Shimano reached out to hardcore enthusiasts to shape its original Deore XT components, and the group was an overnight success. Almost 30 years later, the Japanese Giant returns to the mountains to put Deore XT back on track.
This is a story about Shimano's newest Deore XT ensemble. While it shares many visual and technical features of last year's parts, like the Shadow rear derailleur, asymmetrical chain, 11 x 36 cassette and the Dynasys triple crankset, 2012 Deore XT
has been re-energized as a stand-alone component group, specifically designed to serve the needs of experienced trail riders. To fully understand the reasons that drove Shimano to refocus XT, step into the Pinkbike time machine for a minute of MTB history.
Intense gave Pinkbike a Tracer 2 as a test bike for Shimano's Northstar launch. The 2011/2012 Deore XT ensemble finally delivers the goods for trail and enduro riders with positive-feedback shifting, wide-rim tubeless wheelsets, one-finger disc-brake power, through-axle rear hubs and two-by-ten crankset options with stump-puller climbing gears.
Pinkbike featured a first-look at Shimano's 2011/2012 Deore XT in April at the Sea Otter Classic. It looks a lot better on an Intense Tracer 2.
Unimaginable today perhaps, but Shimano's mountain bike components were once disdained by early mountain bikers as second-place backmarkers to long forgotten names like Suntour, Dia-Compe and Huret which owned the fledgling MTB market in the early 1980s. After Shimano made a few unsuccessful stabs at producing mountain bike parts using its in-house design staff, a decision was made to send a fact-finding posse to the USA to gather information from top riders and mountain bike makers. The man responsible for that effort was John Ute - a mild-mannered, slightly balding man with a booming voice - and the rare ability to listen.
Shimano Deore XT history at a glance:
(clockwise from upper left) Shimano's original 6-speed M700 Deore XT group was beautifully executed and changed the face of the mountain bike in 1983. The Deore crankset sported the traditional 48, 38, 28 chainring combination of the time. Circa 1986: Deore XT gets SIS, the first reliable index shifting system for the rear derailleur - and the U-Brake, quite possibly the worst innovation to appear on a mountain bike. By 1995, Deore XT has front and rear index thumb-shifting and the V-Brake, the most practical MTB rim-braking system ever, (first introduced by a teenager named Ben Capron). Shimano evolved to a 9-speed system and revolutionized the MTB drivetrain with RapidFire Plus trigger shifting. Deore XT breaks tradition again in 1999 with the tubular splined Octalink bottom bracket axle and a powerful stopping 4-piston Deore XT hydraulic disc brake. The M737 was the affordable clipless pedal that finally ended the foolishness of leather straps and toeclips on off-road bicycles. (Center) The original Deore XT deer still makes its appearance on select XT components.
The Rise and Fall of Deore XT
Shimano brought a a small Deore XT museum to Northstar along with a timeline of its development. Quite a piece of history.
John and a small cadre of ever-changing Shimano faces traveled around the country asking questions for almost two years, visiting every garage frame maker, MTB pioneer and cult bike shop that existed. The information they gathered was sent back to Japan where, armed with the right information, Shimano's engineering staff drew up a completely new component ensemble. Shimano introduced "Deore XT," its first worthy mountain bike group, in 1983. 'Deore,' which means 'deer,' was a winner from the start - sturdy and relatively lightweight, beautifully machined and finished, its derailleurs and shifters operated smoothly, and the look and finish of each part was that of an integrated whole. Deore instantly propelled Shimano from not-me to must-have status.
Backwoods development in action: Tomoc Yamamoto (center) the leader of Shimano's Deore XT development team in Osaka, Japan, talks about the future addition of 20-millimeter through axles with Shimano development rider Andreas Hestler and Pinkbike's RC. Yamamoto's on-the-trail presence speaks well of Shimano's commitment to Deore XT.
