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Riding 2020 Shimano XT in Bellingham

Shimano Introduces 12spd XT and SLX Groups

Words Cam McRae
Photos Paris Gore and Sterling Lorence
Date May 30, 2019

It's no secret that SRAM has devastated Shimano in the high end original equipment market on the mountain side in recent years. SRAM's 1x systems were good to begin with but Eagle took the product far beyond Shimano's reach. Eagle is light, reliable, durable and simple and the vast majority of keen mountain bikers have a SRAM 10-50 cassette on their bikes. This success has come about despite Shimano's big head start. And partially thanks to Shimano's big head start.

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Bryn Atkinson sailing his XT group in Galbraith's burly jump park. This is the double black line. Photo - Paris Gore

Shimano launched the very first mountain bike group in 1983 while SRAM wasn't founded until 1987 and didn't launch a rear derailleur until 1995. Shimano has dominated the mountain bike market for much of that time, and continues to dominate cycling overall, but SRAM was playing a long game, acquiring Sachs in 1987, Rockshox in 2002 and both Avid and Truvativ in 2004. And yet much of SRAM's success has come about by piggy-backing technology introduced by Shimano - albeit with strong innovation and excellent engineering and R&D work.

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Jill Kintner was an excellent host in her adopted home. She even slowed down so I could follow her lines. Photo - Paris Gore

The Japanese brand invented index shifting and launched SIS in 1984, but first the free hub had to come along* which Shimano debuted in 1978. SRAM's first product of note was of course Gripshift, but the company wasn't yet making a rear changer (and fronts would come even later) so the product was mainly used with Shimano derailleurs. In 1997 SRAM got into the complete drivetrain game by introducing the PowerGlide cassette, which employed shift ramp technology similar to Shimano's Hyperglide which hit the market in 1987. Even the cable housing needed to make index shifting work was introduced by Shimano.

*Freewheels and their threaded hub interface were not manufactured accurately enough for index shifting because they tended to wander during rotation

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New XT platform pedals are being introduced and, taking a page out of Crankbrothers' book, they will come in two sizes. There is also a Saint version but it comes in one size. These will cost you 85 USD. We'll be testing all three shortly.

Shimano tried to get ahead of the curve by introucing Di2 electronic shifting in XTR and XT trims, but these groups didn't gain much traction or spec, and now SRAM has blown the lid off that niche with the wireless AXS group.

You can imagine that SRAM must seem a bit like a disrespectful upstart to Shimano brass, and being slapped down in the most prestigious end of a market Shimano helped create, and dominated for many years, likely goes down like ketchup on sashimi.

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Lars Sternberg of Transition Bikes was one of our guides - and he took the job very seriously. Photo - Paris Gore

Which means a response was inevitable, and the XTR group was aimed squarely at becoming an alternative to SRAM's top Eagle groups; 12 speeds, 10-51 range, narrow wide rings. But Shimano went further, introducing a new free hub standard (Microspline), Hyperglide +, which allows shift ramps to come into play on both upshifts and downshifts, as well as refinements in virtually every area of the group.

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Jill Kintner - smiling and shredding. Photo - Sterling Lorence

Aside from the seemingly short-sighted decision* to keep the Microspline cassette standard closed to all but a very small number of licensees, XTR has been well-received by press and others who have had a chance to ride it. Unfortunately there have been production delays for cranks that forced Shimano to supply disguised XT cranks with XTR groups and the heralded Scylence free hub mechanism has been shelved indefinitely. It must really suck to mothball a product you invented a word for.

*This may turn out to have been a savvy business move for Shimano in the OE market - but not for after market or market saturation in general.

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The XT 10-51 cassette is made with a two aluminum cogs and 10 steel cogs, The SLX's 51t cog is the only aluminum one while XTR has three aluminum, five Titanium and four steel. Shimano believes a new anodizing process will give the aluminum sprockets enhanced durability.

Despite these issues you have to imagine Shimano is breathing a massive sigh of relief now that XT and SLX have been successfully launched. I use the past tense because the product has been shopped around to product managers for long enough that we'll see spec. on 2020 model year bikes as early as June 14th - two weeks from now. That's also when XT will be arriving in bike shops, while SLX is expected in early July. I was unable to get specific numbers or brands, but Shimano employees have told me they are very pleased with the market share they have already regained thanks to the impression the three new groups have made.

