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.
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.
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.
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.