Mountain biking's most reverent component group has received a makeover for 2013. Shimano first presented the new grouppo at Sea Otter earlier this year, and we recently attended a media camp hosted by the component giant in Whistler, B.C.. Wondering just exactly what a media camp is? In short, we got to ride the hell out of the new Saint kit for three days in the arduous testing grounds of the Whistler Bike Park, all while Shimano drowned us in technical details, fine food, and riding with Shimano-sponsored pros. The presentation was impressive, but the new component group is even more so.
Media camps are a bit like going to school, but you're actually enjoying it. Greg "The Hammer" Hammond, marketing manager of Shimano Canada, served as our charismatic counselor for all things Shimano. Greg is the crucial link between many of the top pro riders that drive the bike industry, and the engineers that create the components that allow us to benefit from those who push the limits of their equipment. Shimano's lead mechanic, Ben Pye, was also on hand to explain many of the technical features of the new Saint group and to keep our bikes performing in tip top shape throughout our time at the camp. Joe Lawwill, also of Shimano, introduced a panel of pro riders including Geoff Gulevich, Darcy Turenne, Mike Hopkins, Matt Hunter, Thomas Vanderham, and Andrew Shandro. We drilled the pros with questions about the new Saint group, and in summary we learned: the brakes are phenomenal, the shifting is super crisp, the new pedal is awesome, and the cranks are bombproof. Of course, they are paid to ride these goodies, but their enthusiasm was enough to raise our blood pressure for some serious saddle time in the Whistler Bike Park.
Saint originated in 2003 to create a durable component group that could withstand freeride and downhill use. Shimano's third generation of Saint – the M820 group – was developed under the “Pure Gravity” design philosophy with a clear focus on the rigors of DH racing. With huge success in it's initial iteration ruling the durability segment, the latest rendition shaves weight everywhere possible. This is everything we love about Saint, refined. Saint is now an exclusively 1 x 10 specific drivetrain optimized for sound management, and the new Saint brake is designed entirely around heat management. After a brief product overview, it is immediately apparent that Shimano is an engineering company, not a marketing company. Sure the new logos look great, the ads with the pro riders and big budget video ads are appealing, but as Mike Hopkins said at the media camp, the real value in Saint is "consistency", because Saint is engineered specifically for pursuits in gravity.
Hands down, the most exciting aspect of the Saint camp for us is the new brake. We've long been fans of previous Saint brakes, and after a season on the new XT trail brake, we were foaming at the mouth to get the snappy, short Servo-wave lever pivot feel mated to the four-piston caliper of the new Saints. The new Saint lever is about as ergonomic of a one-finger lever as one could imagine, with ideal finger placement on a textured lever. Tool-free lever adjustment provides quick tuning for custom reach.
|I've been riding Saint brakes on my enduro bike, too, because the modulation is addicting. - Matt Hunter|
As mentioned, everything about the new Saint brake is optimized for heat management. It gets the ICE technologies treatment, with the obvious standout the aluminum finned brake pad for cooling. Also, ceramic pistons inside the caliper prevent heat transfer from the pads to the brake fluid. A new, longer hose banjo extending from the caliper is designed to assist in cooling brake fluid. Shimano has also created a new super stiff, three layer brake hose for a more consistent feel at the lever. The Shimano system uses mineral oil because, unlike DOT fluid, mineral oil does not absorb moisture, which is known in DOT brakes for causing a mushy lever feel. The system is a one-way bleed for easy and clean servicing.
Those familiar with Shimano's ICE Technologies three layer clad rotor (steel/aluminum/steel sandwich construction for cooling
) will be even more impressed with the new Saint ICE ultimate clad rotor, which takes the innovative three layer clad rotor to the next level by adding radiator fins. The SM-RT99 rotor is the most effective heat management rotor ever produced by Shimano, claiming an additional 50°C decrease in operating temperatures over the previous Ice Technology rotor, 20% less brake fade, 20% increase in stopping power, and 20% longer pad life. A production version of the rotor was not available during our test, though, but we look forward to seeing how those figures fare in the real world. The ultimate clad rotor comes in 203mm for DH use only, and only in centerlock mounting.
