2011 Shimano XTR Trail Drivetrain: First Impressions

Aug 19, 2010
by Mike Levy  
Shimano takes a new approach to their XTR drivetrain in 2011 - two different top tier groups that are focused on either all out racing or high performance trail riding. I got to put some early miles on the new XTR Trail group while riding in Downieville, California, and inside you can read my impressions on how it performed. You'll also find some great technical information on the new super group, including the impressive directional chain!

Read on...
2011 Shimano XTR Trail Drivetrain

The 2011 XTR Trail crankset uses what Shimano calls CloseStep gearing - 42, 32, and a 24 tooth small ring. When teamed up with the new 11-36 XTR cassette it provides an easier low range (56.6" vs. 58.3" of rollout for a standard setup) and is claimed to result in both less shifting and less chain tension that causes friction. But the question is, is it noticeable in real world conditions and does it benefit the user?

Shimano's 2011 XTR crankset is part of their Dyna-Sys drivetrain system that also includes a 10 speed 11-36 cassette. The new cranks use what Shimano calls CloseStep gearing that consists of a 42, 32 and slightly larger than average 24 tooth chainrings. Don't panic if you live in the midst of steep terrain or are a larger rider, the 24 tooth ring combined with a 36 tooth cog actually produces an easier gear than the current 22 x 32 combo (56.6" vs. 58.3" of rollout for a stanadard setup). The larger granny ring should also work better with a lot of suspension designs as it is closer in size the the middle ring that most bikes are designed around. In usual Shimano style, front shifting has been massaged to exceed expectations via many shift assists on the rings themselves. The Trail crank shown above comes in triple configuration, but a double version will also be available in 40/28 and a racer and hammer head friendly 42/30.

2011 XTR Trail triple crankset details

  • Entirely new crank for 2011
  • CloseStep trail-tuned gearing: 42-32-24T
  • Dual Spike chainring technology
  • 10-speed specific
  • Standard 104/64 bolt pattern
  • Durable Ti/Carbon composite 32-tooth Primary Driving Gear
  • Double ring versions also available
  • Bottom bracket forgoes bearing tension adjuster

I fondly remember my early days of mountain biking and of all the cool parts that got my teenage heart pumping, Shimano's XTR cassette was the one bit that nearly put me into fibrillation. It still has the same effect today! The three piece aluminum spidered block uses titanium for the five largest cogs. It is available in both 11-36 and 11-34 spreads.

The key to the Dyna-Sys setup is Shimano's new 11-36 spread cassette that offers a wide gear range for the average trail rider, but also operates with the composite 32 tooth ring so the rider has to shift less than before. Shimano says that if you use or have used a triple ring crankset you'll be familiar with having to make multiple shifts in the rear every time you drop down to the smallest chainring, otherwise you quickly loose all momentum on the trail. Having been doing my fair share of climbing lately, I'd have to say that when I've dropped down to the granny ring I have been forced to drop multiple gears on the cassette as to not quickly come to a standstill - one just doesn't think about it when riding. By using a 24 tooth small ring and revised cassette gearing Shimano claims that a rider will now have to perform only a single recovery shift as opposed to having to do two or three on another system. The 36 tooth large cog, the five largest are titanium by the way, means that riders can stay in the middle ring much longer and shift the front derailleur even less.

Shimano also says that the Dyna-Sys design reduces chain tension as well, which greatly reduces drivetrain frictions. I was told there is 30% less drivetrain tension when using Shimano's 32 tooth ring and 36 tooth combo when compared to a standard drivetrain and in the 22 tooth ring and 26 tooth cog. 30% certainly sounds like a lot and I'm interested to discover if there really is a noticeable difference under load during the longterm test that you can read about down the road.

2011 XTR Trail cassette details

  • Entirely new cassette for 2011
  • Wide range 11-36 tooth spread
  • Five largest cogs are titanium
  • Three piece aluminum spider design
  • Standard 11-34 is also available

Geek out alert! These two pieces of gigantic mock chain clearly show the differences between the high end road and mountain chains. The HG-X 10 speed mountain bike chain is designed to work only with mountain bike chainrings and cogs, don't try and put it on your road bike, and vice versa. The directional chain uses different inner and out links, each side designed to interact with either the rings or cogs.

