Shimano XTR Groupset | Premium Components Punished Through Winter

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It’s no secret that Shimano was a bit late to the game with their 12 speed drivetrains. While the other ‘Big S’ was cornering the market for wide range single ring setups, Shimano was beavering away getting their products developed to the standard they wanted before releasing to the public. That’s all changed now though with Shimano having a full family of 12 speed drivetrains, from functional SLX right through to top of the tree XTR. While SLX and XT were launched last year, we originally saw the Shimano XTR groupset way back in May 2018 but didn’t get our hands on a full drivetrain until late last year. 

shimano xtr 1x12 drivetrain
The M9100 XTR looking nice and shiny

Designed as the ultimate in race componentry, the new Shimano XTR is the culmination of 27 years of continual development. With multiple options for drivetrain and braking, the new XTR M9100 12 speed groupset offers solutions for elite racers, and those looking for ultimate performance and weight. Designed to cover the needs of the world’s fastest racers in disciplines ranging from marathon and XC, through to full blown enduro, we’ve now spent a good few months aboard the M9100 groupset. 

With drivetrain options for 1×12, 2×12 and even 1×11 in the new range, and multiple braking options, there should be a set up for everyone. This review covers the 1×12 drivetrain and 4 piston trail brake options, aimed at the more enduro end of the market. 

The Components

  • XTR SL-M9100-R RAPIDFIRE PLUS – Right Shift Lever – Clamp Band – 12-speed – £94.99
  • XTR FC-M9120-1 Hollowtech II Crankset 168 mm Q-Factor – £314.99
  • XTR SM-CRM95 32 Tooth Chainring – £99.99
  • XTR BL-M9120 Hydraulic Disc Brake Trail Lever I-SPEC EV Clamp Band – £229.99 each end
  • XTR RT-MT900 CENTER LOCK – Disc Brake Rotor – ICE TECHNOLOGIES FREEZA – 203/180mm – £59.99 each
  • XTR CS-M9100-12 12-Speed MTB Cassette – £299.99
  • XTR RD-M9100-SGS Rear Derailleur – Long Cage – SHIMANO SHADOW RD+ – 12-speed – £99.99
  • XTR CN-M9100 12-Speed – HYPERGLIDE+ Chain – £54.99
  • XTR SM-BB93 Hollowtech II Threaded Bottom Bracket – £49.99

The RapidFire Plus shifter uses an updated I-spec EV mounting to connect to the brakes, which has increased lever slide range and has 60 degrees of rotation for getting your cockpit dialled in exactly how you like. There have also been ergonomic improvements with a claimed 20% quicker lever access time and a 35% reduction in the force required to operate the shifter over the previous M9000 range. And as you’d expect from a top end Shimano shifter, the M9100 features 2-Way Release and Multi Release for fast and efficient gear changes.

New shifter, and note the brake brace.

The new Shimano XTR cranks, or to give them their full name – XTR FC-M9120-1 – feature a completely new construction and now utilise direct mount chainrings rather than the four bolt spider seen on previous groupsets, and also sees Shimano move away from their usual two pinch bolt design to single central direct mounting bolt and adjustment nut for connecting the two parts of the cranks. The new cranks use a 52mm chainline across the board, with no separate options for boost / non-boost and are available with chainrings ranging from 30 – 38 tooth and 165, 170 and 175mm lengths. Our test cranks are 170mm and were supplied with a 32 tooth chainring. 

New direct mount chainring

Our test drivetrain has the biggest cassette in the new range with sprockets ranging from 10-51 tooth giving a 510% gear range. Using Shimano’s new Microspline freehub standard only, the new XTR 9100 cassette is manufactured from three different materials for maximum weight saving and durability, The largest sprockets are manufactured from alloy, the mid range is titanium with the smallest sprockets being made from steel. All sprockets feature Shimano’s Hyperglide+ tooth profile. Ratios for the 10-51 cassette are  10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-33-39-45-51.