Saint goes 10 speed Dyna-sys
, but that's not the only revision seen in the new shifter. The new SL-M820 shifter has longer, textured levers running on dual sealed bearings that contribute to a smoother shift with less effort. The main lever is 6% longer than the previous Saint shifter, and the release lever is 10% longer, both contributing to a more linear feel. Just like all Shimano Dyna-sys shifters, downshift is two-way release, so it can be shifted with the thumb or forefinger. When using the thumb, the downshift is multi-release, so like the thumb upshift, a rider can shift through multiple gears at once. For the new Saint, the downshift can be shifted two clicks with one push of the thumb.
Shimano's renovation of the drivetrain is based on sound management, with the premise that a quiet drivetrain means better rider focus on the trail ahead. The new short cage Saint Shadow Plus RD-M820 is a 10 speed design with Shimano's clutch mechanism. The adjustable clutch works similarly to a coaster brake hub where a small tension band prevents the derailleur cage from pivoting forward, thus eliminating chain slap. Other features include a urethane elastomer bump stop to reduce noise, low-profile Shadow Plus chain stabilizer, super-wide links for resistance to twisting and improved durability, and an integrated skid plate to protect the derailleur from impact. An included mode converter (DH mode or freeride mode
) allows for a switch between close and wide ratio cassettes: 11-27 or 11-34 cassettes are now possible with the same derailleur. Extra long limit screws on the derailleur allow for limiting to 5 speed on a 10 speed cassette, should a rider be so inclined.
Saint's front and rear hubs utilize angular contact bearings - you won't find and sealed bearings in these hubs. The front hub offers a new, lighter construction in it's 20mm form. The rear hub offers a micro-ratchet with super-quick 10° engagement for added speed and durability, with 8/9/10-speed compatibility. Labyrinth and lip seals increase sealing. The also use the Center Lock disk mount for easy rotor interchangeability and a lighter hub shell, and a one-piece axle keeps things internally lightweight and strong. Available sizes include 135/10mm, 135/12mm, 150/12mm, and 142/12mm with 32 or 36 hole drilling.
Saint Hollowtech II cranks are forged from ''Duraluminum'' to form a light weight, extremely strong crank set. The single-ring-only crank is available with multiple 10 speed chainring options. The new Saint cranks is claimed to be 250% stronger than XTR Trail cranks, and 100grams lighter than previous Saint cranks. They still utilize a heavy duty steel axle and steel pedal inserts, though. A revised spider with bolt caps create a clean appearance. The crank is available in 73 or 83mm axle/BB width, 165mm, 170mm, and 175mm lengths, with 34, 36, or 38 tooth ring options. A DH press-fit BB is also available.
New for the Saint group is a signature flat pedal. There isn't much to say about this pedal, but with a low-profile design, market proven axle durability, and two-tone finish, it certainly has that Saint look and feel about it. Shimano came up with an original take on pedal pins by including washers under the pins that, when removed, make for a taller pin height. The PD-MX80 pedal is 3mm wider than the older DX pedal, with a profile that is 8.5mm thinner. Several of the pro riders were hyping up the new pedal.
Still in the concept stage for Saint is the chainguide that debuted at Sea Otter
this spring. Although the guide was absent for testing, there was much talk about the unique design and the benefits of a non-roller system. The modular chain device looks to provide efficiency through less resistance of the chain, as well as silent operation to keep the rider focused on the trail ahead. A built-in damper and silencer on the lower guide is spring loaded for chain tension and has the ability to move out of the way on impact. Protection duty is provided by a minimalist alloy bash guard that attaches to the crank itself and can be relocated to either downward side of the crank depending on which foot a rider has forward. Weight is claimed to be an impressive 147 grams with bash guard.