While the new crankset and cassette are no doubt going to get all the attention, the key to Shimano's drivetrain may well be it's new HG-X super narrow chain. The mountain bike specific chain uses differently shaped plates than its tarmac brother that interact much better with Shimano's mountain bike rings. Unlike many other chains, the HG-X doesn't feature any plate cutouts that would shave a few grams because Shimano feels that it increases the chance of twisted plates. An important feature of the chain, and one that many mechanics may not realize, is that the HG-X is actually directional - there is an inside and an outside to it! Each of the four plates in a single link of chain (left and right, inner and outer) have different chamfers to their edges that are designed to mate perfectly with the shift points found on the chainrings and cassette. The right side/outer plates are shaped to work best when sifting over the chainrings, while the left side/inner plates mate better with the cassette's tooth profile. There are some very smart people at Shimano that look at the smallest details! For those wondering which side faces out and which side faces in, the logo, whether it is XTR or Dura Ace, faces out.

The new 10 speed XTR derailleur uses revised A-arm geometry that results in less cable tension being required for a lighter feel and less sensitivity, as well as reducing the chance of skipping as you pedal over rough terrain. The outer cage is carbon, the inner is aluminum

The 2011 XTR rear derailleur still uses Shimano's low profile Shadow design, but receives refinements that alter both shift effort and reliability, as well as addressing the issue of skipping while under load when pedalling over rough terrain. Previous models had a very obviously different level of effort needed at the shift lever depending on which cog you were shifting to, but Shimano has changed the geometry of the A-arm (the piece that holds the housing stop) to lower the cable tension, and in turn make for a more reliable system that requires nearly the same shift effort no matter what cog you are shifting to. The cage consists of a carbon outer plate that saves a few grams, and an aluminum inner plate to keep everything stiff and reliable.

A functioning XTR derailleur prototype that was used to test A-arm geometry. This was one well used unit.

2011 XTR Trail derailleur details

  • Entirely new derailleur for 2011
  • Revised A-arm geometry for lighter and more linear action
  • A-arm geo also greatly reduces skipping when pedalling hard over rough terrain
  • Carbon outer plate, alloy inner plate
  • Shimano Shadow design

The XTR shifters allow you to adjust the pod laterally for better ergonomics and you can also use Shimano's i-spec bracket to mount it the same perch as the lever. A mode converter allows both 2 and 3 ring use without have to set up your limit screws as a hard stop.

2011 XTR Trail derailleur details

  • Can mount directly to brake lever via Shimano's i-spec bracket
  • Adjustable mount lets you slide the shifter to different bar positions
  • 2x / 3x mode converter adapts to double and triple cranksets

The guts. Smart people build these things! This display shifter shows just how each small piece interacts with its neighbor to pull and release just the right amount of cable.

Riding Impressions

While Shimano's XTR family was at one point the only game in town when it came to a complete top tier group, this has changed over the years as the competitors have made inroads when in comes to no compromise performance. This must have given Shimano fuel for the fire as for 2011 they have released two different XTR groups, one geared for the racer and the other for the trail rider who wants the same level of performance, but in a more user friendly package. I was able to put in some time on this new XTR Trail group while riding some Downieville's fast and demanding trails and came away impressed with what Shimano has been able to do.

