Shimano XT 10-Speed
Shimano 10-speed groupsets in the form of XT and SLX have hit the shelves. Promises of it being more than just an extra cog in the form of Dyna-Sys technology sounds good on paper but how does it ride? We've had the XT group in for a few months now and here's our first report.
We reported on Shimano's new Dyna-Sys groups earlier in the year and we gave a breakdown on what it offers and what it means there. But what most of you care about is what's it really like to use?
Getting it out of the box and the first thing you notice is that it just looks like regular old XT. There's no issue with that per se, but with the SRAM 10-speed X9/7 groups getting a fancy new look, unwrapping the new XT is something of an anti-climax. The more compact chainset does look pretty neat though and the 36T cassette looks simply massive! Otherwise it really does feel like business as usual for XT.
Fitting is a breeze and setup wasn't as fussy as you'd expect. In riding, the 24T-36T smallest ratio is quite usable and only marginally smaller than a classic 22T-32T. It doesn't really buy you any extra climbing ability; at this point you're looking at the bike flipping out or barely moving beyond walking speed anyway. The purpose of that big cassette becomes more apparent in the middle ring and the 32T-36T ratio is noticeably smaller than a classic 32T-32T; you'll find most of your typical granny ring slogs become middle ring affairs as a result!
If you do finally need to concede defeat and hit the granny ring, that bigger 24T ring makes for a noticeably smaller drop from the middle ring. It makes you less likely to stall and dab if you've panic grabbed the inner ring in the middle of a technical move, or it keeps you more fluid if you're spinning away and the legs have called for the drop to the inner ring. Basically that pedal shock due to the massive jump in cadence is much less noticeable.
Shimano's claims of using a 3x10 setup to make gears more accessible and easier for the typical mountain biker to use is proving to have some value to it. While we've never noticed our 10 speed XT setup in an overwhelming "wow I've gone 10-speed" kind of way, it is generally more pleasant to ride with. A refinement rather than a revolution if you like!
Shift quality and response is business as usual. It's XT as you know and love it, no better, no worse. Claims of better shifting from the directional chain aren't particularly noticeable but we never had many complaints with 9-speed's shifting and it's more basic chain! The compact ratio chainset does make for crisper up shifting though, and as with the down shifts, the upshifts are easier to get into as well with the smaller jump in ratios. Basically you'll be shifting at the front and not needing to immediately shift at the rear to compensate as much.
The big question on your lips no doubt is, "do I need 10-speed?", and the honest answer is "no". But if you're wondering if you should be worried about 10-speed coming on your new bike, or whether you've just wasted money on a new 9-speed transmission, the answer is also "no". Shimano have no plans to drop 9-speed for the foreseeable future and they consider 10-speed as an expansion to the range, not a replacement. There's no reason to rush to upgrade, and no reason to buy up as much 9-speed as you can afford while it's still around! If you're worried that your new bike purchase is coming with 10-speed XT don't worry, it's great, it always was and still is!
No doubt many riders will miss the dedicated 2x10 option and Shimano's claims that riders should "look to XTR" is a little short-sighted we feel; some of us have the legs for 2x10 but certainly not the wallet!
We can't comment on the longevity of the new 10-speed setup yet due to the short time we've had it, as well as the more than decent conditions it's experienced this summer! The cynical out there will expect the thinner cogs and thinner chain to wear faster, but the ramped directional chain, while not noticeable in feel, should theoretically offer smoother, cleaner shifts. And with the more compact chainset and the ability to hang on to the middle ring more, it should mean that while the thinner parts and higher tolerances might suggest faster wear, the greater drivetrain efficiency should counter this.
We'll update this report when we've put the winter into the setup.
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