Review: Shimano SLX Group

The new SLX group is quite the bargain at $928, and the powerful brakes, durability, great gearing options and good shifting, make for an excellent package.

Last year, Shimano revamped the SLX group, and it got trickle down technology from the XT and XTR product lineups. SLX has always been about durability and good value, and the 2013 iteration raises the bar for performance and value, with a retail price of $928 for the group (sans rotors and hubs). The group gets a plethora of technical trickery and designs, including the Ice Tech brake pads and rotors, the Shadow Plus clutch on the rear derailleur, upgraded shifters and front derailleur and brakes, and ‘Rider Tuned’ cranks and cassettes. The gearing choices include a 2x of 38-24, 38-26 and 40-28, and 3x of 42-32-24, and three cassette options of 11-32, 11-34 and 11-36.

I have been using the SLX drivetrain and brakes for the past six months, and I have put it through its paces, tossing it in every type of terrain and harsh conditions, just this side of prodigious quantities of mud. It has been brutally tough, durable, has shifted admirable, and has some extremely powerful brakes. The group that I tested included the following components:

  • Cranks (2×10 38-24T 175mm) – 745 grams
  • Bottom bracket – 88 grams
  • Brakes – 602 grams
  • Rotors (180mm) – 138 grams each
  • Shifters – 295 grams
  • Cassette (11-36) – 372 grams
  • Front derailleur (High Direct) – 178 grams
  • Rear derailleur (Shadow Plus) – 302 grams
  • Chain – 279 grams

Front Derailleur

The front derailleur is available in four mounting options, High Direct Mount (tested), Low Direct Mount, High Clamp and Low Clamp for both 3×10 and 2×10 gearing, and retail for $55. They did some minor redesign of the derailleur, and altered the shape and profile, and tweaked the cable routing for better frame, suspension and tire clearance, making it ‘suspension friendly’. The SLX front worked nicely, and rolled up and down smoothly, without any stickiness, slop or clunking, giving the usual Shimano front quality shifts.

Rear Derailleur

The rear derailleur is available in two cage lengths, the 2×10 specific SG medium (tested) and 3×10 specific SGS long, and in Shadow Plus (tested) and Non-Plus versions, and retail for $100 and $85 respectively. It can be used in a wide range of 10-speed gearing, with a maximum of a 36-tooth cassette capacity. The SLX gets the second generation of the innovative Shadow Plus, which uses a simple on/off lever to engage the friction clutch damper system, which prevents chain slap and derailment, and quiets and stabilizes the drivetrain. Shimano does offer a new ‘Direct Mount’ option, which lets you remove the B2 link and attach the derailleur directly to the Direct Mount arm of the frame, but this only works with a frame that was designed to accept this setup, and those are currently somewhat rare.

I liked the Shadow Plus system, and it makes a big difference in keeping everything stable and quiet, and when hammering along extremely rough terrain it’s an obvious improvement, though the shifting is slightly stiffer when engaged. Even shifting under load, I never felt the rear give me any issues, regardless of how hard I torqued and slammed the system. The rear has performed pretty darn well, and always did what was asked of it, even when the chain wasn’t well lubed, the tuning was slightly out of whack, and I shifted poorly. The rear has been very durable, and has taken a lot of abuse, getting slammed and scrapped against rock squeezes and ledges, and the only thing it has suffered is some mild cosmetic scratches. It might lack the precision of the XTR rear, but it’s tough, cheap and seems to deal with ‘out of tune’ situations more ideally.

Continue reading for more information and full photo gallery.

About the author: Brian Mullin

Brian likes to push the limits in all the sports he obsesses in, whether it's mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, skiing, or sport climbing. He takes those same strengths and a good dose of insanity to his reviewing and writing on mountain biking products, creating technical, in-depth articles. Whenever he's not on the bike, he might be found watching MotoGP racing, otherwise look for him out on the trail.

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  • Nathan Jordan says:

    $928. That’s about $500 less than XX1. Somehow I expected the difference to be more…

    • Brian Mullin says:

      The XX1 has no front, one less shifter, and most of all, no brakes (brakes aren’t cheap in any group).

  • Jimmymats says:

    The SLX brakes are fantastic for the price. In fact, I also have the current gen XT and XTR brakes, and at least to me, there isn’t a discernable difference in performance. All 3 sets are rock solid and have immense stopping power. The market price on XTs has come down, otherwise I wouldn’t see a reason to go that route. In any case Shimano brakes seem to be a step above.

  • Loll says:

    I beg to different with Jimmymats and agrees with Brian Mullin. The SLX brakes, while strong, can use more modulation. This is important to people like me who rely on the brake to sustain a manual. Now days it is either no brake, or full brake and the front end dips. While manualling is more a showoff thing for me, it is a skill that I found harder to practice and have to rely on body balance more.

    Few years ago I demo-ed an XTR equipped bike. The brakes were so nice to feather. Again, I was using it for wheelie-ing. It was just nice as you can really modulate how light you wan to brake.

    Wonder what is the element that dictates if a brake modulates well or not?

  • nouffa says:

    In my country SLX’s being sold only US$ 460-500 complete set include rotors, and agree that it performs great

  • Matt says:

    Bare cable going into the front derailleur housing stop?

    • Brian Mullin says:

      Matt – There is a small shunt/cap wedged in the stop to keep the cable straighter.
      Doug – I regularly use the front.
      The system works fine. I was somewhat constrained by the design of the Ibis Mojo front cable stoppers/hangers.

  • Doug says:

    +1 Matt! Didn’t see that the first time I looked at the pic, but now I see it. Wonder how much that front dur was actually used (?)

  • MBR says:

    SLX always seems to be the best bang-for-the-buck grouppo. My only comment is the list of “Cons” in the review, which are really expected and logical…
    Not as light, precise, silky, sculpted, aesthetic? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Would anyone expect SLX to be better than XT or XTR and cost less?

  • Joel says:

    I think $928 is too much for an SLX groupset, Here in the Philippines 2013 XT groupset sold only for $550 to 580. 2013 SLX sold for $400 to 420 both have rotors included. Performance almost the same, its more of weight penalty.

  • mattthemuppet says:

    I love my SLX brakes. I replaced a set of Elixir 5s with them and power is a bit more, heat dissipation is waaaay better plus they haven’t had to be touched in the time I’ve had them (6mths? a year?). Compared with the Elixirs which needed constant cleaning and fiddling, plus had levers that bent if you so much as looked at them funny. I couldn’t recommend them strongly enough. 180/160 set up with standard steel rotors and finned pads (still original).

  • Recrider says:

    Just installed the new SLX FC-M672 triple crankset with 22/30/40 chainrings on my 29er. I finally have gearing close to my 26er and can use the middle ring much more. It is a very nicely made crankset and weighs only about 20g more than the XT FC-M780 triple crankset on my other bike. A very worthwhile upgrade for 29ers and makes the XT crankset pretty hard to justify.

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