Shimano XT drivetrain

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This drivetrain went straight onto my most – and, therefore, least – loved bike. Most loved because it’s awesome and I ride it all the time; least loved because I’d rather be riding it than cleaning or fixing it, so it tends to get a bit neglected. When it comes to my own bikes, I’m not a serial fettler – once I’ve found products that work I tend to stick with them and for that reason I had great expectations of Shimano’s XT kit. It’s just one step down from the brand’s top-end, racer-only XTR marque. As far as I’m concerned, the difference (apart from that pesky new 11-speed thing, which I’m happy to wait for) is solely weight and aesthetics. And, while XTR is featherweight, XT is hardly lardy.

The double chainset is available with several chainring configurations, to suit wheel size and terrain preference – 38/24, 38/26 and 40/28T – and four different crank lengths, from 165 to 180mm. There’s also a triple-ring version available if you want or need 30 different speeds. This iteration of the crank seems to be slightly less susceptible to heel rub – I certainly haven’t changed my legs, feet or pedalling style so that must be something to do with the new shape. I also have no complaints with Shimano’s own Hollowtech II bottom brackets; they seem to last long enough for me (possibly something to do with the fact that when I do clean my bike, it tends to be with bucket and sponge rather than jetwash or hose). I’ve never felt the need to upgrade, and the same is true of this one, which is still running smooth.

The performance expected is present and correct with the mechs, too. The rear has the obligatory clutch mechanism to quieten chain slap and reduce unintentional derailing. It’s the now-familiar, low-profile Shadow shape, and comes in short or long cage versions. Jockey wheel bearings are sealed and pivots and spring are all easily accessible for the odd squirt of lube. The front mech is absolutely nondescript, just as you’d expect a front mech to be, and comes in direct mount, clamp-on and E-stay versions. The cassette comes in 11-32, 34 or 36T flavours and the six largest sprockets are carrier-mounted (leaving just the smaller four to munch through your lightweight alloy freehub body…).

Shifters have removable optical displays, two-way release on the upshift lever and a nice shape which sits neatly alongside the matching XT brakes (look out for a test of these next issue). The only bit of this drivetrain I didn’t fit was the chain (though it’s listed above for completeness), because I much prefer KMC’s tool-free reusable split links to Shimano (or indeed SRAM) fitments, simply for the ease of trailside repair. And, though you can in practice add one to a Shimano (or SRAM) chain, I don’t think it’s recommended – so I’m not recommending it…

Thankfully, shifting doesn’t seem to suffer at all from this deviant, mix-and-match approach. The shifters themselves are especially impressive, with little force required to move the chain up or down the sprockets, the ability to drop a handful of gears at one push and a nice positive click to let you know when you’ve shifted. There’s very little chain noise, even on grubby days and wear seems to be reasonable – there’s no burring appeared yet on either chainrings or cassette. But (there’s always a but): mechs just don’t seem to last as long as they used to. I know I’m not the only person with a prized but obsolete, decade-old XTR rear mech stashed away which still works perfectly, just as I know that in another six months time this XT one will probably be rattling, sloppy and in need of replacement, like its immediate predecessors. In return we get quieter shifting, less chain slap and better chain retention – all things that are worth having – but I’d love to see a return to the longevity of yore, too.

Overall: About as perfect as a fit-and-forget drivetrain currently gets.

Review Info

Brand: Shimano
Product: XT drivetrain
From: Madison,
Price: £396.94 (chainset and bottom bracket £149.99, front mech £26.99, rear mech £69.99, cassette £44.99, shifters £79.99, chain £24.99)
Tested: by Jenn for Three months.

Jenn Hill was the deputy editor here at Singletrack up until her untimely death from Lung Cancer in October 2015. She was and remains an inspiration to us all here at Singletrack. Jenn Hill - 1977-2015

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