Shimano XT brakes.

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First published in Singletrack magazine issue 95

Part one of my XT groupset review (in issue 94) looked at what currently makes my bike go. Part two, right here on these pages, looks at what makes it stop: at the moment, it’s Shimano’s XT hydraulic disc brakes, and I like them quite a lot.

The funny thing about Shimano brakes is that it can take folk a shockingly long time to come around to them. Even if they’ve got the Japanese componentry giant’s brakes specced on their bike from new, they still have to work their way through all the shiny, aftermarket ‘upgrade’ brands, living with so-so performance, dubious longevity, compatibility issues and fiddly servicing while being blinded by the light glinting from CNCed calipers and carbon-bladed brake levers. It can take more than one trailside emergency bodge to persuade them that there is another, less glamorous but also less painful way – but once they’ve made the jump, few riders go back.

You can run these brakes just as they come from the factory and you’ll get top performance, but if you have quirky preferences (or small or feeble hands) then there’s both reach and ‘free stroke’/bite-point adjustment available, all you need is a cross-head screwdriver and a few moments fettling time. At the caliper end, there’s plenty of clearance between pads and rotor even in really gritty conditions, reducing pad wear a little.


Set-up is both straightforward and adaptable. They’re available from Madison via your LBS in a fully bled and ready to go caliper/lever/hose set, as well as in their constituent parts, and you’re just left to choose your preferred rotor size and fitment, plus adapters if necessary. They’re IceTech brakes but out of sheer laziness I’ve also run regular steel rotors too with no trouble.

Bleeding, which Shimano recommends you do from the lever down, is super easy, and the system uses mineral oil, not corrosive DOT fluid – a bonus for home mechanics/serial fiddlers. That said, I’ve only bled the front brake once in the name of research – it didn’t really need it and both brakes are still working as well now after six months of neglect as they did when new out of the box.

I’d be lying if I said I’d really ridden anywhere on these brakes which would have let me notice the benefits of the additional cooling and increased performance the IceTech system is said to provide, so I’m not going to comment on whether or not the aluminium/steel sandwich rotors and the finned brake pads actually help or not. It’s been a while since I’ve boiled a brake… I’ve done plenty of sustained descents in the Lakes and Scotland though and have never had anything but powerful braking out of them.

One of the best things about these (and most other Shimano) brakes for me though is the lever feel. Sharp and snappy, it’s a world away from the characteristic sponginess of some other brakes currently on the market. The XTs are so powerful that if you’re coming from another brake it can take a few rides to get used to their on/off nature, but once you’ve adjusted you’ll find that you spend less time feathering the brakes ‘just in case’, and far more time with your knuckles wrapped firmly around the bar having loads of fun. Or at least I did, anyway.


Reliable, affordable and powerful braking for the masses. Brilliant.


Review Info

Brand: Shimano
Product: XT brake
From: Madison,
Price: £84.99 per end caliper/lever/hose, £32.99 (160mm)/£36.99 (180mm) IceTech rotors.
Tested: by Jenn for Six 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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Comments (0)

    Just swapped to XT from a n other mono, and couldn’t agree more. Mega brakes.

    I’ve been using Xt brakes for years, (actually since cantis so a long long time). The only issue I have with the current ones is the levers. The piston in them seizes up after a while. Probably from washing bike and getting muck in but they don’t seem to be serviceable. You end up pulling on the lever and it stays there, meaning that the caliper pistons also stay locked on the disc. I’m on my 3rd set of levers which is getting annoying as they’re otherwise fit and forget.

    Mega brakes, even I can bleed them. Never had any issues with them

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