Shimano XT 11 speed- first ride!

July 10th, 2015

By Andrew Dodd in Tech

Three weeks on XT 11 speed

Shimano may not have been first to the 11 speed set up on mountain bikes, but once they’d got the flagship XTR drive train out there, people were already anticipating how long it would be before they wheeled out 11 speed at price points realistic to every day riders.

XT is the first groupset to get the treatment, and is the work horse of the Shimano range once more – offering the maximum performance possible at a fraction of the cost of the undoubtedly stunning XTR drive train. We spent a few days getting to know the new price point drive train in Les Arcs with Shimano UK’s tech crew…

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The trails in Les Arcs are incredible – some of the best I’ve ridden anywhere. The chaps from Trail Addiction really do know the best stuff out there. Photo | Michael Kirkman

Shimano requested we send our own bikes to them before the trip, in order for them to install the drive train after which they would deliver them to Trail Addiction in Les Arcs.

Annoyingly my bike went for a wander in transit earlier in the week and only just made it to Shimano UK as the tech guys were leaving for Les Arcs – which meant whilst the rest of the crew hit the hills the second we arrived, Shimano Technician Peter Griffiths and I had to strip my bike down and get the new kit in place – but it was a good chance to see the kit up close though before it got some abuse.

Here are the main points about the new XT 11 speed drive train:

  1. Cranks come on their own so you can spec the correct BB and chainring for your bike/preference
  2. The Crank BCD is the same offset design as XTR
  3. Unlike Narrow/Wide designs, the chain ring features tall teeth that hook forwards slightly – the same way as wear direction so chain retention won’t reduce in time.
  4. Shimano call this DCE – Dynamic Chainring Engagement.
  5. Front mech on the 2x set up has the same side-swing design front mech as XTR
  6. The rear mech has an externally adjustable clutch design – as well as on/off mode
  7. The rear gearing is the same as XTR – 11-40 or 11-42, fitting on a regular freehub body
  8. Cassette ratio on the 11-40 as I rode is: 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-27-31-35-40
  9. Shifter options for bar mount, or i-Sync II which has independent adjustability
  10. You can get a complete 1 x 11 drive train for under £405!
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The rear mech isn’t the best looking XT mech ever produced by Shimano – but it’s certainly solid and one of the best performing. The Shimano 11speed cassette may not have the 10t sprocket like SRAM does – but you don’t need a new freehub body to mount it. Would you really miss the one tooth? Photo | Michael Kirkman

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i-Sync II is much better than previous mountings as the shifter can be moved independently for a position that suits you. Photo | Michael Kirkman

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The cranks are light, and very stiff – certainly stiffer than some other high end cranks we’ve ridden lately. Time will tell how long the stealthy black finish lasts. Photo | Michael Kirkman

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The clutch on/off lever is much clunkier looking that the neat XTR lever, but works well. The Clutch mechanism is now externally adjustable by Allen key, and has a neat rubber cover to keep the muck at bay.

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Though there is no thick/thin profile to the teeth, they are incredibly tall and have a forward hook that won’t wear out as the chain and chain ring wears. Though Shimano say they can’t guarantee you won’t drop a chain – there were no chains dropped in our group and since home I’ve been riding the ring with no chain guide to good effect. Nothing dropped yet – and it’s the quietest retaining chain ring we’ve ridden.

 

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Shimano’s tech wizard Peter Griffiths was a saint to work with – he helped me strip and rebuild in record time – and is no slouch out on the trails either. Don’t let his hit man looks fool you – this guy is secretly gnarly! Photo | Michael Kirkman

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My Mondraker Foxy Carbon XR ready to rock with a full XT drive train. Although I had a chain guide on, I moved the upper guide to see if problems would arise – but the chain stayed firmly in place. And it was quiet too.

 

Affordable 11 speed

SRAM set the bench mark high when they announced the XX1 11 speed drive train, which as well as offering a weight saving and neatening up your bike offered bike designers the chance to consider 1x dedicated frame designs with stiffer pivot set ups and the option of refining pivot points based on a single chain ring, rather than having to compromise for two or three chain rings.

But the pricing was virtually in to orbit with the £450 cassette – so budget options were on everyones mind. Hop-up kits became available from several manufacturers allowing a huge 40tooth ‘climber’ cog to be fitted to standard 10 speed cassettes, but the overall spread of gearing would never be ideal.

Whilst SRAM chipped away bringing out cheaper options with the X01, X1 and now budget GX platforms out – Shimano pushed out XTR and XTR Di2, signalling they were finally ready to play the 11 speed game. The tortoise has just caught the hare.

SRAM’s excellent GX groupset can be had for just £451 – but Shimano XT 11speed is available for under £405! Below is the equivalent spec needed for an 11 speed set up on my Mondraker Foxy Carbon XR.

 

SRAM:Shimano pricing

 

How does it ride?

The things that work best tend to be the things you don’t notice, and as I expected – the shifting and action on the XT is flawless.

One thing immediately noticeable is how quiet the drive train is  –  even in the extremes of lowest and highest gears. Most 1x set ups are prone to some noise – but like the more expensive XTR,  XT is ultra quiet.

Although a lighter action than SRAM, the shifting has a good, defined clunk – you know when you’ve shifted. I really liked the lever position, but where the XTR trigger shifter allows a double shift on the small down shift lever in both directions the XT will only do it when pushed with your thumb – not by using your finger. It’s not the end of the world as SRAM only has a single direction lever here, but once you’ve used the XTR trigger shifter it’s hard to like anything else!

I was given the 11-40t spread cassette to ride as the 11-42 wasn’t available at the time, and I used a 34tooth chain ring. Although I didn’t miss the 10tooth sprocket on the cassette out in the Alps, I really could have done with the extra two teeth on a couple of the long grinding climbs we did. The spread of gears is excellent though, and shifting between them is clean – no odd jumps.

Although my bike had a chain guide on there, I moved the guide to the highest position to see if I’d encounter problems – but no such issue. The XT chain ring did a great job of keeping the chain on – and no one else in the group dropped a chain. Shimano won’t guarantee it’s use as a retainer ring, but it certainly does work – I’ve since removed the upper guide and will keep an eye on things.

Now back home I’ve started to put some miles in on normal trails and will continue to do so until it’s worn out – some good old wet weather will help me do some damage, but at time of writing the trails are still dusty! I’ll update in the winter with a longer term review.

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The trails around Les Arcs are bloody brilliant. They have it all – steep and technical, rough and fast, flowy and loamy or absolute light speed fast with massive exposure. Photo | Michael Kirkman

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We rode in a lot of the trails used for the much talked about Enduro 2 race – and we even had our own race on some of the same trails. Photo | Michael Kirkman

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Les Arcs – a terrible place to work!

We say

XT has always been the high end work horse groupset, but in previous years it’s been in XTR’s shadow whilst the cheaper SLX stood out as a solid performer. However,  the new Shimano XT 11 speed really does offer a great price advantage and virtually identical performance to the top end XTR – but isn’t out of reach for riders on a budget.

An entire 1 x 11 drive train for under £405 is a winner – and it should have Shimano’s longevity too.  I’m expecting the nice weather to end imminently, so once I’ve spend some time in the grinding paste I’ll let you know how it feels. Feel free to ask questions on the Factory Jackson Facebook page…


A huge thanks goes to Mark Greshon, Peter Griffiths and Kieren Frend at Madison for arranging the trip, and to Ali Jamieson and the Trail Addiction family. Every single one of the staff went out there way to make us feel comfortable and took us out on some truly amazing trails – if you like serious trails away from the braking bump park life, then Les Arcs is your place…

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