The XTR Trail rim is manufactured by wrapping carbon fiber over an extruded aluminum base, a technique that Shimano have already been using to create some of their high-end road wheels.
|Installing the wheels went how installing wheels should go, with nothing really to note. What do you expect, that they won't fit? The eleven-speed Shimano XTR cassette slid onto the titanium freehub body, the Center Lock rotors slid onto the hub splines, and both were held in place with their respective lock rings. There are two related points that bear mentioning, though: the rotors don't rock on the hub splines when on the brakes like I've found when using Shimano rotors on non-Shimano hubs, and the titanium freehub body hasn't been marred by the cassette as an aluminum version likely would have after months and months of use. Plus, it's titanium and titanium is neato, which has to count for something. I mounted up a few different tires on the XTR Trail wheelset - Schwalbe's older Nobby Nic, as well as both Hans Dampf and the monster truck-worthy Magic Mary, and a few different Specialized tires. The fit with all of them seemed to be just a touch looser than I've found when using the same tires on some other rims, and I ended up having to resort to spraying some soapy water to get the bead to seat a few times. Not a big deal, but it could have been painful if I didn't have a good floor pump or access to a compressor.|
The XTR Trails feel much like a set of wheels when you're riding them, and while that may sound underwhelming, I do mean it in the most complimentary way possible. There was absolutely zero pinging or popping to be heard, even after plenty of riding in dusty deserts and on muddy B.C. trails, and neither the front or rear wheel's bearings developed any play. The thought of the adjustable cone system backing off brought back nightmares from years ago when friends often couldn't get their Shimano hubs to stay tight for more than thirty minutes at a time, but that wasn't the case with these wheels. That's gotta be a good thing given that not many riders have cone wrenches in their tool box these days. Their 1,706 gram weight is pretty respectable for a 29er wheelset - although there are other options out there that are in the same ballpark when it comes to weight, width, and price - but they are nice and sporty when you're trying to ride your bike in a hurry. This is especially true if you're coming off of a heavier wheelset, with rotational weight really counting for so much more than static grams elsewhere on your bike.
Weight aside, these wheels feel great. What the hell does that mean? They're not flexy and vague feeling like some lighter aluminum rimmed wheelsets out there, but they're also not overly stiff and unforgiving like I've felt with some wider and taller carbon rims - this is especially important if you're going to run them on a hardtail or short-travel bike. The number of spokes and their tension also come into play big time when talking about wheel rigidity, and the twenty eight spokes per wheel that Shimano have gone with seems to have been the right choice. Top marks for ride quality. And while I'm becoming a big fan of ultra-wide rims, the more modest 24mm internal width of the XTR Trail rim means that they will work with all kinds of tire widths and shapes out there, unlike fatter hoops on the market. Their appearance is likely going to be split down the middle, with some liking the subdued looks and others thinking that wheels of this price should be flashy things. I tend to fall in the former camp, and prefer the stealth, understated presence that they have going on. Four months of hard use has seen the XTR Trail wheels come through nearly unscathed. Both the front and rear rims are dent-free, despite bottoming the tire on the rim hard enough to feel it through the bike a handful of times, but the rear wheel was recently out of true enough to require action. A few minutes on the stand had it back to its original shape, but when it was out I noticed that the hub bearings were just a touch rough. To be fair, I'm pretty hard on hubs, and four months is pretty much par for the course when talking about sealed bearings, so I'm not surprised to see the cup and cone system needing some attention. Also, I much prefer working with a few wrenches and some fresh grease to dial in just the right amount of bearing preload instead of just squeezing in a set of new sealed bearings. I'm sure some mechanics out there will agree with me while others won't.
With their aluminum and carbon construction, the XTR Trail wheels are interesting items. That said, I'm not sure if they meet Shimano's claim about being as light as carbon wheels and as durable as aluminum wheels. After all, there are lighter, full-carbon rim'd wheelsets on the market of similar width and price, and the fact that I had to get out the truing wrench means that they're not as trouble-free as some other wheelsets we've had in the office lately. Shimano is generally a conservative company when it comes to design and execution, and I'd say that the XTR Trail wheels fit that bill perfectly. They're not leaders in any specific category, but they are a great wheelset that isn't going to let you down. - Mike Levy
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