Shimano gives the Press a hands-on look at its two gravity ensembles, Saint and ZEE, at a catered luncheon attended by select bike designers and pro racers who had a hand in their development. The actual product looked much more impressive than the press-release images led us to believe. Those hoping for radical new innovation may be let down, but hard core riders who want tangible improvements will be quite happy. The new Saint was driven by input from racers and carryovers developed for XTR, like the addition of the Shadow Plus one-way clutch and Shimano's more linear shifting DynaSys ten-speed metrics. Shimano surprised many with its affordable ZEE gravity ensemble, designed to bring most of the features and durability of Saint to a component lineup targeted at weekend warriors and budget racers. We thought you might like to see the new parts up close and personal.
Saint 2013 - Stronger and Quicker
Saint cranks are hollow forged duraluminum (a super-strong 7000 alloy) with a tubular steel bottom bracket that is claimed to be 250-percent stronger than XTR. Shimano Saint supports press fit and threaded bottom bracket types. Chainrings are available in 34, 36 or 38 tooth options.
Saint rear derailleurs are updated with Shimano's Shadow Plus chain stabilizing clutch system. The gold lever above the cage pivot is the engagement switch. A removable mode chip on the derailleur mount converts the parallelogram's sweep angle to follow a close-ratio DH cassette or a wide-ratio XC sprocket stack for enduro use.
Clever PB readers will recognize the super wide parallelogram pivots of the 2013 Saint rear derailleur from rough-cut prototypes photographed on Aaron Gwin's Trek racebike last season. The lower link is a whopping, 45 millimeters wide. Part of the reason is to provide crisp shifts. Shimano admits, however, that its impact data underestimated the punishment that World Cup racing inflicted on the gear changer, so the new Saint mech was completely redesigned to survive the worst. Oversized adjustment screws are used to allow up to three gears to be blocked from either side of the cassette.
The Saint Shift lever has been lengthened slightly and it pivots on ball bearings to overcome the added resistance of the Shadow Plus clutch. The action is smooth, with a generous amount of feedback with each shift. Two shifts can be made with one push of the thumb paddle, while the return lever metes out one shift at a time.
Santa Cruz Syndicate's Greg Minnaar raved about the new mech saying that, '...it shifts instantly when I push on the lever, rather than having to push and wait for the shift on the lever's return stroke.'
The new Saint brake lever is short and lightweight, with a quick-acting ServoWave mech to ensure that the four-piston caliper reacts instantly to the rider's command. Shimano stiffened the hoses and boosted the flow rates of the fluid to provide a more accurate feel at the brake lever. Textured holes on the lever blade (as well as a file-pattern on the shift paddles) assist wet-weather performance.
Saint's four-piston caliper houses ceramic pistons that block heat from the hydraulic fluid. Asymmetrical piston diameters reportedly reduce noise. A steel buffer plate distributes clamping force to aluminum-backed sintered metal brake pads which feature ICE tech cooling fins. Shimano claims that Saint brakes are 150-percent stronger than XTR - the equivalent of increasing the rotor diameter two sizes larger. Note the extended aluminum banjo fitting - another improvement to insulate the fluid from heat.
Saint gets a dedicated pedal, with sealed ball bearings, a concave platform and pins that are replaceable from the back-side. The profile is acceptably thin for a platform that features a durable spindle and bearing system.
Strangely missing at Shimano's 2013 Saint launch were its latest ICE Tech brake rotors (as shown in a press release earlier this week). The aluminum core, sandwiched between the stainless steel braking surfaces has been extended into the ID of the rotor to form a wavy cooling fin which is reported to dissipate heat more quickly. Shimano says that the new rotor will appear in May.
ZEE 2013 - Powerful Tools for Gravity Riders on a Budget
Zee cranks use forged, solid 6000-alloy arms and share the same bolt pattern as Saint and XT, so all Shimano-compatible chainguides and bash rings can be used with the crankset. Gearing options are 34, 36 and 38 teeth.
Zee rear derailleurs share the Saint's medium-length pulley cage and the Shadow Plus chain control clutch. The parallelogram, however, lacks the Saint's super wide pivot stance and is built on the same geometry as SLX. The ZEE derailleur lacks the Saint's mode-change function, but separate B2 links are available to cause the derailleur to follow close or wide ratio cassettes. Both models were on display at the launch.
Shmano's lower-cost ZEE rear derailleur (left) compared with the 2013 Saint changer. Note how sturdy the Saint derailleur is constructed.
ZEE shift levers lack the Saint's super-smooth-running ball bearings, but retain the longer levers and lighter action to compensate for the Shadow Plus system.
ZEE Brake levers lack the Saint's cosmetics and external reach adjustment, but it retains the fast-acting ServoWave mech and the hydraulic internals are the same, which ensures that ZEE riders will enjoy similar power and one-finger modulation. Both Saint and ZEE are convertible to Shimano's ISPEC integrated shift/brake lever system.
Shimano found a way to bring its hard-stopping four-piston caliper to ZEE - ceramic pistons and all. You won' t find ICE Tech rotors on ZEE brakes, but you will get cooling fins and sintered metallic brake pads..