It took Shimano a surprisingly long time to bet on black. The venerable XT group has finally gotten a cosmetic makeover that is on point with it’s long-standing reputation of performance. For over 30 years XT has proven to be the measuring stick for quality. This latest iteration of the working-man’s-XTR has the obvious upgrade in outward appearance, but there are a few other technical points that will help mountain bikers enable their adventures.
We had to go all the way to Riva Del Garda in Northern Italy during the Garda Trentino Bike Festival for some first impressions. I was disappointed that we didn’t spend any time riding the new 1x group since a lot of riders have been waiting for Shimano to catch up with their own version of the simpler setup, but during this world-wide press launch there was less of a focus on markets beyond just what North American riders are interested in. We did however have some time with the 2×11 group. It was enough exposure to the newly updated components for a sense of where Shimano is putting its chips. We also had the chance to talk directly with the product managers responsible for the updates.
One of the most significant details with the new group is that the 11-speed cassette does not need a special freehub body. You can isntall a new 11×40 or 11×42 XT M8000 cassette without buying a different freehub body or wheelset. The same cassette is used for both 1x or 2x chainring combos.
Although 1x drivetrains have become very popular in The States, they aren’t perfect for everyone or every trail. The global market certainly proves that. The double setup still reins supreme in Europe according to Shimano.
For that reason we spent all of our time riding the new 2×11 setup. If you’re like me, you may have forgotten what a front derailleur is. It’s been a long time since I used one and I’ve never been very impressed with their performance. It’s true that some work better than others but they all had significant delays in shifting without the smoothness or crispness of rear derailleurs.
Shimano is in tune with the European and Asian markets which believe that more than one chainring is viable and necessary for a lot of riding. They have invested a lot of time and resources into developing a front derailleur that works nearly as clean and crisp as their rear derailleur. Just like the latest XTR, this new front derailleur has a side-swing mechanism that doesn’t interfere with most suspension linkages and designs because of the way the front derailleur cable is routed. This allows for greater freedom in frame design while still providing a larger gear range. Since there is little interference with wheel paths during suspension travel, frame designers can still maintain the short chainstays we’ve decided are key to an ideal bike on paper.
The new front derailleur also transitions between rings surprisingly quick. There is little delay, or lull, switching between front rings. It shifts almost as cleanly and smoothly as the rear mech. Much of that has to do with double rings always being a 10-tooth jump. For example: 38/28t. There isn’t a huge jump up or down between the different chainring sizes, which allows for a smoother transition between rings. The double cranks use the same spider as the 1x cranks, so you could switch between double and single setups with the same crank sets.
There is also a triple crankset making the new group very versatile with a potentially huge range of gears but the 1x/2x spider is not triple compatible. There is also an option for a 3mm wider offset to the crank arms for the newer hub options known as Boost 148.
XT has always felt great shifting and during our few rides on the new group this still maintains. There are small changes in ergonomics to the to the shifters that improve the feel of the triggers and levers. The contact point textures of XTR have trickled down to the shifters and brake levers of XT. The new XT brake levers are still alloy but they have similar divots to what we’ve seen on XTR levers. The front and rear triggers also have improved ergonomic contacts with improved textures. It might not sound like significant changes but the gap of features between XT and XTR appears to be shrinking.
The brakes remain a standard of stoppage. The weight has been reduced and the reservoir is smaller. The bar clamps have a less obtrusive and more compact I-Spec II integration with the shifters. That means more real estate has been freed up on the handlebars because of a more seamless pairing with smaller clamps. On long descents our group did experience some brake-pump but no fading of power. After releasing the lever for a brief moment the normal throw returned to the lever.
Even though you do not need a different freebub body to run the new 11-speed drivetrian options, wheels seem to be where the group falls a bit short. The Race wheels have a 20mm internal width while the Trail wheels are 24mm. Nothing has changed with the hub internals and there are not 148 or 110 hub options for either 27.5 or 29er Race or Trail wheels. I didn’t have any time on the XT wheels to determine if this was a real detriment but it’s also not very surprising to see narrower rims from the more conservative company. As a larger rider, I would have liked to seen both the 27.5 and 29er enduro wheels with a slightly larger internal rim width as well the increased spoke offset from wider hub options being introduced to the market.