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The SLX group may turn out to be the real giant killer. The brakes employ much of the tech of the higher end groups while missing a few adjustments, so function should be quite similar.

But the people who should really be chuffed are consumers. It seems you will be able to choose between models running NX, SLX, GX, XT, XO1, XTR, XX1, and AXS from many larger brands, which will hopefully exert some welcome downward pricing pressure on SRAM, and weaken its virtual monopoly at pricing levels from teacher to dentist.

But don't worry, SRAM should still clean up with tech-savvy early-adopting hedge fund managers who want their components to speak to their phones.

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Lars ended up doing some logging when he over-zested it on our afternoon ride at Chuckanut. Photo - Sterling Lorence

Shimano XT M8100 On The Trail

Shimano invited a group of journalists to ride XT groups in Bellingham, Washington earlier this month so we'd be able to give on trail impressions for today's launch. Bellingham may not be exotic, but if you've been there you know the trails more than make up for the absence of tropical water, tradewinds and snooty waiters who treat you with contempt. And the weather was about as perfect as you could ask for. Every time I visit I like the place more.

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I was unable to identify a weak point in the XT group after 2 solid days of riding. And the price is very reasonable indeed.

If you have read up on XTR, or if you have ridden it, there isn't much here that will surprise you. Both groups will have 1x 10-51 12-spd drivetrains (although the front derailleur and dual chainrings aren't dead yet) and the trickle down has turned into a downpour. In fact what surprised me most is how great both component groups look. To be fair the finish level of XT groups remained at a high standard even after the release of XTR, but the bike snob in me has never been impressed with SLX groups - until now. The new components would not look out of place on the nicest carbon frames being made today.

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Every time I ride in Bellingham I'm more impressed. There seem to be new trails every time I cross the border, as well as new brew pubs and more riders. Photo - Paris Gore

The best thing I can say about Shimano XT 8100 is that I didn't notice much of anything at all. I went from a ride on the XTR 9100-equipped Yeti SB150 test platform back home, to the identical frame shorn in XT gear in Bellingham, and without back to back runs I'd be hard pressed to tell you which one is superior. I never had to think about my braking or shifting or dropper engagement and virtually everything was flawless. I think I prefer the XTR lever blades because, while similarly hooked, it seemed to me that the XT blades aren't quite as wide which suits me less ( I did not measure so this is entirely unscientific).

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As luck would have it I was put onto a very familiar frame - a size large SB150 just like the one I tested recently and even more like the test platform I just built up. It was the perfect ride for the trails in Bellingham. There was a rattle that surfaced during hard impacts - either repeated or in isolation - that Shimano's mechanics weren't able to root out. Other bikes didn't have this issue so it seems like it was an anomaly.

Shifting action was as quiet and effortless and the issue I have been having with excess force required to upshift using the dual action trigger/push paddle was not noticeable on the XT version. That's about as thinly as I can slice it. The brakes were flawless. The bite point was consistent, free stroke nice and light and one-finger power was as good as anything I have ridden recently - or anything I can remember. Modulation was better than I have experienced on Shimano brakes in the past as well and I rarely skidded unexpectedly - despite sub-par Vittoria tires.

Shifting under power was boringly easy and while I generally haven't noticed a huge difference up shifting using Hyperglide+, when I do notice the shift is surprisingly silky without the pleasing but inefficient clunk.* Minus the Scylence hub, my experience riding XT in Washington was much like my experience riding XTR in Colorado last year; everything simply works so you can focus on the riding or enjoy the sounds of the forest.

*I did a deep dive on HG+ when I spoke about XTR after visiting Shimano in Japan

One product I am on the fence about is the Shimano dropper remote. While the action is excellent, the placement of the lever may be less than ideal. It would make sense if the lever mimicked the placement, leverage and action of the cable pull lever on the shifter. Instead it's pushed a little forward between where the push lever and the cable release trigger sit, and with a shorter arm than the the downshift lever, while being tucked very close to the grip. I have to admit that I didn't even recognize this as an issue until it was pointed out to my by Jason Sumner of MTBR, but since that time I have come to the conclusion that it would be even better with a few minor changes. As it stands adjustability is excellent and everything works just fine.

