There's a real split in current Shimano groups between the punchy feel and styling of XTR and Deore XT, and the more soft focus operation of Deore LX and Deore. No surprise then that the new SLX group brings a lot of Shimano's latest technologies to a mid-price group, while adding several new ideas to the mix too.
Lighter than previous LX in several places, but apparently tougher than Deore XT in others, SLX promises to be perfect for the new breed of ballsy cross-country/all-mountain bikes that we're all ending up riding. But what are the specifics of this bold Shimano statement?
The signature piece is the new optional double chainset. With a steel pedal insert and new Hollowtech architecture, Shimano are claiming it's twice as tough as new Deore XT. That means seriously tough too, seeing as XT is already widely used on the downhill circuit.
The middle ring goes up to 36 teeth so you can pedal places properly rather than like a trials rider, while a polycarbonate bash guard keeps weight all day friendly. The outside face is polished XTR style to stop it looking knackered after the first ride.
Another really nice detail is the two new matching double chainset specific front mechs - two of no less than six front mech options! These use a deeper shorter cage with a clipped tail for better clearance on big tyres, and they can operate from a wider range of seat tube angles. Great for bike designers determined to use wonky geometry. A non reinforced triple chainset is available too, complete with XT style composite and steel middle ring for a long and happy drive train life.
At the back end the rear mech gets the Shadow treatment to tuck it out of the way of trouble, which saves 45g over current Deore LX.
Completing the new shifting suite are Rapidfire pods which apparently share the exact same internals as XT. (Dual Control is not available, although Shimano denied there was anything ominous about this in terms of a future for single lever mountain bike systems.) That's certainly good news if the current slightly limp and quiet click of LX and Deore isn't up your street.
Still on the handlebars, the new SLX brakes get the cam-assisted Servo Wave system debuted on Deore XT for extra pad clearance and power. We're still not entirely sure about Servo Wave to be honest, but we do like the sound of a new brake lever. It's broader, has a more secure 'hook' to the tip and extra clearance behind to avoid its current appetite for crushing first fingers if you're an index finger braker. This new lever shape will be retrofitting to Deore XT and XTR soon too.
Finally although there's no news of a complete wheelset yet, front and rear Centerlock hubs will be available, complete with a 20mm axle front option. No new 15mm E Thru version though, that just appears on Deore XT and XTR hubs.
Meanwhile Dore LX will be remodelled into full 'comfortable cruiser' format complete with new 48-tooth chainset compatible front mech and dynamo hub for LED front lights. Shimano have even revived the V brake power modulator concept for the dentally nervous.
So to recap, new SLX is:
- About the same weight as current Deore LX, but with a tougher build, snappier all round performance and much meaner aesthetics.
- Shadow rear mech, sharp shifting two way Rapidfire, Servo Wave braking and 20mm front axle options drop down from Deore XT.
- SLX debuts new 36/22 double chainset and dedicated front mech designs, plus a revised brake lever shape.
- The Shadow rear mech, reinforced 'double strength' crank with polished face mean SLX has the potential to build up as a seriously tough grouptest without destroying your bank balance.
- It's also possibly a hint of things to come higher up the 'extreme groupset' hierarchy later in the year.