Riding the all-new Shimano XT

By Justin Steiner

Several other journalists and I spent the last week riding around Lake Tahoe putting Shimano’s redesigned-for-2012 XT group through its paces. In my last post I discussed the technical aspects of the new components, and despite a ridiculously snowy year, we managed to find a few snow-free trails (and one with snow) on which to flog the new stuff.

This redesigned group borrows a great deal of technology developed for last year’s XTR group, so it comes as no surprise that it performs very similarly. Both previous generations of XT, 9-speed and the 10-speed Dyna-Sys iteration, performed incredibly well, so it hard to believe Shimano was able to significantly increase performance yet again, while maintaining—even sometimes lowering—the pricing of individual components.

In fact, this new group works so well it’s almost difficult to put the performance into words, because it performs so seamlessly the individual action of each component goes nearly unnoticed. But, as your intrepid reporter, it’s my duty to dish out the details. Please do keep in mind I’ve got but two rides on this group, so consider my opinions initial impressions. Look for the complete long-term review in a future issue of Dirt Rag.


In my opinion, the star of this dog-and-pony-show is the brakes. They borrow very heavily from their XTR big brother, with master cylinder, brake lever, and Servo-Wave mechanism being geometrically the same. The calipers also use the same 22mm ceramic pistons. The only significant difference between the XT and XTR brakes is found in material selection. The materials used for the XT-level products are just slightly heavier than that of XTR, and fortunately for us, significantly less expensive. This theme runs throughout the line.

That said, it comes as little surprise the performance and feel of these brakes is on par with the XTR models. Within our group of media wankers, this XTR-level performance was unanimous.

With the metallic pads installed in our brakes, performance was stellar. Outright stopping power is said to be increased by 25 percent over previous generations, and the ease with which I was able to nose-wheelie with a 180mm rotor leads me to believe this figure. Modulation was also excellent, even on the skittish and loose soil around Lake Tahoe. I was able to precisely dial in the desired amount of braking from full lockup to subtle trail braking while drifting through loose corners.

Although we didn’t ride anything I would consider to be terribly punishing on brakes, I feel pretty good about the fade resistance of these brakes—particularly with the ICE rotors and pads, which are standard equipment. As long as you select the proper pad compound and rotor diameter for you application, I think you’ll be mighty happy with these brakes.

I was just a bit apprehensive about the short brake levers, but found them easy to set up to my preferences with just a quick dial of the tool-free reach adjust.

Simply put, these brakes come highly recommended. As long as the cold weather performance holds up, they will remain a force to be reckoned with.

Oh, and you shop techs—or any of you who bleed your own brakes—will appreciate the new one-way bleed system. I saw it in action and was impressed.


With the Dyna-Sys 10-speed upgrade last year, Shimano again upped the ante compared to 9-speed XT. I rode my 9-speed bike just a few days ago, reminding me of that improvement.

Once again, Shimano improved an already solid product by trickling VIVID shifting and the new directional chain down to the XT price point. With VIVID shifting Shimano has lighted up and evened out the effort required to execute shifts up through the cassette. Rather than the largest three cassette cogs requiring more effort to shift through, these three cogs shift just the same as all the rest. The actual lever throw is now lighter, but the detent spring tension has been increased slightly, which makes for a more positive “click” into gear with each shift.

In general, shifting was nothing short of amazing. Try as a might, I couldn’t make this new drivetrain behave badly despite repeated full-throttle up and down shifts of both cassette and chainrings. Every shift was executed flawlessly and with conviction—the feel at the lever instilled a similar confidence. The only feature I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around using was the multi-release trigger to shift down through the cassette. Years of single-release muscle memory proved difficult for my feeble mind to overcome in the short term. I’m sure with another ride or two it’ll become second nature.

Only once in two days did I have the chain skip off a chainring (big ring in this case), but that occured when slashing down a lift-serve trail at Northstar Resort, and thus surprised me very little. Dropping a chain on one of 4 or 5 runs down a gravity trail on 150mm-travel bike strikes me as pretty par for the course. Fortunately, Shimano also showed us the new XTR Shadow+ rear derailleur designed for just this type of situation. Look for a detailed Shadow+ post in the very near future.


It’s hard to judge wheel performance on loose soil, so I’m going to hold off on fully weighing in on wheel performance—stiffness specifically—until I’ve had a chance to ride some familiar and tacky terrain. That said, the lift runs point to pretty stellar performance in the stiffness department.

Freehub engagement was plenty quick enough, quiet, and positive.

There were, however, two bummers in the wheel department. The first being lack of hub convertibility. Thru-axle hubs cannot be converted to QR, and QR cannot be converted to thru-axle. And secondly, these XT wheels are not available in a 29” version. Shimano would not confirm or deny plans for a 29” version in the future, but I’m betting we’ll see a 29er wheelset in the future. However Shimano is launching another new lower-priced wheelset for 2012, called the MT55, which will be available in both 29” and 26.”


Full disclosure; I’ve long been a Shimano pedal fan. The new pedals perform just as well as any other SPD I’ve ridden, but I am pretty stoked about the new trail pedal. I’ve been running the DX M647 pedal, which offers an even larger platform, but can see myself using the XT trail pedals in place of the DX model for all but park riding and DH racing.

The Group

Shimano made an already great group really fabulous with this last round of improvements. Short of desiring the absolute lightest components on the market, or simply spending as much money as possible, I feel this newest XT group is as good as most of us riders will ever need.



Special thanks to Joe Lawwill for shooting the action photos of yours truly. Thanks, Joe!


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