Shimano XT 11-Speed drivetrain
Configuration Tested: 11-42 1×11
- Cassette: $139.99
- Shifter: $74.99
- Rear Derailleur: $119.99
- Chain (HG700): $39.99
- Total: $374.96
Blister’s Measured Weight:
- Cassette: 426g (without indicator)
- Shifter 118g
- Rear Derailleur: 272g
- Chain 257g
- Total: 1073g w/out cranks
Mounted to: Santa Cruz Nomad MkIII
Test Location: Park City, UT
Reviewer: 5’8” 160 lbs
Test Duration: 20 rides
Shimano vs. SRAM drivetrains. It’s a classic debate that brings out some very strong opinions from those who have been riding for a while.
I’ve been a Shimano guy for a while, largely because I’ve found their drivetrains to be more durable and more reliable than SRAM’s offerings. I have a 2011 Shimano XTR 10-speed drivetrain that I’ve beaten the piss out of, and it still shifts outstandingly well.
But SRAM’s 11-speed, wide-range drivetrains were enough to tempt me away from Shimano. They offer a bigger gear range than a converted 10-speed Shimano setup like the one I’ve been running lately. And, as a purpose-built wide-range system, they shift better than converted systems.
The downside of switching to SRAM is that (1) I don’t want to pay to convert my hub to an XD driver, and (2) those SRAM cassettes are expensive, especially for a wear item.
This Spring, SRAM partially reduced those downsides by releasing their GX line that features a less expensive cassette. But you still have to pay for an XD driver for your hub to make the conversion if you are coming off a 10-speed drivetrain. So the news that Shimano was updating their XT group to 11-speed and finally offering an 11-42 cassette that didn’t require a hub conversion was exciting.
In the past, Shimano XT has always been a solid performing option, just a tick below XTR in terms of performance, but also a bit later to market. SRAM GX is a direct price competitor to XT ($564 for GX vs. $635 for a full XT group), but GX sits 4 rungs down the ladder from SRAM’s top option, XX1. It seems reasonable then to assume Shimano XT might be aiming for a higher performance target market than SRAM’s GX drivetrain, so how does this 11-speed Shimano XT stack up against SRAM’s offerings?
The new XT line feels very similar in build quality to the previous, 10-speed XT. There is more black on the shifter, but otherwise it looks very similar. The shifter still features the double click release lever – a feature I love on rolling terrain. When I crest a short rise and start down, I find that grabbing two gears is usually perfect. Yes, you could just hit a normal release lever twice, but this is better. It is subtly different, more relaxed than rushing to hit the lever twice. Not a big deal, but a nice detail.
The new release lever now features striations on it for grip. It is fine in dry weather, and really appreciated when things get wet and mud coats everything.
It is now easier to adjust clutch resistance, on the new 11-speed XT derailleur. You just remove a cap on the derailleur and sneak an allen key in. There is no longer any need to take off the clutch cover. The clutch lever position is also a little different, and the lever is longer so it is easier to actuate.
The chain is very similar to the previous edition of the XT chain. I’ve had great luck with those in terms of shift performance, wear, and rust resistance. It is still assembled with a master pin instead of a Master link like SRAM. The SRAM master link is a bit easier to install, and more convenient if you ever need to remove a chain, but I have found the master pin to be a slightly more robust system.
The 11-42t cassette isn’t particularly light (426g vs. 326g for the SRAM GX 1175), but it will slide right onto most freehub bodies. Check with the manufacturer of your hub, but it should fit. There are two sets of cogs on carriers and then five loose cogs at the bottom. It looks slightly different than the previous XT (more of a grey color), and the spider shape is new, but otherwise it is very similar.
NEXT: The Ride, Comparisons, Etc.