Shimano_XT_review_banner.jpg

Review: Shimano Deore XT

Words Dave Tolnai
Photos Dave Tolnai
Date Mar 6, 2016

IMG_0936

Dave’s test rig is a Devinci Spartan with a full XT build (including wheels and pedals), Rock Shox Monarch Debonair Plus rear shock and a DVO Diamond up front. Review on the frame and fork coming soon.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that without Deore XT, we probably wouldn’t be here. For years and years, Shimano, largely through Deore XT, has been at the forefront of value, performance and durability. They haven’t always gotten it right, and you could argue that they’ve missed the boat a few times recently, but Deore XT has always just sort of been there, with little to complain about, since 1983.

Really, this is the benchmark. All drivetrains either work better or worse than Deore XT. They cost more or they cost less. It almost doesn’t matter how good/bad this stuff is, because we’re going to have to reset the goalposts either way.

To put it another way, Shimano Deore XT is boring. It’s vanilla. It’s Ralph Nader. We don’t think about these things very much, but we’re lucky to have them around. Other than for the 2000 US Presidential Election.


Drivetrain

Cranks
I’ve built a number of City bikes up over the last few years, and I’ve actually come to really dig the “old Sugino” style of crank. Simple and classy. These cranks bring that back by eliminating the faux-industrial vibe of yore. They’re clean and look a bit like XT crank from the 90’s, which is probably how an XT crank should look. There are fancier cranks. There are stiffer cranks. There are lighter cranks. But these are fine. You don’t notice them, and I think that is exactly what you want from a Shimano crank.

My only real issue is with the new bolt circle, which is ridiculous. Why hold on to a diameter limiting bolted chainring, but develop a new standard so that nothing is compatible? This makes no sense.

Price is CAD $193 / $122 USD  without chainring or bottom bracket.

IMG_7892

Clean and Simple, if you ignore the new bolt standard and complicated chainring.

Chainring
There is a lot of debate on the longevity and effectiveness of narrow/wide chainrings. Some people are giving up and mounting chainguides. So, it’s interesting that Shimano has found their own route to single ring chain retention. I questioned the complicated nature of having a chainring built out of multiple parts and materials, but if that is what it takes to keep the weight down and provide steel teeth, I guess I’m on board. The enlarged teeth seem to do their thing retention wise, as I never dropped a chain (but isn’t that statement in just about every bike/drivetrain test these days?). That new bolt circle standard means that not many people are going to care, though, as you’ll need a matching crank to take advantage. And an MSRP of CAD $86 / $52 USD will make replacement a bit of a financial burden (especially compared to the ultra cheap albeit heavier SRAM GX stamped steel rings).

(Note: Shimano just released a new version of their XTR and XT chainring tooth profile, coming sometime this summer. Preliminary look here).

IMG_7909

Don’t call them narrow-wide, they’re just big teeth.

Chain
It caused the forces to transfer from the cranks to the cassette and it didn’t break. 11-Speed Shimano chains run from CAD $41 / $29 USD all the way up to CAD $70 / $42 USD, depending on how fancy you want to get.

Rear Derailleur/Shifter
The good is that the shifting is clean, light and precise. The chain just moves where you want it, when you want it, with a minimum of fuss.

The derailleur is everything you would expect. It’s trim and slim, but stands up fine to the inevitable knocks and bangs. The clutch does what a clutch is supposed to do, and is adjustable if you feel like you need more/less retention (decreasing retention gives a lighter shifter action). I didn’t touch it, though.

IMG_7894

The shifty bits.

The shifter is where the conversation gets a bit complicated. Shimano went and did a nice job taking the thumb paddle up market. It’s got pretty little dimples and the action is great. It’s too bad that the trigger doesn’t keep pace. The trigger is plasticky and kind of crappy, in appearance, feel and action. There’s a tremendous amount of free play in it before the shift actually starts. It just feels cheap and unbecoming of something of the caliber of Deore XT. And it doesn’t need to be this way. SRAM cranks out a bunch of shifters with plastic triggers. They feel much more confident and substantial and there is no float. It’s just better, if you ask me.

This was a large enough issue for me that I wandered around Vancouver shifting bikes on showrooms that are equipped with XT, just to make sure this was consistent across the board. It was. I also re-visited the last generation XT on one of my personal bikes. There’s definitely some float, but not nearly as much. And even though the trigger is plastic, I like the feel of it a bit better.

IMG_7922

The offending lever is poking out between the bar and the brake lever.

