Dirt Rag Magazine

Editor’s Choice 2015: Our favorite components

Dirt_Rag_Editors_Choice_2015_WEBThis is Dirt Rag’s second year doing an official “Editor’s Choice.” With editorial staff of all shapes and sizes, spread out all over the country, we can’t just pick one product per category and call it the best.

Also notice our timing. While we could do this in the early spring, how much ride time do you think those early season awards are based on, if any at all? Waiting until the end of the year allows us to consider all the products we’ve used.

And finally, notice not all these products have been reviewed (some we’ve shelled out our own money for), nor are they all from our advertisers. We’re doing our best to be honest with our selections here, and each one is deserving of its award on its own merits. While you can buy us a beer, you can’t buy our editors.

Continue reading for products from Shimano, 9Point8, VP, Industry Nine and SRAM.

Shimano Di2 XTR


Di2 groupset

Electronic shifting? I can hear the purists and singlespeeders scoffing, pointing and cursing my name, but the unequivocal fact is this drivetrain works with absolute perfection. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a double chainring on a personal bike, yet with top-notch shifting from the auto Syncro Shift I barely notice it’s not a single—it’s that smooth, with no front shifter to fiddle with.

With almost a year of abuse, through the tail end of winter, a wet spring and a dusty summer I have never adjusted, tweaked or fiddled with it once. That’s the biggest takeaway: truly maintenance-free performance without frayed cables, corroded housing, water freezing the line or worrying about funky routing hampering shifting. Battery life is also longer than claimed, so I hardly think about that either.

Shimano Di2 XTR isn’t in everyone’s wheelhouse and it’s not meant to be, but the concept and performance is groundbreaking. Because of that it gets my choice and is certainly here to stay.

More info: bike.shimano.com
Price: Varies, but serious $$$. If you have to ask…

9Point8 Fall Line dropper post

Tech EditorEd Choice components-2Other than good tires, a dropper post is the best upgrade you can make to your bike. The Fall Line is the best dropper I’ve used in 2015, and as long as it remains reliable it’ll be the best I’ve ever used.

The Fall Line is cutting-edge because its design is the first mechanically locking dropper with infinite adjustment. It also has a sweet remote that can be run horizontally or vertically on either side of the bar. And two offset choices: 0 mm or 25 mm along with internal routing with tool-free cable removal for packing or sharing the post between various bikes. And it never, ever needs to be bled.

All that, plus it’s made in Canada and costs less than most high-end droppers on the market. I hope 9point8 sells a million of these things.

More info: 9point8.ca
Price: $375

VP VX Adventure Race pedals

Contributing EditorEd Choice components-1Aside from some early misadventures, I’ve ridden Time clipless pedals for what seems like an eternity. Sure, SPDs are great and they’ve been around forever, but once you commit to a pedal system and pick up a few pairs, it sure is hard to switch.

I signed on to review these SPD-cleat-compatible trail pedals from VP and switched over some cleats. With both the stock VP cleats and some old Shimano ones they have a positive engagement and a crisp, quality feeling when unclipping. I’ve moved them from bike to bike for the most part of the year, and they’ve never loosened, squeaked or complained one bit. The large platform is just the ticket for a secure feeling underfoot, as more of your shoe is in contact with the pedal.

I may not be ready to toss all my Time pedals in the recycling bin, but the VP VX Adventure Race pedals are good enough to find a permanent spot on one of my bikes and a pair of SPD cleats on my favorite shoes.

More info: vp-usa.com
Price: $130

Industry Nine Pillar Carbon Trail 29

Former Art DirectorINine wheelsStrength, weight and price. That’s the trifecta, and it’s been said that you can only have two of the three. So with a $2,850 base price it should be no surprise which two are finishing first and second.

While the hubs and spokes are machined by I9 in North Carolina, the carbon rims are made by Reynolds Cycling, of Utah. Rim profiles and layups are designed to maximize lateral stiffness but maintain controlled vertical deflection. The 32 spoke holes are angled to minimize stress and promote long-term durability. The hookless bead walls allow for a slightly increased internal rim width. At 24 mm they aren’t super wide, but the bead walls are formed using a continuous fiber wrap around the top of the wall, which increases strength and impact resistance. Without a bead hook, it’s counterintuitive how secure and burp-free the tire is. Setup was easy, and I’ve had no issues.

This wheelset is ’spensive, but I9 hubs are my favorite. They’re precisely machined with a 120-point, three-degree engagement. They’re compatible with everything, and there are several colors for a custom look, but which will cost you an additional upcharge. I even like the freehub sound. There’s no need for a bell on the crowded weekend trails.

Price: $2,850
More info: industrynine.net

SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain

General Manager and Photographer

SRAM GX group

SRAM has earned significant market share and popularity with its single-ring drivetrains for good reason. These drivetrains offer enough gearing range for most situations, greatly simplify bike setup and perform incredibly well.