Deore XT became the ultimate do-everything parts group. It had to, because at that time mountain bikers used one bike for everything – trail-riding, XC racing, DH, and even trials. When Shimano introduced its racing-specific XTR group, however, Deore XT's 'for the rider, by the rider' design axiom faded into obscurity and the group quickly drifted into the role of ‘XTR lite,’ a value-based parts ensemble comprised mostly of XTR hand-me-downs. 'Deore,' a revered symbol in Japan, was dropped and Shimano's pioneer MTB group emerged as 'XT' from the lips of the sport's elite.Deore XT: Back on Track
Shimano designers head back into the mountains and rediscover Deore XT's roots
First ride on Shimano’s Refocused Deore XT
Deore XT 2012 is specifically designed for trail riders who need pamper-free components that can routinely take a beating in the back country and make it home for another round - any day, every season. Sterling Lorence photo
Pinkbike was invited by Shimano to spend a week riding its 2012 Deore XT components in and around California's famous Northstar-at-Tahoe resort. The idea was to demonstrate the many innovations and improvements that its people have bestowed upon the group and more importantly, to announce Deore XT's return to its roots as Shimano's premier, do-it-all mountain bike ensemble. After riding it over a variety of terrain, from AM park stuff to bouncing over rocks and high-speed runs down perfectly groomed trails, we can say that the new Dore XT hits the mark - with the fun-meter pegged.
After two full days riding Shimano’s new Deore XT in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and later, for a week in the French Alps, we put together a review on the group’s key components. For weights, prices and to learn about every option that Shimano offers for 2012 Deore XT check out Tyler's first-look feature story.
To discover how it performs on some of the world’s best trails, read on.
Double and Triple Crankset Options
Father and son: Shimano's M780 Deore XT crankset is a world different from the originals. The monster-geared 48, 38, 28 M700 crank powered a 13 x 28-tooth, six speed cogset - and used a fragile, square-taper 17mm bottom bracket axle. Sterling Lorence photo
For 2011, Shimano extolled the benefits of its close-ratio Dynasys 3 x 10 transmission and ignored the fact that top trail riders were opting for 2-by cranksets. Shimano now offers two different Deore XT 2-by cranksets: the way-too-tall 40 x 28 and the one we all really want, the 38 x 26 option that provides low gearing with an instant-shifting, failsafe double crankset. No news on a bash ring option though and Shimano isn’t even talking about roller guides, saying: “Shimano’s front derailleur technology is unparalleled.” We agree, but chains still fall off in the real world.
Wild tooth profiles, a plastic guide on the center sprocket and an asymmetrical chain make Shimano's front shifting the one to beat.
Extensive tooth profiling and a wild-looking molded-plastic faces on the sprockets work together to make the Deore XT’s front derailleur look like it is playing tennis with the chain. The Dynasys triple crankset shifts surprisingly well. Riding the 3 x 10 Dynasys system feels a bit backwards at first, because it is quicker to bounce back and forth between chainrings than it is to double and triple shift the rear derailleur when the trail grade is undulating. The closer-spaced chainrings feel like there is a two-and-a-half cog jump between them, so when the terrain is sharply rolling, the easiest way to get from fast down to steep up is to leave the chain somewhere in the middle of the cassette and turn the bike into a wide-range three-speed with the left shifter. For longer uphills and easier grade changes, we spent most of the time in the middle chainring and banged through the ten-speed cassette with the right shifter.
Make ours a Double:
Deore XT's double crankset requires a spacer between the frame and bottom bracket cup for proper chain alignment. The chainrings are farther apart than the triple setup. A plastic insert on the big ring facilitates rapid shifts.
We had minimal time on the 38 x 26 double crankset, but from that experience, we came back with the notion that this is what we’d want on our personal rides. There are moments when the smaller big ring is spun out, but not many of them. Taking advantage of Deore XT 2-by’s tighter overall gear spread, we spent most of the time riding in the big chainring and tended to use the small sprocket as an instant hill-climber option. The front derailleur shifts between the two chainrings so fast and securely that we could power up the face of a hill to squeeze out every bit of our momentum in the big ring and then pop the left shift paddle to drop to the 26 at precisely the right time to maintain pace. The 2-by crankset feels like it maintains way more speed over the course of a ride than the bigger, 42-tooth ring of the 3-by crankset may offer on the occasional smooth descent.