As for my final thoughts on my first impressions, if the front derailleur can really be installed without interfering with wheel path and maintains the smooth performance I’ve already experienced, I think a lot of riders (including myself) could be convinced to give 2x a second chance. The larger gear range would certainly be welcomed on some of my rides.
It was easy a few years ago to turn away from front derailleurs. We endured the chain purgatory between large and small rings. Those long delays and dead zones between shifts encouraged many of us to abandon the multi-chainring setup. Shifting is often an overlooked skill, and of course, 1x drives are far simpler to use, not to mention cheaper and lighter. It’s going to be an uphill battle to convince many of the riders I know to return to more than one chainring. I think that if you are already a 2x user you are going to be really impressed with the new FD. If you’re not a 2x user because of the weight savings from single chainrings and less cockpit equipment, then there probably isn’t anything that can be said to get you try 2x again. No matter how well that front mech works, it still adds grams and the trigger still takes away real estate for a dropper remote.
After only a couple rides I was very impressed with the 2x setup. Even though it seemed to work well, there is currently a huge gap to cross in order to convince the US market that 2x is still enviable. We were a bit disappointed that Shimano didn’t provide us with any exposure to the 1x group, which was a big story for the brand. Shimano has also let their competition command the 1x market for a couple years. They now have a group to compete within that segment but we still don’t know much about its performance.
There’s still a strong argument for the simpler cockpit of a 1x setup still, especially with the almost universal appeal of dropper posts but after my first couple rides using the new side-swing FD, I began to consider going back to a 2x drivetrain because of how quick and smooth the new front derailleur is while providing a large gear range. I never thought I’d be going Euro on you. What’s next bar-ends and post-ride cigarettes?
The new Deore XT M8000 group will be available for aftermarket sale in August 2015 and will appear on many 2016 model year bikes this fall.
Deore XT M8000 Pricing
- Rear derailleur: $119.99
- Shifters: $149.99 pair ($74.99 rear)
- Front derailleur: $49.99
- Crank: $279.99 (2×11)
- Bottom Bracket: $39.99
- Cassette 11-40: $129.99
- Cassette 11-42: $139.99
- Brakes: $159.99 per wheel (lever, hose, caliper, no rotors)
- Wheels: $799.99 Race or Trail
- Pedals: $119.99 Race or Trail
- 1×11 Chainring: $74.99 in 30t, 32t or 34t
Joe Cocker passed way December 22. Say what you will about his singing, but there is no denying that man put his heart and soul and body into his performances.
It was against that backdrop that I unpacked boxes this Christmas Eve, the help from our friends to get the XTR and Deore groups we have in for a side-by-side review. Check out the introduction to this project and the unboxing and comparison of the individual parts here.
First up, and the key to the project, a pair of size large Santa Cruz Heckler frames. Reliable, versatile, and well-loved around here, the Heckler is ideal for this project.
Up front, each has a new, 150mm Fox Float 36 fork. We reviewed the current fork in the pages of the magazine, and praised it highly, but unless it was being pushed hard, it could feel harsh compared to its main competition, the RockShox Pike. Fox has been listening to feedback, and the forks we have here have revised damping rates, and claim to offer more small pump plushness without losing mid-stoke support. At some point we’ll install the fork we previously tested on one Heckler to do some side-by-side comparisons.
I love Continental Tire’s Black Chili compound this time of year. Grippy for wet roots and rocks, but still firm enough to dig in when the ground is soft. We got in two sets of the Trail Kings, 2.4 for the front, 2.2 for the rear.
Cockpit parts are courtesy Shimano’s little known (in the U.S.) component arm, PRO. We’ve got aluminum Tharis bars, stems and clamp-on grips. I haven’t ridden them yet, but the grips feel awesome. Thin, tacky and no outside metal clamp to make my hands hurt. Saddles are Condors with the anatomic cut out, chromoly rails in 134 mm width.
