2011 Shimano XTR Trail Brakes: First Impressions

Aug 6, 2010
by Mike Levy  
Shimano chose Downieville, California, to let the media have their first ride on the new XTR Trail group and it proved to be an excellent testing ground. Day one has us descending an incredible amount of elevation on some of the fastest trails I've ever ridden - a perfect test of Shimano's new XTR Trail brakes. Inside you can find all of the information and photos, including their new Ice Technology finned pads and impressive aluminum core and steel sandwich rotors.

Keep reading to find out how the new brakes performed...
2011 Shimano XTR Trail Brakes


When developing their new flagship XTR component group, Shimano realized that while XTR was at one point thought of as their top end component group across the board, todays riders were splintered into two different mindsets: one group who simply wants to get from point A to point B (otherwise know as the start and finish lines), and another who are not only looking for the best performance, but also more control. This theory propagated two distinct XTR component groups that allow each component to have greater focus on it's application. The differences that you'll be able to read about over the next few updates include more adjustments, wider rims, and a more spread out gearing range on the Trail group, while the Race lineup sheds grams and comes in lighter.


The new XTR Trail lever uses a barrel reservoir for a much sleeker appearance and easier bleeding. Lever reach and free stroke adjustments remain. After a long day in the saddle that involved more descending than a lot of riders manage in week of riding I'd admit that the lever and ergonomics are the best I've ever used.
The new XTR Trail lever uses a barrel reservoir for a much sleeker appearance and easier bleeding. Lever reach and free stroke adjustments remain. After a long day in the saddle that involved more descending than a lot of riders manage in week of riding I'd admit that the lever and ergonomics are the best I've ever used.


Yes, both variations of Shimano's XTR group will be going 10 speed for 2011 and we'll get to that a bit further on, but even more exciting to me is the effort that Shimano is putting into their brake systems to push their performance to the next level. Completely new for the upcoming season, the XTR brakes not only look quite different visually to the previous model, but also feature some interesting technology that is hidden away from sight.

Shimano has gone away from their long used master cylinder design, instead debuting a new barrel reservoir that is both lighter and allows for much easier bleeding. The new lever arrangement is also much sleeker and minimalist than their previous designs as well. Riders who have been fans of Shimano's brakes in the past, but cursed the lack of a split bar clamp, will be happy to see that the 2011 models use a hinged clamp that will make installing or removing controls much easier. While the Race version of the XTR is pared down to only the essentials, the Trail model shown here features both reach and free stroke adjustment that lets you fine tune the position and feel to just how you like it. The Trail brake also uses Shimano's Servo Wave system to control leverage and add power, but the Race forgoes this to shed a few extra grams. Due to the Trail brakes different leverage it also employs a slightly taller lever blade, 14 mm vs. 13 mm for the Race, for a more comfortable fit in your fingers.


This nearly finished lever shows the path that the Servo Wave system takes as the lever goes through it's stroke. The Trail brakes are said to have more power than the non-Servo Wave XTR Race levers.
This nearly finished lever shows the path that the Servo Wave system takes as the lever goes through it's stroke. The Trail brakes are said to have more power than the non-Servo Wave XTR Race levers.


2011 XTR Trail lever details

  • Entirely new brake for 2011
  • Short-stroke Servo-Wave mechanism for quick engagement
  • Tool-free reach-adjust
  • Free stroke adjustment
  • Shorter, wider 14-millimeter brake lever with more efficient pivot location
  • Hinge-clamp mounting bracket
  • High-power hose uses slightly smaller inner bore
  • Combine with i-spec bracket to reduce handlebar clutter


Shimano's new XTR caliper is used on both the Trail and Race systems and hides two full ceramic pistons. The two black objects atop the caliper act as cooling fins that dissipate heat via their increased surface are. They are actually attached to the Ice Tech pads, not the caliper itself. An aluminum banjo bolt is used to attach the hose to the caliper.
Shimano's new XTR caliper is used on both the Trail and Race systems and hides two full ceramic pistons. The two black objects atop the caliper act as cooling fins that dissipate heat via their increased surface are. They are actually attached to the Ice Tech pads, not the caliper itself. An aluminum banjo bolt is used to attach the hose to the caliper.