You can see the different materials on the massive cassette

With our 1 x 12 test sample using the 10-51 cassette, we were also sent the long cage rear mech (the medium cage is for the smaller 10-45 12 speed cassette). As usual the derailleur utilises Shimano’s Shadow Plus clutch mechanism to keep things quiet and minimise chain slap, although Shimano has also decreased the derailleur tension in the lowest gear to decrease chain tension and quieten things down. The jockey wheels have also increased in size over previous versions and are now 13 tooth.

Redesigned lever

With our test sample being the more enduro focused groupset, we‘ve been using the M9120 4 piston calipers and M9120 Trail levers. The M9120 Trail levers differ from the standard M9100 lever option by the inclusion of tool free reach adjust and bite point adjust. While the new M9120 lever looks similar to the previous Shimano XTR level one, look closer and you’ll see that the clamp band has been moved in board and where it used to sit is now a brace that sits against the bar for additional stiffness. The new levers continue to use Shimano’s Servowave technology for fast pad engagement, with the new levers benefiting from even quicker pad engagement and less free stroke. Other updates include a revised lever blade shape and a faster rebound action.  

The updated caliper is machined from a single cold forged block to keep things as rigid as possible and inside the caliper are four ceramic pistons. Those pistons clamp onto Shimano Ice Tech Freeza Rotors that are designed to dissipate heat for consistent braking on long descents. Out back is 180mm rotor with a 203mm up front for added stopping power.

Set Up

The groupset was initially fitted towards the end of last year and has been ridden multiple times per week, in all conditions. For the majority of the test period, the weather was properly wet, with trails resembling muddy, gritty rivers, rather than the dusty, loamy, ribbons of goodness that we’ve been enjoying over the past few weeks. 

The groupset has spent most of its life aboard a Santa Cruz Megatower

Set up was simple with the crank assembly nice and easy to put together by sliding the chainring onto the splines and tightening the lock ring. Similarly, the new single mounting bolt and adjustment nut makes fitting the cranks and getting rid of any play nice and simple. Position the cranks, tighten with an 8mm Hex and then take up play with the adjustment nut.

The multi-way adjustment on the shifter gives plenty of opportunity for getting things set up to your preference and as with all new Shimano brakes, post installation bleeding is easy enough using the correct bleed kit. 

The Ride

Once riding and shifting up and down the block, the new Shimano XTR shifter has a real punch to it and a good audible clack, letting you know you’ve shifted. Double shifts are easy, without being so easy that you push two gears at a time by accident, whether that’s going up or down the block. With the good amount of adjustment offered by the mounting system it’s easy to get the shifter positioned in a natural feeling position. The ribbed rubber sections on the shifter paddles add plenty of grip and are especially useful when things are super wet and muddy, making sure you don’t slip and mis-shift.

Gear changes are really smooth, with the new teeth profiles providing super slick changes.  Shimano’s newly introduced Hyperglide+ has been designed to allow shifts under power both up and down the block, and that’s exactly what is does. Where in the past shifting when on the gas was a bit of no-no, with the new XTR you can shift up or down when mashing the pedals. 

Ribbed rubber pads increase grip

This is especially useful on awkward little rises or climbs in the middle of the trail, the sort where you come out of a blind turn and the trail points up. You can keep on the power down and shift a couple of sprockets without losing momentum. Another plus for this is technical climbing. I prefer to push a slightly bigger gear for climbing rather than spinning, and the ability to shift up or down the cassette to get up and over obstacles and round tight turns without backing off is great.

The cranks have felt stiff and direct without any noticeable flex. Getting the power down feels nice and direct, whether that’s mashing your way up steep climbs, or smashing down fast rocky DH tracks. They’ve also had their fair share of shady landings and flat drops and haven’t shown any signs of giving up.

Braking performance has been nothing less than amazing. The levers have a great feel with really quick pad engagement and loads of modulation. The lever sits nicely in the hook of your finger and the reach adjust is easy and quick to use. 

