June 23, 2011 (Tahoe, CA) – Last week, June 14-16, Shimano hosted an XT Shimano Media Camp and invited a group of journalists to Northstar at Tahoe Resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to ride the new 2012 Shimano Deore XT group. XT has now been around for 30 years and is targeted at what Shimano calls the “Outdoor Enthusiast.”
Shimano’s Devin Walton describes the outdoor enthusiast as “the type of person who when you open their garage, kayaks and skis and bikes come falling out.” Simply put, this is a person who prizes the experience and the adrenaline of mountain biking and who puts an emphasis on performance, but doesn’t necessarily want to shell out for the top of the line XTR.
With this in mind, Shimano planned a week of activities involving not just riding, but also trail building and white water rafting. In the sprit of differing outdoor activities, I’ll use a baseball analogy to describe the new 2012 XT group. Shimano has hit the ball out of the park!
Shimano has redesigned XT with an eye towards performance, durability and overall user experience. As you would imagine, given the introduction of the new XTR group last year, the new XT group shares many of the design features and styling cues of its more expensive sibling. Shifting is now on par with XTR; there is very little discernable difference and much of the technology found in the newest XTR has trickled down. The lever feel is smooth and light and the shifts are crisp and defined.
XT carries forward with Shimano’s 10-speed Dyna-Sys technology which includes a wide-range 11-36 cassette paired with the close-step 42-32-24 chain rings to provide appropriate gearing for just about any scenario. As with the new XTR, a double will be available with 40-28 and 38-26 chainring options.
Living in Ontario, the thinner air in Tahoe was a shock to my system. I adapted by making a concerted effort to push a slightly harder gear than I normally would. Pushing a little more and spinning a little less makes riding more of a muscular effort then an aerobic one and can often times help mitigate the effects of the altitude. The side effect of this strategy was that on rolling trails I often found that I was cross-chaining far more often than I normally would.
Riding in the big ring up front and towards the top of the cassette in the back asks a lot of a drivetrain, but the 2012 XT handled it with ease. The revamped group makes use of Shimano’s asymmetrical 10-spd mountain chain, which is optimized for mud-clearance and hi-torque situations. Often times in an oxygen-deprived stupor, while grinding away in the big ring, I would shift the chain down on to the middle chain ring for a little more help on this hills. Never once, did the XT group hesitate, never once did I drop the chain. Those riding 29ers or dualie’s with bigger tires will be happy to know that Shimano has engineered the front derailleur for better mud clearance and will offer it in four different mounting options.
What most people will notice first about 2012 XT is Shimano’s new disc brake technology. XT has benefited from XTR trickle-down and now features 22mm ceramic pistons, Ice-Tech rotors and new pads with cooling fins. Compared to Shimano’s last generation of XT disc brakes, the increase in power is immediately noticeable, there is a tangible improvement in the feel at the lever and no discernable fade on long descents. The brakes also feature Shimano’s tool-less reach as well as free-stroke adjust.
If I had to have one critique, it would be that the brakes are almost too powerful. Even while braking with one finger, a slight feather of the brakes scrubs a lot of speed very quickly. This critique however has a caveat – my brakes came equipped with metal pads. Generally I would only ride Shimano’s metal pads in poor weather conditions, as they work great in the rain and mud and everything in between, but modulation has never been their strong suit. Fortunately most XT groups will likely come equipped with Shimano’s resin pads,which should offer much greater modulation. Another welcome feature is that the new XT rotors will come in both 6-bolt and centerlock.
XT wheels have received a freshening up for 2012 as well. Like XTR, the new XT wheels will now feature both Trail and Race models, the main difference being rim width – 21mm for the trail and 19mm for the race. The wheels will come with a slew of different axle options including 9mm front, 15mm thru-axle front, 135mm rear and 142x12mm rear. Shimano continues to hand build all of their wheels using traditional angular contact bearings which means that they are both smooth rolling and user serviceable.
For the majority of mountain bikers, the 2012 XT group is as close to a perfect group as they will ever need. XTR continues to be lighter while boasting both superior finish and slightly better feel then the XT group, but the gap is now so close that at this price point you can’t go wrong. For the outdoor enthusiast, this translates to all the experience and the adrenaline of mountain biking, many of the same features and performance of XTR and a bunch of money left over all their other outdoor pursuits.