Shimano 2012 SLX Trail Brakes Long-Term Review

Jan 18, 2012
by Matt Wragg  
Shimano launched their sexy, new XTR Trail Brakes to a great reception from riders in early 2011. For its 2012 range, Shimano adapted many XTR features down to the rest of its disc brake lineup - including its value-priced SLX group. We got our hands on a set of the mid-range SLX Brakes back in August 2011 and have been running them since on big, alpine terrain. If we had to take an educated guess at how much use they've had, we'd say we've put well over a hundred hours of trail time on them.

2012 Shimano SLX brakes
We ran Shimano's SLX brakes with various rotors depending upon which wheels were in the garage. Most of the testing was carried out using 200mm Shimano IceTech rotors. Shimano claims that the aluminum-core rotors reduce braking temperatures by 100 degrees-C. The 'Radiator' finned brake pads reportedly take another 50 degrees from the system.

Shimano SLX disc brakes at a glance:
• Claimed 25-percent increase in braking power
• Two-finger ServoWave brake lever, featuring on-the-fly reach adjustment dial
• Oversized 22mm twin ceramic pistons optimised for heat insulation
• Lightweight forged two piece calliper design is both rigid and durable
• No-shim post-mount caliper allows for quick installation and setup
• One-Way brake bleeding system
• I-Spec compatible shift-lever mounting
• 310 grams: lever, hose and caliper (F)
• $124.99 USD per side (£89.99) - rotor and adapters sold separately (about $50 USD)

n a
Shimano's 2012 SLX lever now shares the XTR's in-line master cylinder, ServoWave mech' and on-the-fly reach adjustment dial. What's missing is XTR's pad-contact adjustment, textured lever blade and, of course, XTR's impeccable finish.

SLX Disc Brake Overview

Shimano basically took the 2011 XTR brake lever and caliper and adapted it for mass production. Its shorty aluminum lever has the same profile without the tactile drilling on the face. The lever's in-line reservoir is essentially the XTR item in function, but with an 'industrial' finish, and the I-spec-compatible clamps allow for Shimano's integrated shifter option. Down low, the post-mount caliper shares the heat-blocking 22mm oversize ceramic pistons which are largely responsible for the brake's 25-percent increase in stopping power. Aftermarket SLX brakes are equipped with hard-stopping, sintered metallic pads with the funky looking aluminum cooling fins which reportedly reduce braking temperatures by 50-degrees C. The top-loading pads are fixed with a tragically simple cotter pin - certainly not an XTR hand-me-down. Like all Shimano disc brakes, the SLX system runs on mineral oil and its hose has a banjo on the caliper end to ensure perfect hose routing. In case you wanted to know, XTR brakes average 250 grams for a front lever, hose and caliper. SLX weighs 310 grams in similar trim. Shimano offers rotors and adapters separately. We used monster-sized 200mm IceTech aluminum-core rotors for this long-term evaluation - overkill by most AM/trail rider standards, but quite effective.

lever triptic
SLX lever details: (From left) The in-line master cylinder is supposed to make for better hose routing and better clearance for neighboring handlebar controls. A safety catch in the lever clamp releases by pushing a slim Allen key into the hole next to the hinge. Unfortunately for moto-style front brakers, Shimano's 2012 brakes can't be flipped right to left.

SLX Ride Test

Setup and alignment the SLX system was quick and painless. Shimano kept things simple with the mounting process. There is nothing more complicated than a couple of bolts and washers, but it works. The calipers stayed put too, we didn't have to worry about drag or rub through our test period with the SLX brake pads. We teamed the calipers up with big, 200-millimeter rotors, which is cheating slightly. Outside downhill racing, few riders are likely to team brakes up with dinner plates like those. What this means is that we got to find out just how much power we could generate with 2012 SLX brakes.

Steep learning curve: Well, it turns out that we had a handful of crashes due to the amount of power the SLX calipers and metallic pads produce - and the way they deliver it. A small distance of lever travel would grab the wheel and lock it dead. If you’re used to dragging your brakes then you'll need to get yourself out of that habit, fast (it's something I tend to do after using a different brake that required this to keep some heat in the system). There was very much a learning curve to using such strong stopping calipers with big rotors, and for the first few rides we had doubts about whether we were going to be able to live with them.