Following the new updated brake hose (smaller inner diameter for a stiffer and more powerful feel) down to the caliper, you'll discover that it has also been completely redesigned for 2011. The new one piece forged caliper is shared between both the XTR Trail and Race groups and still accepts top loading pads that many of us have come to appreciate, but it also hides a brand new full ceramic piston which is an industry first. Ceramic was chosen for the piston material due to its ability to shed heat. In fact, battling the heat caused by prolonged or heavy braking seems to be a major concern of the brake development team and it shows throughout the entire system. You'll notice in the picture of the caliper above that two black finned pieces are protruding from it's top. These are not actually attached to the caliper itself, but to it's brake pads. They act as cooling fins, something common in many other industries, and function by greatly increasing the surface area that can dissipate heat before it affects braking. The XTR Trail brakes come stock with these Ice Technology pads with sintered pad material, but both resin Ice Tech pads and standard non-finned pads are also available, as well as a titanium backed pads that save a few grams, but may not be quite a stiff. According to Shimano, tests at high temperatures have shown that the strange looking pads can cool the operating system's temperature by 50 celsius.

While the Ice Tech pads are very visible, sometimes the coolest bits of technology are hidden away where you can't see it. This is the case with Shimano's new aluminum and steel hybrid Ice Technology rotors - and no, I'm not speaking of the trick aluminum spider either. Concealed by the rotor's stainless steel braking surface is a thin aluminum core that acts as a heat sink to pull heat away from the braking surface and disperse it. I was told that this aluminum and steel sandwich rotor design reduces heat by an impressive 100 celsius when things get really hot. Very cool technology indeed. Only riders who use Center Lock hubs will be able to give these a go, there are no six bolt versions as of right now.


The aluminum spidered Ice Technology rotors also feature an aluminum core that acts as a heat sink to keep temperatures in line when things start to get hot.
The aluminum spidered Ice Technology rotors also feature an aluminum core that acts as a heat sink to keep temperatures in line when things start to get hot.


2011 XTR Trail caliper and rotor details

  • Entirely new brake for 2011
  • One piece forged post mount caliper
  • Oversized ceramic pistons
  • Aluminum banjo hose fitting
  • Four pad choices for any condition - resin/Al, metal/Ti, resin/Ice, metal/Ice
  • Additional heat control with Ice Tech aluminum core rotors
  • Metal pad compound with Radiator backing plate (standard)


This photo shows a cross section of the aluminum core rotor encased in glass. The aluminum core is sandwiched by stainless steel braking surfaces on both sides and the design is able to lower operating temperatures by 100 degrees
This photo shows a cross section of the aluminum core rotor encased in glass. The aluminum core is sandwiched by stainless steel braking surfaces on both sides and the design is able to lower operating temperatures by 100 degrees


Riding Impressions



While there is no denying that brakes can be a very personal thing and preferences vary greatly from rider to rider, there are also a few common traits that can add up to make a great brake. Usable power, modulation, reliability, and ergonomics all need to come together to make brakes that you feel confident in no matter what the conditions. While it was only a single ride, albeit one that seemed to be chosen to specifically test our brakes and courage, I came away with a very favourable impression of the new XTR stoppers that were bolted to my Trek Remedy.


My Trek Remedy fully decked out with Shimano's 2011 XTR Trail group and a Kashima equipped Fox 32 Talas fork
My Trek Remedy fully decked out with Shimano's 2011 XTR Trail group and a Kashima equipped Fox 32 Talas fork


The lever ergonomics, how it fits in your fingers and the geometry that changes as you pull it, feel as if Shimano shaped the levers specifically for my hands. While I've heard grumblings about their previous levers feeling a bit too skinny and applying too much pressure in one spot, the 14 mm tall Trail levers (the Race levers are slightly smaller at 13 mm) felt comfortable from the get go. Pulling firmly on the blades felt comfortable, even when panic braking into a hairpin that I was about to blow. There are also some small traction giving divots in the face of the lever that I couldn't really feel with gloves on, but it may be a different story when riding in the rain and mud. The short levers pivot close to the bar clamp as well, thereby avoiding the feeling that your fingers can slip off the end as they get pulled closer to the bar. I'm a big fan of reach and bite point adjustments that many brakes come with these days and the XTR levers feature both, although you still need to use a phillips screwdriver to make changes to the free stroke (bite point) and its range of adjustment is very fine. The lever reach dial turns with little effort which is more than I can say for some other companies offerings. The power of the new XTR Trail brakes was very impressive and I took full advantage of it throughout the ride. While not quite Saint power (most riders aren't looking for that anyways), I'd venture to say that they actually have more usable power throughout the lever's stroke. This is made even more impressive by the fact that I was using the optional resin pads during the ride. While I can't vouch for the Shimano provided numbers that claim Ice Technology lowers operating temperatures by a combined 150 celsius, I had absolutely zero fade during one of the rides 30-40 minute downhill portion. Having experienced other brakes losing power over long descents and have to adjust my riding style accordingly, I was very happy with how they performed during the demanding ride.

