Rider: Mike Kazimer. Photo: Irmo Keizer / ShimanoShimano
chose Riva del Garda, Italy, as the location for the official hands-on unveiling of their new Deore XT M8000 gruppo, timing the launch to overlap with the Riva Bike Festival
, a massive gathering of mountain bikers from all over Europe that arrive in the picturesque town for a weekend of riding, racing, and partying.
The biggest news about the new group is that it's designed around an eleven speed cassette, with an 11-40 tooth option that's intended to be run with one or two rings up front, and an 11-42 cassette that's meant to be run as as single ring setup. Many of the refinements found on the M8000 group have trickled down from the XTR M9000
components that were released last year, and save for the weight difference between the two groups, Deore XT's performance is closer to that of its more expensive sibling than ever before.Front Derailleur
I'm firmly convinced that front derailleurs aren't necessary for the vast majority of riders out there, especially considering how wide of a range is provided by an 11-42 tooth cassette, but for those that haven't yet seen the light, Shimano's Side Swing front derailleur design makes front shifting quicker and more positive than ever. This design sees the derailleur cable routed along the down tube, rather than along the seat tube, with the spring for the derailleur oriented vertically, almost like a door hinge, which helps decrease the amount of room the derailleur takes up. The cage itself is shorter as well, providing more tire clearance for 29ers and bikes with short chainstays. There's even a triple chainring option, for rider that feel like having 33 gear options. A 22 tooth chainring with a 40 tooth sprocket in the rear should make nearly vertical trails scalable, providing you don't tip over from the slow speed spinning. Rear Derailleur
In order to ensure smooth shifts and maintain chain retention across the entirety of the 11 speed cassette, the XT rear derailleur's slant angle has been reduced, which helps keep the upper pulley wheel close to the cassette across the full gear range. Riders that choose to run a single ring up front gain access to Shimano's new 11-42 tooth cassette, creating an even wider gear spread than what is currently available with the XTR 11-40 tooth option.
The derailleur's clutch mechanism is now externally adjustable with an allen key, a feature that allows riders to easily fine tune the amount of retention to their liking. For instance, cross-country riders on smoother terrain may prefer to reduce the tension in order to have a lighter feel at the shift lever, while all-mountain riders or enduro racers may run it tighter in order to increase the amount of chain retention. The same goes for riders who are still running a front derailleur versus those with 1x setups, with the front derailleur crowd not needing as much clutch tension as the single ringers. 1x Option
The single ring version of the XT drivetrain uses what Shimano calls Dynamic Chain Engagement (DCE), a tooth shape that supposedly results in a 150% increase in chain retention. This isn't a narrow-wide design like the one employed by SRAM and a host of other chain ring manufacturers – it relies on a more squared off tooth profile that's slightly hooked in order to keep the chain from popping off in rough terrain. The rings are available in 30, 32, and 34 tooth versions (the lack of a spiderless crank option prevents smaller rings from being offered).
The XT shifter paddles are now slightly longer and more textured, with dimples on the thumb lever used for upshifts and vertical ridges on the smaller downshift trigger intended to provide a more positive surface to reach for in wet conditions. Like the previous version, they feature Multi-Release shifting, which allows riders to downshift two gears with one push of the lever.
To go along with their sleek black color option, the XT brakes now get the dimpled braked levers previously found only on XTR, along with a revised master cylinder design that gives them an even more low profile look, as well as a lighter weight. The handlebar clamp has shrunk in size as well, making it easier to have the brakes play nicely with a dropper post remote, or another brand's shifter.
The demo bikes on hand for the launch were a little different than what I'm used to, with 100mm stems, narrow handlebars, narrow tires and not a dropper post in sight. Not exactly a setup that's conducive to hard charging, but as they say, “When in Rome...”
It was the single ring configuration that intrigued me the most, but unfortunately there was only a display model available, so the questions about the design's effectiveness will have to wait until we can get our hands on a production version later in the summer. That being said, the XT front derailleur worked flawlessly, providing very quick, positive shifts between the two rings. It was extremely quiet as well, since there's enough room between the chain and the derailleur cage to prevent it from making any annoying clanks or rattles. That, combined with the clutch equipped derailleur helps make for a drivetrain that calls minimal attention to itself out on the trail. At the rear of the bike, the derailleur exhibited the performance that the Deore XT group has traditionally been known for – it simply works, consistently traveling the entire span of the cassette without issue. The shift lever's new ergonomics are as intuitive as ever, and with an eleven speed cassette the ability to drop two gears at a time is especially appreciated.
I've had a very positive experience with the current generation of XT brakes, but I found that the M8000 brakes had an inconsistent lever feel on extended downhill portions of the trail, occasionally pumping up during sustained braking. More than likely an errant air bubble was the culprit, and a quick bleed would have fixed this, but in any case I'd need additional time on them to offer a final verdict. Pinkbike's Take:
|Shimano's new XT group is a welcome addition to the marketplace, one that adds another relatively affordable eleven speed option to the mix. The fact that the cassette works on a standard freehub body is a plus, saving riders the cost of purchasing a new driver in order to upgrade from a 9 or 10 speed drivetrain. While it may not have the 10 tooth cog that SRAM offers, for many riders it's the easier climbing gear that's most important, not the ability to keep up with road bikers on a paved descent. We'll have a full group on hand for testing as soon as one is available, at which point we'll be sure to give it a thorough thrashing and offer a comprehensive evaluation. - Mike Kazimer|