My Trek Remedy equipped with Shimano's new 10 speed XTR Trail group

The shifters have a slightly different feel to them for 2011, with a lighter touch and stronger detents that results in a more tactile sensation while out on the trail. There is no doubt that there is action happening below each and every time that you grab a gear in either direction. Shimano's Multi and Instant release features, along with 2-Way Release, are still present on the shifters, and I am especially fond of being able to drop or pick up gears from more than one finger position. Although it may not sound useful, it made itself very handy out on the trail and in real world conditions. My Remedy was equipped with Shimano's triple ring XTR crankset that uses their CloseStep gearing. Shimano says that the CloseStep 42,32, and slightly larger 24 tooth small ring work with their 10 speed cassette (available in both 11-36 and 11-32) to provide a system that requires less shifting, especially recovery shifts, than a standard three ring and common 9 speed cassette. While I'll need to put more time in on the groupset on more familiar terrain to verify that claim, what was quickly apparent was Shimano's near instantaneous front shifting. Shifting up to a larger ring seemed to happen as quickly as I could work my fingers over the left shifter paddle, it was even an improvement on Shimano's already well known impressive front shifting. Rear shifting was also superb throughout the ride, with the chain moving over the cassette with no issues and feeling remarkably quick. No tension adjustment was needed at any point during the ride despite the addition of an extra cog and the resulting tighter spacing. Holding the new drivetrain parts in your hand for a closer inspection reveals an incredible amount of engineering work to each and every piece, but the new directional chain really takes the cake when talking about minuscule details. The new XTR drivetrain's performance is due to the sum of its parts, but I'd love to discover just how much the chain, with its four uniquely shaped plates per link, add to the overall shift quality of the group.

The last few years have seen immense improvements made to mountain bike drivetrains. Not only can riders expect more gears out back, wider ranges, and more chainring combination options, but also much more reliable shifting compared to what was offered only a few short years ago. Despite the common cry that a 10 speed system on a mountain bike is surely asking for trouble, this has yet to be the case in my experience, although the new XTR group hasn't been put through a proper British Columbia rainy season beatdown under me. I'll be putting more time on the new XTR Trail group throughout the remaining summer months and into the rainy fall season - stay tuned for a complete long term review down the road.

You can also read my early impressions of the completely new XTR Trail brake as well.

Visit Shimano's website to see their entire lineup of components.

Are you excited about what Shimano has coming down the line? Looking forward to having a go on the XTR drivetrain? Tell us below?

Author Info:
mikelevy avatar

Member since Oct 18, 2005
2,032 articles

  • 14 2
 Even though I prefer SRAM components, I think that this is a great toy to have on a trail bike!! Props to SHIMANO!
  • 2 1
 tell ya what! it looks damn sexy!
  • 4 1
 gotta love the XTR
  • 15 0
 Anyone else want huge chain links now?
  • 2 0
 That crank looks so sick, And I give mad props for the polished outer surface! No more cranks with the ugly wear marks from your shoe rubbing the arm!!! Great work shimano!!! tup
  • 1 2
 glad this stuff is gonna be on my nomad.
  • 5 0
 Love how this stuff looks, and it sounds like it works great....of course. But could someone at PB please invest in a scale? I'm getting tired of looking at sweet parts and then being disappointed because, for all I know, those cranks could weigh 10 lbs! Of course they obviously don't, but I feel like weight is an integral part of a review.
  • 1 2
 9 spd 11-36 xg 999 cassette mated to a 22t front ring is all you need. The cassette is175g, one shifter, one derrailleur and one front ring....done. Nice marketing though
  • 2 0
 "All you need" is subjective. The hardcore single-speed rider would say your 9-speed cassette is marketing BS as well. And for old guys like you and I, a 22t front ring might be all we need, but there are a lot of guys out there (the guys who keep passing me) who could use much bigger rings than that. It depends where you're riding too... fast flat trails, steep climbs, rough descents... It's all about suitable application. And nothing wrong with new innovation - gives us more options in the end.
  • 4 0
 Shimano pleaze! Do some fancy super special bash ring to go with these cranks! They look so amazing, that putting some regular polycarbonate saucer will be a disgrace to them. Please design something special and I buy these straight away, I take a credit, sell my house, whatever, MAKE IT SWEET!
  • 1 0
 Personally I think the E.13 Turbocharger would look great on these cranks.
  • 4 0
 yea, I do believe that's the most esthetic bash ever and a black one with silver logo, would be great. But the thingy with the new XTR cranks is, that it has these twisted turbine spider thing going on, so it could be really cool with some bash liek that too.
  • 1 0
 I'd like to see a slim svelte guard like you'd see on a cyclocross bike, nothing massive and bulky!
  • 1 0
 yes, i meant something like that. It could just be something like this 3rd outer ring, just take the teeth away. Or some two bolt only bash like the one race face does for 3 ring setups. Perhaps it is not the best solution ever, but looks pretty PRO in my opinion. Looks like you really know what you are doing and what sort of things you need for it. It's all about performance Smile
  • 1 0
 Great idea! It's always such a weight game, no real world options. They say "trail"....come on! At least make a sexy bash for it, even if you don't weigh it
  • 12 5
 Love shimano drive train, beats sram out any day.
  • 3 0
 XTR will be available in 2x10 as well, so in reality they have more options than SRAM with this drivetrain and the shifter can be switched between 2 or 3 speed front gearing so that the set screws don't have to be used as stops. 3 speed SRAM XX front? Not possible with the XX shifter. I think both product lines are awesome. One is right for some, one is right for others, and many of us fall somewhere between. At least there are multiple options for quality, high-end drivetrains. The only downside now is the cost on all of them...
  • 1 0
 In the intro to 2x10 you mention a 24 cog option for the front chain ring. My understanding (based on my choices on a free XTR 2x10 drivetrain certificate I won last week at a race) was the options are:
Chain ring options:
Cassette Ranges:

So doing the math.
22:34 =0.6471 (my present lowest gear on my 3x9 29'er)
22:32 =0.6875 (other typical low gear option)
26:36 =0.7222 (lowest gear on 10x2 system)
24:36 =0.6666 (ratio if you use the 24:36 quoted above but I don't think exists)


Seems like the 26:36 granny gear is just not going to be low enough on a 29'er.
  • 2 0
 I have the current XTR on my nomad and it works flawlessly even in the mud, this new stuff better work as it will not be cheap i bet..still its gorgeous...
  • 2 0
 is their really any need for a tripple up front with ten on the back?! one ring up front chain device and ten on the back sounds more like it......
  • 2 0
 Will someone please make a bike that will work with those ginormous chain links? I'd buy that...
  • 6 3
 nazi cranks
  • 3 1
 So they are. Didn't notice until you mentioned it.
  • 3 1
 Actually the Nazi Swastika is the other way around.
  • 3 0
 They look pretty nazi to me
  • 6 1
 The Manji clan in Japan was using the Swastika long before the Nazis. It can go either way with two different meanings. It is also one of the most used characters in Buddhism. Any way I am loving the new XTR trail more and more.
  • 2 1
 Thankyou ksan, not the most educated bunch here. I agree, new XTR looks great. I have always used and loved shimano's top level products. Keep it up!
  • 2 4
 Directional Chain! Like to see what it performs like after riding through a British winter, would it even get through one. During the winter I replace my road bike chain every three months because of the road salt and grit, take it an XTR trail chain is going to need replacing every month (10 rides?) and what price £50 maybe? ridiculous! @joedaho - gearboxes or rohloff hub gears make sense in a UK winter context, best comb would be to have XTR trail on your summer full suss bike and have a hardcore hardtail with a Rohloff for the winter- in my wildest dreams!
  • 5 0
 I'm still struggling to see how you managed to come up with the idea of a chain needing replacing every 10 rides just because its directional?
  • 1 0
 yeah , huh?
  • 4 0
 Also, having XTR on your bike is like owning a Ferrari. If you're worried about salt corrosion on your Ferrari in the winter, you store it in a garage until the Spring. Until then, you drive your Range Rover around.
  • 1 0
 dont leave your bike in the rain! if it gets cold hot coaco may not be enough.
  • 1 3
 @bunkey, ok right, bearing in mind none of us apart from Mike and maybe one or two others have ridden this and nobody more than for a couple of days, my suggestion that replacing the chain every ten rides would be based on my experience of 10 speed chains from my road (commuting bike). I commute 31 miles each way to work two to three times a week, during November, December, Jan and Feb. Now thats 124-186 miles a week,or a maximum of 744 miles a month. I do ten days commuting a month, as I have done over these months in past years and on previous experience using a park chain checker on the Campagnolo Centaur 10sp chains I use its suggests that from the CHAIN STRETCH (thats the key point here) I should replace it. However I dont because I can put up with slightly naff shifting by the end of March and stick with the same chain and replace the chainrings cassette and chain after five months winter use.
My reckoning is if your going to use this on your trail bike then is the fact that it is 10 speed and not that it is a directional chain (although the ramp/chamfing on the chain aint gonna look the same as it would straight out the box after 10 wet, muddy and gritty rides in the British dirt).
@smike, yup your exactly right, thats why I suggested that if you've got the cash then buy a singlespeed frame with a hub gear and a big hefty singlespeed chain and ride that during the winter.
Just you know there will always be one who spends a grand on this XTR trail groupset only to moan three months through the winter that the shifting is crap!
(well, let the negative props and the assassination of these suggestions start!)
  • 2 0
 Someone moaning about the cost of replacing an XTR chain is like someone complaining about how poor the fuel efficiency is in their lamborghini Smile it's the cost of luxury. If you have to ask how much it costs...
  • 2 0
 maddawgkeef: your complaining about this now because you use it for commuting? Have you thought maybe this chain isnt designed for weekly commutes on salt covered roads? I could use an XC fork for downhill and complain about it breaking first few rides with a very similar argument. This chain isnt developed for commuting, its for trail riding/xc race purposes - Rather like a set of track tyres on a car are for race weekends only!