There is no doubt that the new XTR Trails brakes work very well, but two questions remain: how will they perform in the longterm and when it is time to perform a bleed, will it be easier than other models as Shimano claims? My impressions above were taken from just one ride, but stay tuned for a longterm test down the road after I've put many miles on them and done some wrenching.


Stay tuned for the next update that includes information and impressions on Shimano's new 2011 XTR Trail drivetrain

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 new brakes? Tell us below?


82 Comments

  • + 7
 Looks promising, good review Smile

I do remember the preview a while back that ended up with everyone arguing whether the IceCool heatsinks would actually make a difference. I didn't realise they were actually part of the pads rather than bolted to the calliper. I imagine it will help at least a bit, although I'm cynical enough to think that 150C difference on the rotor may be on the optimistic side. Still I'm ready to be proved wrong.
  • + 5
 No doubt. I'm always skeptical of any number provided by the manufacturer, but the performance doesn't lie. On one of the longest descents I've ever done there was zero fade - I was impressed. Early days though.
  • + 4
 Yeah, there's no substitute for real world testing. Though I'm now wondering why the steel on one side of the rotor core is thicker than the other. I need to stop worrying about the details!
  • + 3
 One side is thicker than the other for the rotor wear indicators. Good eye.
  • + 6
 those numbers are usually measured in exteremes of the spectrum, like when they consistently brake a rotor on a machine until it turns red hot. More likely than not it will make a good difference like mikelevy said, but 'real world' it will be probably less than 150 centigrade still if i had the money i'd upgrade my Stroker Trails to these in a heartbeat
  • + 2
 Seems like a lot of money to dump just to avoid a bit of fade. It'll no doubt become standard in a couple years and brake fade will be a thing of the past, but one other way to avoid brake fade is just to get faster...it doesn't cost anything and the process involves a lot of biking tup