We shouldn’t have worried. We adapted to them in no time, once we stopped trying to drag the brakes, and began to get a feel for how they worked. The best test of how a brake modulates its power is when grabbing a load of front brake to lift the back of the bike through switchbacks. It's all about fine front brake control - and finding and shifting your balance point. The sign of a good brake is the speed you can take into tight switchbacks without having to make your peace with god first. There was no sudden epiphany when we became one with the SLX brakes. Instead, it was a realisation some time later that the brakes gave us the confidence to come into tight corners faster and faster. We felt completely in control and instinctively knew how hard we could haul on the levers. We struggle to think of another brake that handles this much stopping power quite this well (except for Shimano's XT and XTR trail brakes).

Caliper duo
SLX caliper details: A simple cotter pin retains the high-tech finned brake pads and their sintered metallic brake pads. The two-piece, post-mount caliper lacks angular adjustment washers, but we had no issues adjusting the brakes to run drag free.

Down to business: That power really came into its own on the long descents as well. Because you don’t need to apply much force at the lever, it noticeably reduced forearm fatigue. What’s more, the SLX brakes kept their performance all the way down the mountain, and we put the brakes through hour-long descents to test their heat resistance and consistency. Maybe in lab tests you’ll find more powerful brakes, but out on the trail it was the tyres and ground conditions that limited how fast we could stop. The new mid-priced Shimano brakes deliver more usable power than other supposedly more powerful systems.

Close to XTR, but: When we looked at the XTR trail brakes last year we were very impressed by the lever feel and we're happy to report that these SLX brakes feel just as good out on the trail. For us, the most important thing with the XTRs was how comfortable that the lever feels in your hand and none of that has been lost. When first setting them up, it might take a bit longer, as the blades are noticably shorter than other system's levers, but it's worth the faff. When you find the sweet spot, these are some of the most comfortable to live with of any brake out there. Unlike the XTRs, the blades don't have machining on the grip area, but in all honesty, we never lost a lever with them, even in torrential rain, so we can't say for sure whether it matters or not. The more expensive XTs and XTRs also have free stroke adjustment, but we’d stick our necks out and say you won’t miss it.

Brake pad notes: The lifespan of the stock sintered pads that SLX brakes come with is pretty good - about what you’d expect these days. One problem we did find is that it’s hard to get spares for them right now, so when the stock pads wore out, we had to fit aftermarket pads without the cooling fins. We can’t say we noticed a huge difference without the fins. Out of preference, we’d run the finned pads, but if you can’t find them, it’s not a huge deal.

Room for improvement

One thing Shimano still has not changed, which we would niggle about, is the ability to run the levers on either side of the handlebar without changing hoses. It’s a shame and for some people, this is a problem. Shimano has changed something more important though. You can pop the levers off without the hassle of having to slide them down the bar like you had to with its previous levers. It’s quite a cool system they have come up with. Rather than the usual split-clamp affair, Shimano uses a single clamping bolt with a hinged clamp. The top section swings up, but the hinge is controlled by a little release button that you need to get at with a small Allen key (remember to carry one out on the trail with you). Although it can be a fiddle to pop them off, it does mean that when you put the levers onto the bar, they won’t fall back off again as the hinges stay in a nearly-closed position. There’s none of that trailside juggling with two bolts and half the clamp business here.

In terms of finish, of course they don’t compete with the XTR. Gone is that oh-so-pimp chrome, detailed machining and texturing on the blades. But SLX was never intended to compete with XTR on those grounds - and that’s not to say STX is ugly. 'Functional' is probably the best word. The mix of dark grey and silver is classy enough to look at home on nearly any bike. If all you want from your brakes is to win the car park bling contest, you’re going to need to invest some more cash, but SLX definitely doesn't look like a budget brake.

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Matt's Saracen Ariel kitted out with 2012 Shimano SLX brakes and 200mm rotors.