Last year, Dirt Rag Editor-in-Chief Mike Cushionbury awarded SRAM’s X01 drivetrain his Editor’s Choice honors because it offered similar performance to the flagship XX1 group at a reduced cost. With GX1, SRAM has again significantly cut the price of entry to 1×11 ownership.

Sure, the GX 1×11 group gains a little weight, but it retains all of the performance benefits from its pricier siblings. Shifting might be ever so slightly less crisp than XX1 or X01, but I wouldn’t bet on being able to discern a difference if blindfolded. If I were building a bike or planning to buy a new one, I’d be targeting GX 1×11 for certain. This is the pinnacle of the current performance-to-value ratio right now.

Price: $564
More info: sram.com

If you missed our Editor’s Choice bike picks, check them out here. And make sure to subscribe to the print edition so you don’t miss all of our reviews and gear picks throughout the year.



First Impression: Pivot Mach 429SL


The new carbon Mach 429SL from Pivot Cycles shaves half a pound off the previous frame to come in at a very respectable 5.3 pounds. Match that to 100 mm of potent dw-link controlled suspension and this venerable favorite becomes even more attractive. New hollow-core carbon technology from Pivot not only reduces weight but also increases overall stiffness.


The Mach 429SL is the second ever production bike released with full Shimano XTR Di2 integration (the Mach 4 Carbon was the first) with an easily accessible internal battery compartment near the bottom bracket as well as internal ports with dedicated caps for wires or traditional cables and housing. The frame is also RockShox Reverb stealth dropper post compatible or in our case, the cable and housing from the Fox DOSS dropper routes internally in the top tube.


Our bike is built up with a complete XTR Di2 group, including Race level brakes and wheels as well as Shimano’s Pro line Tharsis XC Flat Di2 specific stem and carbon handlebar with internal wire routing. By using these the wiring system is almost completely hidden in the frame and totally out of view at the cockpit.

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The frame comes standard with a Fox Float Kashima Factory shock with Pivot’s simple to use sag indicator. It also has a 120 mm travel Fox 32 CTD Factory Kashima coated fork but the geometry is designed to work with a 100 mm travel fork as well. As shown, our bike weighs 25.15 pounds without pedals but depending on some specific parts could be built to less than 24 pounds.


With a head angle measuring in at 69.3 degrees, Pivot is utilizing a fairly common number for its cross-country specific Mach. That’s matched to 17.65-inch chainstays to keep the bike quick and nimble. So far its 100mm of rear travel has been highly impressive, often giving the illusion of having more travel at higher speeds. Climbing, the Mach is consistently active but excellent anti-squat from the dw-link design keeps the bike feeling fresh and spunky when putting power to the pedals on smooth sections without giving up compliancy and traction on technical climbs

The Mach 429 SL Carbon frameset retails for $2,999 and various complete bikes are offered. The Shimano XTR Di2 bike retails for $10,400 with a few slight differences from ours including Reynolds carbon wheels, a Pivot branded Phoenix Carbon seat post and handlebar, and Team stem. For first impressions of XTR Di2 click here and here.



Dirt Rag’s first test-ride on Shimano’s electronic XTR Di2: Part 2

Di2 sideshot 1

This is Part 2 of my first real shakedown rides with the new Shimano XTR Di2 group. Read Part 1 here.

In the span of just a few days since receiving the goods I was able to put almost 150 off-road miles on Shimano’s exciting new XTR Di2 electronic components. Here’s a rundown of how it went in the California and Arizona desert.

Synchro Shifting

Yes indeed, automatic shifting and double chainrings, that’s what XTR Di2 is all about. At first mention it’s also perhaps becoming one of the most polarizing features in mountain bike drivetrain history—until you try it. Many riders initial reaction upon hearing about Synchro Shifting is concern over a loss of control over gear selection resulting in unwanted shifts and/or being in the wrong gear at the wrong time. I can tell you that over all those miles I mentioned earlier that never happened. Not once. The truth is as a rider you still have plenty of control over gear selections and the system actually enhances control and certainly increases the speed of gear selection and shifting

Shimano Di2 Camp

Synchro Shift is controlled by the handlebar mounted display unit that serves as the brain. There are three settings: S1 for race style riding, S2 for “trail” riding and manual, which turns off Synchro Shift (a setting I couldn’t use because I didn’t have a front derailleur shifter plugged in.) Besides controlling shift settings the unit displays current rear gear by number, shows battery life, and serves as the recharge and computer port. It can also display and control suspension mode if you have Fox’s electronic iCD suspension plugged in. The battery is the same as Di2 on the road and is mountable in various positions depending on bike frame. In the case of the Di2 specific Pivot Mach 429 SL, it’s integrated and hidden in the frame, as are all the wires.

Plug and play

As I mentioned in my first report, the dynamics of performance can be easily altered via a downloadable computer program. When the display until is plugged into a computer the entire system shows up on the screen with all your options including yes or no for the front shifter, suspension, gear ratios related to when it auto shifts and shift speed.

