Shimano Zee groupset – First look

Bombproof kit for grassroots racers and freeriders

In the mid-2000s Shimano launched Hone, a new groupset aimed at freeride/all-mountain riders on a budget. It seemed like an ideal option for those who couldn’t stretch to Saint but wanted something a bit more burly than Deore or LX, but while the cranks enjoyed brief popularity it never really took off, partly due to the release of the light but tough SLX.

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Shimano clearly reckon there’s still a gap in the market, as alongside a new version of Saint they’ve today launched a new mid-level, gravity-focused 10-speed group called Zee – apparently the name is derived from ‘zero’, as in ‘zero gravity’. Aimed at younger riders and grassroots racers, it offers a lot of the same features as the headline downhill/freeride group at a lower price.

In Shimano’s own words: “Zee is the new kid on the block and Saint’s younger brother. Zee is designed for riding on extreme gravity trails, ready to battle with the established order and waiting for young entry riders to unleash its potential! It has a young and fresh look, and the best balance between perfect gravity features at an affordable pricepoint so everybody can enjoy gravity riding.”

The thing that really separates Zee from Saint, apart from the price, is likely to be weight – although this is an assumption on our part, as no figures have yet been released. A case in point is the chainset. While Shimano’s top-end ‘gravity’ group gets lightweight Hollowtech II crankarms (albeit with a steel axle and pedal inserts), Zee makes do with solid alloy ones, in 165, 170 or 175mm lengths. Shimano reckon it’s still light though, due to its hollow axle.

Shimano zee crankset: shimano zee crankset
James Costley-White/BikeRadar

The Zee crankset has solid rather than hollow arms to cut costs without sacrificing strength

There’s a choice of 68/73 or 83mm bottom bracket, and 34-, 36- or 38-teeth chainrings. Neither Zee nor Saint has its own cassette; Shimano recommend using a close-ratio 105 road cassette for downhill and a wider range SLX unit for all-mountain duties.

Zee does have its own rear derailleur, though – a short cage, clutch-equipped Shadow Plus model. This lacks the mode converter of the more expensive Saint design but is available in different versions for close- (23-28t) and wide-ratio (32-36t) cassettes. The matching shifter offers Two-Way Release only, but can be integrated with the brake lever using Shimano’s I-Spec system.

Shimano zee shadow plus rear derailleur: shimano zee shadow plus rear derailleur
James Costley-White/BikeRadar

Zee’s Shadow Plus rear derailleur is more basic than the Saint version but the clutch mechanism should combat noise and movement just as well

Like the new Saint brakes, the Zee stoppers use a four-piston calliper and a similar inline master cylinder to Shimano’s latest cross-country/trail offerings, with the same Servo-Wave cam system. They’re compatible with the company’s heat-fighting Ice Technologies rotors and pads, and are available as complete brake sets (calliper, lever and hose but no rotor or mount adaptor) or individual parts.

Lastly, a pair of Zee hubs is also available – a 20mm-axle front hub with angular contact bearings and a 12mm rear hub with micro-ratchet Quick Engagement free hub. Both use cup-and-cone bearings and come with Center Lock rather than six-bolt rotor mounts. The new Zee kit will be available from July 2012.

Shimano Zee M640 pricing

UK RRP (£) US RRP ($)
Zee crankset (FC-M640, 68-73mm BB or FC-M645, 83mm BB) 109.99 159.99
Zee rear derailleur (RD-M640) 69.99 109.99
Zee shifter (SL-M640) 34.99 49.99
Zee brakeset (BL-M640 lever, BR-M640 calliper and hose, no rotor) 144.99 249.99
Zee/SLX brake rotor, six-bolt, 203mm (SM-RT66) 29.99 TBC
Zee/SLX brake rotor, six-bolt, 180mm (SM-RT66) 24.99 TBC
Zee/SLX brake rotor, six-bolt, 160mm (SM-RT66) 19.99 TBC
Zee brake calliper (BR-M640) 89.99 TBC
Zee brake lever (BL-M640) 34.99 TBC
Zee rear hub, 150mm OLD (FH-M640) 54.99 89.99
Zee rear hub, 142mm OLD (FH-M645) 49.99 89.99
Zee rear hub, 135mm OLD (FH-M648) 49.99 89.99
Zee front hub (HB-M640) 44.99 69.99
Approx full groupset cost* 658.89 1,061.90
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* Groupset price is with a 105 cassette (£52.99/$80), HG74 chain (£29.99/$44.99), 203mm/180mm rotors, and front and rear post mount adaptors (£7.99/$9.99), but no hubs. We don’t have US prices for the new RT-66 six-bolt rotors so we’ve used prices for the RT-67 Center Lock versions instead ($51.99/$44.99).