brake fluid option than the common DOT fluid used by other manufacturers like Hope or Formula.
Shimano Deore M615 brake callipers are opposed 2-piston two part design, aiming for a good stiffness and cost-effective production. The M615 comes with organic pads, but sintered or semi-metallic pads and different type of brake discs can be used without any problem, including the Ice-Tech RT86 range.
Shimano M615 two piston calliper with stock G01S organic brake pads
On the trail: Brake performance
We have done extensive testing in the Pyrenees, a range of mountains in the southwest Europe older than the Alps, and our main question was: Is the cheap price reducing the performance noticeably? We therefore placed our focus on determining the three main characteristics of a good mountain bike brake system: brake power, modulation and fade resistance.
The Pyrenees, a range of mountains in the southwest Europe with epic trails
Braking power, modulation and fade resistance
Shimano promises not significantly lower performance of the Deore M615 brake compared with the more expensive Shimano brakes, by using very similar hydraulic systems and calliper manufacturing. We have found that the absolute braking power can be directly compared with much more expensive brakes like Shimano XT or Formula RX.
Deore M615 brake ergonomics are very good like in the high-end Shimano brakes, providing a good modulation and relatively low operating forces, and even on long descents fingers remain relaxed. If your preference is towards brakes with a very hard initial bite, you should look for another brake (or upgrade the stock organic Shimano brake pads), because the Deore brake modulation characteristic is noticeable.
Our testing shown that upgrading the pads makes a big difference with Deore brakes. We started using the standard Shimano organic pads with a 180mm disc rotor at the front, and the brake power and modulation was good, but not the fading resistance in long and demanding descents. We changed to the optional Shimano metallic pads (not finned) and the fading resistance increased losing a bit of initial bite. We tested also our RAHOX semi-metallic Superspeed compound, and the initial bit increased over the standard Shimano organic pads, avoiding totally the fading problems with a silent performing, but not achieving the very low wear rate obtained with the sintered metallic Shimano pads.

We would definitely recommend the Deore M615 brakes even for enduro use but not with the standard Shimano organic pads G01S and with brake rotors lower than 180mm, if you intention is to ride hard and safely. For the rest of applications, the stock configuration with organic pads is a very good choice, and even with only a finger on the brake lever, the brake power is enough and not noticeably lower than in the more expensive Shimano XT brake model.

With 180mm brake rotors and upgraded pads, Deore M615 brakes can withstand severe use (Shimano RT86 Ice Tech brake disc rotor and Shimano and RAHOX pads in the image)
The overall test impression has been very satisfactory, when using the system with upgraded brake pads, but even with the standard organic pads the performance has been very good for a typical XC-rail use. Deore brakes miss the ceramic pistons featured in the more expensive SLX-XT models, designed to provide improved heat protection. Nevertheless we checked that with upgraded Shimano metallic pads, or using our semi-metallic brake pads, the heat performance and fade resistance was very good in the very demanding long descents available in the Pyrenees, always using at least 180mm disc rotors.
Shimano Deore M615 are the best value for price if you are on a low budget
The Deore M615 is outstanding value, and convinces with an incredible price-performance ratio. It offers comparable brake performance as the more expensive SLX or XT models, and the low price is only reflected in the slightly lower quality appearance, but not in the reliability or brake performance. 

The brake performance is very convincing with 180mm rotors and can withstand with the abuse of enduro Alps riding without problems for most riders. Only continuous braking, heavy riders or small discs may cause slight fading with the original organic pads provided by Shimano, but this issue can be easily solved with a brake pad or rotors upgrade.

Anyone looking for a good, cheap and reliable mountain bike disc brake system, that can be used in a XC machine and also in long enduro descents every day, can choose the Deore M615 without hesitation.

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