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What We Really Think of Shimano’s New XT 12 Speed

Image courtesy of Mountain Bike Review The new decade has brought some pretty interesting trends in the mountain bike world. Riders (myself included), are in a constant quest to get in on the latest greatest equipment. I’m not sure if it’s FOMO, or just the hope that new equipment is going to make us faster and the while riding experience better, but the pressure on bike and bike part manufacturers is real. Companies are reacting by filling the pipeline with new mountain bike products, as it’s the only way to get riders like us to crack open our wallets. And I would say most of the new products I’ve ridden lately has been up to expectations...not amazing, but they function well, and help keep both wheels on the ground. There is one glaring exception: Shimano’s new 12-Speed XT groupset. The new XT has so exceeded my expectations, I find myself acting the part of an unpaid brand ambassador, telling anyone who will listen how enthralled I am with the group. Below are 4 reasons why I believe Shimano’s new 12-Speed XT is the ultimate groupset for every rider.

1. The Brakes

I don’t know a single mountain biker who isn’t looking to ride faster. It’s just in our DNA. But the reality is, one of the best ways to ride faster downhill is having the ability to slow yourself down easier. Shimano made a huge number of improvements on the new XT brake, but the most noticeable is in the lever design. They basically eliminated all the lever flex by moving the clamping position further inward, and adding a support near the grip. This gives the lever two contact points on the bar, which—in a riding situation—eliminates lever flex (which would previously make the brakes feel spongy). The second thing Shimano did was tighten up the tolerances at the caliper. But let me back up one step before diving into this next point. There are two caliper options on the new Shimano XT brake: 2 piston, and 4 piston. Don’t even waste your time with the 2 pots. The 4-piston brake provides more power and smoother braking with less heat fade, and very little weight gain. Make your life easier by starting off on the right foot with the 4 pistons. Now back to the caliper discussion. The previous model year’s Shimano brakes had a problem with both the brake pads rocking in the caliper (they felt like a loose pivot bearing when the brakes were applied,) and the finned pads rattling. The new XT brakes have all but eliminated both issues. Note: I am still stretching the pad spring to give it more tension, but this is not necessary with the new brakes.

2. The Shifting

From my past experiences, when Shimano has added another gear (such as the jump from 11 to 12 speed), there have been niggling issues with the first production parts. This isn’t the case with the new 12-speed. I’m not sure if Shimano spent more time during the development phase, but the shift quality is extremely precise. With the 11-speed, you would have to feel around for the gear with the shifter. On the 12-speed, you just hit the shift and keep pedaling. Note: Shimano does admit to putting a huge effort into perfecting the ramps of the chain and cassette cogs, and they hold the majority of the intellectual property on these interfaces. So I don’t think it’s just my perception that the shifts are getting cleaner.

3. The Durability

New stuff usually has some initial kinks that need to be worked out, mountain bike parts included. And it always seems that the issues relate to durability (maybe because it’s hard to quantify durability parameters in testing). Again, the Shimano 12-speed XT durability is crazy good. I live in Santa Cruz, and I put some pretty serious mileage in both wet and dry conditions. I’m shocked at how well the chain, chain ring, and cassette are holding up. I usually change everything out every 6 months because of wear, and I’m still using my first set up 9 months later.

4. The Price

All of us want to ride carbon Arktos 29s with XTR (or XX1) components and ENVE carbon wheels and cockpit. But the reality is, once the wheels touch dirt, the condition of your bike and its value deteriorates immediately. As a result, the key is to try to get the best parts you can, spend the big bucks where it makes the most sense, and then achieving best possible value. On this point, the new XT is nearly impossible to beat. I’ve mentioned how well the components perform, but the list price for the XT complete kit including 4-piston brakes is just under $1150. The drivetrain on its own is just a little over $600. For comparison, XTR is almost double that price. SRAM X01? $1275 without brakes! Of course, there is a downside. The XT stuff is heavier than X01 — about 250 grams with comparable parts. I’d like to think putting a little less sealant in the tires and keeping the bike nice and clean can take off at least half of that difference.

5. Maintaining

It’s easy to get excited about something new, drop a bunch of cash on it, and then find out later that performance/weight/bling factor is great, but maintaining the product is painful. From availability to durability, the ease of maintaining the new 12-Speed Shimano XT is hard to overlook. For starters, Shimano XT parts are near ubiquitous. When you decide to take that dream trip to Europe and blast through a set of pads on the first day, it’s almost guaranteed that the first shop you walk into will have spares. Shimano is everywhere, and XT is one of the most specced mountain bike group. It seems like no matter when you are in the world, there’s a way to get yourself back in the dirt. Shimano XT is the workhorse mountain bike group, and the volume they sell is immense. As a result, they’ve made the bike super easy to service because they know there will be a high demand for service at some point. The brakes reservoir is just one example — not only does the system force out air automatically when you remove the lever bleed screw, but the cup-based bleed system (for all Shimano brakes) takes all of the guessing out of a bleed. It’s hard to find fault with the new Shimano 12-Speed XT components. XT 12 speed is inexpensive and durable, and offers next-level performance. Pinkbike described it as the “Smart Man’s XTR” and I couldn’t agree more. Check out more mountain bike reviews, features, and news »

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