With all the tech jargon out of the way, it's test time in the Whistler Bike Park. The amount of lift-access vertical coupled with such rocky, gnarly terrain means that there really is no better proving grounds for bike components than the Whistler Bike Park. Brian Finestone, the WBP manager came by to tell us about the 13th year of the bike park. Last year reached the 1 millionth visitor mark, which is leaps and bounds ahead of any other bike park. Whistler is heavily invested in the bike park and Finestone talked a lot about his role in water management at the park. Clearing snow takes weeks of work because there really isn't a lot of places to put it, but with all of us chomping at the bit to put our passes to work this summer, Finestone's crew has been working hard to get our bikes on the lift. This year Whistler invested in a roto-tilt attachment for their main machine, which allows the operator to maneuver the bucket in any direction without having to move the machine itself. Finestone says on the first day of operating the new piece of equipment, the operator was able to do 2 hours worth of work in 22 minutes.
Our test bike is a 200mm travel Specialized Status outfitted with a full Saint kit (minus the rear wheel as Shimano did not have a 135/10mm hub on hand
) and a mix of parts from Shimano's Pro
components group. Schwalbe
outfitted the test bikes with Muddy Mary 2.5 tires. Oakley set us up with Crowbar MX goggles
set us up with a POV cam. Fox Racing Shox
was on hand to dial in our Fox 36 Van RC2 180mm single-crown for the test, and out the door we went.First Impressions
Right off the lift the ergonomics of the cockpit were impressive. Saint's shifter tucks in perfectly under the brake lever, with moulded triggers that wrap around the thumb knuckle when not in use. The short lever blades of the brake levers are certainly designed for one-finger use, and don't interfere with our other fingers or thumbs some some traditional lever blades do.Braking Performance
The new Saint levers have a silky smooth and snappy feel that we've come to expect from Shimano. Last generation's Saint brake had a similar feel initially, but where the new Saint prevails is in the power modulation. As snappy as the lever feels, we were surprised that the new Saint isn't as 'touchy' as it's predecessor - it is more powerful than ever, but also easier to control. And quieter. Our last test day in Whistler greeted us with rain that lasted all day. From no brake to feathering resulted in a minute squeal that went away in two seconds or less. From no brake to full power resulted in a small squeak. This is probably the biggest improvement over the old brake that would squeal all day in the wet. We were so focused on staying upright in the greasy roots that the brakes were one of the last things on our mind. The adjustment dial on the lever is quick and easy to dial in reach. The free stroke adjustment requires a screwdriver and most riders won't find it necessary to use, but we played around with Free Stroke and found that while it's main function is to move the lever blade farther from the point of pad contact, it also introduces a degree of detent to the lever feel. Turning the Free Stroke screw out on the lever increases the snappy feel of the brake.
We had one full-frontal foliage encounter at decent speed on a steep, wet rock that left us nearly assured that the left lever was busted. After recollecting our thoughts and thanking the powers that be, close examination of the brake revealed it to be unscathed. We pried a bunch of bark and debris out of our lever pivots and the brake continued to work flawlessly as if nothing had even happened, despite the lever stopping our body mass abruptly into a large tree. Shifting Performance
Saint's new shifter feels very impressive. There really is no way to describe it until you experience it yourself. The textured shift levers make for an assured shift interface that won't leave you slipping, no matter the weather. We fell in love with the multi-shift downshift that allows the rider to quickly skip a gear on the downshift.
As for our Saint rear derailleur, day one of the camp left us with a loud and clangy derailleur from where the clutch knuckle hit the horst-link pivot of our frame. No matter how much B-tension was applied to the rear mech, we couldn't get rid of the sound. Other riders in the park actually asked what was wrong with our test bike because it was so loud. Later that evening it was discussed amongst other riders that the same issue was occurring on other bikes, not just the FSR-link ones. Shimano quickly addressed the issue on our bike by installing the mode converter (included with derailleur
) which effectively adds greater range to the B-tension adjustment by setting the derailleur farther back off the hanger. Newer bikes with the direct-mount hangers will not have to use a mode converter, and bikes with higher chain stays and non-chain stay pivots likely will not need it either. With our derailleur now set up properly to our steed, the bike was just as quiet as all the pros declared it would be.