Santa’s elf was getting tired by the time the bikes looked like this and gave up on getting better pictures. Those looking closely will see all four brake hoses need to be trimmed to length, and the proper front derailleur (top swing, top pull, 34.9 mm clamp) for both bikes are still in transit. And the dropper posts don’t match, which is the one thing I wasn’t able to source from a single company. Right now the green Deore Heckler has an X-Fusion and the black XTR Heckler has a Fox.
Stay tuned for weights, better pics and more detailed build specs. In the meantime, watch this video and have a safe and happy transition from 2014 to 2015. Cheers!
After a first ride on the new XTR at the Orbea Oiz launch this summer, we’ve been impatiently awaiting for the XTR groups to become available. A few days ago, the wait was over.
Peel off that shiny outer layer and things look even more classy.
Just before the XTR stuff showed up, we also took delivery of the Deore M615 2×10 group, which is seems to be pretty darn awesome for an entry level mountain bike group.
Everything got unboxed and unwrapped, and each piece went up on our new Feedback Sports Summit scale. Weights, approximate retail prices, and comments below. We have an interesting plan for these groups, but that news will have to wait until a few more big cardboard boxes show up at HQ.
XTR – $600. Deore – $140. I’ll be honest here, the XTR crank doesn’t do much for me aesthetically, but it sure is shiny. The Deore crank has the best dollar to looks ratio of anything on the market right now. (In my heart of hearts, I prefer the looks and finish of the Deore crank, but we won’t talk about that)
XTR – about $40. Deore – included with crankset. The XTR BB looks mighty svelte, and comes with a plastic adaptor to install it using the regular Shimano bottom bracket tool. The bearing seem tiny, but for the most part Shimano bottom brackets are quite robust, so the odds are good the bearing should have an acceptable life span.
XTR – $240. Deore – $80. Both rear danglers have a clutch, and the 100 gram weight difference is the biggest percentage weight loss for the whole group. Neither of these are winning any awards for looks in my book, but form over function, and I’m not looking at them while riding, etc.
XTR – $120. Deore – $35. Shimano seemingly isn’t really pushing the 1x aspect of the new XTR groups for anyone but fit XC race types, steering most riders towards a double crank, so the front pusher is in full effect. A standard clamp mount Deore front derailleur will weigh more than the direct mount shown here, FYI.
XTR – $350. Deore – $45. Considering the shifting technology built into a modern cassette, the Deore cassette is a steal, albeit with one fewer cog. The XTR cassette slots in between the SRAM XO1 and X1 ten speed cassettes in terms of price, but is still a ton of money to spend on a wear item.
XTR – about $300 per wheel (no rotor). Deore – about $140 per wheel (no rotor). XTR Trail brakes may be the best brake on the market, assuming money is no object. The much less expensive Deore brakes use the same Servo-Wave link that everyone loves. Swap in some fancy IceTech finned pads and these may be the best bang for the buck going right now.
Front 180mm rotors. XTR on the left, Deore* on the right.
Rear 160mm rotors.
XTR – $75 per wheel. Deore* – $35 per wheel.
The rotors sent in for test with the Deore group are actually the RT68 model, which is part of the Zee group. They feature the ICE technology: a steel/aluminum/steel sandwich construction for better cooling. The standard RT64 Deore rotors do not have this feature.
XTR – $60. Deore – $25. The XTR chain uses hollow pins which explains most of the weight savings.
XTR – $240. Deore $80. I really can’t think of much to say here. They are shifters, and are mostly hidden by the handlebar.
XTR: The fit and finish of XTR is still tops in the industry. No one will mistake this for an entry level group. As a flagship product, XTR continues to look the part. You’re looking at about $2,400 for the complete set, depending on your specific setup.
Deore: It is hard to believe how good this stuff looks. Except for the rotors and cassette, the rest of the group would not look out of place with XT or SLX markings. You’re looking at about $755-$800 for the full set. For something marketed as entry level, this a very, very impressive looking group of components.
We’re going to build both groups onto a pair of identical bikes and see where they take us. Stay tuned.