SLX is the Sleeper

Shimano's third tier group packs a wallop. Bryn Atkinson was the only pro athlete on SLX I believe and he admitted that he wasn't all that fond of the idea at first. After a few days he was well impressed with the group and was all smiles.

The brake levers lose a contact adjustment but retain a tool free reach dial. As with XT you can choose between two and four pistons and the architecture of the system appears identical. Rotors have the steel aluminum sandwich but without the Freeza component, which describes the aluminum portion that is drawn out from between the steel plates for extra coolness.

Cash Money

From the outside it seems that Shimano builds the product the engineers and product managers want and then figure out what it costs later, and yet the pricing of these groups seems to be tiered perfectly to compete with SRAM for spec. We don't know if the prices below have a direct relationship with the pricing Trek or Transition might pay to outfit a bike model, but if it is proportional for both companies, Shimano has sandwiched SLX and XT in excellent positions to nab some market share. At retail the MSRP for an XT8100 drivetrain costs 575 USD less than an XO1 group. It's also 300 grams heavier which will be significant for some riders. SLX looks like good value as well at $85 less than GX, while XTR is just above XX1. If the pricing of XT and SLX had been equivalent to SRAM's groups it would have left product managers to choose between SRAM and Shimano. Instead they are able to offer tiered models that present solid value. At the top end price is likely somewhat less important.

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I had an error in my numbers earlier - omitting price and weight for the bottom bracket of an XTR group.

While things looked promising after XTR, if these new groups live up to their early promise, and assuming there aren't many more production issues, it will be easy to declare that Shimano is back. Expect to see a lot more Shimano high end componentry on your local trails this time next year!

Have a look below for videos and official press releases from Shimano. Or click here to go to Shimano's just launched website for the two groups

Bryn Atkinson Rides SLX

SLX Product Video

XT Product Video

Trending on NSMB

Comments

FlipFantasia
+3 Etacata Andy Eunson Nouseforaname
Todd Hellinga  - May 30, 2019, 8:54 a.m.

Finally! I can't wait to replace the chunky and overall 'meh' GX on my new bike with the XT 12 speed!

Reply

ken-leggatt
+1 Etacata
Ken Leggatt  - May 30, 2019, 9:40 a.m.

I will be in the market too.  Nice looking gear

Reply

cooperquinn
0
Cooper Quinn  - May 30, 2019, 10:44 p.m.

With the exceptions of 1) the lack of index finger upshifts, and 2) double release, I've been super impressed with my GX after a couple months on it (and a couple decades on Shimano before that). 

YMMV.

Reply

FlipFantasia
0 grambo sansarret
Todd Hellinga  - May 31, 2019, 7:38 a.m.

inconsistent shifting, much barrel adjusting, and it sticks out in the line of fire of rocks way more than shadow, yeah, ymmv indeed..... ;)

Reply

cooperquinn
0 sansarret grambo
Cooper Quinn  - May 31, 2019, 8:27 a.m.

"inconsistent shifting, much barrel adjusting," those are certainly symptoms of something, but I'm not sure its the fault of the drivetrain. ;-)

Reply

FlipFantasia
0
Todd Hellinga  - May 31, 2019, 10:26 a.m.

let me be clear, it requires much more adjusting every few rides to shift properly than any shimano I've had. Shimano is literally install, adjust, forget about it for months.

Reply

andy-eunson
0
Andy Eunson  - May 31, 2019, 9:19 p.m.

What’s your cable routing like? I’ve found XO1 less reliant upon smooth cable routing but on the old Bronson I used the Shimano polymer coated cables which helps immensely. That bike had poor routing options.

Kenny
+1 Cooper Quinn
Kenny  - May 31, 2019, 9:36 p.m.

My first experience with eagle was like that. I just kinda bolted it all up and eyeballed it. You can't do that. 

You need to watch Srams detailed install video and set up each part step by step, and you need the little red jig to set the b tension. 

B tension, chain length, and confirm your chain line measurements are reasonable. I little more inboard than spec is fine, but too outboard will suck. 

