First Impressions: 2012 Shimano Deore XT

Our thoughts after flogging the new rendition of XT around Lake Tahoe.

By: Kevin Rouse

Photo: Sterling Lorence.

Last week the folks at Shimano took the time to herd a group of journalists around Lake Tahoe and let us get our hands on the 2012 Deore XT M780 groupset for the first time. While first impressions aren’t everything, we can definitely say we were quite pleased. In fact, nearly all of the features that created a stir from the current XTR group can be found in the new XT. Noteworthy highlights include the trickle-down of the Ice-Tech brake technologies from the current XTR group, as well as a revamped XT wheel line with both Race and Trail variants. The addition of the black color scheme constitutes some big news for the ever-present style junkies out there as well.

The Groupset That Started it All

Thirty years ago, the original Shimano Deore XT groupset was launched, marking the first fully-integrated, purpose-built mountain groupset. Since it’s introduction, XT has weathered the industry offshoots, fads, and ‘innovations’ that have become so common, and has consistently emerged as an example of innovation in it’s own right. Over multiple iterations throughout the years, XT has heralded the early adoption of trends and standards, forging the path for others to follow.

There has been a lot of revisions to the trusty XT derailleur over the past 30 years. Photo: Kevin Rouse.

This year’s introduction of the all-new 2012 XT group is no exception. Long seen as the “everyman’s XTR,” XT has been consistently been Shimano’s offering for the enthusiast and journeyman racer alike, and this year’s introduction is no different. Featuring nearly all of the features of XTR at little sacrifice, in terms of performance for your dollar, the group certainly represents one of the better values out there.

Shifting

The outgoing XT group offered commendable shifting performance, with smooth, precise lever throws and good tactile feedback. If at times a bit finicky, and requiring more frequent than desired adjustment, it certainly got the job done, and done well.

For 2012, we were hoping for more of a set-it-and-forget-it system, and based off of our initial time with the new group it looks like we need fret no longer, although time will tell.

The 2012 XTs are claimed to offer a more pronounced shift-lever feel with Shimano's signature smooth action--the company calls this feel/action its Vivid Index system. Photo: Kevin Rouse.

The new group offers improved lever feel, with a more positive engagement. The trademark Shimano smoothness is still present, but is even further refined with Shimano’s new Vivid Index system. The Vivid indexing imparts a greater sense of feedback for each shift, which translates to fewer unintended shifts on the trail and all-around improved lever feel.

After quite the flog through the mud--and snow--around Lake Tahoe, the XT derailleur performed admirably

Braking

The latest update to the group marks the debut of the Ice Tech technologies in Shimano’s second-tier offering. We had high praise for these features when they appeared first in XTR, and our reaction is no different this time around. Braking power sees an increase of 25 percent over the previous Deore XT, and the sublime lever feel certainly ups the ante, placing the ball in just about every competitor’s court. Over a few days of riding the brakes readily stood out as being noticeably better in just about every regard over its predecessor. Most noticeable was a stockpile of stopping power (at least for your 130-pound test rider), all of which was deftly regulated by smooth, predictable modulation. While perhaps a bit grabby in the early stroke, swapping out the metallic pads we tested for their resin counterparts would likely alleviate that. Credit for much of the improved improved feel goes to the latest iteration of Shimano’s ServoWave, which effectively changes the lever ratios to provide much more fine-tuned control throughout the stroke.

Shimano trickles the impressive Ice Tech pads and rotors down from its XTR brakes. Photo: Kevin Rouse.

For 2012 the XT brakes underwent a total redesign, transitioning to a different reservoir and master cylinder design a-la XTR. And, as with with the XTR Trail brakes, the XT levers feature both a reach and free-stroke adjustments. On the caliper end of things, the XT brake now features a two-piece construction and borrows the same oversized, 22-millimeter ceramic pistons found at the XTR level. Also worth noting, the system now features a one-way bleed design making the bleeding process much easier and nearly foolproof, even for yours truly.

The XT levers sport a rather striking new appearance

Drivetrain

For 2012, the Deore XT cranks see a few cosmetic changes, while remaining largely the same structurally, featuring Shimano’s tried and true Hollowtech forged construction. The cassette and asymmetrical chain introduced last year see no changes, though perhaps the biggest news in this arena however, is the introduction of a double chainring option at the XT level. The double options will be available in 40/28T or 38/26T sizes, and the triple is available in the closely-geared 42/32/24T Dyna-Sys combination we’ve come to appreciate for its stellar shifting performance.

Changes to the cranks are largely cosmetic, however XT will offer a two-ring option for 2012 (not pictured). Photo: Kevin Rouse.

Pedals

A revamp of the Deore XT pedal lineup sees the introduction of a new Trail model, which is nearly identical to is XTR brethren, save for being a touch heavier. Offering boatloads of contact area, they offer a sure-footed platform over burly terrain. The Race model features the same construction minus the added platform, though contact area still increases over the previous Deore XT pedal design. Weights come in at 403 grams for the Trail model and 343 grams for the Race model.

More great trickle down technology. The XT pedals are functionally the same as the XTR, but carry a bit more heft. Photo: Kevin Rouse.

Wheels

Shimano’s XT wheels have been recognized across nearly every discipline as being some of the most bomb-proof wheels on the market. From trials bikes to XC-race rigs, the venerable wheelset offered a no-compromise balance between strength and weight.

The XT wheels will come in two different rim-width configurations: A 19-millimeter internal width 'Race' version and a 21-millimeter internal width 'Trail' version. Photo: Kevin Rouse.

In following the two-trim-level trend, for 2012 both a Race and Trail variant will offered as part of the Deore XT wheel lineup. The Race model features a 19-millimeter internal rim width, and the option of a 15-millimeter QR option in addition to a standard QR up front. The Trail model features a wider, 21-millimeter rim width, and as with the Race model features fully UST-compatible construction. As for axle fitments, the Trail edition features a 15-millimeter QR as the only front option, while either 135-millimeter quick-release or 142×12-millimeter through-axle fitments are available in the rear.

Both wheelsets feature butter-smooth angular contact bearings that allow for easy servicing and long life. Weight figures for the Race and Trail models come in at 1,625, and 1,795 grams respectively.

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