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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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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