Shimano’s XT component group first found its way onto mountain bikes over 30 years ago. Since that time, it
has been through many iterations and seen
many changes in the mountain bike technology landscape. If you need a history lesson on where our bikes came from, a good
place to start is to look at the evolution of
this iconic group. From the first version that
came complete with cantilever brakes and
a logo with a deer’s head to the streamlined system we tested here, this component group has always been the workhorse
of the Shimano off-road lineup.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
Shimano’s newest XT version targets
trail riders, which doesn’t narrow it down
much. This group is described by Shimano
as “components of adventure,” which,
while somewhat vague, encapsulates what
these parts are designed to do. This is not
the component group for gram-counting
cross-country racers, nor is it an entry-level group. It features nearly all of the latest
technologies from the flagship XTR group
at a fraction of the cost without giving up
the key performance features that make a
Shimano group work so seamlessly.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Drivetrain: Shimano has been known
for its light-action shifting for many years.
In fact, Shimano invented it. This new XT
group seems to continue this trend with
a lever action that glides between gears;
however, it’s not the lightest action we’ve
seen from a Shimano system. The “clicks”
between gears are mechanical and noticeable; in fact, they’re even audible on the
trail. During our testing we didn’t miss a
single shift that wasn’t the result of normal
break-in of a new cable or something out of
our control, like a bent derailleur hanger.
The standout of the XT drivetrain is the
side-swing front derailleur, which uses
unconventional cable routing and a super-stiff machined mount to achieve crisper
shifting. Our first experience on this system was an aha moment, similar to when
Shimano introduced the first Shadow Plus
derailleur years ago. Single-ring systems
rock, but this derailleur makes the
double-ring system so crisp, we can
confidently recommend it for those riders
looking for a wider gearing range.
Gearing choices: Shimano offers prob-
ably the widest array of gearing options,
with single-, double- and even triple-ring
options still on the menu. Shimano also
added a wider-range cassette this year,
with up to an 11-42-tooth spread available.
While Shimano still seems to refuse to spec
the Megarange cassettes some of its com-
petitors offer, there’s no doubt Shimano
systems offer a wide-enough range of gear
choices to make any rider happy. With the
addition of the larger-range cassette, the
single-ring Shimano system is actually a
viable one, with a gear low enough that
you don’t have to run a chainring that looks
like it came out of a Swiss watch. Our tes-
ters found that with the double-ring setup
ing range is maxed out, up or down. With
a single-ring setup, Shimano’s competitors
still have a wider range, but this cassette,
with its reasonably sized chainring, worked
for 95 percent of the terrain we took it on.
Brakes: XT brakes, especially since the
predecessor to the current version was
introduced in 2011, have been the gold
standard. They have enough power to be
run comfortably on a downhill bike, and
they are light enough to work on any trailbike. This new generation seems to have
taken on one minor grumble we had about
that last generation—the aesthetics. The
new brake has a mirrored finish and more
streamlined looks than its predecessor
without giving up the features that made
the previous version work so well.
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