First off, big thanks to Shimano Singapore for inviting us to be part of this year’s Shimano Media Camp, and for letting us try out the new XT M8000 components for an awesome day out at the Ketam Mountain Bike Park in Pulau Ubin. Joined by fellow bike journalists from Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, we brought the new 11 speed groupset out into the wild and got ourselves some first ride impressions in it’s natural habitat.

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Highlights

For our friends who are new to the sport, the Shimano XT groupset is the most trusted and reliable groupsets in mountain biking history. The very first Shimano XT to come off the production line was waaayyy back in 1983, the same year Steve Jobs unveiled Lisa, the first apple computer with a graphical user interface, and also these guys. Back then, it was known as the Deer Head group, with it’s logo resembling a deer head with antlers. It started life with the M700 series moniker, and it’s been a staple component on mountain bikes all over the world. Fast forward to 2015, the Shimano XT has seen over 32 years of innovation and it’s safe to say that there’s not many bike parts in the world today that has been around that long.

It was obvious that almost all of the components in the 2016 Shimano XT are very different from the previous version, with the most talked-about change that its now an 11 speed groupset. With trickle down technology, you’ll be glad to know that the XT shares almost all of the functionality of the mechanical XTR, but at a much more wallet-friendly price. Here’s some of the main highlights that we’ve gathered from just looking at the new XT;

  • 11 speed drivetrain with 2 cassette options of 11-42T (for single ring cranksets) and 11-40T (for double and triple ring cranksets)
  • A dedicated single chainring crank with a new broader teeth profile
  • A new side swing front derailleur, and a new cleaner rear derailleur
  • A new SPD pedal with a different cage and more cleat support
  • New front and rear shifters that felt crisp and light during shifting
  • A new brake caliper that look similar to the new XTR

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The Ride

We started the day early at 7:30 in the morning where I met the rest of the journalists who had traveled to Singapore to experience the new groupset for themselves, and I had the new 1×11 XT built up on a Specialized Enduro S-Works 29er which previously had an equivalent Sram 1×11 drivetrain. I’ve had the Specialized Enduro for a while now and was quite used to the gear ratios, and I was looking forward too see how it could perform.

Heading off from Changi, we took our bikes on a boat and soon arrived at one of Singapore’s most popular trails, the Ketam Mountain Bike Park. Pretty soon, we were off the gravel path and into the start of a switchback climb that instantly allowed all of us to scramble for a lighter spinning gear.

Drivetrain

I opted for the 1×11 drivetrain with a 32T chainring paired with a Rhythm Step 11-42 teeth cassette. It’s a combo that I’ve used before and I was definitely in my comfort zone. The new 11 speed drivetrain felt flawless on the first climb into Ketam, and shifting into my 42 teeth cog felt light, crisp and very precise on the first try. The whole drivetrain was very quiet too, and I could only hear my tyres and my heavy breathing panting while scrambling up the tight technical switchbacks. The rear derailleur shifted precisely on the spin, and the chain pickup on the cassette was legendary XT stuff.

The rear derailleur, chain and cassette was virtually silent, and felt smooth throughout, while the rear shifter had solid, well-defined clicks. The silence was only broken when I shifted through the gears, where I heard the familiar “gunk” sound when the chain drops into a smaller cog. Shifting through the 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-37-42 gears felt very light and you can multi-shift in both directions.

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We’ve also asked our Facebook reader to post any questions that they might have on the new XT M8000, and Felix Austin has this to ask;

I would like to know the advantage/disadv of 11-40/11-42 especially from someone coming from 2×10. Also, I’m not sure if the trigger mechanism is new but how is the front trigger which allows back push or front pull trigger in terms of ergonomics. Thanks

Answer: Well, the are always advantages and disadvantages of going 1×11, and we’ve covered quite a bit in one of our articles titled “One Ring To Rule Them All”. We’ve listed out some really good points in that article, so we hope that helps. However, if you’re going 2×11, we recommend you to go with 11-40T, and you’ll have enough gears for most of what we have here in Singapore and even in the asian region. No disadvantages that we can think of, unless weight is a primary concern for you. The M8000 trigger shifter is completely new, designed for 11 speed, and the trigger does allow you to pull with your index finger to shift to a heavier gear. Overall, the shifting felt light and easier.

