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Shimano XT 11-Speed Drivetrain

Tom Collier reviews the Shimano XT 11 speed drivetrain for Blister Gear Review.

Shimano XT 11 speed drivetrain

Shimano XT 11-Speed drivetrain

Configuration Tested: 11-42 1×11

MSRP:

  • 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

 

Intro

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.

Tom Collier reviews the Shimano XT 11 speed drivetrain for Blister Gear Review.

Tom Collier using the Shimano XT 11 speed drivetrain.

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 Shifter

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.

Tom Collier reviews the Shimano XT 11 speed drivetrain for Blister Gear Review.

Shimano XT 11 speed shifter

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.

The Derailleur

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.

Tom Collier reviews the Shimano XT 11 speed drivetrain for Blister Gear Review.

Shimano XT 11 speed rear Derailleur

The Chain

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 Cassette

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.

Tom Collier reviews the Shimano XT 11 speed drivetrain for Blister Gear Review.

Shimano XT 11 speed cassette

NEXT: The Ride, Comparisons, Etc.

10 Comments

  1. JayT October 19, 2015 Reply

    Ugh, this is so disappointing. I wish SRAM had shifters that could be clicked in either direction like Shimano – I’m so used to it that it’s a deal breaker. Thanks for the review. Guess I’ll have to stick with 2×10 until Shimano comes out with a better version.

    • JayT October 23, 2015 Reply

      Although I’m hearing elsewhere that this shifter / derailleur actually works much smoother with a SRAM X01 cassette. Go figure.

      • Tom Collier October 23, 2015 Reply

        JayT, I’m going to give it a shot with a SRAM cassette. I don’t have an X01 cassette at my disposal, but I do have an XG-1175 cassette that I’ve been happy with when used with a GX shifter and derailleur. I’ll let you know what I learn.

  2. Blister Member
    Mathias October 19, 2015 Reply

    Funny: I’ve had the exact opposite experience. Given the huge discrepancies in 1x conversion performance reported by hundreds of users in the threads I’ve read, I strongly suspect that variances in derailleur hanger geometry & crank chainline play a massive role in how a given drivetrain works on your bike.
    The 1×10 XT conversion drivetrain I installed on my Santa Cruz 5010 never shifted properly (10 speed: XT shifter, chain, & derailleur, XTR 11-36 cassette, OneUp 17T+42T cogs, & Rad cage). Even w/ OneUp’s revised Rad cage geometry, the only way to get pre-conversion levels of chain retention was to dial up the clutch ’till shifting action was slower and at least 2x as stiff. The lack of range was the final nail in the coffin: my 1×10 XT conversion was in every way inferior to my previous 2×10 setup, so I decided to give Shimano 1×11 a try or go back to 2x.
    My experience with Shimano 1×11 shifting has been far better. I installed an XTR 11-speed shifter & derailleur with a SRAM XX 10-42 cassette & chain, & am much happier with the result. Chain retention is bomber, even when pushing my trail bike flat out in full-on DH terrain. The ergonomics & tactile feel at the lever is signature XTR: two-cog downshifts & 3-cog upshifts w/ a single push, and precise lever feedback that lets you know exactly what the shifter & chain are doing. The experience is so far superior to riding my bike with full XO drivetrain, that I will be upgrading to XTR shifter & derailleur as soon as the XO derailleur wears out.

    • Tom Collier October 19, 2015 Reply

      Mathias,

      I’m very curious to try the XTR 11 speed shifter. It could be that and XTR level shifter is the key difference between your 1×10 and 1×11 setups and my 1×10 and 1×11 setups.The XTR shifters usually feature higher quality and more numerous bearings that can make lever action much smoother and thus the clutch resistance less noticeable.

      -Tom

  3. Blister Member
    Tom October 22, 2015 Reply

    I’ve monkeyed around with the new Shimano stuff (in the shop and around the surrounding surface streets only, so far) and this may be the first time in history that it might be worth the money to upgrade from the XT to XTR rear derailleur. It seems much more positive, etc., but Shimano has been playing catch up with SRAM when it comes to clutches for awhile, now (I could never keep a Shimano clutch working well for over 3 months).

    My new endurance race bike coming in January (sigh) will be XTR with XX1 cassette. I’m going to downgrade the shifter to XT (because I’m apparently the last guy in the world that uses the Optical Gear Indicators, at least when racing).

    Like you mentioned, I’m REALLY looking forward to getting back to Shimano’s double-click option. Two years on SRAM on my trail bike, and I still miss that feature every single ride.

    Fingers crossed, and thanks for the review!

    • Tom Collier October 22, 2015 Reply

      Tom, interesting to hear that. I’ll see if I can pick up both an xtr derailleur and an xtr shifter to play with. I also have plans to try a SRAM cassette in the near future as I’ve heard that can improve shifting.

      The double-click shift is hard to give up and the bi-directional shift lever is nice too. I’m going to keep putting some energy into making a Shimano setup to work on this bike, but this certainly isn’t off to the start I thought it might be.

      • Tom Collier October 25, 2015 Reply

        So I threw on an XG-1175 cassette this weekend. Shifting was a bit better. I expect that with one of the nicer SRAM cassettes shifting might improve more. Unfortunately this negates one of the big advantages of the Shimano system: the ability to run 11 speed without getting a new freehub body.

        If I’m able to get on an XTR shifter and or derailleur I will update again.

        For anyone totally committed to Shimano shifters and bummed to hear that XT doesn’t crush SRAM, don’t sweat this too much. I found myself favoring SRAM GX, but I don’t feel that strongly about shifter design, and I’m looking more at shift performance and chain retention. If you prioritize differently, you might still love Shimano XT 11 speed. This is just my take on the group.

  4. Blister Member
    Steve H October 27, 2015 Reply

    What is the actual price difference between this and SRAM GX 1×11? The table at the top of this review shows $375 and $339, but the SRAM GX review from July states $564. Which is it? And if the SRAM GX really is 50% more expensive then can you really expect the Shimano 1×11 to compete? Not sure what I’m missing here…

    • Tom Collier October 27, 2015 Reply

      The numbers at the top of the review are correct – not including any retailer discounting. The $564 number included GX cranks. I did not test the Shimano XT cranks, so I did not include cranks in the price comparison here.

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