I have a GX bike and an x01 bike. They both shift great, I ride them a couple times a week all fours seasons, and I pretty much never touch em. 

I agree with the people who can't see why a person would pay more for XT vs GX, or XTR vs X01 when. The SRAM options are cheaper and lighter. But hey options are good.

kekoa
+1 Cam McRae
kekoa  - May 30, 2019, 9:31 a.m.

Yes, the dropper remote is too close to my grip. Needs to be able to drop it a bit. Though I have gotten used to it.

Reply

nouseforaname
0
Nouseforaname  - May 30, 2019, 2:43 p.m.

Isn't that one of the things OneUp was touting about their dropper lever? That being closer to the bar meant less grip disengagement?

Reply

kekoa
0
kekoa  - May 30, 2019, 8:59 p.m.

Wasn't that...more about where the blade was? It was further onboard? My issue is the blade is close to the grip so I tend to brush the grip when using it.

Reply

pedalhound
+1 Allen Lloyd
pedalhound  - May 30, 2019, 10:38 a.m.

I have been waiting for this, I was going to go with SRAM but the loss of the trigger shifter was not optimal for me. The one thing I do not like is the spline cassette...I have CK hubs and would had to have to step down to a lesser hub just for this...ugh. I may have to go SRAM after all...NX cassette will work with my regular Shimano splined hub I am already using.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+3 pedalhound Cr4w Mammal
Andrew Major  - May 30, 2019, 10:43 a.m.

Micro-spline is necessary to get 10t AND E-Bike compatibility (XD isn’t E-Bike compatible).

You can just run an XD driver with an SRAM cassette.

OR

Wait for King to release their micro-spline driver. They’ve already said it is ready to go they’re just waiting on Shimano.

Reply

pedalhound
0
pedalhound  - May 30, 2019, 2:38 p.m.

Thanks, I hope it comes soon! (CK never seems in a hurry about this stuff though).

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 pedalhound
Andrew Major  - May 30, 2019, 4:06 p.m.

I think Chris King (the company) has changed a lot in the past few years. I mean, they make a drop-in bearing headset. 

I don’t have any insider knowledge but they were asked multiple times on Instagram about making an MS-Freehub and my understanding from their replies is the design is ready to go.

Reply

Jenkins5
0
Jenkins5  - May 30, 2019, 4:57 p.m.

Excited to try new XT myself but I’m not buying a new rear hub/wheel. I really hope Shimano opens up the Microspline license soon. If they don’t, retail sales of this stuff will suffer for sure.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - May 30, 2019, 11:12 p.m.

The fact that the list is slowly expanding is a good sign. The strategy may be to get some momentum with their own hubs so there is some market saturation, which could lead to continued stronger sales. Once that corner is turned they may open it up further. Shimano Japan seems to be entirely cut off from the consumer criticism of this decision, or they are fine with it. Either way it's surprising there hasn't been some sort of statement from someone.

Reply

Timer
0
Timer  - May 31, 2019, 4:32 a.m.

Shimano seems to focus on the OEM market, with Mavic, Syncros and Newmen now also offering MS wheels to bike companies. I expect most OEMs to offer microspline soon and aftermarket adoption to be slower.

Reply

mhaager2
+3 Jerry Willows Kenny MTmtnBiker
Moritz Haager  - May 31, 2019, 3:06 a.m.

Looking at that price and weight list it seems to me SRAM is still winning, especially with GX being bout a hundred grams lighter and a hundred bucks cheaper than XT. Certainly seems like people are happy with GX. Plus it uses the XD driver which is much more ubiquitous out there. I think Shimano made a big mistake in not using the XD driver to try and reestablish some degree of standardization in a ridiculously fragmented industry. Certainly if I were to upgrade my current 11 spd XT drivetrain to 12 spd I think I’d go Eagle GX based on the lower price, weight, and fact that I could reuse my existing wheel set.

Reply

Vikb
0
Vik Banerjee  - May 31, 2019, 6:28 a.m.

