TESTED: Shimano LX Group

WHAT: Shimano LX Group
HOW MUCH: $518 to $684 (not including wheels);
WHERE: www.shimano.com

It's sad when today's budget performance eclipses yesterday's top-of-the-line technology, unless, of course, you're the proud owner of some affordable new equipment. Shimano created a similar situation with its new LX group, which outshines the XTR of just a few years ago in terms of shifting, braking and efficiency.

Admittedly, the dual-control shifters took some getting used to, but the LX levers have less play and feel more solid than its pricier XTR siblings. The shifters click with the authority of a nice ratchet, which, combined with a rapid-rise derailleur, make for very crisp gear changing. From cog to cog, the chain rises and drops the way high-end eight-speed systems did, back when fewer gears crowded rear hubs. And because the brake levers are doing the clicking, shifting is more, well, rapid than Rapidfire.

The Hollowtech II cranks also performed on par with XTR, providing an incredibly stiff platform, and the chainrings, which utilize Shimano's renowned ramps and pins, offered reliably slick shifting. What's the catch? Weight. The LX cranks weigh 927 grams, (XTR cranks weigh only 797 grams). Another downside: As advantageous as external bearings and "two-piece" cranks are, there's only one spindle size. Shimano provides spacers to accommodate different bottom-bracket widths, but this can throw off the chainline or create uneven spacing from left to right.

Users will find no such problems installing the LX hydraulic brakes. They are easy to set up and quick to bleed. They pack more power than a lot of stoppers and still offer great modulation when you just want to scrub off a little speed. For the aggressive kids, Shimano offers a 203-mm rotor in addition to the standard 160 mm.

Just keep in mind, dual-control levers work best with rapid-rise rear derailleurs and only work with Shimano disc brakes.

Forget using your buddy's high-power, six-piston brakes, unless they're Shimano. Replacing brakes also means replacing levers and shifters. But with such solid performance, there are worse component groups to be stuck with.