Could the problem be that they’re trying to get too fancy? I don’t really care about being able to shift down the cassette in multiple cogs. And I guess it is nice that you can either ‘pull’ or ‘push’ the trigger to execute a shift, but I think I would prefer it if it just went in one direction and did it well (it’s slightly better as a ‘push’ lever, and most terrible as a ‘pull’ lever, which is ironic seeing as ‘pull’ is the Shimano bread and butter). And yes, I tried a few other shifters. They all feel similar.

I know this might sound trivial, but this is your tactile interaction with this equipment. It provides an unpleasant little reminder to you dozens and dozens of times each ride. I will note that you might not care about this, as no other review that I have seen has mentioned it, but it is definitely something that I noticed. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I’d be really happy if they changed the way this lever works.

The Rear Derailleur is CAD $134 / $83 USD  while the shifter is CAD $81 / $50 USD. Don’t worry, that includes the schnazzy gear indicator.

Cassette
The cassette looks like a standard XT cassette with a chainring tacked on to the back. The good is that it is relatively cheap, fits on the standard cassette body that we know and love, and helps provide the precise Shimano shifting that we all have come to expect. Even at the top of the cassette, where some of the jumps are quite large, the shifts are quick and consistent. Don’t back-pedal in the largest cog though, as your chain will immediately jump off and find its way to the middle of the cassette. This might differ depending on the chainline of the bike, but seems like a fairly common problem with an 11-speed setup.

IMG_7897

Ignore the dinner plate tacked on to the back and it’s a pretty standard cassette.

The bad is that it weighs a tonne. 430 grams, which is more than even the SRAM rivet convention that is the GX cassette (at 393 grams). But, if you want to run 11 speed and not swap out a driver body, this is probably your answer. The cost is CAD $150 / $90 USD for the 11-42. There’s also a bit of a range hit compared to the SRAM 10-42, but the recent introduction of an 11-46 brings it oh so close. It will be interesting to see if the price stays the same.

Brakes

We talk about benchmarks, but XT brakes go beyond that. “Ubiquitous” maybe? XT brakes are everywhere. This new model is already out there on a tonne of bikes, and are probably the component you are most likely to come in contact with yourself.

IMG_7967

The unchanged caliper and disc and non-finned pads which are totally unduro.

The caliper is identical to the last generation, save for the finish. The master cylinder sees what I would call minor tweaks as opposed to major revisions. It has been slimmed down substantially, the geometry has been tweaked, and the lever itself has received a similar add-some-bumps makeover to the thumb lever on the shifter. It retains the slightly annoying release button/safety catch, in lieu of a second bolt to hold the lever in place.

IMG_7924

The ensleekened clamp master cylinder.

Performance wise, people seem to be falling into two camps. One claims these brakes offer better modulation. The other admits that they can’t feel a difference. I think I fall into the latter. These brakes performed exactly as I would have expected from a pair of Shimano XT brakes: They modulate smoothly and provide more than enough power to bring your all mountain bicycle to a stop (and look a whole lot better while doing it, compared to the last generation). They probably deserve a review of their own, but we’re dragging on a bit so we’ll leave it there because thousands of words have already been written about how great XT brakes are and I don’t feel like I can offer much in the way of elaboration.

Price is CAD $171 / $ 115-119 USD per wheel, but I’m not sure if that gets you a rotor (it doesn’t – rotors are CAD $55 / $34 USD – Ed).

Pedals

These pedals were a re-introduction to clipless for me, after at least a dozen years away. Luckily, the very consistent entry and exit made the transition fairly painless. During the testing period, I also spent some time on the last generation XT Trail pedal. They look very similar, but I always found the new generation significantly easier to clip into. Whatever Shimano did, it worked for me. CAD $144 / $ USD for the pair. I’ll also highlight that I had no problems clipping in with the rusty cleats that were last changed sometime shortly after the dawn of the new millenium.

IMG_7917

One of two pedals.

Wheels

There are many great things going for this wheelset. The hubs are decidedly un-Shimano-like, with a healthyish “buzz” and straight pull spokes. The rims, although a bit skinny, are offset to alleviate some dish. And of course, they are tubeless compatible, although I was hoping Shimano would have engineered a more impressive sealing mechanism than a strip of rim tape.

IMG_7943

Perhaps a bit hidden, but you can see the profound offset to the rim.

In a world of boutique wheels, there is nothing that really sets these wheels apart. They’re not particularly cheap, at an MSRP of CAD $910 / $554 USD. They’re not carbon. They’re nothing terribly fancy. Weights are nowhere to be found, and I’m not about to kill a tubeless set-up to find out.

