Shimano isn't set to launch its revamped Saint gravity group until later this year but Trek World Racing downhill sensation Aaron Gwin's Session 9.9 offered an early glimpse at what's to come: a new 10-speed compatible Shadow Plus rear derailleur, new levers, and new brakes.
As expected, Shimano will bring the excellent Shadow Plus pulley cage control from XTR over to Saint using what appears to be the same friction band mechanism neatly hidden inside a removable molded plastic cover. While downhill bikes already have good chain control with their short pulley cages and full front chain guides, we expect the new Saint Shadow Plus rear derailleur to offer even better control and security along with quieter operation.
Also notable is the expected move to 10-speed compatibility, offering not only an additional gear ratio relative to the current version but also easier mixing and matching with other current Shimano parts. Gwin's bike, in fact, was fitted with a Shimano Deore XT shifter body.
Gwin's machined aluminum prototype derailleur was admittedly a little rough in appearance but you can still imagine what the final, forged aluminum version will look like. As on the current Saint, we expect well-armored parallelogram plates and a beefy knuckles top and bottom for impact resistance. Just as on XTR, there's still an on-off toggle switch for the cage control mechanism, too, for easier rear wheel changes. It's more hidden away on the prototype version and finished in black instead of gold, however, so it's difficult to see unless you look up close.
The differential piston diameters on Shimano's revamped Saint four-piston caliper is expected to be both quiet and powerful
Also new on Gwin's machine are new four-piston Saint calipers. The new model is still a two-piece design but uses two bolts to hold the halves together instead of four and the backs are far more open for better airflow. Differential piston diameters are carried over from the previous version for both quiet and controllable power.
Gwin's brake levers weren't marked but it appears that he's running either a modified set of XTR Trails or a next-generation set of Saints that will borrow much of their design architecture from Shimano's flagship cross-country and trail group. Key features include the lower-profile layout with an inline instead of radial master cylinder, adjustable pad contact, adjustable reach, hinged clamps, and textured aluminum lever blades for a bit of extra grip.
Even the shift lever is custom made for Gwin. The main body is borrowed from a standard Shimano Deore XT shifter but the aluminum pull lever is slightly shorter than usual. According to team mechanic 'Monkey' Vasquez, Gwin prefers the shorter length for easier access to the custom cable release paddle, which is aggressively textured front and rear for surer operation.