The new XTR brakes are amazingly powerful, but also really well modulated

While there is an absolute bucket load of power on tap, it’s also easy to modulate that power and control speed without locking the rear, even in dusty conditions. Gentle pulls give a quick engagement and usable amount of power, regulating speed as required and picking braking spots. Even on steep, sketchy descents, you can pick your braking spots and use the available power, rather than just locking up and slithering down the whole thing.

But when you do need to drop an anchor and get out of trouble, grab a fist full of lever and the amount of power is amazing. It’s confidence building. It lets you crack on with riding, knowing that you can concentrate on having fun and pick your braking spots. Or just leave it to the last minute knowing that the brakes will just work.

I’ve used Shimano brakes for a while now, and I’ve also had chance to try quite a few other options in the past year or so, and these current XTR’s are without doubt one of the best. The wet weather performance has been great and the pads have lasted well. As the pads have worn the braking has also remained solid and constant, something that I’ve had issues with with other brakes.

Reliability

During this test period the group has basically been faultless. Even with my less than World Cup standard mechanicing the shifting has been slick and crisp and the brakes have remained consistent. The cassette and chains are starting to show signs of wear but that’s to be expected with the amount of riding.

It’s only cosmetic, but a little bit of protection would be nice

My only gripe would be that the cranks started to show signs of wear after just a couple of (albeit wet and gritty) rides. The lower level XT cranks come with protective tape on them and although it may weigh a couple of grams more, it would be nice addition to keep your high end cranks looking just that.

Overall

The Shimano XTR M9100 groupset is designed for elite racers and those looking for ultimate performance, and it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin. The shifting has been clean, crisp and consistent and the stiff cranks allow you to get the power down efficiently whether that’s winching up steep climbs or sprinting into timed stages. The big old cassette has plenty of range to suit.

When up to speed and pushing things on the descents the brakes have performed faultlessly and have an amazing amount of power and modulation – it’s no wonder they’ve been spotted bolted on to World Cup Racers’ bikes. 

All that elite performance comes at cost though, with the groupset as tested coming in at around £1,594.80. It’s certainly not a cheap groupset, but what elite level component in any sport is. On a purely performance level though, I can’t do anything but recommend the new Shimano XTR M9100 groupset. It’s performed faultlessly throughout the test period and has been consistent and trouble free. Given the option, I’d happily run it on my own bike.

Review Info

Brand: Shimano
Product: XTR M9100 Groupset
From: Freewheel
Price: £1,594.80
Tested: by Ross for 6 Months
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Ross Demain

Ad Sales Manager

Ross pairs his childlike excitement for bikes with a complete disregard for the wellbeing of his ribs, or his rims. Best known for riding cheeky trails, his time is also spent trail building in his local woods, drinking beer, eating pies and entertaining his two children.

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Comments (6)

    Top quality groupset, as for the cranks, I put an invisiframe kit on mine, still looking like new.

    I absolutely love the XTR groupsets and have been using them since the ’03 M960. The wear on the cranks is the only annoying thing but can easily be solved with a bit of tape.

    How are the seals and bearings holding-up on the freehubs? The RHS bearing location on microspline is fugly compared to HG, where Shimano – almost uniquely – did it correctly. They’ve been here before with 7800 Dura Ace and reverted very quickly.
    The 11spd hubs were vapourware in the end, right?

    How many miles did you get out of the chain?

    @thomas.hood – I haven’t used the XTR hubs so can’t comment on those I’m afraid. During this test I was mainly using a set of DT Swiss EXC 1200 and the hub on those is still going strong.

    @Glen Taylor – no idea! I don’t track my rides, but the groupset has been ridden multiple times per week for at least a couple of hours each time, and the chains certainly not giving up yet.

    So RRP is about £1600 all in, with at least £550 of annual consumables. Not sure if I can stretch to that sorry. Not sure many others, outside of sponsored race teams, can either to be fair, nice though it is.

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