Review: Shimano Zee Rear Mech

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If you were to go back five or more years, the industry, or at least the media, was very big on “gearbox” prototypes and if you were to ask a rider back then “what sort of bike do you think you will be riding in 2013?”, the answer would certainly be, one with a gearbox! The fact that we’re not is another story, but the evolution of the derailleur has continued to bring us components that are as reliable and precise as they are specific to the task in hand…

Words & Photos: Tom Shilvock

So, here we are, fast approaching another year of new tech and still relying on the humble rear derailleur. Whilst the gearbox idea might have been shelved by the big brands for the time being, I am glad to see that companies are working hard to continually improve this part that we rely on so much. From designing mechs that are more compact and less likely to be ripped off the frame, to the introduction of 10 and now 11 speed, and of course the introduction of built in clutch systems to stabilize chain movement.

This brings us to the Shimano Zee rear mech; a part that has all the required qualities needed for a component designed to take a beating and at a price that is accessible to all… The Zee group-set was launched as the cheeky little brother to the all singing and all dancing Saint group, but both group-sets are aimed at the gravity side of the market – I’ve have been using a Zee 23-28T close ratio mech and shifter on my DH bike now for about 2 months and this is what I thought!

In use…. Well, typically very Shimano and faultless to a tee. I’ve previously been using a Shimano 9 speed set up before and due to the fact that the 10sp set up pulls more cable on a gear change, every gear change is now more precise as the greater cable pull is less susceptible to inaccuracies in the cable set-up or wear.

The Shadow Plus system is also one of the big improvements on the system – it really does quieten the bike down! This might not be a mechanical advantage but more of a mental one, but either way it’s a fantastic addition to a tried and tested product and I definitely think a quieter bike is a faster bike as you don’t get that perception of noise, which would translate in to perhaps pushing the bike’s limits, or at least what you perceive its capable of.

This greater chain stability from the clutch will also help in better chain retention and if you are running a well set up modern chain device, then the chance of your chain coming off is very slim anyway. So, I haven’t noticed any improvement there as the chain device does such a good job already, but that grater tension across the drivetrain must help and give the chain device a easier time and a great addition all the same.

Just for Big Bikes?

Although Shimano are pitching this Zee at the gravity market, they also make a 32-36T wide ratio one.  This is an ideal mech for that 1 x 10 aggressive trail bike build and a super short cage mech, which at a good price, has been missing for the rider that is only interested in running a Shimano 1 x 10 set up. The super short cage on the Zee mech greatly improves ground clearance over a standard GS cage, and it looks a whole lot neater too!

Unless you live in the Mountains or you just have to climb everything, the 1 x 10 set up is the way to go. I tested a bike the other day that had a 2 x 10 set up and I just couldn’t find the right gear – they were either too high or too low. If you are planning on going 1×10 chose a front chain ring size that suits your style of riding then let the new bread of wide ratio cassettes do the rest of the work.

On the Trail.

I have been running a Zee mech on my Hard Tail since July. I can remember the first decent I did with the Zee fitted, I just couldn’t get over how quiet the bike was hitting the ruff ground at speed. Now I have become accustomed to it but you sure notice it when you ride a bike without on fitted.

I have also been experimenting with the chain retention property’s of a clutch mech. Again on the HT to give it a good test. I removed the lower part of my device to see what difference the mech makes. So far I have had no problems with the chain coming of whilst riding. I was riding a fast technical section the other day and stopped half way to check if the rider behind me had got down the first part okay – as I was waiting I looked down at my crank and the chain had jumped off the bottom. But half a pedal stroke and the top part of the chain device did its job and carried on riding without any problems.

So I would say its down to your riding style and how you want to build you bike up, as if you run a top guide or a full guide, but either way the clutch system certainly helps and doesn’t remove the need for a chain device… If you want to built your bike up as light as you can and not planing on getting too wild go for just a top guide and I must say, it was nice to ride the bike without the constant whirring noise of the lower guide. If you have a habit of getting loose and want the best chain retention security, I’d still recommend a full “top and bottom” guide.

The price is also another bonus here as you are getting all these new features on your bike, from what is marketed as a mid level component at £69.99 – a true bargain for what you get! Yes it has got a few pressed steal components in it compared to the XT Shadow plus mech, but you can only get a medium cage in XT, which is also more money at £84.99. You also get a lighter set up with the Zee compared to a XT set up due to the shorter cage and the fact that you can remove 1-2 links. I must also point out that the new Saint mech has a built in mode converter which will enable it to run with a 36T cassette but it is heavier and twice the price… Personally a Zee mech matched with a XT shifter is a very good set up and one that would suit a lot of riders that want a good 1×10 set up on any bike with am aggressive perswasion.

Shadow Plus?

Unlike the Sram Type 2 mech, the switch on the Shimano Shadow Plus design turns the clutch to either on or off and the only time you need to switch it to off, is to remove your rear wheel – I must also point out that with the clutch on, you do notice a little bit more resistance in the up shifts. Unlike the Sram Type 2 design, the clutch isn’t intelligent to variable amounts of tension through the drivetrain, but where the Shimano system bounces back, is that it allows you to adjust and tailor the tension of the clutch to suit. Putting less tension on the clutch would slightly improve the feel of the shifter but then you wouldn’t be getting the full advantages of the mech. You can also go the other way and put more tension on if needed, but this is a very, very small negative against a whole load of positives.


So there you go, this mech has certainly got a place on any DH bike, but I’d also say, don’t over look this mech if you need one for a trail bike as I think it is a little gem with in the Shimano line up. As far as we can tell here at Factory Jackson, the only problem with this mech is actually getting hold of one, as these little beauties are selling like hot cakes! For more on the Zee line up, hit the link below and for anything Shimano, head down to your local dealer or hit the Madison site for more. Happy trails, Tom.

shimano logo



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