Pinkbike's take:
bigquotesAs reviewers, it's easy to toss out big words and if you throw enough of them, they begin to lose their meaning. So, when we say that Shimano's new SLX disc brakes are game-changers, we are choosing our words very carefully. Pure performance was not the only thing that blew us away during the test. At only $129 USD per side, we don't think you'll find more brake for your money. We find ourselves asking: 'Did Shimano shoot themselves in the foot here?' A pair of SLX brakes cost less than the MSRP of a single Shimano XTR brake, and the only real reason we can see why you'd opt for XTR is because they are shinier. (Yes, if money were no object, we'd have XTR too.) Perhaps the only downside of SLX brakes is that their popularity seems to have caught Shimano on the back-foot. Brake kits and spare pads are a bit scarce at the moment. Truly great brakes, if you can find a set. - Matt Wragg



I think that Shimano 2012 SLX Disc Brakes are...




98 Comments

  • + 18
 We are a group of four riders with quite different riding styles (Trails, DH) and until a few months back every one of us was on different brakes. Avids, Formulas etc. Until one of us got a set of SLX. Now there is a set on every bike. I think 6 or 7 sets total. I sold my Elixirs to get SLX and to be honest, I still don't like the look of the lever but the performance is just mindblowing. It's not just the power (which is a little above Elixir-level without finned brakepads I would say) but the modulation ist fantastic! Best value for money on the market for sure. Plenty of power, fantastic modulation no fading, no changing brakepoint, easy shortening of the hose and I'm sure bleeding is going to be easy as pie with the new system. Get those while they are available. I bet they will be sold out everywhere soon.

For all those who ride MX: Changing the hoses without bleeding shouldn't be a problem. I could shorten my brake hose without bleeding afterward and didn't loose any power.
  • - 49
flag chyu (Jan 18, 2012 at 2:54) (Below Threshold)
 STXs are ugly.
  • + 65
 Well that's OK because these are SLX
  • + 8
 I think he was joking and referring to when they had a typo in the article: "and that’s not to say STX is ugly. 'Functional' is probably the best word."
  • + 10
 "Shimano launched their sexy, new XTR Trail Brakes to a great reception from riders in early 2011"

I had mine installed by October 2010, and the article that is linked to is from June 2010.

