- Shimano photoThe long-awaited debut of Shimano’s premier component ensemble was staged at its new cycling division across the street from its North American headquarters in Irvine, California. Before getting down to business, visitors were given a tour of Shimano’s living museum and of its new automated shipping facility, from where the 2015 XTR components will be sent to bike dealers later this year. There are actually two XTR groups: “Race” and “Trail” and in Shimano tradition, each gets a stimulating numerical designation. The 2015 XTR Race ensemble is M9000 and XTR Trail is M9020. In case you missed it, that is one zero added to last year’s XTR. The new group looks impressive, with innovations and improvements that run from mild to wild - a new crankset that features a bonded aluminum crank arm and a hollow chainring, bonded from aluminum and carbon fiber; a side-swing front derailleur with a rotary cable actuator; reconfigured shift levers; and lots of titanium and carbon bits. The elephant in the room at Shimano’s big show, however, was how it planned to respond to SRAM’s one-by-eleven revolution.
Without entirely ruining the surprise, Shimano’s team of engineers, pro athletes and test riders wrestled with gear ratios and chainring combinations to achieve best-possible gearing for World Cup XC racers and also for elite trail riders. The result was a “democratic” solution called “Rhythm and Range” that is based on the notion that smaller, more even steps between shifts, combined with the widest possible gearing range is a better way to pedal a bicycle off road. Shimano’s solution utilizes smaller chain rings with new-but-not-narrow-wide tooth profiles, an 11 by 40, eleven-speed cassette, and choose-what-is-best-for-you crankset options that offer elite XC racers a one-by drivetrain; hard-core trail riders a two-by crankset, and for chubby dentists, there is a triple crankset option with a generously low, 22 by 40-tooth granny gear.Shimano’s Shifting Philosophy
We were given a fresh explanation of Shimano’s drivetrain philosophy at the launch, which actually made sense. Shimano divides all available gear ratios into two groups: “Driving gears” and “Challenge gears.” Driving gears, in the case of a two-by or three-by transmission, are in the middle range of the cassette when the rider is in the big chainring. Challenge gears are for the steepest climbs, when the rider is forced to select the smaller chainrings and to use the larger three cogs of the cassette. In the case of a one-by drivetrain, Driving gears are the first eight cogs on the right-side of the cassette.
A ptototype XTR M9000 rear derailleur fixed to a direct-
mount derailleur hanger. The aluminum cage will be carbon in
production. Nine of the cassette's eleven cogs are titanium.
The new cassettes will fit any Shimano ten-speed spline body.
- Greg lambert photo
Shimano professes that the smooth, 10-RPM jumps between shifts generated by its Rhythm Step, 11 by 40-tooth cassette, optimize the efficiency of the driving gears that we use most often for both climbing and pedaling on the flats. While the closer gear ratios of Shimano’s XTR cassette provide smaller steps between most of the gearing range, they cannot attain the higher top and bottom gears of SRAM’s XX1 10 by 42 cassette. To achieve a competitive spread, Shimano “strongly suggests” that XTR customers choose its two-chainring option. Before you whip out your calculators, the closest comparison that a Shimano XTR M9000 two-by drivetrain has to SRAM’s one-by is:
Shimano 28 x 38-tooth chainrings, two-by drivetrain: Lowest gear 28/40 = 1.42:1 ratio. Highest gear 38/11 = 1:3.45 ratio. (22 gear selections)
SRAM 30-tooth chainring, one-by drivetrain: Lowest gear 30/42 = 1.4:1 ratio. Highest gear 30/10 = 1:3 ratio. (11 gear selections)
What the above chart demonstrates is how Shimano’s close-ratio two-by option provides a nearly identical gearing spread when compared to a SRAM XX1 one-by drivetrain. By switching to a 28-tooth chainring, the SRAM one-by drivetrain can also match Shimano’s 26 by 36 option, but Shimano also offers a third, 26 by 36 option for its two-by crankset that provides XTR customers a lower granny gear than SRAM can match (Shimano: Lowest gear 24/40 = 1.66:1 vs SRAM: Lowest gear 28/42 – 1.5:1). The bottom
line is that Shimano’s choice for trail gearing is a two-by transmission, and it competes directly with SRAM’s one-by offerings. The customer’s choice is: “Do I want 22 shifts and a front derailleur, or do I want 11 shifts and no front derailleur?” What about Shimano’s One-By XTR Option?