The derailleur clutch works very well in the field. Gone are the days of the floppy, slappy chain. The drivetrain is so quiet (after installing the mode convertor
) that we're already finding other noises on our bike that drive us crazy. For one, it's dead quiet. For two, missed shifts are far less likely with optimal chain tension all of the time. Some of the redesign in the Saint shifter is due to the added resistance of the clutch derailleur. Whatever the case, it's all been well thought out and works great for keeping the drivetrain in line. This doesn't eliminate the need for a chain guide as that is specifically dealing with the front end of the drivetrain, but as seen in Shimano's concept guide, clutch derailleurs do not require the tension of a traditional roller-type guide thanks to the clutch derailleur.Everything Else
The new Saint pedals have a great profile, adequate width, excellent traction, and looks that could enter a gun show. While the pedal market is largely over-saturated, Shimano did their homework in creating a pedal that isn't over-tractioned. These provide ample grip but still have enough release for sticky rubber shoes.
The cranks are as stiff as ever, but there really isn't anything new that can be felt on the bike. 100 grams of weight is appreciated, but largely unnoticed. With the surplus of companies entering the carbon crank market, we asked Shimano what they thought of carbon cranks. The response was that they do forged aluminum very well. The Shimano fishing division has vast experience with carbon fiber rods so it's not like they don't know carbon, they have simply found that for a bicycle crank, the work they can do with forged aluminum creates a product far superior to the performance of carbon. Rest assured they've thought this out.
Our test bike utilizes a 135x10mm rear axle, and Shimano did not have any Saint hubs in this configuration so we weren't able to give the rear hub a full test. Shimano hubs use a fully adjustable loose-ball angular contact bearing. We have been surprised for years that Shimano continually releases new product with cup-and-cone style bearings when the convenience of cartridge bearings is surely a win for the average rider. On the contrary, we learned that cartridge bearings work better in a linear environment like suspension pivots, where forces come from primarily a single rotational point. Due to the gyroscopic effect of a spinning wheel, angular contact bearings are better able to balance destructive loads from any direction. We'll probably continue to see loose-ball hubs in the Shimano lineup for many years to come. And for the record, Shimano is not making Saint rims... yet. There was no mention of plans for a Saint rim, but we're hopeful. The rims labeled as Saint are actually DT-Swiss brand.Endless Biking
was on hand all weekend to show Saint riders around the Whistler Bike Park, as well as offer up instruction to media attendees. With twenty years of riding experience, we were a bit reluctant to sign up for any form of coaching, but decided to go ahead and give it a shot. It was apparent within five minutes of talking to Darren that perhaps even old dogs can learn new tricks. We jumped in on the advanced cornering clinic and within a few minutes we learned the difference between turning and cornering. Do you know where many of the pro riders hang out in the Whistler bike park? B-line. We've wondered why for years, but after the tips from Endless Biking we quickly realized how fun flat corners can be. The awareness of body motions and their effect on cornering is something we are working to reprogram our riding style towards. You're never too good to learn to be better.
There was brief mention of Shimano's new Zee component group targeted at the younger, less-financially stable market. Zee appears to be a capable mix of Saint durability with SLX-level price, and retail pricing is roughly half that of the Saint offering. The stuff looks solid, so if Saint is beyond your price range, you'll only have to wait a few more months before Zee hits the market.
Overall we were thoroughly impressed by the new Saint offering and we took our test bike home for long-term testing. Be on the lookout for new Saint to be available in the next couple months. We'd like to thank Shimano for the good time in Whistler.
For more info, visit ridesaint.com