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MTB Product of the Year - Long-Term Review of Shimano's 12-Speed Deore Group

Often, the latest and greatest technologies in mountain biking are synonymous with top-tier and expensive. In time, that technology trickles down to more affordable lines and the world keeps turning. What is not common, is for that technology to trickle all the way down to the entry level. Furthermore, for that entry level line to carry the performance and durability of lighter, pricier tiers is heresy. Welcome to the long-term review of Shimano’s 12-speed Deore group.

 

Highlights

  • 12-Speed MicroSpline cassette (Tested)
  • 11- and 10-speed options available
  • 10/51t Hyperglide+ Cassette
  • Shadow+ derailleur with clutch
  • iSpec Shifter indexed 1 gear down cassette, max 3 gears up cassette
  • Direct mount chainring with retention technology
  • 4-piston brakes, adjustable reach with Allen tool
  • 180mm Centerlock rotors tested (160mm and 203mm available)
  • $297.95 Drivetrain
  • $597.93 Deore drivetrain and 4-piston brakes
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Strengths

  • Performance-to-dollar ratio
  • Extremely powerful brakes
  • Accurate shifting
  • Chain retention
  • Overall reliability
  • Consistant brake lever feel
  • Product finish and durability


Weaknesses

  • Installation of cassette can be tedious
  • Lack of lever throw adjustment

What’s New

This spring, after building our personal Vital staff shred-sled, complete with a Shimano XT/XTR group, Shimano announced its new budget-friendly Deore 12-speed group. After only a month on the bike, all the blingy XT and XTR parts were taken off. On went Deore, an entire group (including brakes) that cost as much as the XTR cassette and derailleur. It’s been seven months since the Deore drivetrain and brakes found their way onto our test bike, now it’s high-time to see how these budget parts fared. After all, just because something is inexpensive, that doesn’t mean it’s worth buying.

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First, let’s dig into what makes the Deore 12-speed noteworthy. The Deore line is the direct, downstream product of every other 12-speed Shimano drivetrain. The cassette uses the same Hyperglide+ shift ramp technology, just in a heavier platform. That cassette also rides on the same Micro Spline freehub as the rest of Shimano’s drivetrains. While the stamped materials of the derailleur are heavier, they are still robust enough for daily driving. See also: no plastic bits. The Deore derailleur uses the same Shimano clutch as the rest, and we do mean the same. Chain retention on the chainring is accomplished through the same Dynamic Chain Engagement+ technology, again, simply with heavier materials. Beyond additional weight, what’s the rub?

Shimano Deore Rear Derailleur Weight
Shimano Deore Cranks Weight
Shimano Deore Shifter Weight
Shimano Deore 12-speed Cassette Weight

That Was Then...

XTR/XT Parts

  • XTR Cassette: 366g
  • XTR Derailleur: 238g
  • XT Shifter w/ cable: 126g
  • XTR Cranks: 535g
  • XT Single Brake: 297g
  • XTR Rotor: 132g
  • Drivetrain total (sans brakes) - 1265g (2.78-pounds)
  • Group total (drivetrain, brakes, rotors) - 2123g (4.68-pounds)

...This is Now

Deore Group

  • Cassette: 593g
  • Derailleur: 316
  • Shifter with cable: 126g
  • Cranks: 772g
  • Single Brake: 314g
  • Rotor: 155g
  • Drivetrain total (sans chain) - 1807g (3.98-pounds)
  • Group total (Drivetrain, brakes, rotors) - 2745g (6.05-pounds)

Weight differences in the drivetrain amounted to 542g (1.19-pounds) and the total group difference came to 622g (1.37-pounds).

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The Deore shifter will only allow riders to drop a single gear at a time, just like SLX. Multi-Release shifting does not occur until the XT level. Our Deore brakes showed up with the 4-piston calipers, just the same as the XT brakes we pulled off. What disappeared were the lever throw screw and tool-less reach adjustment from the levers. In short, the Deore line foregoes many of the nicer touch points and fine-tuning performance gains of higher end Shimano parts, while also tacking on a weight penalty. That said, mountain bikers’ wallets will also be heavier since a complete Deore group, including brakes, comes in at $597 USD ($297 if you forego brakes).

Ride Impressions

Now that our bike was almost 1.4-pounds heavier, it was time to hit the trails. Out of the parking lot and into the first climb we noticed, not a whole lot. In truth, the only immediate performance hit that came into view was in the shift pod and its longer lever-throw to shift up and down gears. Ultimately shifting was “slower” than a higher-end setup but no less accurate in where the chain landed.

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Heading into the local test loop, through more chattery sections of trail, created a somewhat disturbing rattle in the front of the bike. After triple-checking every bolt, the rattle persisted. The culprit was then discovered: the brake pads. For the duration of these early rides, the Deore pads rattled away like a loose door panel in an old truck. By the third ride, the rattle did stop as the pads either settled in or the cotter pin that held them bent into place. Either way, it was just nice to have a quiet bike once again.