One-by customers can choose XTR chainrings between 30 and 36 teeth, but the narrower gearing spread of the 11 x 40, eleven-speed cassette means that riders may need to keep a couple of chainrings in their toolbox to match their gearing to the task at hand. Calculating out Shimano XTR’s lowest-available, 30-tooth-chainring option fetches a low gear of 1.33:1 and a high of 1: 2.73. Compare those figures with the options from SRAM and Shimano that we covered earlier in this segment, and they indicate that hills will be harder to climb, or you will probably be spun out on the flats. Shimano’s one-by gearing options are clearly intended for racers and stronger riders who will probably choose the biggest chainring that they can comfortably push and then suffer with whatever low gear is left when the big climbs arrive. Two Cranksets
Shimano reasons that there are two schools of riding that are addressed by its most expensive component group, so it divided XTR into “Rider Tuned product families.” The divider is primarily the crankset design with the Race crank getting the royal treatment and the Trail model designed with last year’s technology. Both the M9000 and M9200 can be configured as single or double-ring cranksets, while only the M9200 Trail model can be converted to a triple crankset.FC M9000 Race crankset:
The all-new XTR Race crank has a very narrow 158-millimeter Q-factor,
presumably to more closely emulate the narrower Q-factors of the road-bikes that most XC racers train on. The non-drive-side arm of the M9000 crank is bonded instead of hollow forged to eliminate more material without affecting its strength or stiffness. The M9000 Race crankset can be configured with a single or double-chainring only. The new XTR bolt circle is non-standard, with a 70-degree, four-bolt pattern that can accept single-sprockets from 30 to 36 teeth and 24 x 34, 26 x 36 and 28 x 38-tooth double-ring combinations. Weight is stated to be 650 grams in the two-chainring, 24 by 34-tooth option.Hollow glide Chainring:
The XTR FC 9000 double-ring configuration features a radical-looking big-sprocket called “HollowGlide” that has a ramped carbon fiber plate to facilitate instant shifting, a bonded, hollow aluminum reinforcement to add stiffness, and a thin ring of long-wearing titanium teeth riveted to its circumference. The chainring is a hallmark of Shimano engineering. No prices have been set for the new XTR, but simply looking at the complexity of the HollowGlide sprocket evokes nightmares of a fatal rock strike, followed by a desperate internet search for an affordable replacement. FC M9020 Trail crankset:
XTR Trail cranks are cold forged like last year’s and lack the bonded left-side crank-arm of its cross-country brother. The Q-factor is ten millimeters wider (168mm)
than the Race cranks. XTR M9020 Trail cranks are configurable in one, two or three-by chainring combinations, with gearing ranges limited to 30, 32, 34 and 36 teeth for a single-ring option; 24 x 34, 26 x 36 and 28 x 38 for the two-ring option; and the triple-ring option will only be available in 22 x 30 x 40-tooth combination. Weights were not given, but we expect the 2015 Trail crankset to come in about the same as last year’s XTR with similar chainring configurations.New tooth profile:
Shimano bucks the narrow-wide tooth-profile trend that has become the go-to for single-ring drivetrains for a “proprietary” tooth profile that is said to eliminate the need for a chain-retention device. The new sprocket teeth are taller and appear to have a slightly hooked area near the base of each tooth. This marks the first dedicated single-ring sprocket to carry the XTR name. Shimano stubbornly adheres to the notion that one-by drivetrains are for racers, or for riders with above-average fitness. The lowest gearing range available for a one-by eleven XTR drivetrain is 30 by 40. Compare that to SRAM’s significantly lower 28 by 42 gearing option and it becomes clear that Camp Japan has a different vision of the one-by customer than Camp Chicago does.
