SHIMANO XT LINKGLIDE REVIEW
LONG LASTING MTB DRIVETRAIN THAT SAVES YOU $$
Words by Drew Rohde | Photos by Staff
If there’s something we’ve learned during our time in the bike industry it’s that Shimano doesn’t move quickly and when they make a claim, it’s usually an accurate and maybe even conservative one. So when Shimano released their 10-speed and 11-speed LinkGlide drivetrain with a bold claim of it being three times (3x) more durable than their high-performing HyperGlide + components, we knew there would be some elated mile-crunchers out there. Whereas the HyperGlide + drivetrain prioritizes weight, and shift speed above all else, Shimano’s LinkGlide is designed to offer the smoothest, most durable and longest lasting drivetrain components for hard chargers, eMTB riders and those who spend time in sloppy or nasty conditions. We installed an 11-speed Shimano Deore XT LinkGlide system on our Pivot Shuttle LT eight months ago and have ridden everything from PNW slop to a multi-state road trip through the dry and dusty desert as part of our eMTB Destination Tour. Here is our feedback after months and miles of abuse and neglect.
There’s plenty of stuff to evaluate when considering a switch to Shimano LinkGlide. The first thing to decide is whether you’ll be going for 10-speed or 11-speed, for our review we went with the 11-50-tooth 11-speed option. So, let’s start with the cassette.
Both 10s and 11s cassettes use the HG freehub design, which hopefully means more riders will have the opportunity to run this system without needing to buy a new driver body or freehub. Keeping in line with the LinkGlide line, the cassette claims to be three times more durable than a HyperGlide cassette and features a completely new set of shift gates and feel. More on that below. The optimized teeth shape are chamfered, drastically thicker, tapered and feature 2-way shifting guides. All these design elements mean the Shimano LinkGlide cassette has drastically reduced pedal shock or shift shock. That’s what riders feel (and hear) through the pedals when shifting into harder gears quickly while pedaling. The increase in size of teeth means less deformation and longer lasting components all around, not to mention more dependable shifting.
Speaking of shifting, the revamped shifting gate profile and positions are designed to maximize the probability of a smooth shift that will not damage chain links or increase wear to the cassette, albeit at a slower shift speed than the HyperGlide cassette. There is no denying the magic of the LinkGlide system is largely due to the design of the cassettes. Shimano offers five different LinkGlide offerings with various gear ranges, all of which cost a bit less than other premium 12-speed units that won’t last nearly as long. Speaking of replacing components, the 11, 13, and 15t cogs are replaceable on the LinkGlide cassettes as they are the ones that wear quickest, once again showing Shimano’s dedication to keeping riders going longer for less.
Moving the chain up and down this affordable cassette is your choice of Deore or Deore XT LinkGlide derailleurs. Boasting the same Shadow+ technology and shift performance found on other Shimano mechs, the XT LinkGlide appears understated in its matte black finish. With sealed bearings and coated link bushings the XT mech held us to plenty of abuse, never came loose and helped keep the chain on my Shuttle LT on everything from old Red Bull Rampage site rides to bashing through the rocks of Phoenix, Arizona.
Actuating the derailleur is a Deore or Deore XT LinkGlide shift lever. Mounting options come in the form of an I-Spec or traditional clamp style and the I-Spec even has some customizable ergonomics for fine tuning the fit. The RapidFire Plus shifters offered a nice feel and allowed for quick, solid shifts when needed.
Unlike Shimano’s HyperGlide, the new LinkGlide does not rely on a special chain, however Shimano does have a LinkGlide chain for maximum performance and durability enhancements. But if you love running colored aftermarket chains to customize your ride, you’ll be happy to know the LinkGlide cassette will accommodate.
We installed the LinkGlide system back in the Spring of 2023, a wet, never-ending winter that gave us a perfect break-in season for the durability claims of this drive unit. As soon as things started to dry up and temperatures began to rise, we hit the road for a multi-stop eMTB Destination Tour that took us across the southwest with tons of hard-charging miles and neglect in the rocky, dusty desert. Here are my biggest takeaways.
Without a doubt I believe that this system held up better than just about anything else I could have put on the bike before this trip. Not only do the teeth, chain and parts generally look good and like their ready for more, but I also did zero maintenance or tuning throughout the trip. At this point I can’t even remember how many (or few) times I lubed the chain. Seeing as we typically don’t keep parts as long as the normal consumer, we do our best to neglect parts to expedite wear. Like power washing, avoiding lube and generally treating drivetrains like a gorilla trying to open a laptop. Aside from some desperate creaking from a bone-dry chain, the system never made a bad noise or let us know it was unhappy.
Shifting performance is admittedly slower and for racers who are looking for those instantly fast shifts while sprinting out of corners, it could be a deal-breaker. Then again, racers who are that in-tune and demanding for split second performance gains are likely not paying for their products anyways. For the rest of us, the extra split second of cranking before a nice, smooth shift is well worth the hundreds of dollars in savings felt each season.
In a time when some drivetrain and component manufacturers seem to see just how crazy and expensive, they can make their products, its refreshing to see a brand set-out to make something that not only costs-less but also doesn’t need to be replaced as often! Not a business model we see many brands continuing on these days as consumerism and single-use products seem to have taken over. So, we applaud Shimano for their product no matter how eco-conscious, altruistic, or not, their motives were, we appreciate it.
The Wolf’s Last Word
If another rider asked me in the parking lot, “What do you think of LinkGlide? Should I buy it?” I would respond in typical fashion, by asking them questions. I’m a “professional” bike reviewer what can I say? Is the fastest, most precise and urgent shifting performance necessary for you? Do you mind adding 300 grams of weight to your drivetrain? Do you have to ride XTR or other top-tier flashy components for one reason or another? If not, are you comfortable compromising a little bit of weight and a slower shift while cranking for the sake of saving yourself money and time? Are you fine not having to work on your bike as much or paying to replace expensive chains and cassettes? If that seems like a reasonable trade that you would be willing to make, I would suggest LinkGlide very much. Especially if you’re a newer rider, eMTB rider or like shifting hard while on the pedals.
If I were opening up my wallet and paying for parts to keep my eBike on the trail month in and month out, LinkGlide would be my choice without a doubt. I think the biggest gains will be felt by eMTB riders and strong, heavy-legged riders who power-shift on technical climbs. This isn’t likely a necessary move for non-ebikes unless you’re lucky enough to rack up miles at a rate that has you replacing parts more than you’d like.
WEIGHT & PRICE
Cassette: 790gr | $189
Chain: 257g | $45
Derailleur: 303g | $189
Shifter: 132g | $115
Total Drivetrain Price: $538