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For those who are familiar with Ketam, you’ll know how the trail rocks can too friendly. Pedal strikes are quite common in Ketam, and sometimes, unforgiving. Having cleared most of the climbs on the first half of the trail, we were soon into some downhill fun. Here’s where I was waiting for the inevitable to happen. For those familiar with Ketam, there are some downhill sections that were kinda rough, and it was the perfect scenario to see if the new teeth profile on the front chainring would do it’s job.

So did the chain dropped off? Nope. It stayed exactly where it was supposed to be.


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While the downhill section in Ketam is relatively mild when compared to other trails throughout Asia, it’s up to you to decide if a simple top chain guide would provide a peace of mind if you should ever ride anything rougher than what we have here. Bukit Timah has a nice rock section where countless chains have been dropped and it’ll be interesting to see if the new broad teeth profile would hold up there.

And speaking of the new chainring, it came paired up with the new XT crankset that has the distinctive 2 tones of black on it’s crank arms. We were also told that the M8000 is only available in black, and for those looking for a silver color option, it looks like you’re out of luck. The M8000 crankset shares the same 96mm BCD with the M9000 series XTR, and there are already some aftermarket chainrings available if you’re planning to go that route.

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The new XT pedals are slightly different from the older version though, with a slightly bigger contact platform for your SPD shoes, and a smoother outer cage. Clipping in felt exactly the same so that shouldn’t pose any problem for those who runs clipless pedals. The XT pedals has steel axles and sealed ball-bearings.

Braking

These brakes remain the standard of stopping capabilities. The one finger lever has enough pull to send you over the bars if you’re not careful and pulling off drift skids was effortless. We’ve heard reports of brake-pump issues but we’re glad to report that we didn’t have any of that and brake-fade was non existent. The new XT levers has a brand new clamp and a new i-Spec II mount for integrating with your shifters and freeing up space on your handlebars.

The caliper and rotor combo worked perfectly on the first ride as well. Being fresh out of the box, we had to give it a couple of hard initial brakes to get the pads to rough up, and it was all good throughout the ride. I had no problems feathering the brakes to check my speed, and instant braking power was always there whenever I need it.

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Wheels

The new Shimano XT 29er Trail wheels are legendary in their own right. The new wheels are available in Trail M8020 or Race M8000 versions with 28 butted spokes. Both M8020 and M8000 wheels features UST-tubeless aluminium rims and are built with 24 or 20mm inner rim widths respectively. The XT wheels are only available in 27.5″ and 29″ and we’re using the 15mm thru-axle on the front, with 142×12 on the rear.

Throughout our first ride, the wheels were performing as expected. Everything was smooth and there wasn’t any weird stuff going on and it felt good from the get go. The freehub body on the Shimano XT wheels had that familiar muted Shimano clicks and freehub engagement was acceptable. The only thing that we didn’t like was the loud audible “clanng” noise that came from the freehub whenever you do a half pedal stroke. Even though the wheels are not as wide as the recent trends, they proved to be just as strong and everything was still straight and true after we’ve completed the ride.

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Our Verdict

As with everything that’s new, the Shimano XT M8000 groupset has definitely set the bar higher in terms of cost vs gains. We think this affordable groupset outperforms some XTRs from previous generations, and even though it was only one ride, I was very impressed with the overall performance.

We have one more question from another Facebook user, Malik Noentil; “Given a choice between SRAM X01 and XT and bearing in mind performance/price, which would choose? And why?”

Answer: Given a choice between XO1 and XT, I’d choose XT. I think alot of riders are still not going to 11-speed (before M8000 was released) because they have to purchase a new rear freehub, a whole new hub or a complete rear wheel, and I was in the exact same position back then. Spending extra on an XD freehub that was hard to find was enough to put me off from going 11 speed. Shimano’s 11 speed XT/XTR cassette works on existing freehubs. Also, XT brakes.

We also had a couple of users who wanted to know the prices but I’m afraid we don’t have that info for now. The new XT M8000 is already available in all good bike shops so do call up your favourite shops to find out more. If you’re on the fence about upgrading to 11 speed, we highly recommend the Shimano XT.

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SingaporeMTB.com

A bike aficionado with a soft spot for cat videos. He's always on the hunt for new adventures and you can find him spinning on his granny gear around Bee Tee.

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