I'm totally fine with my '08 Juicy 5s. Once you can skid the tires, you don't need any more "power" (Saint brakes were the dumbest thing that has happened since packaged bread), so modulation and adjustability is all you need, and once my Juicies are set they perform. Even so, I'd like to see some more adjustability on the XTR...if they can do breakthrough heat dissipation they could maybe make some breakthroughs in the adjustability (pad contact point, pad stroke travel, lever reach, and some sort of modulation adjustment). Something so you could adjust your brakes to exactly what you want, not the other way around.
  • + 1
 go with avid codes, cheaper then the xtr's and im sure even less fade and more power.... I just dont trust shamano in general
  • + 7
 The Codes are really a different category of brake, more comparable to the Saint brake from Shimano.
  • + 1
 ya and form my experiencces with codes they were terrible probably the worst brake i have ridden so far my saints were the best then juicy 3(once set up nicely) and then my elixer cr and juicy 7 are at a time but hayze storker trials and avid codes were just terrible
  • + 9
 Whole bike is sick let alone the brakes Smile
  • + 4
 dope
  • + 7
 That Trek is a work of effing ART!
  • + 6
 Not only that, she rips as well!
  • + 2
 why do people think these are ugly?? yeah the sticky out walnut cooling fans look a bit weird but apart from those the brake looks really nice, and you're not going to notice or give a shit about what it looks like when you're riding. The lever is beautiful! love the minimal look
  • + 2
 This is by far one of the most ergonomical (don't bother the spelling) looking brake ever, and I'd be glad to check out how they feel compare to those XT m775 I'm currently running... As for how they look, not so bad IMO, and the lever looks quite light, love it
  • + 6
 would love to try those brakes
  • + 1
 According to the only person here who has ridden these (Mike) the brakes work really well, so I'm sure they work great. XTR has been and always will be a way for people to show off the fact that they race, or that they can afford to race. Downieville is definitely the perfect place to test brakes. There are many jumps and bumps right into the steep downhill corners filled with loose dirt and rocks. Add to that the loose dirt, rocks, and braking bumps and you have a place where brake strength, modulation, and fade-resistance are all put to the test. I just got back from Downieville on a set of Hope Moto-6 brakes. I'm sure they weigh a ton more than the XTRs, but it sounds like the XTR brakes worked just as well as my 6-pistons. As far as looks go, I've seen better, but I've also seen much, much worse.
  • + 4
 worst looking brakes i have seen tbh , bet they work good though for being that ugly !!
  • + 2
 no one has mentioned that little cylindrical hose end made of plastic or rubber, you can just see the hose go into the reservoir on the top picture yes? Whats that hose going into?! It looks ugg...
  • + 1
 The whole trail/race versions of XTR seems like kind of a gimmick, like they are just throwing the XTR logo on a product that is not in the light weight/high performance class that XTR is advertised as just so they can up the price. why not just call the trail version the XT groupo?
  • + 3
 has xtr failed? no! if they failed you its your fault .... xtr is the best investment out there if your not serious just go and buy tektro....
  • + 1
 I like the look of all the new components, Dont really like the centre lock discs though ive had bad experiences with centre lock and the caliper on the trail brakes does look like a bad remake of a hope caliper.
  • + 0
 so the read the first sentence reads...."some of the fastest trails I've ever ridden - a perfect test of Shimano's new XTR Trail brakes"......now how do fast trails make you test brakes? The fastest trails i've ever ridden are ones where you don't use much. then you modulate how much you use....to me a true test of brakes would be a steep ass trail or a really sustained decent where you could test the brake for what it should be worth.......just my two pennies on reviewing products.....
  • + 3
 Yeah, I like the logic. You've got to figure he used the brakes a good bit at some point though. I've not ridden Downieville but seen plenty of shots and it looks fast and seen a fair few switchbacks that would need good breaking on loose ground. I'm going to guess that Mike felt fast not because he didn't use the brakes that much but because they allowed him to keep the time when he was braking to a minimum due to the controlled power and lack of fade. I agree that a WC downhill track would be an amazing test for any brake but I don't reckon these brakes are aimed at that type of rider.
  • + 1
 Fast trail with some hard, hard braking.
  • + 2
 All anybody does around here is try desperatly to dis-credit these articles and reviews. Its plain annoying.....Cro-mag, you dont use your brakes at all on "fast" runs, how do you stop? Or you dont? You just coast through the parking lot right to your car and bonk into the side when your done.
  • + 3
 Itz amazing how tecnically evolved these brakes are, they are definately in another category ! SICK !!!
  • + 4
 That remedy is so awsome and the brakes as well.
  • + 1
 Next time testing should be done on a rigid rear end to give brakes a good base point to compare, You guys should know better!
  • + 1
 Shiney and sleek I love the look of these!!! I bet it sets another standard of how brakes will look and its nice they keep the technology factor in as well!
  • + 1
 they look similar to the elixer r
  • + 2
 Though how subjective looks are, this is one of those examples of "function over form".
  • + 2
 True...true...true. I don't care if they look like zombie poo. If I have more control this year, than last year, or previous year's models. I'm in.
  • + 2
 its really ugly~~that is the big truth
  • + 1
 If i didn't need the power of saint i would buy these,i hate being big boned.
  • + 2
 I will get one for my orange 224 downhill bike tup
  • + 3
 sick bike
  • + 1
 They look outstanding, and probably perform flawlessly. Always hold the highest of hopes for Shimano!
  • + 1
 oh wow I bet these perform as well as they look, which is not good at all!!
  • + 1
 Beautiful groupo.
Gringo.Pimp
  • + 1
 I'm loving Shimano more and more now!
  • + 1
 Quite a leek, sexy looking brake, wish i had the money for them..
  • + 0
 The brakes look like they're still in prototype stage. They don't look like a final product. So clunky.
  • + 1
 one piece forged caliper body is nice.
  • + 1
 those cooling fans look stupid.
  • + 1
 missed the mark for me.... but I am sure they work great.
  • - 2
 yes the wizardy of bi-metallic rotors, uneven wear and then warpage anyone? Also looking forward to using a toothbrush to clean out the fins after they become packed with mud.
  • + 4
 Gromitdog,

