Shimano announced lots of interesting new gear at Sea Otter last week. The company showed an 11-speed 105 group set that brings lighter action and better braking to the third-tier components. It debuted mechanical shifters that incorporate hydraulic brakes, which should make road discs accessible to more people by extending the choice beyond 2014’s single electronic offering. And it rolled out a whole new range of affordable road wheels.
But the most anticipated debut of all are the brand new XTR 9000 components. About a year after SRAM launched its dedicated XX1 drivetrain, the Japanese manufacturer is finally adding 1x11 functionality.
The new XTR setup isn’t just an XX1 copy, however. Shimano’s rear cassette will feature a narrower 11-40 tooth gear range (compared to SRAM’s 10-42). That might seem like a disadvantage, but the company says it stuck with the tighter range to maintain smaller jumps between gears. It also means that the new cassette will remain compatible with any 10- or 11-speed free hub body (whereas you need a special free hub to run SRAM’s 11-speed setups).
More importantly, the 11-40 XTR cassette is compatible with a single ring in front as well as with new double- and triple-ring configurations. So riders can fully customize their drivetrain, with either 11, 22, or 33 gears. Thankfully, the new cranks are designed to be modular, meaning riders can run any of the front ring configurations on the same crank set. (SRAM XX1 and X01 require a dedicated one-ring crank.) The triple option (40-30-22) paired with the new, bigger cassette also lets Shimano claim the widest gear range ever available.
In a further nod to versatility, Shimano will maintain its dual range approach, with the new XTR continuing to be offered in both a lightweight Race spec and a burlier Trail configuration. Other than the Race and Trail crank choices, the biggest options are in the new brakes. The Race brakes save weight with magnesium calipers and master cylinders and feature a carbon fiber lever blade. The Trail brakes have an aluminum caliper for more stopping power as well as finned ICE-Tech pads and rotors for better heat dissipation. Both brakes get new insulated pistons and pads for improved heat resistance.
Overall, it looks like some highly refined changes and improvements to Shimano’s top-shelf mountain components. There are also long-awaited additions to the group, including carbon clinchers and tubulars, which are boiled down from the company’s excellent road wheel program of the last few years.
Shimano clearly realized that it was a step behind SRAM in the 1x11 game, and we’re glad to see that the company didn’t just follow the American manufacturer, but added its own innovations. It’s impossible to judge the new gear until we’ve had a chance to ride it, which we’ll do as soon as it’s available. However, given that we already feel that XTR is the gold standard of mountain bike components, we don’t expect to be disappointed.