My changes, besides reversing which button up and down shifted to match the mechanical version, were essentially beefing up the stock S1 and S2 with S1 being based around racing with more time in the big ring and S2 being based around trail riding with more time in the inner ring (both of which, according to the Shimano tech that came up with the custom mapping, makes it feel like 13 gears in the back rather than 11.) I also increased rear derailleur shift speed when holding down the shift button (hold it down and the chain can dance across the entire cassette quicker than you can blink.) The cool thing is because it’s so easy to program you can search for your own settings or just leave it stock which ultimately works amazing—the tinkerer in me just had to be able to say I changed it a bit I guess.

Shimano Di2 Camp

Because it’s so programmable, you can customize deeper by running both shifters and having both control rear shifting, or make one side all upshift and the other all downshift. If you choose to go with Fox’s iCD suspension rather than using the stock Fox button you could program the front shifter to control the fork and shock lockout. Or, set it to manual, leave both shifters on and just enjoy great shifting that way. The one fly in the soup is that thus far Shimano is resisting to make it Mac compatible. Also, making it mobile Android and iOS compatible would be a great thing.

Battery life is less than the road version mainly due to the rear derailleur having to push inward against the clutch mechanism. Expect to get about 20 hours based on how much you shift and temperatures–Shimano Skunk riders did the entire seven day BC Bike Race on one charge. If the battery did begin to die on the trail you’ll lose front shifting ability first followed by rear with it staying in whatever gear you were in when it finally puckers out.

On the trail

Since using XTR Di2 I can say I’ve never used a front shifter with the system and I never will, Synchro Shift is that good. My initial concerns of suddenly being in the wrong gear or getting frustrated with auto shift simply never materialized. As you shift through the cassette you’ll hear a double beep to signal on the next rear shift that the front will be auto shifting and the rear will be dropping up or down a few gears to compensate.

It worked perfectly every time and after just a few miles I was able to anticipate the shift and adjust cadence like I would if I was doing the shift manually except if you tried shifting both front and rear in the same fashion with a cable system you’re risking a jammed or derailed chain—something that has never happened yet with XTR Di2 no matter how sloppy my shift and pedaling form became. I was also always in the right gear at the right time. In fact, I’ve begun to ride (and think) like it’s a single ring in front, the performance of the double ring auto shift is that spot on, intuitive and seamless.

Shimano Di2 Camp

Other performance notes include a nice tactile feel at the shifter. Rather than just being buttons the triggers move just enough to give you a solid feel of shifting. This also prevents accidental shifts. I would like to see more lever position adjustability. At times they seemed to close together and I’d occasionally over extend my thumb and push the wrong trigger. I’ve moved the shifter perch farther inward on the bar as a fix.

Because the 11-40 cassette is designed around double (36/26 chainrings) and even triple setups rather than a single ring (though that is an option) the steps between gear ratios is noticeably tighter than that of SRAM’s 11-speed cassette and as such I found myself shifting a lot more and staying right in the gearing sweet spot everywhere on the trail

Final thoughts

Undeniably Shimano has hit a home run with electronic mountain bike shifting. It’s also essentially the same weight as mechanical XTR—a feat Shimano says it achieved because the electronic wires are so much lighter than cables and housing. Price is, as you’d expect: about $3,300 to $3,500 for the complete group including brakes. But as with the Di2 systems for the road you can expect to see it trickle down to at least XT level in the future for a substantial cost savings.

Kudos to Shimano for setting up ride sessions in the tough, rocky terrain of Palm Springs to showcase durability. There were many times squeezing though rock sections at speed where I expected to snag or bang the rear derailleur but it never happened. I left with a few small scrapes on my cranks as a reminder of how unforgiving the desert can be but ultimately there were zero failures or broken parts. As you may have noticed, I haven’t got much to complain about yet.

Now it’s on to long-term east coast testing. Keep an eye on dirtragmag.com for more!



Shimano XTR vs Deore: Getting By With Some Help from Our Friends

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.

heckler tease-1

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.

heckler tease-6

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.

heckler tease-5

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.

heckler tease-4

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.

heckler tease-1-2

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!



In the House: Shimano’s 11-speed XTR vs. 10-speed Deore

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.

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Peel off that shiny outer layer and things look even more classy.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Front 180mm rotors. XTR on the left, Deore* on the right.

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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.

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XTR – $60. Deore – $25. The XTR chain uses hollow pins which explains most of the weight savings.

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XTR – $240. Deore $80. I really can’t think of much to say here. They are shifters, and are mostly hidden by the handlebar.

First impressions

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.

Next step

We’re going to build both groups onto a pair of identical bikes and see where they take us. Stay tuned.



Shimano launches new 11-speed XTR group


It was time for a new XTR, and with the introduction of single chainring groups from SRAM knocking at the door of the premier mountain bike component group, Shimano was facing a serious challenger. When the press gathered a few weeks ago at Shimano’s U.S. headquarters in Irvine, Calif., we were aware of the basics, now it was time to hear the how and why of the new XTR.

Read the full story

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