You make a good point. I rarely buy complete bikes, but I did last year and it came with GX Eagle which has been flawless. So I have wheels with XD drivers and the older Shimano splined freehubs. I'm not going out of my way to buy something new that's incompatible with my existing wheels. The existing SRAM 11/12speed and Shimano 11speed options with hacks meet my needs pretty well.

Same goes with brakes. That bike came with Codes and they worked so well I haven't had much interest in going back to Shimano.

From PB's WBP opening day survey. SRAM was #1 in forks, shocks, brakes and derailleurs. Shockingly at 77% for brakes and 71% for derailleurs. 

Shimano has a solid hill to climb to eat into SRAM's market share.

Reply

cory-booker
0
Cory Booker  - May 31, 2019, 6:34 a.m.

Without any true knowledge of how this works, the rumour is that XD is free to use, but still requires SRAM's permission.

Reply

alexdi
0
Alex D  - May 31, 2019, 2:52 p.m.

It doesn't require permission. 

"SRAM offers the use of the standard and XD trademark to companies that conform to the technical specification and agree to abide by the terms of our license agreement."

It does require that you don't attempt to change it or patent some modification of it, among other things. Plenty to balk at if you're Shimano.

Reply

Heinous
+1 grambo
Heinous  - May 31, 2019, 7:08 p.m.

By creating a new standard that supports 10t AND is ebike compatible, then shimano have cornered sram - to bring 10t to ebike they have to either chose Shimano's standard or face the wrath of creating another. It's a smart move in a number of ways.

Reply

jt
+1 Andrew Major
JT  - May 31, 2019, 6:27 a.m.

I won't bemoan the expansion of microspline. From a design standpoint it is a much better interface for the hub and cassette and easier and (hence better) productability for manufacture. The sloping teeth should do a good job of preventing the galling that happens to XD and HG freehub bodies without having to resort to a steel insert. I am curious to see what the mech looks like in the new hubs though.

Reply

JVP
+2 Vik Banerjee Timer
JVP  - May 31, 2019, 9 a.m.

So good to have Shimano back to keep some heat on SRAM. I couldn't care less which brand I use for drivetrain as long as they work. Brakes, now that's a different story!  It's kind of weird how reliable Codes are.  Definitely better than last gen unreliable Shimano XT and weak-ass Guides.  Time will tell whether new Shimanos can handle burner descents w/out the lever point moving all over. 

I wonder what happened to Scylence. I was interested in more affordable (once XT comes around) quiet hubs.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 JVP
Cam McRae  - May 31, 2019, 1:36 p.m.

I meant to mention that above but perhaps I neglected to. I was told the issue was that when the two driver plates completely separated it was possible that they would come back together in a way that would damage them. Now the spring pushes the plates away from each other but not completely out of contact to prevent this issue.

Reply

JVP
+1 Cam McRae
JVP  - June 1, 2019, 9:27 a.m.

You mentioned they're on indefinite hold in the article. Thanks for the scoop on why. I respect a company that is willing to bin a product before release if there are potential reliability issues.

Reply

Vikb
0
Vik Banerjee  - June 1, 2019, 6:04 a.m.

Yes I've had zero issues with the Codes and frankly all my previous SRAM/Avid brakes, but the last generation Shimano XTs gave me fits with that inconsistent braking point issue. If I have to buy new brakes I'll just get another set of Codes so I can stock one type of brake pad for multiple bikes.

Reply

rigidjunkie
0
Allen Lloyd  - May 31, 2019, 9:21 a.m.

My SRAM drive train has been hassle free for 3 years, I never made it more than a couple months with any Shimano drive train before it needed adjustments.  This stuff would need to be significantly cheaper and have glowing reviews to get me to switch back.  

Microspline and the splined rotors also drive me away, is there any advantage to either of these for a normal rider?  I get that microspline applies to e-bikes but I power myself thank you very much.  

The flat pedals seem odd to me, there are so many options here that work and OEM bikes typically come without pedals is there any reason to buy these?

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - May 31, 2019, 1:36 p.m.

I used to be a naysayer about center lock but I love it now. Even for 6 bolt rotors with the adapter. So much faster and cleaner. I'm pretty confident that Microspline will turn out to be a better interface, the issue is that unless you have hubs from a select few makers or Shimano you can't use your existing wheels. It also means if you buy Shimano hubs you are restricted to using Shimano cassettes in the future. This could also suck if you want to resell some wheels - although that should improve as market share increases. 

