First Ride | The New Shimano XT 11-Speed on Test
No other groupset comes close to rivalling the Shimano Deore XT in both reputation and durability, having dominated the mountain biking scene for over three decades. Down in Northern Italy’s Riva del Garda, we had the opportunity to test the latest addition, the 11-speed Shimano M8000 and here are our first impressions.
More gears – more possibilities
With the high-end XTR groupset explicitly aimed at racers, Shimano set out to render the Deore XT as versatile and variable as possible – hence the presence of 1×11, 2×11 and 3×11 shifting. The finely-toothed cassette has a 1×11-specific 11-42-tooth cassette, and the 2×11 and 3×11 run a 11-40 cassette. Like the high-end XTR, the spider of the XT cranks can be changed and converted from 1- to 2-speed and vice versa. This isn’t possible with the 3-speed chainset though. Shimano offer the cranks in both a regular and a Boost-compatible variant.
Pull it up – the new Side Swing
Alongside the move towards an 11-speed cassette, Shimano’s other new venture includes the DEORE XT Side Swing front derailleur, which routes the cable straight from the frame rather than routing the cable to the derailleur via the top or bottom. This should vastly reduce shift effort and speed up shifting.
Get in touch – the new triggers
Not only do the Deore XT cranks appear remarkably similar to the top-end XTR ones, but the gear shifters have had an overhaul since last year’s model and Shimano’s improvements to the ergonomics of the levers are said to result in a 20% reduction in shift effort. Moreover, the levers have been texturised to provide better grip when changing gear, and the I-spec shifter integration has been further adjusted to suit your hands when riding.
Increased tension – the new rear derailleur
Still making use of their own proven Shadow RD+ technology to minimise any risk of chain damage, the friction clutch on the new Deore XT rear derailleur can now be adjusted externally with the help of an Allen key.
On the trails – our riding impression
When you’re out testing new shifters then it’s all about how they switch between the gears – up, down, down, down, up, down. You’ll go through them all at least once – and this is where the Shimano Deore XT presented us with our first pleasant surprise as it spun through them majestically. Until now shifting had never seemed as precise and easy as with these. But until we have opportunity to compare them directly with the top-end XTR shifters, we can’t make any direct comparisons.
With their new ergonomic and texturised form, we were immediate fans of the new shifting levers, which felt good to the touch and carried out their duties well. We particularly approved of how the short movement on the rear gear shifter gives an accurate and precise change and the satisfying click to confirm shifting is being carried out on the rear chain rings. However, what really blew us away was the ease displayed by the front derailleur. Naturally, as before, it takes time to shift to the bigger front ring, but once that satisfying click is heard then you know that the chain is sitting comfortably on the big ring.
The new shifters also come complete with the Rapidfire+ technology, which allows two gears to be shifted through at once in either direction with the ease of a double tap on the lever. On one particular downhill, characterised by a quick-fire string of hefty bumps, the chain didn’t entirely stay in place. We rectified this with a turn of the cranks, and it fortunately didn’t come off properly.
Not only impressive because of its rapid and precise gear shifting, the Shimano Deore XT also has a stylish finish and displays first-rate manufacturing. Thanks to the enormous gear ratio and your own choice of chain rings, every rider should be able to find their desired setup. This initial round of testing has left us with two pressing questions: can this new groupset hold its own against the long-lasting nature of Shimano’s older models? And what’s the performance of the 1-speed variant with the 11-42 cassette?
During our test we were unable to clarify what the official prices and availability of this groupset were going to be.
For more information visit: bike.shimano.com
Words: Christoph Bayer | Pictures: Irmo Keizer/Christoph Bayer