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