Shimano's original mountain bike groupset, XT, has undergone a complete overhaul for the 2016 model year and has been assigned a new numerical designation, M8000.
Normally when reviewing a product, the done thing is to weigh up the pros and cons, carefully consider all points of view, and finally, at the end of the article, come up with a carefully considered opinion. The new XT is so good, though, that I'll summarize my thoughts now: it's so good and so versatile that it's really just the top-of-the-range XTR M9000, but a few grams heavier, slightly more user-friendly with its gear selection options, and it costs less.
1x, 2x, 3x...
Like its XTR sibling, Deore XT M8000 offers 1x11, 2x11, and 3x11 crank options to satisfy any type of rider ability level or terrain, and in addition it offers the handy option of a 1x11 specific 11-42T cassette that expands the gear range slightly over the race inspired 11-40T of XTR. Two extra teeth may not sound like a big deal, but for many of us it actually is: for those riders wedded to the single-chainring ideal, those two teeth could well be the difference between riding and pushing up a nasty climb.
For those opting for a double (or even a triple ) chainring, the gear progression of the rear cassette is:
The slightly bigger spacing between gears when opting for a single chainring means you still have pretty much all the bases covered:
This is good news for all MTB riders - but here's one of the two pieces of truly great news: the most significant detail regarding the new groupset is that the 11-speed cassette does not need a special freehub body. You can install a new 11x40 or 11x42 XT M8000 cassette without buying a different freehub body or wheelset.
What does this mean? It means that if you are content with your current setup, but yearn for a few more gears to get you up that nasty pinch that always forces you to get off and walk, this is the answer. For USD$172 (AUD$229) you can buy yourself an 11/42 cassette and bolt it straight onto your existing system.
The second piece of great news? The shifting ability of the new front derailleur is really good - it transitions between rings surprisingly quickly and smoothly, and there is no noticeable delay switching between front rings. It shifts almost as cleanly and smoothly as the rear mech. A lot of that has to do with double rings always being a 10-tooth jump - so, for example, when changing up from the small to the big chainring you're jumping from 28 to 38 teeth.
This is not a huge jump up or down between the different chainring sizes, which allows for a smoother transition between rings. The double cranks use the same spider as the 1x cranks, so you could switch between double and single setups with the same crank sets.
There is also a triple crankset, which gives the M8000 set a potentially huge range of gears, but the 1x/2x spider is not triple compatible so it's unlikely anyone will be flitting between single, double and triple chainrings.
Derailleurs, Shifters, and Brakes
Both the front and rear Deore XT M8000 derailleurs receive a complete makeover. The Deore XT M8000 rear derailleur features Shimano's pioneering Shadow RD+ technology and a refined geometry for increased stability. The Shadow RD+ is also now more easily adjustable for either maximum stability or lower shift effort. For those of us who appreciate tactile improvements, the contact point textures of XTR have trickled down to the shifters and brake levers of XT. The new XT brake levers are still alloy but they have similar divots to what we've seen on XTR levers. The front and rear triggers also have improved ergonomic contacts with more finger-friendly textures.
So who's going to buy it? Well, everybody who uses a double chainring and doesn't feel like paying XTR prices. However, 1X drivetrains have become so popular in the U.S. and Australia that many riders simply wouldn't consider going back to two rings. It's pretty unlikely that a new version such as this is going to change any minds regarding 1X vs. 2X, but if the front derailleur really can be installed without interfering with wheel path (as Shimano claim), then maybe a few will make the switch.
If they do, or if you're a rider comfortable with a double or triple setup, then it's a no-brainer: the new Shimano Deore XT M8000 11-speed groupset delivers the outstanding performance and premium features associated with XTR M9000 11-speed technology with value that will appeal to all enduro and cross country trail riders or racers, and at USD$410 (AUD$543) for 11-Speed single groupset plus USD$174 (AUD$231) for the 11-speed double chainring/crankset combo, it's definitely worth the investment.