News: Shimano Debuts New XTR
Big blue goes 11-speed, but will it be enough to slow the competition?
Shimano XTR M9000
Shimano’s flagship component group, XTR, undergoes a complete redesign every four years or so, making the latest M9000 group right on schedule. The new 11-speed system offers the widest-range cassette Shimano has produced to date, while also expanding chainring configurations, smoothing shift performance and enhancing an already industry-leading braking system.
The new 11-40-tooth cassette is really the heart of the system since its configuration basically determines what winds up on the crankset and influences derailleur design. Right off the bat, you’ll probably notice that this 11-speed cassette doesn’t come close to the gear range of the SRAM 1 x 11 cassette, which gives you a 10-42 tooth range. That’s because Shimano is not designing a single-ring-only system. Shimano still believes in multiple rings, and its argument is compelling. The 11-40 cassette has the same number of gears as SRAM’s 11-speed cluster but has smaller jumps between them, especially as you get into the climbing gears. Shimano figures that most people like to pedal in a 30 RPM ‘power band’ between 60 and 90 RPM. Offering more gears at smaller steps increases the time you can stay within those numbers.
XTR will be offered in double-, triple-, and yes, single-ring configurations. While single-ring setups are super hot right now, Shimano seems to be more heavily focused on perfecting double-chainring setups. Three gear combinations will be available, all with 10-tooth jumps: 34-24, 36-26 and 38-28. It’s basically designed as a single-ring with a bailout, allowing you to stay in the large ring most of the time, but giving you the option of dropping down when the going gets tough. If you need even more gear range, there’s a 40-30-22 triple available. Match that with the 11-40 cassette, and you’ll never have another excuse to walk a climb.
The single-ring option will be available with 30-, 32-, 34- or 36-tooth rings, and uses proprietary tooth shaping for chain retention. The concept is similar to SRAM X-Sync, but is achieved in a different way. Rather than using alternating narrow and wide teeth, Shimano raises and squares off the teeth, and adds a hooked profile to hold the chain down. It’ll be interesting to see how the single ring is adopted. With significantly less range than the competition’s dedicated one-by groups, it might only be accessible to watt-rich riders.
The new Shadow Plus rear derailleur slims down even more, and now offers an externally adjustable clutch. The new design also utilizes a different slant angle, making smoother, more reliable shifting with fewer suspension-activated ghost shifts. The guide pulley is actually positioned farther forward, allowing for more chain wrap, which helps to improve shift quality.
A redesigned front derailleur, called Side-Swing, is said to increase front shifting performance by 100 percent, almost guaranteeing the best front shifting on the market–soon maybe the only. It’s really cool, actually. The cable comes in directly off the downtube, shortening and simplifying cable routing, and reducing system friction. A new cage design provides better tire and chain-angle clearance. As rear suspension activates, the axle moves up relative to the bottom bracket, causing the chain to angle up. The more travel trail bikes get, the larger the angle becomes, calling for a shift in derailleur design.
The M9000 shifters offer many of the same features as the 10-speed triggers, but reduce shifting effort by a claimed 20 percent, and have a blingy new carbon thumb lever. Indexing is a bit more pronounced and the release lever has a slightly different shape and is textured. Like Dura-Ace 9000, the new XTR group is designed around ultra low-friction cables. While they’re admittedly really nice, they cost nearly 30 dollars apiece. Ouch. The new I-spec II mounting system is pretty cool. There’s a shim in the brake clamp that can be removed to provide room for the shifter to sit, clamping it along with the brake.
How do you improve arguably the best brakes on the market? Refinement. Our only real gripe with the XTR Trail stoppers is that the Servo-Wave cam gave the brake a very grabby feel, making power modulation difficult. Shimano has now re-tuned the cam to reduce that feeling, which should help maintain traction in the loose stuff.
The ceramic pistons have been replaced with insulated phenolic glass fiber for better heat management. Freeza rotors, previously only available in 203 millimeters for Saint, will be offered in all sizes, bringing cool temps to trail bikes. XTR Race brakes shed weight by utilizing magnesium for the lever and caliper, and ditching the Servo-Wave cam.
Pricing has not been announced yet, but if you’re interested be sure to start saving now for when M9000 hits later this summer.