2012 Shimano XT Launch: M785 Brakes

by singletrackjon 16

With Shimano’s top flight XTR drivetrain getting a radical makeover last year it was only a matter of time before that groupset’s tech-fest trickled down to the more affordable groupsets. It’s one of the excellent things about mountain bike technology – last year’s pro racer/fat wallet kit will inevitably become affordable to (more of) the masses within a relatively short amount of time.

WTB's Mark Weir and Jason Moeschler suck up the pain above Lake Tahoe. Pic by Sterling Lorence.

Shimano XT has always been the groupset of choice for the ‘enthusiast’ rider that’s massively into biking but isn’t necessarily an out and out racer or just baulks at the high price of the top groupsets. It should come as no surprise that the 2012 edition of Shimano’s venerable (this year is it’s 30th birthday) XT groupset is packed with the wealth of detail and features of the top line groupset but comes in at a significantly lower price for a marginally higher weight.

We were invited out to the Northstar at Tahoe Resort in a sunny, dusty and high altitude California to get our first ride on the entire groupset…

Shimano M785 brakes

Updated XT calliper gets Ice-Tech pads plus ceramic pistons and one-way bleeding system for firm feel.

One of the most obvious part of last year’s XTR redesign being the move away from the radial brake lever and back towards a linear lever. The XT lever gets the same design of neat, stubby brake lever which is perfect for single finger braking, though minus the nice dimples of XTR Trail brake. The brake gets all the adjustment of the latter, namely ‘Free Stroke’ and bite point adjustment. The lever also uses Shimano’s ‘Servo Wave’ technology, a cammed roller that make the pads contact the disk sooner and increases the power by a claimed 20%. The hinged-clamp levers are now compatible with the ‘I-spec’ direct mount shifters for a tidy and marginally lighter setup too.

The story is the same at the disk and calliper, with the XTR trickle down continuing. The aluminium finned, heat dissipating Ice-Tech brake pads come as standard and the disk rotors are all Ice-Tech items too, using a outer layer of steel for durability with an inner core of aluminium for maximum heat dissipation. The rotors will be sized in your pick of 160mm, 180mm or 203mm and they’ll be available in 6 bolt or Centrelock styles, which should keep everyone happy. The pads will come in your pick of resin or sintered compounds and you’re not limited to using the (quite expensive) finned versions if you don’t feel the need for that extra performance.

XT lever gets design cues from XTR, plus same adjustment as the XTR trail brake.

Other changes include the One-Way Bleeding system which aims to prevent air pockets from being trapped by forcing the fluid all the way through the two piece calliper, which is actually stiffer than XTR’s single piece istem. Along with the new Funnel Tool Bleeding system it should make life much easier for mechanics and provide a solid feeling brake.

Shimano were keen to point out that the reason for all this attention to keeping operating temperatures low wasn’t because their normal brakes were failing. It’s all about keeping the temperatures low to give a more consistent feel, free of fade – as well as pad life being improved as a consequence.

So what’s it like to ride? Well, we didn’t get a chance to go on a descent long enough to fry them due to heavy snow remaining on the tops of the mountains but the 160mm front and rear setup we tried was extremely powerful, with a very consistent and solid feeling. The new, stubbier lever is very comfortable to hold and feels nice with either single or dual finger braking. The range of adjustment is decent too, with the bite point control allowing you to get the contact point as close to the bars as you desire. The free stroke adjustment means you can hang position the lever away from the bar if you like or run it close to keep it covered at all times.

XT gets steel outer and aluminium (aluminum?) cored Ice-Tech rotors to keep fade to a minimum.

Power delivery comes on strong – really strong – and it takes a bit of time to get used to how fierce that initial bite is. The claimed 25% power increase over the old brake is more than believeable. Once you’ve got the hang of it, they only require the lightest of touches to manage your speed, which does pay dividends for reduced hand pump and we can imagine most riders quite happily dropping down a rotor size – something we never thought we’d say…

We were using the grabbier sintered pads which were nice and quiet in normal use and, when we managed to find some water to immerse them in the 30°C heat and dust, only gave a little honk before carrying on as usual. If you prefer a bit more leeway with the feel then the resin pads come on less forcefully – but as they will wear faster in the slop it’s horses for courses for British riders.

As you can see from the photos, the brakes and levers will be available in your pick of silver or black. Prices will be £109.99 per end for a full bled lever and calliper without adaptors or rotors but with the neat finned pads. You can buy the lever separately for £39.99 and the calliper for  £54.99 if you’re happy doing your own spannering. Ice-Tech rotors start from £39.99 for the 160mm version, £44.99 for a 180mm rotor and £49.99 for the 203mm. All will availalble from UK importer Madison at some point soon. We’re looking forward to getting out on our local trails with the new brakes soon…

We’ll have the rest of our report on the 2012 Shimano XT groupset, including the drivetrain and wheelsets, coming soon…

Next: Shimano XT M780 Drivetrain, wheels and pedals…

As it happens, if you enter the Shimano Singletrack Classic Weekender on the 9th-10th July you’ll get a chance to win a full, new 2012 Shimano Deore XT groupset and have it fitted to you bike. Head to the entry page HERE to find out more…

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Comments (16)

  1. Not as pretty as XTR, but cracking value.

  2. Not seen them in the flesh yet, but the big reservoir on the XTRs and these is pretty ugly, imo.

  3. Suprised at how reasonably priced they are. Will they work with normal rotors or do they need (thicker?) metal sandwhich ones?

  4. The IceTech rotors are a standard width, so you can use either standard or IceTech rotors.

  5. Wtf are those bubblepack things on the caliper?

    Good value at 200 minus rotor and adaptors so we are talking almost 270 for mid-range brakes?


  6. You’ve got an odd definition of mid-range.

  7. feel was always the downside of Shimano brakes i found (ive got the straight basic XTs, not servo wave ones) but as a person who likes the feel of hayes, it might just be me.
    shame that lever is SO ugly!
    are the finned pads necessary? or do they still accept regular XT pads?
    or on a second look, the caliper is actually pretty different. thats a ball ache.

  8. That all looks good apart from the polished reservoir cap. Bring me my sharpie!

  9. the levers are prettier than the current XTs, no?

  10. I think you meant to say:

    It’s one of the silly [strikethrough] excellent [/strikethrough] things about mountain bike technology – last year’s pro racer/fat wallet silly gimmicks [strikethrough] kit [/strikethrough] will inevitably be intensively marketed [strikethrough]become affordable[/strikethrough] to (more of) the masses next year [strikethrough] within a relatively short amount of time [/strikethrough]

  11. What I’d really like to know is if the latest XT / XTR is compatible with the older stuff? So you could mix and match calipers and levers, or upgrade parts gradually.

  12. Yes, indeed; what are those ugly plastic things on the callipers?

  13. Those “ugly plastic things” are actually extensions of the metal pad backing that act as cooling fins.

    You can’t fit current XT pads in the new caliper but there will be non-finned pads available from both Shimano and after market suppliers that will fit.

  14. psst..! you can win this groupset at next month’s Weekender don’t you know :]


  15. How about Madison supply the pre-bled brakes with a hose length that you can actually put on a bike (even an XL bike with unusual cable routing), rather than suppling them with a hose so long that it can only be for a tandem – thereby negating the point of them being pre-bled anyway as you have to cut them down and re-bleed them anyuway. Now that would be a real move forward?

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