- Shimano photo
Eleven-Speed CassetteChains Required
Shimano’s 2015 XTR ensemble hinges upon its long-awaited CS M9000 eleven-speed cassette. The jumps between each gear were carefully selected to be close to ten RPM – a feature that Shimano calls “Rhythm Step” gearing. The actual cog numbers are: 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-27-31-35-40 teeth. Shimano makes the 40-tooth cog from aluminum and the rest of the cassette cogs are made of titanium. The cogs are grouped on aluminum spiders in similar fashion to previous XTR cassettes. If you want a preview on how the gearing is spaced, the first seven steps are the same as Shimano’s ten-speed 11 by 36 cassettes, with the addition of the final 27, 31, 35 and 40 tooth sprockets. Great news for all is that CS M9000 eleven-speed cassettes will retrofit to all ten-speed Shimano-compatible freehubs. Previous XTR rear derailleurs, chains and right-hand shift levers, however, will not work with the new M9000.
Of course, M9000 requires a special, eleven-speed chain and like its predecessors, the links are profiled asymmetrically to boost shifting performance. Sil-Tec, a slippery nickel plating, is used to keep the chain running smoothly in all weather and beyond its microscopically thinner width, the HG-11 chain is further lightened by hollow pins, similar to Shimano’s Dura-Ace road racing chain.New Front Derailleur Design
Shimano has consistently made the best shifting front derailleurs, to the point where we wonder if the front mech can be significantly improved. Well, evidently, it can be. Shimano took advantage of the new XTR’s smaller chainring options and shortened the length of the front derailleur cage, then developed a top-mounted “Side Swing” mechanism that eliminates the old-school derailleur’s bird’s nest of cables and lever arms that crowded the area behind the seat tube. Both improvements address nagging tire clearance issues that 29er designers faced when attempting to shorten the bike’s chainstays. Shimano says that shifting performance is boosted by 100-percent in the case of its FD M9000 triple-chainring option and by 50 percent with the FD M9020 double-chainring drivetrain.
Unlike previous Shimano front changers, the new XTR cage has fewer tricky bends and twists to coax the chain from sprocket to sprocket, relying more on brute stiffness to get the job done, and the cage is also designed to compensate for three degrees of rear suspension travel. Two separate derailleurs are offered, one for two-by and another for three-by chainring configurations, and both clamp type and direct mount options are available. For 2015, only the FD 9025 model changer will offer a conventional cable routing. The new FD 9000 XTR changer will be easy to spot because it requires a novel downtube-routed housing that feeds to the front side of the mechanism. Expect to see some zip ties on bikes that were designed before XTR M9000 components were released to bike makers. Improved Rear Mech’
Changes in nearly all aspects of the 2015 XTR rear derailleur essentially make it an entirely new model. The parallelogram slant is reduced and the cage and upper pulley are offset so the derailleur will better track the steeper angle formed by the wide-range 11-speed cassette cogs. Quicker shifting (if that can be done)
is made possible by extending the derailleur’s body about 10-millimeters farther forward, so the upper pulley leads the chain into the next shift. The Shadow Plus clutch has been reconfigured with an external Allen key adjustment, and the cage will be carbon fiber. Adjustments have extended ranges to make the new derailleur more adaptable to various frame designs and, presumably, to allow it to adapt to future 11-speed cassettes with different gear ratios. RD M9000 derailleurs will operated best with direct mount type hangers, but they will also be configured for standard dropout hangers. Shimano says that the new mech’ requires a lighter pull from the shift levers. - Shimano photo
Larger shift paddles feel more like Saint.