Speaking of which, I did have some issues with tubeless set-up with Continental tires. The rear gave up pretty quickly, but has been trouble free since switching over to a Specialized tire. But the front continues to leak out every orifice like grandpa after an inexpensive Chinese food buffet.

IMG_7961

The front wheel, pumped fresh full of air.

Most importantly, the wheels have spun true throughout the length of the test. I worried about the 28 spoke count, but it hasn’t been a problem. They weren’t subjected to any bike park days (and I’d be a bit worried to do so) or anything, but they do seem to be built rather well.

I have to be honest that I’m a little bit confused by these wheels. They have added a few touches to set these hubs apart from the stand-alone hubs (more buzz, straight pull spokes), but getting something fancier than a standard Shimano hub is one of the primary reasons people spend $900+ on a wheelset. The lack of boost compatibility, the skinny width, the lack of carbon and the cup and cone bearings (no matter how proven they are) probably all need to be addressed if Shimano is serious about moving serious numbers of wheels. It’s pretty easy to build a nice handbuilt wheelset on Shimano hubs for a lot less than $900.

IMG_7977

Rear hub detail – You can also sort of see how the large cog is worked into the system.

The Conclusion

In a very understated way, Shimano has finally made a real impact on the single ring, 11-speed game. All of these parts are priced well (save for the wheels, maybe) and offer great performance. The main negative is going to be the weight and reduced range of the cassette. You’ll have to judge for yourself how much that is worth to you, but I think many people are going to be just fine with that trade-off. Other than that, it’s really down to personal preference over shifting styles. I know I harped on for quite a while about the shifter, but have a feel for yourself as it’s probably a question of personal preference.

There’s not many sure things in mountain biking, but lucky for us, Shimano Deore XT remains on the list.


Deore XT is 33 years old. How many pieces of it have you had on your bikes over the years?

 

Trending on NSMB

Comments

michael
0
Michael  - March 7, 2016, 10:44 p.m.

Great review, l actually read all of it for a change. If new XT stoppers are mixed, I'm out because the M785 were reliable but suffered terrible fade away on long steep descents. XTR M988 were better but still crapped out. Guess I'm going to try Zee with a substantial weight penalty. Don't even mention Sram.

Reply

drewm
0
DrewM  - March 7, 2016, 8:29 p.m.

I've been really happy with the M8000 chainrings: longevity is excellent and they are very quiet. There are already lots of aftermarket options for the new bolt pattern, although I don't see any of them as being a better value than the stock Shimano rings when I look at how long the stock ring has lasted so far with minimal signs of wear.

I do pine for the old Grey XT colour for the cranks though… comparing my M8000s to the three year old set of Grey XT cranks on my other bike the much newer M8000s look comparatively beaten.

Reply

sam-h
0
Sam H.  - March 7, 2016, 9:13 a.m.

The chain hopping thing while back-pedaling is aggravating. Happens to me in other cogs, not just the granny. Also it happens immediately, so if I'm back- pedaling to get around/over something, I have a disconcerting inability to get power back to the wheel immediately afterward, without first grinding through a few cogs.

It's not the worst thing possible, but I've never seen this with any previous bike, and it happens on both my XT 11-speed setups (Pivot Les hardtail and Yeti SB-66c FS). I've seen this mentioned elsewhere, accompanied by dismissal from those who don't experience it ("Don't backpedal".).

Reply

0
Rob Stead  - March 7, 2016, 10:24 a.m.

No derailing issues on my one-up 1*10 setup on my SB-66c fyi…

Reply

sam-h
0
Sam H.  - March 7, 2016, 10:38 a.m.

Yes, my previous setup on the SB-66c was a one-up 1×10, and I agree. That handled the back-pedaling issue much better than XT 1×11. Must be something with the tooth profile on the 11-speed cogs…

Reply

kekoa
0
kekoa  - March 7, 2016, 2:58 p.m.

No problems on my 66c, but I'm only running the 11×40. Riding budding on a 66c has it happen to him all the time. He's on the 11-42.

Reply

dan
0
Dan  - March 7, 2016, 3:47 p.m.

Backpedaling in 42T is a no-no on my new Remedy. Flat out impossible in the 36×42 combo.

Reply

GladePlayboy
0
Rob Gretchen  - March 8, 2016, 6:20 a.m.

What's your chainline like? If you can adjust it to 47/48mm you will solve your issues… depending on your crankset this may/may not be possible. I am running a B-Labs oval chainring on my Turbine DM cranks and the chainline is adjusted specifically for 1x systems…. not every crank/chainring combination is optimal.