Make an effort to separate yourselves, kids. The devil is in the details.
  • + 13
 Just re-read that and realized it came off a bit dickish. You've written a great review, but little things are what can separate you from the MBA's of the world. Great job.
  • - 1
 You would think they might clean the brakes as well before they take photos!
  • + 2
 O boy 2012 shimano you know what this means! New saint soon!!
  • + 1
 If the "MBA's of the world" your are referring to is Mountain Bike Action, than Pinkbike has nothing to worry about. They're horrible. They had an article saying DH bikes should be illegal on trails that have uphill on them. Great Review Pinkbike!! (and jason745, I do agree with you, but mba is nothing to compare pinkbike too)
  • + 2
 Word, Benjamin. They also recently printed that Devinci was a French brand.
  • + 1
 haha thats great. get at me richard cunningham
  • + 5
 Our favourite replacement brake in our workshop. We've had a few customers already who have asked us to remove the Avid Juicy brakes they can't be bothered with anymore ( rotor rub! ) and fit SLX. They love SLX.
  • + 1
 How are they comparing to the older ones? First generation of Shimano Servowave brakes (save Saints for some reason) had issues with pad drag due to "sticky piston syndrome", hard to bleed and my XTs had very moody power issue.
  • + 1
 Way better than original servo wave brakes - haven't seen any sticky piston problems.
  • + 1
 I just replaced my Avid Juicy 3s with SLX (M666), but kept the Avid post mounts and 160mm rotors, anyone able to advise if there are any issues with using the Avid mounts on SLX calipers? Seems to work alright, although very slight rotor rub on rear (could just be an adjustment issue?). Seems to be a massive improvement over the rotor rub I was getting on my Avids, which often felt like I was pulling a cart behind me...
  • + 1
 * meant to say adaptors, not post mount Wink
  • + 1
 it would be very strange to have problem with Avid adaptors as they are pretty narrow if not the narrowest of all. I've had a problem once with fitting shimano xt brake into a really chubby Hayes adaptor. Hole spacing wise all adaptors are the same, the problem appears when trying to use shimano XT/XTR rotors on some avid models as the spiders rub on the caliper body.
  • + 3
 Just bought some 2012 XT s and some 2012 Avid Codes I'm going to do mine own side by side comparison , I hoping they will be powerful enough for the DH bike. I'm saying goodbye to some Elixirs CR s and Hayes Stroker Ace ( Aces have been pretty good )
  • + 3
 i also want to know how the xt works for downhill keep updating
  • + 1
 same here. im also interested. keep us posted.
  • + 1
 Especially with that price I'm in need of brakes. that would be great I'm still lookin for a strong brake I hope they live up to this
  • + 1
 www.pinkbike.com/forum/listcomments/?threadid=128553 go to this forum and comment about those brakes
  • + 2
 Just tried the 2012 XT s, and I hate them already. I only mounted the front to try them and I hate the lever feel, it's like a on/off switch, not smooth at all. Secondly, the rotor drags .Third I don't care for the looks, Next, does Shimano make a brake adapter for a 2011 Boxxer post mount w/ 203 mm rotor, they make one for a 2009 and older but not the newer ones? I can't find one, I used a Hayes adapter for a test run. Granted these are just my initial impressions but I hate em already and I tried lots of Hayes, Avids, Formulas. I will be selling them cheap as soon as I can if somebody wants em, Front and rear with 203 rotors and rear brake adapter for IS mount, Like I said I can't find the right front adapter for my fork .
The Avid Codes R are working out real nice so far on my 29er I like how Avid includes rotor and adapter too! Very dissappointed with the Shimano XT brakes
  • + 1
 What kind of price are talking
  • + 1
 How much would you sell just the rear brake adapter? i have a 203mm rear disc and both mounts are IS.
  • + 7
 I think i am going to say good bye to my elixir cr carbons
  • + 2
 Man, if shimano's not careful, they're not going to be able to sell XT or XTR components. First they make the SLX cranks that are lighter than XT, but just as strong, now they're making the SLX brakes that feel and work just as good as XTR??? Crazy. Probably going to be my next set of brakes when I'm finally tired of fiddling with my Juicy 7s.
  • + 7
 Don't worry, SLX crankset is the black horse of all cranksets on the market. Their crank arms are actualy slightly lighter than XTs and only 50g heavier than XTR (XTRs shave most of weight on chain rings) - you still see lots of ppl buying XT cranks... rationality is not all there is to the world - desire to obtain certain status fights it greatly
  • - 2
 Dont worry, slx and xt are definitely not in the league of XTR. Are they good? Of course, but they aren't XTR. For the vast majority, they will work fine, but there are people looking for something more.
  • + 14
 Yes, the posers. Big Grin
  • + 1
 i disagree that the SLX is lighter than the XT cranks. SLX cranks on average are more or less around 889 grams while the XT's are 850 grams more or less (both including BBs). what makes the SLX better than the XT though is its stiffness. that is all.
  • - 11
flag SWenduro (Jan 18, 2012 at 9:36) (Below Threshold)
 So you are saying people on this site with Xtr, xx, xo, and other nice things are posers? Well I don't care, I'm the one riding an sworks and you are on a Haro. So go ahead, call us posers.
  • + 8
 SWenduro, no, not all of them! Smile I just think that many people buy XTR instead of these SLX brakes (in this case) even if they DON'T NEED them, but just because they want to show off. Those are posers.

And so what if I'm riding a Haro? It's about the rider, not the bike. Smile
  • + 1
 @mountguitars: That's true if you're looking at the full crankset including chainrings and BB. But the weight of the SLX crank-arms is less than the XT crank-arms. So really, if you were to buy a set of SLX arms and put some XT rings on them, you'd have a lighter crankset. Also, I think the difference in stiffness is probably negligible for most people.
  • + 1
 How many people keep all the original chainrings? tripple chainsets are in total decline, more and more people ride 1x9 or 1x10

