Testing the New Shimano XTR
The component maker rebooted its performance mountain bike system. The results are impressive.
An impressive reboot of a top mountain bike system
Sprinting out of the saddle and shifting gears recklessly at the same time is something that has always been frowned upon. Most times, your drivetrain will protest. So when Shimano mountain bike product manager Nick Murdick explained that the company designed the new xtr group to handle shifts under pedalling load, I was excited to give the system a try while we were in Crested Butte, Colo. When Shimano set out to refresh the xtr group, the company opted for a full redesign, instead of making improvements on the existing parts. The result was actually two groupsets, one for cross country-oriented riding and one for enduro. During the design process, Shimano called upon some of its top pro riders to help with development to ensure the end product could perform at the highest levels of racing while also offering advantages to riders not chasing podiums.
I rode the cross country group first, which comes with a 1-by specific xtr crank and 10–51 tooth, 12-speed cassette mounted to the new xtr Scylence freehub. The hub comes by its name honestly: it’s quiet. Though I do enjoy a loud buzz from the hub while screaming downhill, you can really hear your tires on the trail when your bike is silent. As result, you can judge traction better. I could see this silence catching on. It was great to hear the tires drifting so I could correct steering before totally losing grip.
Sitting at 2,715 m of elevation, Crested Butte has a lot less O2 in the air than I’m used to at sea level. As we started to climb higher into the mountains, I could tell I was going to make good use of the 51-tooth cog, and I was going to shift into it while stomping on the pedals.
Part Shimano’s xtr redesign is the new Hyperglide+ shift ramping in the 12-speed cassette. The feature ensures that when you shift gears, the chain moves from one cog to the next in precise stages. It feels fluid to you, but the chain always has a secure hold, which means you can actually shift under pedalling load. The Hyperglide+ was a real
“It was great to hear the tires drifting so I could correct steering before totally losing grip.”
advantage on steep, technical climbs that required me to shift into an easier gear. I didn’t need to adjust my cadence to get that clutch effect to accommodate a shift. Instead, I could focus on keeping my momentum and choosing a good line. I could simply click away at the shift lever without worrying about skipping or jamming a chain. For racers, Hyperglide+ will help them as they shift into harder gears while sprinting, which could mean the difference between winning and second place. Don’t forget, the “R” in xtr is for “race.”
After climbing to the top of Mount Crested Butte, it was time to scream through the aspens on the way down while seeing how the new brakes would stack up against the previous generation. I have never been a big fan of Shimano brake feel. It’s a little too on/off for my liking. Thanks to athlete feedback, the new xtr brakes have great feel and much more modulation than previous models. The XC brakes are quite different from their enduro counterparts. The former use carbon brake levers and dual-piston calipers, while the latter have larger aluminum levers and four-piston calipers. The enduro brakes also have a tool-less reach adjustment. On a big backcountry loop, we encountered some pretty long descents that really made me a fan of the new enduro brakes. The slightly larger lever feels really good with one finger hooked over it. There’s plenty of power on offer so it’s easy to control the speed with minimal effort at the levers. I didn’t experience much arm pump, even on extended steep sections. I could see this system giving enduro racers an advantage on long stages where arms may tire from a lot of braking.
Another big difference between the XC group and the enduro set is the cassette and derailleur options. xtr has the wide-range 10–51 tooth cassette, a 10–45 tooth cassette, as well as the 11-speed 10–45 tooth cassette. Shimano’s athletes wanted more gradual gear steps for endurotype racing. Cross country riders preferred a wider range of gearing. With an 11-speed cassette, you can run a shorter chain and the short-cage rear derailleur to end up with some weight savings. The short-cage mech will also help to alleviate chain slap.
Some other notable features of the group include a lot of cockpit customization options. You can move your shifters and/or dropper remote inboard or outboard more than with the previous I-spec lever options. The shifter can also move the chain down two gears in one throw of the lever, with a second click offering more resistance to help you to avoid overshifting. New, larger platforms have been added to the xtr trail pedals. The crank now uses a direct-mount chainring.
With a 1-by specific, 12-speed drivetrain, new silent freehub and brakes with loads of power and modulation, Shimano has really stepped up and offered a great high-performance group for high-performance-style riding.