Deore XT's optional 38 x 26 gearing makes it possible to enjoy high altitude climbs with a double-chainring crankset. Sterling Lorence photo
Good Feeling Shifters and a Mode Converter
On-trail view of Deore XT Rapidfire Plus shifters by Sterling Lorence. Shimano offers direct mount shifters for the first time, which will make many riders happy.
Shimano has been wrestling with the feel of its trigger shifters since the debut of RapidFire, and it seems that it may have hit the balance between light shifting forces and positive feeling feedback in the 2012 Deore XT system. Shimano calls it ‘Vivid Index’ and offers up a detailed explanation of the shifter’s intricacies, but the bottom line is that the indexing system finally has a substantial feeling click, accompanied by a loud enough sound to let the rider know that a shift has taken place while banging through a technical section. Those who buy a 3 x 10 and suddenly wish for a 2-by crankset will revel in the knowledge that the Deore XT left-side shifter has a mode converter that switches the indexing to adapt to both two and three-ring cranksets. There is no need to buy a new front derailleur or left shifter.
The low-profile Shadow rear derailleur gets across the 11 x 36 wide-range ten-speed cassette with ease and up front, new leverage and spring rates make the front changer feel effortless. One front derailleur handles double and triple cranksets.
Three cheers for the Vivid indexing system. Feedback is a good thing, especially when the senses are blurred by speed and terrain and one must pull off an accurate shift in between technical events. The forward trigger lever could use some rework. The lever is crafted so it can be shifted with the index finger like the original RapidFire Plus, or with a push of the thumb as in SRAM X0. The lever seems too close for the index finger and too far off to easily reach with the thumb. The Pinkbike jury is still undecided on that item.
Larger-diameter caliper pistons significantly boost Deore XT's stopping power, while ICE Tech cooling fins usher away gobs of heat from the brake pads.
ICE Technology AND Real Braking Power
A close-up and personal look at the ICE Tech rotor clearly reveals the aluminum layer sandwiched between two stainless steel braking surfaces.
If any single part showcases Shimano’s individual attention to Deore XT, it is the new disc braking system. While one would expect Shimano to bring its ICE Tech from XTR to Deore XT at some point, the XT design is far more aggressive, with braking power that approaches one-finger monster-stoppers like Formula’s The One system. New Deore XT brakes use larger-diameter, 22-millimeter ceramic pistons in the calipers to boost clamping force, ICE Tech finned brake pads and stainless steel/aluminum sandwich rotors to dissipate heat, and the Servo-Wave one-finger brake levers allow the caliper pistons to retract farther to help eliminate brake rubbing. ICE Tech rotors are offered in 160, 180 and 203-millimeter diameters and for the first time, in a six-bolt configuration instead of Centerlock-only.
Shimano's shorty lever and redesigned in-line master cylinder framed by Spring flowers on the Immigrant Trail near the infamous Donner Camp Heritage barbecue site. The large knob sets the lever reach, while the small Phillips screw near the master cylinder adjusts the free-stroke engagement point.
We have heard grumblings about Deore XT’s shorty brake levers, but on trail, the abbreviated lever blades rule. The well-sculpted aluminum blades fit one or two fingers well and the new master cylinder design features both free-stroke and lever-reach adjustments. Perhaps the only downside of the short lever design is that riders who like the shift levers mounted inboard of the lever clamp may find the levers do not reach outboard enough to grab with more than one finger. Shimano also offers standard width-levers for those cases. While OEM brakes will feature softer-stopping resin brake pads, Shimano set up our test bikes with the aftermarket-standard semi-metallic pads that stop much harder and wear longer. Those who want no-nonsense braking power with a comfortable squeeze of one or two fingers will love the new Deore XT brakes. Modulation is predictable and the brakes feel consistent when they heat up. Shimano says the ICE Tech rotors reduce heat buildup by 100 degrees Celsius, while the ICE Tech finned pads will eliminate another 50 degrees. We put in some smoking descents which may have substantiated their claims. For trail riders, the muscular Deore XT brakes put Shimano back on the map.
