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Over The Bars

Gear Review: Hayes El Camino Trail
By Rob Manning

Simple and Powerful

The newly redesigned master cylinder delivers significantly more power than its El Camino brother.
Big Brakes, Big Players

Hayes has been in the mountain bike disc brake market for quite a few years now, and has a myriad of brake systems for different applications. The So1e fills in the entry level niche with it's single piston hydraulic design. Moving up the ladder to the two piston offerings we have the HFX series designed as an all around system, the El Camino brake system which was designed as an all mountain brake, and the HFX Mag which has found success in heavy downhill use situations. The El Camino Trail fills in the line between the El Camino and the HFX Mag (more or less) and is designed as an all mountain/trail style brake.

According to Hayes, the new El Camino Trail features 35% greater stopping power compared to its big brother, the El Camino. It achieves this primarily through a redesigned hydraulic master cylinder and caliper. Both pieces are redesigned and cast as single piece units with Hayes claiming that the smooth, flowing and molded "monoblock" caliper is stiffer than previous versions. All these little features add up to the increased power claim as well as increased fade resistance and better lever feel. Other notable features of the new Trail offering are the no-tool reach adjustment just behind the lever blade and moveable banjo bolt routing of the hydraulic lines.


Our brake set came out of the box with lever, caliper and hose all assembled, pre-bled and ready to install. My first impression of the system was the excellent finishing and feathery weight. Compared to some other brake systems the EC Trail is a significant improvement in the weight department (Hayes claims 397 grams per wheel including rotors and hardware) and was a pleasent surprise. Our test units featured 6" standard rotors and IS adaptors which, as always, were very simple to install. The split clamp design of the lever mounting made installation even easier than usual--removal of the grips was completely unnecessary. The entire installation took less than half an hour to install on my hardtail singlespeed. What took significantly longer was aligning the calipers on the rotors. After fiddling around with this for around an hour and a half, I swapped the cheaper machine built wheels on my singlespeed for my trailbike's Crossmaxes and discovered that somehow, the rotor flange on the SS wheels was causing the rotor to go out of true. Hrumph. After discovering this I hunted and found a few small spurrs on the flange, removed them and remounted the discs which now ran true. Now centering the caliper over the disc only took a few minutes.

First Impressions

I love using a singlespeed as a test bed for products since the bike seems to amplify the inadequacies of the test products quite well. I have to admit, after riding the original El Caminos and being somewhat disappointed, I had some reservations about the ability of these brakes to handle some tougher riding that we were used to. The original El Caminos really were more of a cross country style brake instead of their billed all mountain application. My first ride on the EC Trails was quite a bit different than my expectations in a very pleasing way. The first thing that really hit me was the absolutely FANTASTIC design of the lever. The blade is curved just the right amount in just the right places and provides a multitude of gripping options. Fiddling with the tool free reach adjustment allowed the lever to be brought plenty close to the bar for small handed riders as well as moved a goodly distance away for those riders sporting meat hooks for hands.

A one piece caliper not only looks the part, but it clamps the rotors with gorilla-like force.

Power delivery was very linear and easy to modulate, unlike some other brakes on the market. The "wooden" feel that people often complain about when discussing Hayes systems was completely absent in this case. Top end power was also a signifcant upgrade compared to the original El Caminos, as promised. The EC Trail had more than enough clamping force to handle what we threw at them. Even in urban conditions, where we took these brakes for their inital test, they were able to lock wheels during trials-like maneuvers and haul the rider down from high speeds in emergency situations.

Trail Testing

After our initial urban testing we took these brakes to the environment which gave them their name. During the early parts of the season, northeastern trails tend to eat brakes at an alarming rate. We've had brake pads disintegrate after a single ride, brakes squeal and flat out fail on us during rides. After our urban experiences, we expected decent, but not perfect performance out of the Trails in the hell we put them through. After a couple rides, we were amazed with how effective this simple system was. On the trails there was power to spare when we needed it, and the modulation we enjoyed previously was even more welcome. Having some compromise between a free spinning wheel and completely locked wheel makes a huge difference in the wet slop we encountered on some trails. Lever feedback through the brakes was much better than we expected; never once did we have to guess and search for the limit of locking up the wheel, regardless of the conditions.

We did experience a little bit of brake fade on longer descents, but it was much less than we would have expected out of an El Camino branded brake. A 7" front rotor would likely solve the fade issues we encountered on the trail. Strangely enough, the one thing thing we had initially been concerned with was the lack of pad adjustment on the system, but this never proved to be an issue. When we did experience fade it was very easy to spin the lever reach adjuster out a little bit, using it as a pseudo pad adjuster. By moving the lever further from the bar we could increase the grip power we put into the system, somewhat counteracting the effects of fading. It's not a perfect solution, but it does indeed work sufficiently. The brake pads and rotors wore very well for the conditions we put them through. We never heard a squeal out of the brakes, wet or dry, and the pads have held up remarkably well.

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly.

When all is said and done, the EC Trail is a nice little package. It breaks out of the shadow of the original El Camino with much greater top end braking force and modulation. We were pleasently surprised when the Trails performed on par with, or in some cases better than our tester's personal favorite brake systems. As with many systems, we experienced a bit of fade as the system was pushed to its limit, but nothing that we would sweat over. As an overall package the EC Trail is competitively priced with an MSRP of $209 per wheel, giving you a lot of performance at a great price. Kudos to Hayes for resurrecting the El Camino name with this simple and effective do-all system.

Hayes Disc Brakes - Website
Hayes Disc Brakes - 1.888.MTN.DISC, (1.888.686.3472)

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