Shimano Components: Where to Spend Your Money

Part by part breakdown of where you'll find the best bang for your buck

Buyer's Guides Components Tech
There are some places you can save money without giving up too much in the way of shifting quality. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

There are some places you can save money without giving up too much in the way of shifting quality. Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

Editors Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art’s Cyclery. The original post can be found here.

Planning to upgrade your 10-speed Shimano drivetrain components, and wondering if you really need a full XTR groupset? There’s no absolute right answer. It all depends on your budget and needs. (Some will surely opt for 11-speed and the new XTR Di2.) But you can mix and match 10-speed parts to bring costs down — and not lose too much performance. Here’s how.

There is no doubting the performance of Shimano’s top of the line mountain group. The Dyna-Sys 10-speed XTR M980 group is tremendous, but there are some places you can save money without giving up too much in the way of shifting quality.

The rear derailleur is where most of the action happens so the best one is recommended.

Don’t overspend on the rear derailleur.

When it comes to shifting performance, rear derailleurs are highly overrated and front derailleurs are highly underrated. The rear derailleur can only be as precise as the shifter attached to the other end of the cable. Because the indexes are so small in a rear shifter a little bit of imprecision in the mechanism makes a big difference at the derailleur. Mating an XT rear derailleur or even an SLX model to an XTR rear shifter will work far better than doing the reverse as bikes are often spec’d from the factory. The reason product managers spec high-end rear derailleurs and cheap shifters on new bikes is because the rear derailleur is much more visible than the shifter and therefore more enticing to customers making a purchase.

Spend your money on an XTR rear shifter rather than an XTR rear derailleur. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

Spend your money on an XTR rear shifter rather than an XTR rear derailleur. Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

With respect to front shifting, Shimano doesn’t make a front shifter that doesn’t work well. Sure some low-end offerings don’t feel that smooth or precise but they all work reliably and rarely if ever miss a shift. Your money is better spent on an XTR front derailleur. XTR derailleurs come with stiffer springs and a thicker steel cage that does not flex as much as its XT and SLX counterparts when pressed against the chain during a shift.

Go with an XT cassette over XTR – the steel cogs are more durable than the titanium XTR teeth. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

Go with an XT cassette over XTR – the steel cogs are more durable than the titanium XTR teeth. Photo courtesy of Art’s Cyclery

As for the cassette, the recommendation would be to go for an XT block because it shifts almost identically to an XTR cassette but lasts longer because each of the cogs are made of steel rather than titanium.

Continue to page 2 for more recommendations »
About the author: Arts Cyclery

This article was originally published on the Art's Cyclery Blog. Art's Cyclery is dedicated to offering free expert advice, how-to videos, and in-depth product reviews on ArtsCyclery.com to help riders make an educated decision when selecting cycling gear.


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  • bl says:

    So why doesn’t Shimano do this? consolidate components and divisions?

  • adrian says:

    Saint rear shifter is the best on 1×10 by a long shot – precision bearings and a slightly longer lever with better grip is bliss for a busy thumb.

  • Rob says:

    How about Deore? I heard the cranks are not much different from SLX. What about Deore brakes?

  • Bawb says:

    That’s an interesting take on shifter-derailleur strategy. My experience has been that as the number of gears increases the maintenance issues multiply which is why I prefer a hub gear or failing that, fewer gears and wider range sprockets. I do not own a front derailleur any more, they are even more of an abomination than the rear. Why it is taking the industry so long to move on from derailleur, I do not understand. Can you imagine owning a car where you had to continually fettle the gearbox to keep it working satisfactorily? They fixed this kind of thing decades ago in the automotive industry but what do we get? 650b wheels.

  • Mathieu says:

    Does the SLX rear derailleur have a double downshift action like the XT?

    • Bobby says:

      That is determined by the shifter, not the derailleur. XT and XTR shifters will allow for double upshifts and up to 4 downshifts regardless of what rear derailleur they are paired with. SLX and Deore shifters are limited to a single upshift even if paired to a nicer rear derailleur.

    • brian says:

      The double shift feature is found in the shifter, not the derailleur, but to answer your question: no, the SLX shifter does not have it. That alone is why I buy the higher end shifter, I love that feature.

  • Kevin Woodward says:

    Great article and info for someone purchasing an individual component. However if you are building up a bike from scratch and need them all a complete groupset offers considerable cost savings and should be considered. For example, one major online bike store (who shall remain nameless but is located in Scotland) is currently offering a complete XT M785 10-speed double groupset for $574 … a discount of 54% off MSRP. Also keep in mind the pending re-launch of the entire XT line when current models will go on closeout.

  • Dave_f says:

    For the most part good recommendations. I would differ on the front derailleur, if you buy an SLX 2x crankset you are probably better off getting the FD designed to work with the corresponding 24/38 chainrings. XTR may be stiffer, but won’t match as well with the smaller outer ring.

  • Dave Carter says:

    I’m way too OCD to have such a mash up of group sets. Not having shifters from the same group set in particular would be horrible.

  • Rob says:

    Why does the 11-speed XT cassette weigh so much? I want to go 1×11, but the weight of this cassette is putting me off.

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