Go buy cheap chains that are intended for what you use them for instead of complaining about a products lifespan when your using it for something it wasnt designed to do, seriously.
  • 1 0
 1st of all 80% of the buyers of XTR chain will be amateurs that don't make through year as much as you do in a manoth maddawgkeef. 2: I know a few XC and road racers which rarely use for daily training race specific stuff like wheels, chains or tyres.
So as someone said here: it should not be used for something it is not intended to.

Though I'm not a big fan of Shimano chains and casettes at all. I believe SRAM does a better job in that department. I never broke a SRAM chain on technical power XC, while it was happening notoriously with XT chains I had. Pretty bad feeling when you want to put power down to get over some little stone wall, and you ARE AFFRAID snap a chain. XT casette wearing period is also below standards of i.e SRAM 971 casette.
  • 2 0
 XTR says it all no more words needed Big Grin
  • 1 0
 hoping to get in some time on the new stuff this weekend at Mountain Bike Oregon!
  • 2 0
 I'l be getting all this stuff Big Grin
  • 1 0
 I'm just about to fit Xtr all round in my trek ex8, I'll let you know how I get on!!
  • 3 2
 Im very excited for the crankset and the brakes, both look fantastic
  • 2 2
 the brakes almost look as nice as hope brakes,
  • 1 0
 Abso f*****g lutely bang on the nail, COST???.
  • 1 0
 wow really delete my coments much?
  • 1 0
 lookin good
  • 2 5
 How do they address the chain rub on the front derailleur on a 3x10 setup?! I can't see myself adjusting the FD every time I change gears. I vote for SRAM XX 2x10 over 2011 XTR 3x10 Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Chain run hasn't been an issue whatsoever. The front derailleur cage is shaped differently to past designs.
  • 2 0
 Svard, I just bought a bike with 10spd XT and I can ride it big on big with no cage rub. It is amazing and I bet the XTR is better. And it is very muddy here at the moment. I wasn't a fan of 10spd until I rode it. It shifts unbelievably well, at any time, and even on a steep uphill changes on the FD. Amazing.
  • 1 0
 Awesome! I'm still a bit skeptical but it's just cause I don't have it to experience it myself lmao. I just upgraded my RF Deus Crankset to the XTR and I LOVE it. Not saying Shimano is not good I just prefer the XX look. Cheers, S
  • 1 4
 How come the new Dura Ace and XTR cranks and rings look so much like the plastic covered one piece cranks you find on $100 dollar budget bikes in department stores? The new shifters look like Sram clones.
  • 2 0
 Looks are in the eye of the beholder re. the cranks, but can't see how you think the shifters resemble sram units...
  • 1 0
 Monster ;D
  • 1 2
 no carbon no good................... exept shifter i love the feelin
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