We’ve ridden it through rock gardens in the rain, we’ve tossed it into a stream and we’ve pedaled back and forth into the various trails that we have here in Singapore. If you’ve missed our first ride impressions in it’s natural habitat, click here to read it. And after 3 months of solid riding with minimal maintenance, we’re glad to share with you our thoughts on one of the most popular groupsets in mountain biking today.
Riding the XT
We’ve had the new 11-speed XT drivetrain fitted to our Specialized Enduro S-Works 29er throughout this long term review, and we felt that a 29er would make the best chassis for long full day rides. Our commute to the trail head in Bukit Timah involves a 28km (to and fro) trip and having that extra mileage on the roads was perfect to feel out the drivetrain and brakes. And after our initial impressions from the first ride has settled in, we decided to dive deeper, and to really find out more about the M8000 groupset.
Ok, lets get our main gripe out of the way first. Shifting the gears is usually the very first thing that you would do when you hop on a bike, and during our first few rides, we felt that the new 11 speed shifters didn’t feel quite as good as the 10 speed M780 trigger shifters. We thought that the initial “roughness” of the shifter paddles would smoothen out after a few rides but it didn’t turned out that way. Don’t get us wrong though, there was nothing wrong with the actual derailleur shift, and everything shifted perfectly even though I had expected a smoother push of the paddle. Shimano claims shifting action to be lighter overall, and even though it functions well, we wished that shifting was smoother.
The shifter paddles do feature dimples and ridges for better ergonomics and shifting in wet or muddy conditions, and this, we liked. There were a couple of rides when we found our gloves dripping wet after being caught in heavy rain, and we never had our thumbs slipping off the paddles during a shift.
At the other end of the shifter, the M8000 rear derailleur did its duty like well trained stealth commando. You know it’s there, moving the chain up and down the 11-42 cassette in the rain, through the mud and under the baking hot sun without a single squeak. According to Shimano, the XT M8000 rear derailleur employs a new hyper low-friction coating technology and an improved pulley design that greatly lightens up the shift operation, allowing up to 20% less effort. We couldn’t agree more. And after 3 months, there’s the regular build up of dried muck with chain lube on it’s pulleys but other than that, a good scrub would leave it as good as new.
We also found the cassette range to be highly effective in the local trails that we have here in Singapore. We’ve ridden BT, Track 15 and Pulau Ubin countless times and as shown in the photo, we basically used every single cog throughout this test. Commuting to the trail head proved to be a good way to see if the narrow chain and 11T could hold on to my huge torque and hold on they did, wonderfully. There’s a couple of steep climbs in BT and Ubin, and we’ve comfortably got up without wishing for any lower gears. We were using a 32T chainring up front and there were once or twice that we thought maybe a 30T would be a better fit for easy spinning.
The brakes did not disappoint. It’s truly value for money when you consider that the performance on these brakes are a whole lot more than those twice it’s retail price. The M8000 brake levers were totally redesigned and it rocks. Looking very close to the XTR variant, the XT levers, calipers and rotors are the best in the business.
The single piston caliper with the finned brake pads are more than powerful to give this 95kg rider total control when the trail gets funky and the short levers are perfect for single finger control and modulation. There wasn’t any brake-fade nonsense and it felt consistent even during long drags downhill. With the XT, it’s rare that you need more than 2 fingers for your bike to go from 40 to 0km/h.
If there’s anything that you would want from the XT, it’s the brakes.
Cranks & Chain
One of the most common questions that I get asked was “Did the chain drop?”
I’ve bashed through rock gardens, took a couple of risky drops, and held my breath while bombing down the last bit of roots before you reach BT’s visitor carpark and I’m glad to say that the answer, my friends, is “No”. I didn’t manage to drop the chain even once. It’s great that Shimano’s own system actually works and to be able to have more ways than one when it comes to chain retention. Swapping out for an aftermarket chainring would mean more dollars for us to spend and honestly, we’d rather not.
Shimano’s own teeth design looks very different from the usual narrow-wide rings from Race Face, Chromag, Wolf Tooth and the likes, and Shimano’s own design do work, and we’re totally convinced. For those who are still a little skeptical and looking for that added bit of security plus total peace of mind, a lightweight top guide would fit perfectly.
The new Shimano XT 29er M8020 Trail wheels are now my new workhorses. Both hubs and rims continue to pleasantly surprise me with it’s strength and durability. I’m not a light rider by any means, and neither am I smooth when I’m charging, but I have to give these wheels a strong grunt of approval for holding up really well during my abuse.
Even though they’re laced with only 28 spokes, they were capable at holding a solid line through rough chutes and not wandering off into an unsuspecting tree. While they don’t look as “enduro” as some other wheels, the tubeless-ready aluminum rims has a respectable 24mm inner width and 27.9mm outer width, and they’ve performed better than we had expected. The only “tsk” point that we have is during hard cornering. Lateral stiffness is important for 29er wheels, and while the XT is definitely strong, cornering hard on these wheels (especially for heavy riders like myself) will cause some flex especially on the front.
The Shimano XT groupset has always been a direct path of upgrade to most mountain bikers including myself, and there’s good reason for that. Dollar for dollar, what riders get back in terms of durability, performance and functionality is precisely why the Shimano XT has gained deep trust amongst riders of all levels.
What we liked:
- Dedicated single ring options with 30T chainring
- Huge cassette range of 11-42
- Precise shifting and silent drivetrain
- Surprisingly excellent chain retention
- Affordable for weekend warriors and riders looking for an upgrade
What we didn’t like:
- Shifter clicks felt more rough than usual
- Shifters look plasticky and not in the same build quality as the rest
- Shimano chains still uses a chain pin
And thanks to the wide gear ratio and options for single and multi-ring cranks, Shimano has made it easy for every rider to choose their own desired setup. The fact that you don’t have to change your rear wheel to use the new 11 speed cassette is a huge plus too. It’s also amazing that gear shifting is on par with previous versions of mechanical XTR and that it gives us riders a high level of performance at a substantially lower price point. While the groupset is understated in terms of looks, Shimano’s no-nonsense approach is valid, which is keeping everyone riding happy in the trails instead of faffing around with pretty but unreliable parts.