It's interesting that your comments about your GX drivetrain are completely opposite to Todd's comments above. I have had good experiences with both so I don't think you can really go wrong.

Reply

jt
+1 JVP
JT  - May 31, 2019, 2:02 p.m.

Yes. As someone who has had to use opposing chain whips to remove a cassette, one cog at at a time, that's galled into an alloy freehub body, absolutely yes. The change in spline orientation distributes load over a broader face of the spline without having a 90deg angle, so it'll be far, far less likely to notch the freehub body as can happen to HG freehubs. Same goes for XD, with the added benefit of not having to hunt down as many creaks that come from those riveted GX cassettes. Wasn't stoked on Centerlock when they first came out, but after having wrenched on em for the better part of 10 years, it does cut down rotor swap times to comically short. As for pedals, I've seen SPD pedals where the cleat interfaces and springs have worn out but still spin like butter. Don't get me wrong, it ain't all wine and roses I'm sure, but everything you mention has sound engineering principals to back it up. I won't be the first person to open my wallet, but when the time comes to replace my drivetrain I won't necessarily be bummed.

Reply

JVP
0
JVP  - June 1, 2019, 9:56 a.m.

I welcome microspline. As a somewhat big dude who kills parts more than most of my riding buddies, I always had issues with notched HG bodies. Expensive cassette, expensive hub, didn't matter unless the driver body was steel. Apparently I mash more than spin.

I LOVE the expensive x-done SRAM cassettes. They last 2x (or more) as long for me as old XT stuff did, way light (unsprung), but that cost is brutal. It's an expense I go for even though there is other cheap crap on by bike like old, mismatched XT cranks. Lighter and longer lasting?  Yes, please!

That said, I'm not wild about SRAM's cheaper pinned XD cassettes. Microspline feels like the smart option going forward if you want to stay out of the stratosphere on price. Shimano needs to open up that standard, and fast.

Reply

BrambleLee
0
C. Dyer  - May 31, 2019, 2:30 p.m.

I can't get the math to pencil out on those price charts. The XT drivetrain adds up to $662, not $623.

The SLX drivetrain adds up to only $384 based on the prices listed, not $410.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - June 3, 2019, 9:55 p.m.

It may be that BB was not included but should have been? I had that issue with another comparison.  I'll see what I can find out.

Reply

Heinous
+1 Mammal
Heinous  - May 31, 2019, 7:15 p.m.

I went to 12s XTR a few months ago. First xtr I've paid for in many years. It's outstanding, and i only did it after giving up on GXX warranties and the hassles that come with gX jockey wheels lunching themselves when you're back country. I've found the shifting (even with an eagle chain on a praxis ring) amazing, and the brakes the best I've ridden.

Like loads of SRAM stuff, some people have great experiences, loads have shocking ones - that inconsistency in QC is the real problem.

Being able to set up and tune without a sagged bike and a ridiculous piece of plastic is nice too.

Reply

Vikb
+1 Jerry Willows
Vik Banerjee  - June 1, 2019, 6:06 a.m.

"Like loads of SRAM stuff, some people have great experiences, loads have shocking ones - that inconsistency in QC is the real problem."

Read up on the last generation of Shimano brakes. Lots of people [myself included] had issue with them so design/QC problems are not just a SRAM issue.

Reply

RAHrider
0
Reed Holden  - June 1, 2019, 10:34 a.m.

Did anyone notice in Bryn Atkinson's video extolling the virtues of SLX shifting and braking, he didn't seem to shift or brake for the duration of the video? That's hilarious!

Reply

BertLTP
0
Albert Steward  - June 2, 2019, 9:20 a.m.

In order to get good OEM saturation with SLX I think they’ll need to open up the microspline license to the big Far East hub vendors (Joytech/Novatec, KT, Formula, etc). Most product managers will likely bulk at OTP options from DT and Mavic wheels eating up precious dollars on SLX-level bikes. I don’t think Shimano cup-n-cone microspline hub options will cut the mustard either, regardless of price. Interesting times!

Reply

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