Six flat-out months with Shimano’s flagship XTR family has proved that, if you can afford it, it’s the best trail bike transmission by far. Our inaugural ride consisted of snow and knee-deep bogs – the perfect way to punish your gears. This first ride revealed super-fast, accurate and featherlight shifting that was closer to road bike levels than most mountain bike setups.
The 2011 groupset's closer-ratio 42/32/24-tooth triple chainset up front and wider range 10-speed block at the rear gives a very workable, very efficient gear spread. The M985 triple potentially causes fewer suspension/pedalling issues than a double on middle ring optimised suspension setups, although weight fiends will still probably go for the M980 double ring chainset, in 38/26, 40/28, 42/30 or 44/30T sizes.
In trail terms, the most impressive thing about XTR is its durability. After well over 1,000 miles of riding, including regular multi-day epics, without any cleaning or top-up lubing in between and some mid-winter rides where it got properly frozen solid, the shifting is genuinely as light and immediate as it was when we first fitted the gears. The bottom bracket bearings and jockey wheels are still spinning smooth and quiet.
There’s no sign of any hooking or excess wear on the composite and titanium middle chainring, and the big ring has shrugged off some serious rock and log strikes. The polished outer face of the chainset has picked up some slight scuff marks and dings on the crank ends, but in many ways it looks better as a result and there’s no splitting carbon fibre to worry about.
This contrasts dramatically with our experience of SRAM XX, where we’ve had rapid ring wear and a couple of exploded cassettes (apparently due to incorrect tightening pressure) and a broken front shifter in the same timespan.
That’s acceptable if you’re a sponsored athlete who feels the couple of 100g weight loss is worth the £300-ish extra, but really bad from a day-to-day trail point of view. It’s also worth noting that in price comparison terms XTR is around £60 less than SRAM’s second tier X0, so while it’s not cheap we reckon it's cracking value in performance and durability terms.