Rim brakes for gravel bikes? Rob English and Cane Creek say yes (sort of)

Virtually without exception, modern gravel bikes are equipped with disc brakes. But what if you could build one with a legitimately good rim brake?

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Although the battle between disc brakes and rim brakes is all but over, there are still plenty of sound arguments in favor of the latter. The bikes and wheels are substantially lighter. They’re easier to work on. They’re often less expensive. Modern technology makes it possible for them to work quite well. And, of course, some just prefer how they look.

When it comes to gravel, the tables have been skewed even more in favor of disc over rim. Looking for a rim-brake gravel bike? Good luck with that.

Oregon-based bike builder Rob English is used to swimming upstream, however, and he recently debuted a custom gravel/all-road bike that features his trademark steel frame, a custom steel fork, clearance for 700×45 mm tires, and — for real — a prototype set of oversized direct-mount Cane Creek eeBrakes that easily wrap around those high-volume tires.

The custom brakes were a collaboration between Rob English, Craig Edwards, and Cane Creek.

“[eeBrakes inventor] Craig Edwards is a little bit of a hero of mine because of the original Sweet Parts cranks back in the 90s,” English told me. “I got to speak with him a little when he was selling the eeBrake directly, before partnering with Cane Creek. At some point a few years ago, we got talking about the brake and bigger tires. Craig thought he could maintain the same power and feel, but by using a wider direct mount fitment (68 mm instead of the normal 49 mm), could create a lot more tire clearance. Talk eventually turned into a 3D-printed proof-of-concept, and then some actual machined parts. And some hand-formed custom springs! 

“Then I needed to build a frame and fork to install the brakes on. It’s shown here with 35 mm tires, but there is room for up to 45 mm (depending on rim/tire combo, as always). I agree with Caley and y’all that rim brakes are much easier to travel with. So this enables nice and easy travel-gravel. I will be building a version of my folding frame travel bike with a set of these shortly.”

You can go ahead and wipe that drool off of your screen now.

To be perfectly clear, these aren’t just standard eeBrakes with every dimension set to 180% scale; that just wouldn’t work with current mechanical brake levers, which still pull essentially the same amount of cable as they did when rim brakes were the norm. The brake arms are custom-made to accommodate that wider direct-mount hole spacing and to provide the necessary clearances, but the overall leverage ratio is very similar to standard road-only eeBrakes. In fact, many of the linkage parts are the same.

The finished product may be a prototype, but you’d hardly know it by looking at it. By all accounts, it’s just as polished as the production road-going eeBrakes in terms of design, aesthetics, and engineering, and with the same benefits, including an ultra-low weight, a uniquely flex-resistant design that boosts power and control, and a distinctly snappy lever feel. As for the bike itself, it’s as feathery as you’d expect at just 7.57 kg (16.70 lb) without pedals.

The custom brakes follow the direct-mount concept, but with holes that are spaced further apart than usual.

That all said, don’t hold your breath for being able to buy a set of these brakes on their own any time soon. Although it’s possible English and Cane Creek might make a few more of these available for custom customers, it’s highly unlikely any mainstream brand would be willing to bring rim brakes back, never mind in such a niche application and with a non-standard brake mount interface to boot.

Moreover, Cane Creek has no plans to put these into mass production.

“We have no plans for the near future to build and sell gravel eeBrakes,” said Cane Creek marketing leader Jenna Toney. “However, this was a special request received through Rob and we thought it would be cool to entertain prototype gravel eeBrakes.”

Go ahead and admit it: you kind of want one, too, no?

More information can be found at www.englishcycles.com and www.canecreek.com.

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