Reply

sam-h
0
Sam H.  - March 8, 2016, 8:39 a.m.

This is an interesting idea… Thanks.. I'll see if I can tweak it.

Reply

qduffy
0
qduffy  - March 7, 2016, 8:08 a.m.

I've had tons of XT stuff over the years…and still do. And I've never spent even one second lusting over anything labelled XT. Which, I guess is the point.

That'd be my review if I had this drivetrain instead of painstakingly assembling more lust-worthy (to me) SRAM stuff.

Reply

ben
0
Ben  - March 7, 2016, 7:22 a.m.

Have you had any issues using a new chain on a used M-8000 cassette? I've had 11-speed XT for 3 months now. I installed a new chain onto the 3 months old drivetrain and I now cannot use the lowest (40T) chain ring as it skips a lot. Has anyone had any problems like this with the M-8000 cassette? I'm used to the higher gears being stretched out, but not the low gear..

Reply

the_yeti
0
The_Yeti  - March 7, 2016, 8:17 a.m.

You spent too much time in granny and wore down that gear. I did the same on my SRAM 1×11. I dropped from a 32T to a 30T up front. I spend less time in granny, cassette lasts much longer now.

Reply

ben
0
Ben  - March 11, 2016, 9:57 a.m.

I was afraid that was the case… Damn… Hopefully another manufacturer will make a more durable option.

Reply

boomforeal
0
boomforeal  - March 11, 2016, 9:05 a.m.

3 months? that's nuts. i know the add-on big rings don't last long, so have tried to use my one-up as little as possible -- was hoping xt wouldn't have the same wear issues. as you say, it's unusual and counter-intuitive for low gears to wear quickly, since the force/pull of the chain is distributed over so many teeth… disappointing

Reply

ben
0
Ben  - March 11, 2016, 9:56 a.m.

Yeah, I'm disappointed. I've looked for alternatives but everyone is using aluminum and I don't want to see the same issue. I'm definately tired of spending money and time on my bike.

Reply

whatyouthink
0
whatyouthink  - March 7, 2016, 6:58 a.m.

I hope they continue to support 10 speed for a long time to come.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - March 7, 2016, 11:20 a.m.

No reason to think they won't, Andrew.

Reply

esteban
0
Esteban  - March 7, 2016, 7:02 p.m.

Really? We said the same thing about 9.

Reply

drewm
0
DrewM  - March 7, 2016, 8:22 p.m.

I've had zero issues keeping the 9-speed drivetrain on my commuter running. Actually, the crankset is an 8-speed XTR Octalink M95* and you can still buy bottom brackets for them!

Reply

esteban
0
Esteban  - March 7, 2016, 9:29 p.m.

I asume you live in USA? I live in Mexico, and it's somewhat harder to get decent parts (for old systems) here. I'll very soon need a mech replacement. Oh, I CAN get an Alivio or similar, but what we struggle to get is SLX level and up. Shops simply rather get the new stuff to force you to change all the drivetrain.

And that's on my mtb. I simply can't use a cheaper mech on it 🙁

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - March 8, 2016, 8:40 a.m.

That's not Shimano's fault, Esteban 🙂 It's the shop's fault.

Reply

esteban
0
Esteban  - March 8, 2016, 9:16 a.m.

Not quite! Please, point me to a 9-sp SLX rear derraileur on Shimano's page. There's none! 🙁

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - March 8, 2016, 12:43 p.m.

That doesn't mean they aren't available - it just means they're not promoting them on the web page. As Andrew said, distributors and shops likely have access to them, but may not choose to order them.

Reply

morgan-taylor
0
Morgan Taylor  - March 8, 2016, 2:06 p.m.

Search for Shimano M662 and there are quite a lot of options out there. We just put one on my wife's road bike with an 11-36 cassette as it uses the same cable pull as her 10 speed road shifters.

Reply

esteban
0
Esteban  - March 9, 2016, 4:27 p.m.

Yes, that may very well be why… But it sucks down here.

Reply

esteban
0
Esteban  - March 9, 2016, 4:28 p.m.

As I've said again, in USA!

Reply

morgan-taylor
0
Morgan Taylor  - March 9, 2016, 4:31 p.m.

Forgive my ignorance, but does CRC not ship to Mexico?

Reply

esteban
0
Esteban  - March 9, 2016, 4:37 p.m.

They do, but they haven't stock of what I need. Welcome to the third world.

Reply

hbelly13
0
Raymond Epstein  - March 7, 2016, 11:36 a.m.

