The team at basqueMTB were amongst the first people world wide to ride the new Shimano XT 12 speed drivetrain. That was back in May in the Pyrenees when we organised the launch of the new Orbea Occam and Shimano joined in to preview their drivetrain to the journalist. We had one of the Shimano main guys along on that trip and got the chance to ask him lots of questions. He was a very good guy, a magician at making the beers disappear, and very honest so it was a fantastic opportunity to ask and share our experiences. Read on for the full review, we will do it component by component.
The XT Brakes.
Here you see the support which increases feel.
And here you have the improved end cap thing.
The new Shimano XT brakes are far, far better and improved reliability is promised.Doug´s Comment
Let me go through my experience of the Shimano XT brakes honestly first. Back in 2010 I changed from using SRAM brakes to the Shimano XT brakes. I was having a lot of issues with the SRAM brakes in terms of constantly bleeding, sudden failures and general issues with air entering when they got hot. I switched to the far cheaper Shimano XT brakes and it was night and day: much, much better. I was really happy with the Shimano XT brakes up until 2017, that when we started having lots of problems. You have probably heard this already, we had the dreaded changeable bite point, we had brakes suddenly get air and we had lots and lots of issues with the vertical uplift trailers and bikes arriving to the top not working. All my guides carried a full bleeding kit in their backpacks to deal with the issues. There were other, more terminal issues too though, we had problems with seals failing in the pistons and suddenly having a brake that wouldn´t work and you couldn´t bleed.
To be clear here, our bikes have a very hard life for brakes, especially our hire bikes.
Why is that?
It is because we need to change brakes from UK to EU style, which involves disconnecting the hose. In addition hire bikes tend to be braked a fair bit, with people unfamiliar with the bikes and terrain. The other two factors are the long, long descents we have plus the fact that we run a lot of uplifts, on bumpy tracks using trailers which hold the bikes vertically. A perfect storm for brake problems.
I talked to the Shimano guy honestly about these problems. It seems like we are seeing a far higher instance than other people, something I totally believe. He acknowledged issues though and only told me that we won´t have the same issues with the new brakes. All I can say is so far my experience matches that promise.
Update: Best Discs for Shimano XT Brakes
In summary of my expereinces, the new XT brakes are really, really great. The XTR too, but maybe that´s a different review. I think it´s a good idea to just list the reasons why I think that they are great.
Really good as well! The Shimano XT 12 Speed is a big improvement over the SRAM Eagle I have been using.Doug´s Comment
Update: Shimano XT 12 Speed Clutch Issues
To give the background to this review, I like many people, have been using SRAM for the last several years and have used all levels of their drivetrains. There are a few things which I never liked with SRAM but you get used to it and it is never a problem. To make this review a bit simpler what I´m going to do is list the things with the Shimano XT 12 Speed drivetrain which have stood out and impressed me, in no particular order.
There are some things which are neither here nor there. The cranks are just cranks, I can´t think of anything interesting to say about them at all. They work.
There is one negative on the cassette. It needs Shimano´s own microspline freehub to mount. You probably have read loads about this already, basically Shimano have their own standard to mount the new Shimano XT 12 speed cassettes and it is not backwards compatible. I HATE new standards, we have a fleet of hire bikes and need to carry spares for our bikes, the hire bikes and things we thing our guests might need when we are deep in the Backcountry. It is annoying and expensive to have more standards. Having said that there are a few good reasons for the new standard and on balance the benifits outweigh the annoyances. Here are the benifits.
In balance, for me, the new Shimano XT 12 Speed drivetrain gets a big thumbs up.
Shimano have pulled a definite WIN out of the bag for me. Lets hope they can get the OEM sorted and we start to see more Shimano on fully built bikes. With Orbea you have the option between SRAM and Shimano… All of our team have chosen the Shimano XT with Galfer discs. The only issues we have had is with the clutch on the 12-speed derailleurs. Mostly these have been fixed with a clean and grease, but we have had to return one derailleur under warranty.Doug´s Comment
We have tested the XT extensively. Up until now it has been very positive. We have had one issue with a derralieur as mentioned above. The brakes have been perfect so far. We are hoping to try the Saint Calipers at some point to see if there is a difference.
We have also tested the XTR fairly extensively. The shifting on the XTR feels smoother, it´s lighter, looks cooler and is more expensive. No surprises there then!
I think that you get the idea from above. I love the new Shimano gear. The shifting is brilliant and the brakes work well and the whole package is filled with really nice touches. The whole basqueMTB team can choose whatever drivetrains we want on our bikes and we have all chosen Shimano braking and shifting. It is not perfect but the new Shimano 12 Speed XT kit really does feel like a big improvement and is currently the best out there.
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