Shimano’s flagship mountain-bike group is fresh off of a head-to-toe redesign, and (quite literally) out-shined nearly everything else at the Sea Otter Classic.
There’s something oddly reassuring about seeing Shimano’s Senior Manager of Product Coordination with the tell-tale markings of freshly unsewn stitches and a back-story that involves more metal pins than should ever be in the human body at any one time—or ever, for that matter. Checking out Shimano’s freshly redesigned XTR groupset in the flesh for the first time at the Sea Otter Classic, we were lucky enough to chat with Bas van Dooren, one of the lead (not to mention one of the most recently bionic) testers on Shimano’s latest mountain-bike drivetrain.
Affixed with the M9000 moniker, XTR finally moves into the realm of 11-speed occupied by its road-going Dura-Ace sibling and its main competitors, SRAM’s XX1 and X01 groupsets. While weights and pricing have still yet to be finalized, you can rest assured that Shimano hasn’t rushed to market with the latest incarnation of XTR—that’s never been Shimano’s style anyway. In development for nearly four years, XTR M9000 brings to fruition the pinnacle of Shimano’s mountain bike efforts to date.
“The First True Trail Two-By”
While the group does indeed adopt an 11-speed architecture, that’s far from the biggest news. Introducing what Shimano calls ‘Rhythm Step’ progression, the group emphasizes efficient pedaling by smoothing the transition from gear to gear, and minimizing cadence shock introduced by wide changes in gear ratios. This, according to Shimano Mountain Bike Product Manager, Matt Robertson, is what makes the group the “first true trail two-by.”
While many expected the latest iteration of XTR to move away from a multiple-chainring setup, Shimano has been notoriously lax to give up on the triple chainring—to the point of many’s bewilderment. Shimano spokesman Nick Legan offered an explanation at the Sea Otter expo. In the grand scheme of things, he related, “humans produce very little power, and if we’re outside of our optimal range, we’re incredibly inefficient…one-by is awesome—but only when it’s awesome.”
Always looking out for rider, Shimano has always been keen to offer gearing options for all abilities and applications, letting the rider choose, rather than choosing for them. Thus, rather than shun the front derailleur like SRAM, Shimano has instead embraced it. Paired with the smaller chainring differentials allowed by the new wide-range 11-40T cassette, the completely redesigned XTR front derailleur creates twice as much shifting force, making for the most seamless front shifting Shimano has ever produced in a mountain group.
While shifting performance drastically improves, the new M9000 front derailleur also benefits from a new side-swing construction that also looks to do away with another traditional weakness of the front derailleur—the fact that, historically, it’s never really gotten along with rear tire clearance. But, by changing the routing away from the bottom bracket and along the top of the downtube, valuable space is freed up near the chainstay yoke.
By pairing a double chainring with a wide-range cassette, Shimano was able to drastically reduce the jumps in-between gears, not only doubling shift precision, but offering drastic increases in pedaling efficiency by limiting cadence shock. By keeping the gear steps within a 12.5-15-percent range, Shimano was able to limit cadence variation to roughly 10 rpm per gear, allowing riders to pedal a more efficient gear, more of the time.
One For All and All For One
Still, many riders were clamoring for a dedicated one-by setup from Shimano, and thankfully, the brand didn’t disappoint. A dedicated one-by chainring featuring taller, uniquely profiled teeth for chain retention allows the XTR M9000 crankset to pull one-by duty in addition to two-by or, in the case of the Trail crankset, three-by duty without the need for different cranks, thanks to a shared chainring BCD. Of note though, the Trail crank does have a slightly different Q-factor due to the Trail crank’s ability to accommodate a third chainring.
Partnered up with the chain-stabilizer clutch and the revamped Shadow Plus design on the new M9000 rear derailleur, chain security is on par with Fort Knox, with the optimized slant angles and revised parallelogram on the derailleur limiting chain movement strictly from one cog to another—not off your chainrings and into your bottom bracket.
With the move to 11-speed, XTR returns to an asymmetrical chain to aid shifting performance. Also featuring a Sil-Tech treatment, a coating process that embeds Teflon molecules into the chain during its construction, Shimano promises the new XTR chain will perform better in all weather conditions with less friction and a longer service life.
Rounding out the M9000 group are the M9000 Trail and Race wheelsets. Featuring a tubular carbon rim, the 29-inch-only M9000 race wheelset is certainly a niche offering, with the M9000 Trail wheelset offering the much more versatile option of the two. Offered in 27.5 and 29-inch guises, the M9000 trail wheelset uses a hybrid carbon-aluminum construction in the same vein as it’s road-going Dura-Ace counterparts. An asymmetrical extruded aluminum rim profile is then wrapped in carbon to add strength and stiffness while keeping the grams at bay.
While pricing and weights have not yet been finalized, you can be sure that the M9000 group’s price tag will be harder on your wallet than its weight will be on the scale.