Review: Shimano Deore XT MTB Component Group
The Shimano Deore XT lineup as been the staple for Shimano mountain biking since back in the early days. With it’s XTR couterpart, Deore XT has provided high quality components at a mid-level price that parts whores and budget minded riders can all get on board with. Over the years, Shimano has had incredible success with the Deore XT component group, so how does the latest reincarnation of the first mountain bike component group fair?
As Mountain Bikes continue to become more diverse, components must evolve. Deore XT addresses the needs of today’s riders just like it did when it was first introduced back in 1982 as the world’s first MTB group. Revolutionary new designs like the Shimano Shadow rear derailleur complement the the latest evolution of traditional designs to give you the right choice for your riding style.
Shimano Deore XT Cranks
Shown here in a 2×9 setup, the Shimano Deore XT cranks have a long history of providing dependable performance at a reasonable weight (claimed 853g w/BB). The 2009 Deore XT cranks keep the tradition alive with stiff crank arms and consistent shifting. Shimano went to a steel/carbon composite for the middle ring to increase durability and wear period and…throughout the testing period on multiple sets…we didn’t notice any premature wear or shark toothing. I would expect to see the middle ring wear in about the same amount of time as a typical steel ring.
The Shimano Deore attachment system should be the staple that every other crankset bases their design off of (including the XTR set). To this day, there is not an easier to install and setup crankset on the market than the XT’s. With two bolts and one outer, plastic preload cap, the XT’s go on right everytime and leave you with a solid install on the trail that doesn’t creak or loosen up. I have had small issues here and there with every other crank attachment method other than the XT’s. It is just too easy and I am not sure why Shimano changed the XTR’s.
Overall, the XT crankset is still my go to crankset for my personal rides. There are flashier and lighter sets out on the market, but the XT’s are such a great do-it-all set that you see them on everything from XC racers do DH bikes. It’s hard to beat the easy install and consistent performance combo.
Shimano Deore XT Shifters and Derailleurs
On test was the new XT Shadow rear derailleur, SL Rapid Fire Plus shifters and top pull front derailleur. New for 2009, the Shadow rear derailleur has a lower profile design than typical Shimano rear derailleurs.
SHIMANO SHADOW RD: low profile design intended for more aggressive riding. Quiet: will not contact chain stay. Super low profile design carries many benefits. Because of its low profile and single tension construction = no hitting chain stay in rough conditions.The result is smooth and silent performance.
Install and setup is the same as any other Shimano shifting system with their 2:1 pull ratio. Takes a little bit to get things dialed in, but once the cables have stretched and you have your barrel adjusters set, you are good to ride for awhile without adjusting. The Shadow rear derailleur does sit tucked under the chainstay as advertised and…while we really wouldn’t have known unless the regular version was installed…we didn’t have any issues with smacking the RD up against rocks and dirt walls. It seemed to stay nicely out of the way as you can see by the lack of scratches on the outer cage.
Shifting on the rear was crisp and consistent and the 2:1 actuation ratio gives a lighter feeling to the front paddle as you move up the cassette. While I didn’t notice any slap against the chainstay (something that Shimano claims doesn’t happen with the new Shadows over their traditional RD’s), there did seem to be a lot of chain movement on the longer travel bikes. A tighter tension on the cage, a slightly shorter cage or a chain tensioned on the bike itself would have remedied a lot of that.
What can you really say about a front derailleur? You want it easy to setup and you want to forget about it after that. The Shimano XT front derailleur has really become the go to option for mountain bikers as there are not really any competition on the market. It works, it works consistently and is about as easy to setup as a front derailleur can be.
The Shimano Deore XT shifters are Shimano’s 2way design with the front paddle (loosening paddle runs down the cassette or chainrings) actuating in either direction. We saw this introduction from Shimano shortly after the release of the SRAM shifters that only go in the push direction. While having the option to go in either direction is nice on the trail, it did make that front paddle a little bit too long. I found that the front paddle would hit my hand during riding, so I had to move the shifters inboard on the bars more than I would normally. As a result, the front paddle was farther away from my thumb which made quick shifting harder. I would like to see the front paddle get a shorter arm to prevent any interference with my hands during riding.
The shifting action was light and precise with the front paddle having a great ergonomic feel to it has you throw up the cassette or chain rings. The black and silver design matches the rest of the set nicely and blends into the rest of the chaos you have up around your handlebar area.
Shimano Deore XT Hydraulic Disc Brakes
The Shimano Deore XT hydraulic disc brakes got a complete redesign in this model year. The new mono-block design and lever design is stiffer and lighter (claimed 233g) over the previous models. The Shimano XT hydraulic brakes do use mineral oil over hydraulic fluid, so keep that in mind if you go to bleed your brakes.
The braking action on the XT brakes was smooth and consistent. There was accurate modulation throughout the stroke giving me plenty of braking control on the trail. With minimal noise or hassle, they also proved to be very reliable after numerous runs. With the 180mm rotor setup, I didn’t notice any significant brake fade over long downhill runs as the power remained all the way to the bottom.
However, it did seem like there was a little bit of a dead spot in the beginning lever stroke as the first 1/2 inch or so in pull had zero affect on braking. This was consistent across several sets, so I wonder if this has something to do with the way the master cylinder is setup in the lever body.
The calipers each have a direct line without the aid of a banjo fitting for install. In future revisions, I would like to see at least a banjo fitting at the caliper to aid with install and hydraulic line routing.
The Shimano Deore XT hydraulic brake lever has a nice feel to it. The actual lever has much of the same feel as that first time I laid my hands on the original XT v-brakes when they came out years ago. The lever allows for easy one finger braking with a light touch through the stroke. Reach adjustments are made through the black barrel adjuster found at the top of the lever body and adjustments can me made on the trail with gloves on. While Shimano does include a “free stroke” adjustment via a screw on the lever body, I didn’t really notice much of a change when messing with this setting. Having an external bite adjust that is similar to the reach would be a nice addition.
Shimano uses a single bolt attachment for the lever. While I would like to see a 2 bolt clamp for easy of setup and adjustment, I actually ran into a problem with their current design. The Shimano single bolt clamp comes out so far away from the bar that it interferes with adjustable seatpost levers (I actually electrical taped the bar to raise the Gravity Dropper switch above the lever clamp). With everyone else on the market going to a 2 bolt clamping design, this is something Shimano needs to take a close look at for future revisions.
Final Thoughts – Shimano Deore XT Component Group
Shimano has come to the table with another solid setup for mountain bikers. The cranksets are still the best in the industry and with the improvements to the hydraulic brakes and rear derailleurs, Shimano is stepping it back up and providing the bulk of the mountain biking industry with a solid, consistently performing setup. There are a few things I would like to see tweaked and updated, but overall…this upgrade to XT has been one of the best since its release.
What I Liked About The Shimano XT Group
- Best crankset in the industry
- Solid shifting with a lighter feel
- Shadow derailleur actually does stay away from rocks and other trail features
- Great braking modulation and power
- Consistent, quality look throughout the group
What I Didn’t Like About The Shimano XT Group
- Single bolt brake lever attachment dated and interferes with adjustable seatpost switches
- Dead spot in beginning stroke of brakes
- A little bit too much chain movement off rear derailleur
- Front paddle on shifter too long…interferes with hand while riding
Where Can I Buy XT Parts?