Shimano XT and SLX Launch
Words by Chili Dog
Photos by Paris Gore, Sterling Lorence, Chili Dog
Just about one year ago, Shimano invited us to the mountains of Crested Butte, Colorado to experience a newly redesigned 12-speed XTR groupset. While the trails blew our minds, the performance and smoothness of the new group was something like we’d never experienced before. Shimano’s reinvention of the XTR group was just that; a complete re-design and re-thinking of their entire groupset from square one. The results were impressive, with top notch ergonomics and on trail performance. Sadly, Shimano struggled deliver the new XTR group in a timely fashion and it’s something they made sure not to do again with the new XT and SLX.
We just got home from a couple day trip to Bellingham, Washington for the launch of the new Shimano XT and SLX groupset. As you probably know, XTR, XT and SLX all share the same basic features and feel, but with varied materials, coatings and tweaks to meet various price points.
With Shimano launching both XT and SLX at the same time, there’s enough technical information, numbers, sizing options and confusing Shimano part names to make your head spin. We’ll keep this simple and get into the basic tech of the important bits. If you want more detailed information on any of the specific parts or specific variations for your bike, head to the Shimano website as they have everything broken down.
For those that missed the story from Crested Butte last summer covering the launch of XTR, Shimano completely redesigned their flagship mountain bike group to bring them up to speed with modern consumer demands. And now, one year later XT and SLX are updated to match their high end sibling in the typical trickle-down flow.
ERGONOMICS At the core of the re-design is the cockpit ergonomics. Shimano worked long and hard to redesign the ergonomics of the shifter, brakes and dropper post. Fitting with Shimano’s Make Your Mark slogan, there is substantial adjustability in the system, which allows rider to fine tune reach and fit angles on the bar. For XT, the shifter lever has 30 degrees of rotation from the brake lever, and moves in a 14mm long sliding track to adjust the reach in and out on the bar. Shimano’s new dropper remote follows the same principals on the left side of the bar. The set up is neat, clean and offers much needed adjustment for riders that have large or small hands.
On the XTR shifters, replaceable rubber grip pads are added to the shifters and dropper remote to add grip in wet conditions. To reduce costs on XT, the rubber pads are retained in the paddle, but are not replaceable. With wet Bellingham conditions, we were able to test the function of the pads first hand and can verify the improvement in grip.
The double shift capability is also retained from the previous generation, but with updates. Instead of the equal force clicks the system had before, the new XTR, XT and SLX require just slightly more effort for the second shift, completely eliminating accidental double shifts in rough terrain. It’s intuitive and makes the already natural feeling shift action of the system even better.
BRAKES Shimano’s brake feel and levers have been a polarizing topic, but the new design and feel is sure to please more people than ever. To improve rigidity, the levers now have two contact points with the bar: one at the clamp, and a separate point towards the lever itself. This change improves rigidity and lever feel under hard braking. Shimano also tuned the servo wave curve with a different ramp to improve lever feel. For those wondering, it does decrease the on/off feel that Shimano opponents nag about, but still retains the quintessential Shimano feel. I for one think it’s the best and most natural feeling brake lever out there.
XT keeps the same great feel we’ve grown to love, and has both a two and four piston option. We’re also happy that both groups will offer a two or four piston brake option. This year marks the first time ever that SLX is offered in a four piston design. We hope to see a lot more four piston Shimano brake spec on eMTB’s since the added weight makes the spec very necessary. This year also marks the first time Freeza rotor technology is used in XT and SLX brake rotors, which will also hopefully find its way to more OEM e-bike spec.
DRIVETRAIN Much like the overhaul to last year’s XTR, Shimano started at the drawing board to rethink XT and SLX. Of course the whole reason for the redesign was to introduce a 12-speed option, but Shimano actually broke the 12-speed cassette into two variants. The first is a 10-51 tooth 12-speed Wide Range cassette that offers 510% gear range. If you’re keeping track that’s one tooth more than Eagle. The second option is a 10-45 tooth 12-speed Rhythm Step that offers a 450% gear range with more even gear steps. Shimano also made significant changes to the tooth profile on their cassettes to provide the contact necessary for Hyperglide+. XC nerds can rejoice since the double front chain rings and derailleurs are also retained for XT and SLX. We’re curious to see how much longer that stays true however.
In our opinion the biggest difference in the drivetrain is of course Hyperglide+, which was initially debuted last year on XTR. When shifting from a big cog to a small cog, a chain traditionally wants to eject into the smaller cog. Shimano’s goal is to move the driving force smoothly between gears and thus improve shift smoothness. The Hyperglide system solves that problem by relying on chain tension, and updated tooth design and an updated chain profile with an extended interlink plate and tooth profile. The inner plate is in contact with every tooth of the drivetrain, so it’s not only quieter but now allows better power transfer to hold two gears simultaneously during a shift. In a nutshell, the harder you push, the smoother your shift. It’s the polar opposite to a traditional drivetrain and resulted in a rather rude awakening once I returned home to the current Shimano and SRAM product on our test bikes.