Agreed. Right when all the SRAM 11 speed stuff hit, I had a mint 10 speed XO derailleur/shifter. I have now used it with an Absolute Black front ring and a Wolf Tooth 42t cog combo for going on two years. I've swapped out the cassette/cog/chainring/pulley once and gone through a few chains. No dropped chains, missed shifts, nada all at a low weight and a fraction of the upgrade cost. I keep thinking I should go to 11 speed, but I cannot find a good reason to.

Reply

kyle
0
Kyle  - March 7, 2016, 6:49 a.m.

After multiple creaking and failing SRAM clutch XX1-style (x1, gx, xo1) I bought XT for half the price and it works better to boot. I don't care about the 10. I do like my derailleur to not pop and crack while shifting under load, which XT wins in that world. Raceface cranks, Hope hubs, Wolftooth ring.

I upgraded my shifter to XTR since it's least likely to find a rock pile, and its not much more. XT everything else.

Reply

0
t.odd  - March 7, 2016, 6:48 a.m.

I totally disagree re shifter, multiple upshifts at a time for harder gears, either pulling or pushing the trigger is really versatile and super useful, and way better than single clicks, and being able to pull or push allows you to vary your shift style depending on how you're holding your bars for the terrain you're riding. I can't stand going back to single action sram shifters compared to XT/XTR multi release

Reply

jonathan-harris
0
Jonathan Harris  - March 7, 2016, 8:53 a.m.

I'm with you on this. I think the XT shifter is better than the equivalent X1/XO1. I need to go and play with mine to see about this "slop" as I haven't noticed it.

Reply

0
t.odd  - March 7, 2016, 9:01 a.m.

granted, my xt's are a couple years old, but I don't notice any slop either

Reply

Dirk
0
Dirk  - March 7, 2016, 12:21 p.m.

Never a problem for me on the old stuff either. Don't like it this time around. There's no smooth transition between the free play and when the mechanism kicks in, and the push and the pull don't feel the same. You should probably try the new stuff before you totally dismiss the observation.

Reply

0
t.odd  - March 7, 2016, 12:46 p.m.

fair comment, I was thinking that after I had wrote this…but then again, I use 2x and 10 spd, so it probably won't ever be a problem for me!

Reply

tim-p
0
Tim P  - March 7, 2016, 3:26 a.m.

If you want to feel what proper shifting precision should feel like try a Saint 10 speed. That problem lever has zero slop and shifts like a rifle bolt…

Reply

0
Deniz  - March 7, 2016, 9:34 a.m.

I agree with you. Saint and Zee shifters win at speed and feel. Xt shifter will never find its way onto my handlebars anytime soon. That attrocious "CLICK"

Reply

xeren
0
xeren  - March 7, 2016, 3:34 p.m.

agreed. currently running a saint 10 speed shifter with the new 11sp XT mech (yes it's backwards compatible). It's perfect. i probably won't go up to 11 speed shifter and cassette until i wear out the current stuff

Reply

morgan-taylor
0
Morgan Taylor  - March 7, 2016, 9:26 p.m.

Good to hear they're backwards compatible. One of my favourite features of the Saint shifter is one click for pull and two clicks on the push when you're dropping gears. It's like there's good reason for the two-way motion: different functions!

Reply

kirk-hutchieson
0
Kirk Hutchieson  - March 8, 2016, 9:34 a.m.

How easy is it to make it backwards compatible? Same as setting up a regular shifter?

Reply

xeren
0
xeren  - March 8, 2016, 10:14 a.m.

literally no extra work - the shifter determines how far the derailleur moves, and as far as I can tell, the 11 speed XT mech uses the same angles as the 10 speed XT mech, so you just install it like normal

Reply

cooper
0
Cooper Quinn  - March 6, 2016, 11:26 p.m.

I'm not sure what to say here… Other than…. I agree with almost all of what you've said, and disagree with most of it. Simultaneously.

This is a very honest review. I like it.

Reply

D_C_
0
DMVancouver  - March 6, 2016, 11:24 p.m.

Have you had a chance to play with the 11 speed XTR shifter? Any better? That may be a good place to spring for the fancy stuff.

Reply

sagalbot
0
sagalbot  - March 7, 2016, 3:27 p.m.

I sprang for the XTR shifter with the XT Der/42t cog. There is still a tiny amount of float before the actual engagement happens on both paddles, but I've never found it to annoying or even noticeable until this review pointed it out. I haven't felt the XT shifter, but the XTR feels super solid. A little more thumb force is required to engage the paddles than I had expected, but I don't notice it on the trail.

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.