Proto Shimano Deore XT
Jason Moeschler's Cannondale Jekyll at the Canadian round of the EWS had a proto Shimano XT crankset patched onto an 11-speed XTR drivetrain. His wheels were carbon protos by WTB, shod with massive Team-Issue 2.5-inch Breakout tires. The brakes appear to be stock 2014 XT with ICE rotors.
Shimano is famous for trickling down features from its premier XTR components to its second-tier offerings - especially Deore XT. The first XT component that we have seen so far which hints that Shimano might bring its 11-speed technology down was a prototype crankset on Jason Moeschler's Cannondale Jekyll. The crank arm has the same profile as this year's XT, with a slight exaggeration in the depressions near the base of the arm to afford bolt clearance where it lines up with the asymmetrical, four-bolt spider. The spider uses the same proprietary bolt pattern that Shimano debuted with its 2015 XTR crankset, one which doesn't match any popular BCD. Unlike XTR, the spider appears to be removable, or at least it is manufactured in two pieces. The 2014 XT crankset has a similar arrangement, as does SRAM XO, but while most SRAM spiders are interchangeable,
the XT is permanently fixed to the crank arm and bottom bracket axle. An interchangeable spider would make the 2016 XT crankset far more versatile.
The asymmetrical four-bolt spider of Jason's Shimano XT crankset is exactly like proprietary 2015 XTR pattern. The reddish tint on the, formed sheet-metal chainring could be evidence of rust, suggesting that it is paper-thin steel. XTR chainrings are crafted from aluminum and riveted to a thin ring of titanium teeth. The XT proto uses similar construction, but apparently, is built with alternative materials.
Jason's two-by crankset was shifted by a 2015 side-swing XTR front mech, but the star of the show was a prototype large chainring that resembles 2015 XTR. Hand-etched numbers on the sprocket clearly indicate that it is a one-off. Like Shimano's XTR big ring, the XT proto is a built-up composite, with a hollow base, fromed from metal sheet, that is riveted to a thin ring of sprocket teeth around the circumference. XTR chainrings have titanium teeth, but we suspect that an XT version would use steel or aluminum to better match XT's more affordable MSRP.
The fact that Jason was using a two-by drivetrain suggests that Shimano is digging in its heels on its notion that the combination of more closely spaced cassette cogs and two chainrings is the best solution for high performance mountain bike riding. The present popularity of one-by setups, however, indicates that Shimano will be facing an uphill battle if the coming XT group does not include a wide range option to compete with SRAM. That said, Shimano's ultimate goal may be to bring XT into compliance with XTR with the sole intention of readying its second-tier ensemble for Di2 electrification - which will nullify the one-by or two-by debate, as Di2 can command both derailleurs to sequentially shift through the gear range using only the right-side shift buttons. Consider that almost every EWS competitor who runs a one-by drivetrain also employs a crudely manufactured plastic front derailleur cage to keep the chain on - and Shimano's front mech presents a better looking - or at the least - an equally ugly alternative.
The cassette appeared to be an off-the-shelf XTR 11-by-40-tooth, eleven-speed, which makes sense, considering that when production time arrives, Shimano could quickly craft an XT cassette using steel cogs instead of the wildly expensive titanium sprockets that grace the XTR version. The XTR logo of the rear changer was blacked out, but it appears to be un-altered. Jason did suggest that the chain was a new item for Shimano, which makes sense, as Shimano has a long-running fixation with micro-engineering chain profiles.
|Shimano is famous for holding its cards closely to its chest, so we can only imagine what 2016 Deore XT will emerge as. What we can tell from the few pictures here, though, is that the great big engine that we call Shimano is steaming full speed ahead with a new XT ensemble, and that it will have eleven-speeds. Let's hope that somewhere in its 2016 offerings there will be a wider-ranged gearing option for a one-by XT drivetrain, but Shimano walks its own road, so we will have to wait and see. - RC|
WTB's Carbon AM/Trail Wheels
Moeschler's Cannondale had two more surprises in store: a massively huge 2.5-inch WTB Breakout tire labeled, "team only," and deep-profile carbon rims that appeared to be production items. Considering how long that it takes to develop and test carbon wheels for a demanding application like enduro racing, WTB must have known all along that it was planning to release a carbon wheel while its marketing honches were busy shelling carbon in favor of aluminum last year when it released the KOM wheelset. We wonder how WTB will spin this one in the reverse direction.
The carbon profile looks to be about 45-millimeters deep and its outer width looks to be about 30-millimeters. A prominent decal that reads "C i24" strongly supports that theory, as most carbon rims have thicker flange widths than aluminum rims do. If true, WTB is staying put and ignoring the wider-is-better movement that is gaining popularity among vanguard wheel makers. WTB's business model depends heavily upon OEM sales, so it makes sense for them to produce rims that comply squarely with European ETRTO wheel and tire standards.
Did we say that aluminum was a better material for mountain bike rims? Oh, well, that was then and this is now. WTB's new carbon wheel was the only set to be seen at the Canadian round of the EWS, as all other WTB-sponsored riders were on aluminum 123 and KOM combinations. The new wheel has a deep profile and was laced with 32 spokes - an indicator that the rims is built to be lightweight. Using a larger number of spokes can better support the rim and thus, it can be make lighter without sacrificing strength.
Check out the profile on this tire. WTB's 2.5-inch Breakout tire brings back the once-popular thousand-knobs tread pattern from the late 1990s. When used on a flexible casing and molded from a grippy rubber compound, the Breakout's low-profile tread configuration has proven to be a good, fast-rolling, dry-condition tire.