Last month’s announcement of Shimano’s latest Deore XT groupset got a lot of people excited. Now, ahead of its arrival on 2016 bikes, BikeRadar has been given an opportunity to give the latest components a try-out.
1x no try!
A lot of people reading this article are going to want to get first ride impressions of XT in its 1x form… and I’m sorry to admit that we can’t deliver on that score. Shimano didn’t have samples ready for the 1x variant of new Deore XT – disappointing stuff indeed. Instead, our Deore XT equipped test bike came in double-ring guise with a 36t/26t chainset and an 11-speed 11-40t cassette.
Setup and ergonomics
Before setting off to the Italian trails of Riva del Garda we first got the cockpit controls of our XT equipped test bikes dialled in to our preference. XTR-mimicking I-Spec II levers now allow for independent fore/aft and inboard/outboard adjustment of the shift and brake levers, while at the same time occupying minimal space at the handlebar, neat. Similarly, the XT brakes were tweaked to our liking through simple external adjustments.
First ride impressions
With everything in its right place we set off to find some gradient, shifting through the cassette for the first time – and were confronted with a familiar feel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, XT’s action at the right-hand lever is very similar to that of XTR M9000. The lever’s throw is surprisingly long but requires minimal effort and yet provides enough feel to easily determine each movement of the chain. Scaling the cassette in either direction is fast, and the ability to upshift twice in one push will be useful for some yet doesn’t affect the feel of a normal single shift.
Compare the shift to that of SRAM’s 1x family and we’d say it’s a lighter action, but one that’s less positive – swings and roundabouts, in other words. We shifted in anger, cross-chained like buffoons and tried our best to lose the chain, but couldn’t find fault.
Up front was XT’s side-swing front derailleur, which once again borrows technology from XTR M9000. To best understand side-swing, think of turning a conventional front derailleur 90 degrees and mounting it sideways.
The recent shift to dedicated 1x transmissions has no doubt been fuelled by frustrations with existing double setups, which often appear sensible on paper but can disappoint in real-world riding conditions and deliver a noisy, flappy and frustrating ride once things get rough.
In contrast to this, our initial impression of the new Deore XT front derailleur had it as probably the most impressive part of the group. Shift effort was remarkably low and moving up to the bigger ring has never felt easier or smoother. It’s almost like having two right hand shifters.
As touched on above, chain retention was great, with not one Deore XT equipped rider dropping a chain over several hours of test riding. The front derailleur can take some thanks for that, but most applause should probably go to the Deore XT rear derailleur with its adjustable clutch mechanism that now comes with a bigger, easier to switch lever.
We’re still massively keen to try XT in 1x format but this double setup did in fact deliver everything we wanted from it – and, in fact, we reckon it could tempt a lot of people away from ditching that front derailleur.
Shimano stoppers, still a safe bet
It’s established fact that Shimano stoppers are pretty damn good, and these XT versions deliver business as usual. On the trails they provided ample power and remained well modulated throughout the duration of the test. On the steepest trail sections and after a couple of minutes of heavy use the levers did pump up slightly but power didn’t fade as a result and releasing the brakes briefly did seem to remedy this. This was likely the result of taking on a small bit of air in the system owing to the fact that the brake lines had to be switched before the ride to suit the preference of our UK rider.