Ask a Mechanic: Where to Spend Your Money – Shimano 11 Speed Mountain

Eric asks, “I want to go 1x with a Shimano groupset, but I’m on a budget. Where are the best places to save and spend some extra money?”

Great question Eric. Thanks to the trickle-down effect, most of the technology found in Shimano’s initial XTR 1×11 release has now made its way through to the SLX 1×11 group. Even if you were to find XTR parts on deep discounts, it’ll still be a hit to your wallet. In order to get the most bang for your buck, you’ll need to mix and match different components from Shimano’s lower level groups.

Let’s start with the rear derailleur. Although rear derailleurs are critical to your bike’s functioning, their value is overrated; they’re only as good as the shifter that they’re attached to. Because the indexing is so small in a rear shifter, a little bit of imprecision in the shifter itself makes a large difference at the rear derailleur. For this reason, pairing an SLX or XT rear derailleur to an XT or XTR rear shifter will deliver crisp and sharp shifting for the best value.

As you may have noticed, most bikes come spec’d from the factory with nicer rear derailleurs and lower end shifters. This is because the rear derailleur is much more visible and thus more enticing to the consumer making the purchase.

I’d recommend mating an XTR rear shifter to an XT rear derailleur for the budget build. The XTR rear shifter operates smoother and is more precise than XT. And in XTR fashion, they continue to work flawlessly for years. The XT rear derailleur has tighter pivot tolerances than SLX, which means they shift better and last longer. XT rear derailleurs also come with bearing equipped pulleys that improve shifting precision, efficiency, and lifespan.

As for the cassette, we’d recommend an XT cassette over an XTR cassette. It shifts almost identically to an XTR cassette, but will last longer because it is made of steel rather than titanium. XT is also lighter and costs less than XTR.

With performance and weight differences between XT and SLX cassettes being nearly unnoticeable, we’d recommend an SLX crankset.

When it comes to bottom brackets, the XTR unit has lower friction seals and nicer bearings, and because the price difference is minimal, we’d recommend XTR for your bottom bracket.

For the chain, go all in with XTR. The finish is better and it contains more stainless steel parts to resist rust, meaning you get a longer lasting, better performing ride.

With brakes, the differences between groups are weight and features. XT has all the same adjustment features as XTR, including tool-free reach adjust and freestroke adjustment. The SLX brakes are the same brake as XT, but don’t have the freestroke adjustment. Because I don’t feel that the freestroke adjustment is necessary, my budget pick for brakes is SLX. However, if you can afford the extra $20 to upgrade to XT brakes, we’d recommend taking the plunge.

For rotors, we recommend that you go with Ice Tech rotors. This type of rotor utilizes aluminum sandwiched between stainless steel to dissipate heat. While the XTR rotors are the best, they’re only compatible with centerlock hubs. So for those running Centerlock hubs, we’d recommend running SLX RT-68 rotors and for those with 6-bolt hubs, we’d recommend running XT RT-86 rotors.