My brakes are Shimano Saint.

I tried bleeding my brake to identify a problem and no fluid went through. I took the brake lever off separately and pushed water through it, still blocked so I gathered the lever is blocked.

Then I left the lever in warm water to soften any dirt, still blocked.

I have scoured the web in search for a vid of how to disassemble the lever, but there isn't anything at all.

What should I do now?

  • No fluid went through when pushing with a syringe attached to the caliper and up into the lever, with the bleed port open and attached to an open bleed funnel? Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 20:06
  • I wonder if you question back in May (bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/75364/…) is related?
    – mattnz
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 7:58

2 Answers 2


Now you're in a fine mess. Putting water in your brake system has most certainly been the death sentence through even minimal corrosion or material incompatibility, ruined the cylinders, the lines and the gaskets. Taking the levers apart will not improve things as most parts will need replacing to be reliably functional again. Think of ordering a whole new brake system.

  • ah i see... is it worth going to a shop to get it repaired, or getting a new brake lever? Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 21:32
  • 1
    The mechanic should be able to tell you this.
    – Carel
    Commented Oct 10, 2021 at 7:23

I am going to assume you have the more recent Saint brakes, BR-M820.

A true blockage in a ceramic-piston Shimano brake such as yours that occurs when fluid should be able to flow through as per the bleed procedure is usually a sign that a piece of the ceramic piston has broken off. This is often accompanied by erratic brake feel or function being the symptom that had you bleeding it in the first place, such as piston retraction issues or difficulty with getting the brake to gap evenly and stay that way as it should.

It's of course possible that something else got in there and is causing the blockage, but the broken piston scenario is relatively common compared to that and you have one of the brakes it applies to.

Don't put water in your brake on purpose. Shimano brakes are able to survive minor water contamination of the sort that could happen unintentionally, and usually replacing all the fluid is sufficient to make the brake function well in those cases. I don't have concerns that hot water alone would ruin anything, but you need to get it completely out of there, ideally with compressed air on the hose and lever end (since this lever isn't very able to be disassembled) and in this case piston disassembly on the caliper end, see below.

Usually the thing I do with potential/probable ceramic piston cracking issues on the higher end brakes such as this is take the caliper off completely, drain it best as possible, split the caliper, and then pop the pistons out with an air gun (they pop out readily when the air gun is at one of the fluid entry points and you plug the other with your thumb). Most of the time the way this goes is you see a piece of broken white piston floating around, which means the whole thing is shot since there are no replacements. In theory you could also find some other contaminant, which is how you could fix the brake if so, but you probably won't. Then either replace or clean and re-assemble the caliper and put it all back together. The pistons re-install with hand force after thoroughly cleaning everything and lubricating the bore with the mineral oil you'll be using for the bleed.

If you disconnect the caliper hose attachment and open the lever bleed port to see if flow-through occurs, that's how you would test whether the block is in the caliper or not. It probably is. If it isn't, you could then do other tests to see whether it's the hose or the lever that fluid isn't flowing through.

All of this is fairly advanced hydraulic brake shenanigans, but as long as you're very careful when handling the ceramic pistons and you only use appropriate oil and cleaners (isopropyl alcohol or ethanol would be what I'd limit it to), you're safe to mess with it. Most of the time the direction this goes is replacement of the caliper.

Some mechanics I've known have been willing to cannibalize ceramic pistons from dead same-model Shimano calipers to make a good one out of two bad ones. I know of a number of cases where this has worked without issue, and none where it's been tried and hasn't worked. I personally am not willing to do it on someone else's bike for fear that a piston might look dimensionally compatible but not be for batch-related reasons etc., since they're not intended by Shimano to be a replaceable part. That said, the chance of issues is probably quite small if it seems to be functioning normally.

  • ive managed to figure out it is the lever piston at fault, and have managed to take it a apart, other then the piston itself, because there is some sort of plasic retaining piece, to stop the pistons coming out, and its held onto the metal part of the lever by a needle- looking rivet. Commented Oct 19, 2021 at 18:59

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