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Shimano XT 12-Speed Long-Term Review

Last December we gave you our first impressions of Shimano’s new workhorse 12-speed group, XT M8100. At the time, we were stoked on the improvements made to the group, and now after another 7 months on the trail, it’s time for the long-term verdict.

 

Shimano XT M8100 Highlights

  • 10-51 and 10-45 tooth 12-speed cassette offerings
  • 1x and 2x direct-mount chainring options
  • Stiffer brake lever design
  • I-SpecEV for highly adjustable integrated cockpit setup
  • Two and four-piston brake caliper options
  • New resin brake pad compound for better modulation and durability
  • Lighter shift lever action
  • MSRP: $1149 USD, full group

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Initial Impressions

The big news with the new XT group was of course the move to a 12-speed transmission, and the introduction of a new freehub standard. Micro Spline is Shimano’s answer to SRAM’s XD driver, and it exists for the same reason that XD does: to make room for a smaller cog at the high end of the cassette. That in turn enables the massive 510% gear spread offered by the new XT cassettes, which at the time had the upper hand in the range wars but has since been superseded by SRAM’s new 10-52t Eagle cassette.

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Shimano also introduced some big changes to the derailleur architecture when they went 12-speed, notably by increasing the offset of the upper pulley wheel to help the derailleur cope with the massive gear range. Other than that, the shifter lever retains the classic Shimano layout and it’s still capable of shifting multiple gears at one time in both directions.

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The other big item in the new group was the updated XT brake. The most visible change was the addition of an additional perch on the lever, to give it a more stable base and to help it avoid flexing under heavy braking. Shimano also developed a new resin for the brake pads. The XT caliper is available with both 2 and 4 pistons.

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On The Trail

We mounted up the complete new group including shifter, derailleur, brakes, crank and chain and we’ve been running it for about 8 months in total by now. Our initial positive impressions have by and large been confirmed, as the new group has been putting in an excellent performance during this time. The real highlight of new XT is the transmission. Shifting is smooth and precise, but the most exciting aspect is the possibility of shifting under load. With minimum fuss and noise, the chain just pops into the next gear, almost regardless of how hard you are on the pedals. We’ve really tried to abuse it and it basically just shrugs it all off. Chain retention is excellent, and even without any kind of chain device we can count the number of times the chain has come off on the fingers of one hand. Back-pedaling in the biggest cogs is managed equally well, without the chain wanting to drop down on the cassette. In terms of wear and tear, after 8 months on the trail both the chain and the cassette still have plenty of life left in them.

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Moving on to the brakes, the new XT 4-pistons deliver something that some of us have been looking for a long time: Shimano power with a little bit more modulation. That classic Shimano feeling is still there, with a very well-defined bite point that delivers a lot of initial power. But the big difference with the new brake is that the power is much easier to modulate, and the brakes do not surprise you like a pair of Saints could sometimes do, for example. This combo is really pretty close to the ideal brake set-up in our opinion, it is very advantageous to be able to brake with less finger power but still retain good control. The shape and feel of the lever is excellent, and the range of reach adjustment is adequate. The bite point is also adjustable but the effect of it feels more like extra reach adjustment. We tested with 2 different Shimano brake rotors with similar results, although the XT-version is a bit noisier and can squeal when you drag your brakes. Unfortunately the excellent “Freeza” XTR version only exists in a center lock version, so you’re out of luck on this one if you run a traditional 6-bolt hub. The new brake pads work well, they provide excellent brake feel and have lasted for the duration of this test with some live still left in them (note that we did not do any uplift assisted riding during this time).

Now, there is also a bit of an elephant in the room here, and that is the wandering bite point syndrome. What happens here is that in certain scenarios, we’ve found the bite point to be inconsistent. You can feel it happening if you pump the lever quickly just around the bite point, you’ll notice the bite point moving in towards the grip. To be fair, this actually happens to some degree with most hydraulic brakes, but we believe that the ServoWave lever is extra sensitive to the phenomena – likely because of the multiplier effect of the lever, and possibly also because of smaller ports and lower oil volume in the system. In action, this issue pops up in particular through rough parts of the trail, especially if you happen to be pre-loading the brake lever. It seems like repetitive hits to the wheels will sometimes cause the bite point to wander in this scenario. We’ve noticed it happening on landing big jumps too. To be clear, it the brakes have NEVER lost power, nor is the issue all that detrimental to performance, but when it does happen it can throw you off your game. If Shimano could fix this last problem once and for all, they’d be onto a real winner. As it stands, we love the power and the feel of the new XT 4-piston brake, and we’ve had no issues keeping them on the bike for 8 months, but we’d REALLY love them if they were a bit more consistent.

To round off the test report, the crank has simply gotten on with its job with no fuss. It features the classic Shimano 2-bolt spindle interface, and it’s every bit as set-and-forget as it’s always been. The XT BB has also performed well up to this point, it’s still very smooth and free of any annoying creaks.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Aside from the wandering bite point issue that is a bit of a dark cloud on the horizon, the new XT group is a clear winner. The transmission is excellent, with best in class shifting and chain retention, while the brakes deliver a great mix of Shimano-power with extra modulation. Build quality and longevity have proven themselves over an 8-month test period, and we have little trouble recommending the new group for anybody looking for top bang for the buck in a workhorse groupset.

More information at: www.shimano.com.


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About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 47 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Video footage by Tal Rozow, Nils Hjord and Johan Hjord / Photos by Johan Hjord

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