You have to back it up, man. Have the aluminum core rotors that you've been using on your mountain bike been suffering from uneven wear and warpage? I'm looking forward to putting a ton on miles on these brakes, I love how they feel, and will report back... but do let us know if you've already tested a set =)
  • + 0
 Mike, ever heard of dissimilar metal corrosion? i doubt heat warping will be an issue, but if you have these rotors in extreme conditions i bet you will get some nice galvanic corrosion in between those layers. i wander how they will hold up over the long term?
  • + 3
 It doesn't matter if mikelevy has heard of it or not. Do you think shimano's engineers have? I have a feeling they didn't just glue the pieces together without doing their homework.
  • + 2
 they will know the pro's and con's but it won't be the first or last time a company has come up with an idea that works really well but not for very long or just to see if it will make anything better
  • + 1
 When's the XO vs XTR showdown article coming?
  • + 1
 a better comparison would be XX vs XTR but yes i waiting for it Blank Stare
  • + 1
 Great! but I still love Avid.. dont know why.
  • + 1
 Cause Avid works, is serviceable, and costs 1/4 of what these xtr cost.
  • + 2
 Gromitdog,

Compare SRAM's XX brake to Shimano's '10 XTR. That is the proper comparison... what is the price difference?
  • + 0
 want to know my first impression? w.t.f. thats the only thing i could say when i say the picture
  • + 1
 Loving those brakes.!
  • - 1
 Shimano levers are deffinatly the most comfortable and natural feeling around... too bad I ride with Avid's...
  • + 0
 sold my xtr and got saint. 10x better
  • + 1
 crankset looks nice
  • - 3
 i have those grips!!!!!!!! Smile
  • + 35
 Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, I think they look amazing!
  • + 0
 True, I'm sure they are amazing, I just don't like the look of them.
  • + 24
 They look shocking... the lever looks like some space gun and the calliper looks like it has a black walnut growing out of it.
  • + 35
 Space gun reference... that has to be a good thing, right?
  • + 5
 I love the levers, xt brakes have been some of the most reliable and easiest to service and these seem to be a refined version. However, I HAVE to know how much those ridiculously expensive looking brake pads will cost. For a while there they wanted $60 for the Saint brake pads and I could see these being twice if not three times as much money!
  • + 9
 Shit i'd take em out to dinner...and pay for it
  • + 3
 @Killacali. If they were as quiet as most Shimano brakes, it'd be a pretty awkwardly silent dinner... better get somes hayes in to do the talking.
  • + 1
 Take them to the trail first?
  • + 1
 So tech it hurts. I love it!
  • + 2
 To the first comment - Looks like -33 actually lol these brakes look much better than avid, much more stylish Big Grin
  • + 1
 i love how shimano xtr is the leading edge technology in bikes, cos really nobody outside of mouintain biking is really aware how advanced the tech is in mtbing. mega respeect to shimano. as far as the looks go i would rather have these brakes over ones that look better because at the end of the day it all about the performance of the bike, not how it looks
  • + 1
 Yeah ignore that one - don't know what happened there...
  • + 1
 Like the idea of using a type of heat sink to cool the pads. Though of something similar before but envisaged it getting clogged with mud...
  • + 1
 genious move from shimano. I wouldn't be surprised if pricing for the brake itself is moderate, but what about those break pads. If they cost like 60$ and you need 5 pairs per year (3 in the front, 2 in the back) you'll have to pay 300$ - so forget it... :-(
  • + 1
 dont no about shimano but thats a very nice trek
  • + 1
 They should make the XTR Trail the new XT since there really no difference between the XT and LX brakes now. XT is supposed to be the top of the line trail system with a balance between light weight and function. Then make the XTR Race just XTR since that line is all about supreme lightness. That would give a logical difference between all the brake systems.
  • + 1
 So I rode these brakes, THEY ARE FUCKING MINT!
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