Even though Shimano announced the details of their new XTR gruppo eight months ago, it still hasn't officially hit the market. Yes, some of the components are available from European distributors, but as far as purchasing all of the parts needed for a drivetrain, including cranks and hubs, well, that's not going to be possible until March. You may have even seen a few "reviews" pop up here and there, but the parts in those reviews aren't the same as what's going to be available to the end consumer – in fact, they may never hit the market at all.
That's because there have been some relatively significant changes to the lineup, including the cancellation of the Scylence hub (for now), and the 11-speed cassette option. The M9100 cranks are also being revised, with the slightly heavier FC-MT900 direct mount crank being released in the meantime.
Nick Murdick, Shimano's MTB product manager, provided more details about the current state of the new XTR.
When will XTR actually be available? Have the parts that consumers are buying in Europe been officially released, or are those grey market / early sample items?
North American customers can expect to find new XTR complete groups at retailers around the first of March. In our market, we’ve chosen to hold off on shipping XTR components because the crank set hasn’t been available. Since several of the performance gains with the new XTR group were achieved through a system engineering approach, it’s not so easy to sub in another crank. Specifically, the inner plates on the chain being extended out beyond the roller are responsible for the improved driving efficiency and chain retention of the crank. That chain plate also plays a key role in the smooth Hyperglide+ shifting across the cassette even under extreme load while accelerating.
Other distributors and sales offices around the globe manage their own distribution, which may be why you’ve been able to find some parts through the European retailers you mentioned. As expected though, we’ve heard that the riders who have bought those components have struggled to find an acceptable crank solution. The new XTR chain might not fit on some chain rings at all. On others, it might vibrate while pedaling or wear out extremely quickly. If they switch to a different chain, the Hyperglide+ shifting goes away and at that point it really just isn’t an XTR group anymore. Of course, it’s up to every rider to decide for themselves what chain and crank they use, and we aren’t trying to get in the way of someone choosing another product that they like better, but at the same time, we don’t want to force people into that situation because we don’t have a crank to sell them.
What caused the delay?
The production process for the crank still needs refinement. It’s a good design, but mastering the mass production of it has proven difficult so we need more time to work on it. As a remedy, we’ve added a new crank to the line-up that falls in-between the performance and quality of the previous generation XTR and the new M9100 XTR group. It uses our tried and true hollow forged crank arms but it will use the direct mount chain ring that goes with the new group. The crank and chain ring will come in a stealth black color and subtle Shimano branding. It’s simply called FC-MT900
, so you’ll hear us refer to it as “The Black Crank”. While not as light as the new XTR crank, at 587 grams it is lighter than the previous generation and also gets the improved driving efficiency and chain retention that comes with the new chain ring design. As soon as that crank lands in our US distribution center, we’ll begin shipping all of the new XTR components.
Rumor has it that the Scylence hub has been cancelled. Is that correct? If so, what's it being replaced with?
We have indeed had to go back to the drawing board on the design of Scylence - this one isn’t just a production issue. We still have faith that the concept can work and we’ll continue developing the technology, so if it’s possible to make it happen one day we definitely will. You’ve mentioned several times that the silent coasting was the stand out feature when you rode it, but there are actually several other good things going for the new XTR hub that remain. It uses these 100 tooth aluminum driver plates engaged by a helical spline on the back of the freehub body. That gives us a tight 7 degree free play angle with a very efficient and secure transmission of power from the cassette to the hub shell. With just about everything but the bearings being made of aluminum, we can make a very light hub too. The XTR hub actually won’t change much from the original design, we just need to keep the driver plates in contact with each other. The model number changes to FH-M9111 and it should be available right around the beginning of March like the rest of the components. Of course, there are other hub options in the market so we won’t hold the rest of the group if these hubs show up even a few days later.
Are any other components being modified from the first iteration?
There are no other modifications to the products that we announced, but there are two specs that have been cancelled. We recognized that our production capacity was spread a little too thin to keep up with demand so the wide flange hub (FH-M9125) and the 11 speed version of the cassette (CS-M9110) have been cancelled. At this time, we need all of the hubs and cassettes we produce to be the most popular specs. I think we’re going to miss the 11 speed cassette in North America – we were surprised by the positive feedback that it got and expected it to slowly gain popularity. There are really two benefits that might lead someone to choose a 10-45 11 speed cassette – dropping grams and gaining the ability to use a short cage rear derailleur. Luckily, the short cage derailleur remains in the line-up and it can be used with the 10-45 12 speed cassette. So riders who are looking for a derailleur that’s less likely to grab rocks and bounce around at high speeds still have a good option.
Are the delays having any effect on athletes getting their bikes prepped for the upcoming season?
Things are on track and we expect to have racers on XTR with the black crank at the EWS in New Zealand this March.
How about bike manufacturers - are there bikes sitting in warehouses still waiting for XTR to show up?
A few bike brands have been shipping XTR bikes since the fall, but yes, others have been waiting for cranks and or hubs. Pivot and Cannondale had already sourced their own custom crank solutions since they have frames that use a chain line that we don’t yet offer. Some other brands may now be investigating other options but it’s hard to get something custom made any quicker. Several brands will use the black crank and start getting bikes to riders around the same time that we’ll start shipping components.
Will the delays we’ve seen with the XTR group be improved with future launches?
It does seem like we’ve recently had more delays with new products actually coming to market, and that’s certainly been frustrating. While it’s not a good excuse, these have mostly been related to a new technology or a new production technique that hasn’t existed before. Since XTR was a ground up redesign, there were several of those new technologies that came with it. I’m proud that so many of them went so smoothly, but it wasn’t enough. That’s why big steps have been taken within our organization to put an end to these kinds of delays. The cancellation of two specs and streamlining production is a perfect example and there are many more steps being taken behind the scenes. I can feel a big change within our organization with a renewed focus on delivering exactly what we promise on time.