If there were only reasoning people buying bike parts Shimano would put SLX down immediately - as no one would buy XT and XTR cranks. Not only this SLX rear mech is bloody brilliant as well. 40g more than XT yup... harden the fk up!
  • + 2
 got them for my saracen myst (downhill race bike) so good! iam going to the alps in the summer to give them a true test but already love them so much got them for my 4x bike too. Big Grin plus i work in a bike shop and i am always replacing avid brakes with shimano and customer love them to.
  • + 1
 So what was the outcome? Any issues? Do you like them?
  • + 5
 Not surprise by the review, Shimano makes the best brakes from budget to high end.
  • + 2
 Sounds amazing, but you won't see me using Shimano brakes again soon. My old XT pair crapped itself when it started freezing out and was never the same. I heard and read multiple examples of this as well. I've heard it was the mineral oil getting gunked up but also that the piston seals were crap.
  • + 2
 I replaced mine with Magura for this reason. I had a set of XTs on a bike I bought and they seemed to work great in the warm weather. Several riders warned me about the freeze factor so I sold them quickly. Temps get down below 0 F here and I didn't feel like taking a chance/ being the guinea pig. Low temps have never been a problem with Magura for me. Would love to here if this really is a wide spread problem for Shimano brakes.
  • + 1
 i have the old 4-piston XT's. both calipers and levers are still alive and are installed on my giant reign X. i also have the DCL XT 2008 anniversary edition. i use the DCL XTs during the winters since its installed on my XC bike. i've had no problems with both.

though i must say that the new XT's are the ones to be wary of: i have friends who's master cylinder leaked after a week of use. and i find that the new XT's suck IMO because the calipers are 2-piece. the anniversary ones are a solid 1-piece. though i could barely tell the difference, it just shows how much quality there is with the previous model.
  • + 1
 Yeah I have the cold weather problem with Shimano's. They're great otherwise, but cold weather turns the fluid from oil to lard
  • + 1
 www.pinkbike.com/forum/listcomments/?threadid=128553 would be really helpfull if you guys comment about the xt brakes on this forum also what brakes you recomend. thanks
  • + 1
 great brake even though i dont run slx i do how ever have a set of xts with out the finned pads but dont feel difference i also run them.
With icetech rotors 203mm f+r with no fad power is amazing. i haven't used the servo adjustment yet no need to so i do not miss it
but for budget build i would consider slx great break good review.
  • + 1
 I got a set of SLX's for Xmas and i love them. Running them with a 180/160 setup atm and they give great power and modulation for trail riding. Think im gonna upgrade to Ice Tech 180/180 soon though. Id highly recommend them though to anyone i meet!
  • + 1
 Did you do any testing with smaller rotors? If so how was the performance comparison, especially on long descents? You say yourself that 200mm is overkill for most AM/Trail riders (and I completely agree) so why not provide some feedback with a more realistic trail setup with 180 or 160mm rotors? As is I have to wonder if your impressions are skewed from the monster rotors. Good review otherwise and has me interested in trying something different next season Smile
  • + 1
 I used 200mm because I could only have one set of rotors. I was working as a guide, so I tended to have to brake more than maybe I would if I was riding by myself, so wanted the big discs to keep things cool. I didn't have the cash to buy a second set of rotors, especially when I had a good set already.
  • + 1
 Fair enough! Thanks for the reply Matt.
  • + 1
 ive ridden the xt's and there insane. At first they feel lame because your always locking up the wheels, but after a while there amazing! If these slx brakes are just as powerful as xt's, im getting some for my dj for downhill.
  • + 3
 These new brakes are great. I'm running the new Deore and it's very impressive, especially when considering how affordable they are.
  • + 1
 can pinkbike do a review on the new Deore brakes? it looks so similar with the SLX, XT and XTR and even use the same pads. i wonder how they would fair? the price on deores are so much affordable compared to its higher tiers that's why i ask.
  • + 0
 it depends how you maintenance your brake, i run juicy 7 and service it regularly change the oil and o-rings make sure i get the air out of the system and make sure the rotor and the pads are clean. those whomever says that slx is better then juicy well dude you've gotta clean and service what you have, i've even seen BB7 which locks the rotor better than saint or code!!!
  • + 4
 I think I found my new brake
  • + 2
 The last batch XTR cranks look like SLX nowadays. And all these voting options on PB are hilarious. Well done, whoever started the idea!
  • + 1
 Any good pics showing how much clearance there is between the rotor surface and brake pad surface, looking in from the top of the caliper? It's hard to see in that left cotter pin pic.
  • + 1
 Can you run a standard threaded pad axle in this system or are you stuck using the cotter pin?