We were skeptical about the effectiveness of the M785 semi-platform pedal, but became converts after the first trail day. The minimalist extensions make it easier to stay planted on the bike, and facilitate quicker engagements.
Wider and positioned slightly more outboard on the axles, Shimano redesigned the XTR semi-platform pedal to be more compatible with wider, more flexible shoes like the SPD-compatible Five Ten. The Deore XT M785 pedal has an open, mud-shedding design and its thin-section aluminum platform adds very little weight when compared to the bare-bones XC version. Shimano states the M785 trail pedal weight at 408 grams a pair while the new Deore XT XC racing pedal, the M780 weighs 343 grams a pair. Riding it:
Switching back and forth between Shimano’s standard XCR pedals and the new semi-platform Deore XT model, reveals a noticeable improvement in stability when pounding over tooth-jarring technical sections or deep braking bumps. There is also an improvement when mounting up on a tricky section of trail or when re-engaging a pedal after dragging a foot through a corner. While the improvements may be marginal, the security bonus easily offsets the 55-gram weight penalty of the platforms.
Deore XT tubeless wheels use the same braze-on spoke pads and externally-threaded nipples as XTR - but the real magic is in the 21-millimeter width option that XT offers.
Deore XT wheelsets are worth mention here because Shimano now offers a standard 19-millimeter width rim for XC and a wider, 21-millimeter width rim for trail. Both wheelsets feature Centerlock rear hubs, 24 spoke lacing (front and rear) and share Shimano’s no-rim-strip tubeless design that features threaded, brazed-on reinforcements at each spoke interface. The XC versions feature standard quick release rear and 15 QR or quick release front hubs, while the wider trail wheels can be purchased with 15QR front axles and the rear wheels comes in a 142/12-millimeter through-axle or quick release configuration. Unfortunately, a 20-millimeter front axle option is not planned.
Brazed on pads minimize the extra material necessary to reinforce the spoke interfaces. The benefit is that the spokes do not penetrate the inside of the rim, which makes for an air-tight seal for tubeless tires.
Wider is better, especially for tubeless because it reduces the leverage that the tire has to unseat the beads or distort the tire profile when laterally stressed. Wider rims also make for more stable cornering at lower tire pressures, so we expect that weight-conscious XC riders will soon be moving up to wider rims as the industry catches up to this fact. We didn’t test the 19-millimeter versions, but we did ride the 21s, and even with rather narrow 2.125-inch tires, the feel was solid in the turns and fast on the flats. With heavy hitters like Easton and now Shimano on the program, we hope to see more lightweight trail wheels sporting rims in the 20-millimeter-plus range.
Give and take: Shimano surprised journalists with some volunteer trail work, where journos and Shimano's staff went shoulder to shoulder for half a day...
Pinkbike’s Take on Shimano’s Refocused Deore XT
...but the payback was three days of shred in the High Sierras in perfect conditions. That's a win-win If there ever was one. Sterling Lorence photo
Shimano made good on its promise to rebuild Deore XT to suit the needs of experienced trail riders who need more durable drivetrain components, harder hitting brakes and more intelligent gearing options than the pampered-racer-specific, carbon-encrusted, cost-is-no-object jewelry that XTR has become. The refreshing performance of new Deore XT proves that Shimano has been reaching out to hard core trail riders again. It’s a good start, and if Shimano maintains its commitment to Deore XT, the original trailbike ensemble may once again stand alone as the must-have components for the sport's hardest charging riders.For weights, prices and to learn about every option that Shimano offers for 2012 Deore XT check out Tyler's first-look feature story.Got any thoughts about the latest version of Deore XT? We'd love to hear them. Until then, check out Shimano's Deore XT page and we'll see you on the trail.