Now that Shimano has three distinct 12-speed drivetrains that have interchangeable parts and will soon be available for purchase, one of the most common questions is, what’s the best blend of parts to maximize performance while keeping weight and price in check. To get some answers Mtbr sat down with Shimano North America mountain bike product manager Nick Murdick. Here’s his perfect blend of XTR, XT and SLX. You can full a full detailing of weights and prices for all three groups at the end of this post.
Mtbr: Ok, let’s go shopping. Pick you preferred parts and explain why.
Nick Murdick: Yeah, there are definitely places where I’d prioritize. For the shifter (and I only want one) I would go with at least XT because of the multi-release and instant release shifting functions are worth it. Plus I really like the rubber texture on lever.
Mtbr: Multi-release and instant release are awesome – and the rubber pad has great hand feel. How about brakes?
NM: For brakes, I personally wouldn’t miss the free stroke adjustment screw (with SLX), and otherwise I honestly think you’ll see the same level of performance no matter which you choose. In the past XTR was maybe not quite as good as XT because we were looking for places to save weight. That meant that XT was a little stiffer. But now they are all good. So then it becomes a weight question. But if all you care are about is performance and you want to save some money, then SLX becomes the best option. Appearance is part of this, too. Do you like shiny, or black, or what I’ve been calling blue steel with SLX. I personally really like the look of SLX.
Mtbr: Does that include rotors, too? Or do you mix and match there?
NM: Definitely mix and match. For rotors I would definitely go XT or better because the Freeza makes a significant difference. So if you are building up bike it’s worth spending more there to get the heat dissipation. It’s basically the same as going up a rotor size when you have Freeza. It gets to point where heat is dissipating as fast as you are producing it, so you can just drag your brakes. And then the XTR rotors get heat dissipating paint for even more performance gains.
Mtbr: Ok, that’s brakes. How about the rear derailleur?
NM: It’s all about precision there, and there will be some tiny differences in shifting performance. At the same time we’ve had [pro rider] Bryn Atkinson on SLX doing testing for us and he’s had no issues.
Mtbr: How about the cassette? Which one are you choosing?
NM: That’s tough. It’s really just about weight. You get fancier materials with XTR, but otherwise they all function exactly the same.
Mtbr: What about cranks?
NM: For the crank there’s a bigger difference in weight, so XTR gives you the most bang for buck. But there is also the Q-factor and chainline considerations. If you’d prefer a wider Q-factor or have a 157 rear wheel then you have to go XT or SLX, so there are some choices to make there. Along that same line, the chain is another good place to spend money. Shift performance doesn’t change, but you are picking up durability with the chain and that can end up paying for itself.
Mtbr: Last one – hubs. Do you have a preference there?
NM: That’s an interesting one. Weights are actually very similar for all three. They all have aluminum freehub body, which is where most of the weight will be. So the difference is in axle quality. Also XTR has laser scanned bearings so they are all the exact same size. And adjustment is a little easier on XTR. But again this is place where SLX is great value. And man, I really love the blue tint of SLX so that’s probably the one I am picking.
Mtbr: Ok, drivetrain built. Thanks. One more question, how much pressure has there been on the entire Shimano team to get this whole 12-speed thing figured out and dialed? It’s obviously no secret that you’ve been losing the war to SRAM for a little while.
NM: No doubt there was a lot of pressure. Already there was a a big shakeup in Japan at head office during development at XTR. We needed to let go of some things and acknowledge what the market wanted. Turns out riders are willing to give up some benefits to make the better part of the ride better. But we’d been guilty of improving the worst parts of the riding instead the best parts of the riding. So it was key to get that permission to start fresh and focus on those best parts. HyperGlide+ is such a perfect encapsulation of that. Before we had HyperGlide and that made climbing better, but I think for most people that’s not the best part of the ride. Going down is. So with HyperGlide+ you get the same uphill benefits, but now it also makes the downhills so much better.
The real focus for these groups was getting it into the market and delivering it on time, while at the same time listening to what people have been telling us. We needed to show what we could do that and I think we have. Bringing two new groups to market at the same time was a huge challenge, but I think we’ve pulled it off.
Now here’s that rundown of weights and prices along with a handy comparison chart.