Great write up! Job well done!
  • + 1
 Yeah you can do! The place where the cotter pins go into is actually threaded. It seems stupid why Shimano would do this and not put in proper pad axles!
I bought some pad axles for the old XTR's (BR-M965 I think) and they fit onto my SLX's well. They look a tad long and are made of plastic but they do the job well!
Got them for about £6 posted from UK Bike Store but if you look around you can get pad axles for the latest XTR's which look to be metal from pic's, but that's anyone's guess.
  • + 1
 I recently got the new xt brakes and love them! Would have gone SLX as there's so little difference (one adjustment) but got a mega deal on the XTs. Smile
  • + 2
 In your opinion would you say that these would take on DH riding? is there enough power?
  • + 1
 If their old ones were anything to go by there will be tonnes. The new XTRs are as powerful as the last gen 4 pot Saints. The only difference in these is less precise adjustability and more weight.
  • + 3
 i have the 2012 xt brake n it has more then enough power for dh feel just like xtr
  • + 3
 I have XTs and rode them on a few dh runs, easily handled hardly any fade!
  • + 1
 haha i forgot about this review, look my comment was posted 2 weeks ago Razz

I bought 2012 xts since, just waiting on delivery
  • + 1
 Honestly for a DH bike just spend the little bit extra for XT's. You wont be dissapointed
  • + 1
 hey is the 2013 SLX and Deore Brakes as good as the 2012 ones???? And what is the main difference between the 2013 Deore and the slx???
  • + 1
 good review PB, i'm getting a pair of these from CRC with white hoses for my current commencal absolut sx build i'm working on. cant wait to try them out!
  • + 1
 I have the 2010 XTs, and I'm wondering how big the performance difference is. The Finned Brake pads make it look very different, but how different is it really?
  • + 1
 I just bought a pair, and have to say those things stop really well. I'm stoked on the brakes, especially for the cost.
  • + 1
 Great review! I wanted to put them on my 4X Bike and now I know for sure, that 'yes I can'.
  • + 1
 ultimate shimano brake, the new xtr levers and saint calipers. They have been perfect!
  • + 2
 "...and that’s not to say STX is ugly."

They're making STX again!?
  • + 2
 Ha, I'm showing my age now...
  • + 1
 Too bad the brake lever unit looks worse than before. I prefer the look of the older SLX stuff.
  • + 1
 Want them, can't afford them.. This sucks..
  • + 1
 would these be a better choice than avid codes? for a 250 build...
  • + 1
 my girlfriend and I have 3 sets between us!
  • + 1
 sam, think i could get away with em in france?
  • + 1
 slx 小弟不是特别喜欢
  • + 1
 Lets see if avid has a brake that comes close to this one! Dont think so.
  • + 1
 Great review, and that Saracen looks like the dog's nuts! Sweet ride.
  • + 1
 thinking about getting some servo vave levlers for my saint Smile
  • + 1
 so whats better the XT or this slx brakes?
  • + 1
 Xt is just about always better, but more expensive.
  • + 1
 from what I know, the only differences are the pad axle (cotter pin on the slx vs a threaded pin on xt), and the "free stroke adjustment" on the lever. I found XT's online just slightly more expensive then SLX... a difference of $20 U.S. front and rear. Anyone else know any other differences?
  • + 1
 so the only diference is that the xt have more adjustments than the slx, and that is it.
  • + 1
 Thinking about replacing my avid elixr 1s
  • + 1
 Great review!
  • + 1
 Great review!
  • + 1
 Great review!
  • + 1
 !review Great
  • + 0
 more comfortable than Formula´s levers? I seriously doubt it
  • + 1
 Great review!
  • + 0
 headdie review
  • + 0
 A xule bleaTb
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