Shimano redesigned XTR shifters with a longer cable take-up lever and a broader cable release lever that resemble Saint levers. The release lever can double shift if necessary – a feature that was added to facilitate faster shifting for one-by drivetrains. The internals are improved to offer a more crisp feel and more shift feedback – features that Shimano refers to as “Vivid indexing” action. Cosmetically, the New XTR shifters appear somewhat similar to last year’s when they are on the bike, except for the addition of a textured carbon fiber release lever, and like previous XTR, they are I-Spec II compatible, so they can be directly mounted to the brake levers. Internally, Shimano says that more of the mechanisms ride on ball bearings, so M9000’s smooth shifting action will remain so as time takes its toll.
More Versatile Brake Levers
While XTR M9000 Race and M9020 Trail brakes are unchanged in the mechanical sense, the lever perches are raised and slimmed near the grip area to save some real estate there. No reasons were given beyond that description at the presentation, but one could imagine that, with Shimano’s recent domination of the braking market, it would make sense for them to leave room for GripShift twist shifters for OE bike manufacturers who cross-pollinate their bike spec. On the subject of brakes, Shimano will offer its ICE rotors in all rotor diameters for XTR, from 140 to 200 millimeters.XTR 2015 First Impressions:
Shimano had final-generation prototype XTR M9000 derailleurs, shift levers and cranksets available for test rides at the launch, as well as 3D-printed photo samples of the actual 2015 products which were hung on show bikes to give us examples of the finished look. As such, we were not allowed to rip Shimano's local trail network aboard the test bikes and instead, were relegated to cruising the parking lot to get a feel of how M9000 components will function. Compressed to such a limited measure of riding experience, we could only judge the potential of Shimano's pride and joy.
- Greg Lambert photo
Shimano's new front derailleur was the standout performer, with quick shifting action that rivaled that of the rear derailleur's. How could that be? Because rear shifts can only occur at specific 'gates' where the chain's rollers line up with the teeth of the next cog in line. Most cassette cogs have two, maybe three gates, while Shimano's wildly manipulated large chainrings have four to six gates available with each turn of the crank. Add that action to M9000's super stiff front derailleur, and the fact that it is shifting between only two chainrings, and you get unrivaled front shifting performance - which Shimano hopes will translate into two-by XTR drivetrain sales.
The shifting action of Shimano's 11-speed rear M9000 rear derailleur and cassette felt about the same as the previous version - and that is a good thing. Traditionally, shifting performance has suffered whenever Shimano has added an extra cog. The feel and action of Shimano's shift levers are more defined, but while the architecture of the tension and release levers were correct, without a side-by-side comparison of the production items, we could not determine any ergonomic advantages that the new design may bring to the table.
Perhaps the most important news was that Shimano's gearing selections. As promised, the best way to ride the M9000 two-by drivetrain was to keep it in the big ring for most selections on the 11-speed cassette and then drop to the small chainring before continuing on to the the big 35 and 40-tooth cogs. The ten-tooth spacing between the two chainrings feels like slightly more of a jump than one shift of the rear derailleur at the cassette, so there is no need to double shift at the levers most of the time - just whittle up or down the cassette with the right shift lever until you get close to one end or the other, and then flick the left lever to transition to the last few cogs. If you shift in this fashion, you will be utilizing only 17 gear selections, which is probably all the non-duplicated options that are available.
Overall, Shimano's 2015 XTR M9000 is what we expected: precision engineering in every corner of every component and each part, an improvement over its predecessor. But a four-piece chainring, bonded from aluminum, carbon fiber and capped with titanium teeth? Where does stuff like that come from? How Shimano's engineers can throw their hearts and souls into eking incremental performance improvements from already near-perfect mechanisms is beyond us, but with the liberal application of Shimano's sweat and your money, you will soon be able to ride the mountain bike drivetrain equivalent of a Rolex watch. Do we need that level of complexity? Do we need a front mech? Do we need to set aside one or two paychecks to experience such wonders? Probably not, but those judgments do not apply to XTR. Mechanical perfection is what fuels Shimano's soul - they would probably do XTR for free. - RC