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For the next seven months of riding, the entire Deore group worked without a single hiccup. From the punishing rocks of the Lost Sierras in Northern California to dirt surfing the steeps in Reno’s mountains and logging endless miles in the Boise foothills, this Deore group delivered the goods on every ride. We actively sought out brutal shifting, standing and torquing the drivetrain and pushing through multiple gears at a time; dumping several gears while coasting and then stomping on the pedals as the gears obediently clunked into place.

The violent grab of these brakes cannot be overstated.

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At one point, the test bike developed a nasty creak under load. In trying to isolate the issue, we put the XTR cassette back on. While the creak persisted, shifting performance was unchanged. The culprit turned out to be the rear freehub.

Once the pads had stopped rattling, the Deore 4-piston brakes became a topic of constant bragging. No wandering bite point. No mystery feel. Just pure, unadulterated stopping power. The violent grab of these brakes cannot be overstated. One must use a gentle hand when applying power to the lever as over-braking happens rather quickly. It was somewhat fun to hand the bike over to other riders as their unprompted reaction to the brakes was utter shock. The Transition Scout we had outfitted was running 180mm front and rear, which proved to be plenty sufficient.

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What Could be Improved

If we were to call out a weakness of the Deore line, we could make the case that the brakes are too powerful. Riders wanting a higher degree of modulation will have a hard time with the Deore 4-piston. One will either need to adapt or move on. We happily chose adaptation but that’s just us.

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On the topic of the brakes, the cotter pin and rattle that comes with this setup is a bit bothersome. While the noise subsided, there is still just a basic pin, bent at the ends, holding the pads in place. Perhaps not a real-world issue but just unsettling enough for our soft-minded selves.

Not particular to the Deore line, but the Shimano cassette is tedious to install. The interlocking cogs take time and patience to line up and set in properly. Mechanics will need to be mindful as tolerances are tight.

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How Does Deore Stack Up?

Removing brakes from the equation, how does Deore stack up to the rest? The drivetrain includes the derailleur, cassette, cranks, chainring, chain, and shifter and will set riders back $297.95 USD.

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The same setup in Shimano SLX will cost $409 and Shimano XT is $623 with XTR topping things off at $1,285. Moving up the Shimano food chain, riders will lose grams and gain features along the way. Because all parts in the 12-speed line operate on the same technology, riders can mix and match wherever they deem fit. To us, in the realm of drivetrain, the most standout feature is in the XT shifter with its shorter lever throw and Multi-Release system.

The most disruptive component coming out of the drivetrain market is from the entry level.

How about the competition, SRAM and its mighty Eagle 12-speed group? The direct competitor to Deore is NX Eagle, coming in at $375 for the complete drivetrain, it is a few grams lighter. The cassette is the fly in the ointment here. Because the NX cassette does not use the same XD driver as the rest of the Eagle ecosystem, riders will not gain the full gear range of SRAM Eagle line. NX sports a 455% range, compared to 520% of the latest Eagle line (or even 510% of Deore). The full up and downstream compatibility is also stifled.

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If riders were to purchase a bike equipped with NX, future upgrades could prove bothersome since NX rides on an HG, not XD, driver body. There will be no such issues with Deore specced bikes. The flip side is that riders coming from 11-speed could use the NX cassette as an inexpensive way to enter the 12-speed market without having to replace their rear hub. The advantages and weaknesses in this case are particular to the rider and their position.

All said and done, looking at on-trail performance, we would put Deore up against GX Eagle ($545). When it comes to handling shifts under load, riders and reviewers often point to Shimano as the recognized leader. Deore is no different. In the weight department, GX handily beats out Deore, with particular respect to the cranks (155g difference) and cassette (143g difference). In the dollars to real-world performance race, Deore is the winner.

Final Thoughts

High-end parts usher in the new technology, that much we know. It seems, however, that the most disruptive component coming out of the drivetrain market is from the entry level. Deore is the sort of product riders have been asking for. It is durable, affordable, and allows riders to truly mix, match, and move about the full Shimano range. We will tip our hat to Shimano, the Deore 12-speed group is a home run.

Vital MTB Rating: 5 stars - Outstanding


About the Tester

Brad Howell- Age: 41 // Years Riding: 26 // Height: 5'9" (1.75m) // Weight: 165-pounds (74.8kg)

Brad started mountain biking when a 2.25-inch tire was large, and despite having threads, bottom brackets sucked. Riding in the woods with friends eventually lead way to racing, trying to send it at the local gravel pits, and working in bike shops as a wrench to fix those bikes. Fortunate enough to have dug at six Rampages and become friends with some of the sport’s biggest talents, Brad has a broad perspective of what bikes can do and what it means to be a good rider. The past few years Brad worked in the bike industry and got to see the man behind the curtain. These days, though, he just likes riding his bike in the woods with friends.

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