High Gear: Shimano Deore XT components
Shimano Deore XT derailleur
Type: Mountain bike
Weight: 9.25 ounces (262 grams)
Shimano Deore XT speed shifter
Type: Mountain bike
Speed: 3x10 speed
Weight: 7.4 ounces (210 grams)
Shifters and derailleurs have been the bane of my existence since I first sat on a mountain bike.
To be fair, part of this is my fault. I either buy the cheapest components on the market — think entry-level lines from SRAM and Shimano — or I simply ride the same, trail-mangled hardware my buddy beat to hell before selling the bike to me. I’ve never even owned a brand-new mountain bike, with sparkling, factory-oiled components from front fork to cassette. Hand-me-down quality is all I really know.
Still, the drive train is often the most overlooked part of a mountain bike, and I’m admittedly guilty of ignoring my machine’s guts. The frame and tires and brakes get all the glory, not to mention the high-tech trappings, while the chain and shifters and derailleurs simply need to work. And, for hand-me-down riders like me, as long as the drive train components aren’t visibly busted — think frayed cables and broken springs — I’ll use them day after day after day, even if I spend half my ride cursing at a rear derailleur that never works mid-grind, or a shifter that just won’t stay tight. Regular tune-ups are invaluable for the long-term health of any gear, just like waxing skis and sharpening edges, but there’s a difference between maintaining the integrity of high-quality gear and delaying the inevitable failure of low-quality garbage.
Enter the Shimano Deore XT line, the company’s mid-range line of mountain bike components. The overarching Deore line has been around for several years, but the XT family was only added in 2013 as an affordable alternative to the ultra-high-end XTR series. Both are built with aluminum alloy to meet the demands of rough-and-tumble trail riding, and both feature the company’s Shadow RD technology, which is billed as smoother, faster and more reliable than conventional components that rely on steel springs.
For a rider like me, these little details are wildly important. Here’s why: Reliable materials and efficient construction mean the components are less likely to bend and warp over time, which, in turn, means the components are more likely to last far into the future — say, when I decide to sell my once-used bike to another buddy. Sure, it sounds like a no-brainer, but longevity is a must for someone who would rather, you know, actually ride trails rather than pour over online sales and eBay auctions for hours on end. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
But, if all those specs don’t translate to actual performance on actual trails, I’m right back to cursing and complaining in the presence of Mother Nature. So, I decided to take a gamble on the Deore XT shifters and rear derailleur, hoping the mid-range line was enough for my average bike schedule: Two or three times per week with friends, for no longer than a few hours per ride and hardly any racing.
And, after about a month of consistent riding, I’m pleased with the XT line. The components were easy to install and even easier to adjust, thanks in large part to a rear derailleur that doesn’t require a hanger. The shifters always feel tight and responsive when I swap quickly through gears, even at high speeds on bumpy terrain.
Now, the XT rear derailleur has one troubling limitation, and it’s the most obnoxious downfall of any derailleur: Slipping gears. The components worked magically (yes, magically) for the first three weeks of testing — until I went on the non-stop bumps of Rocky’s Road on the Frisco Peninsula. I cruised it three or four times, testing the limitations of the derailleur, and, after the second time, I noticed the two highest gears began to slip. When I reached the connector road at the bottom of Rocky’s and began pedaling uphill, it kept slipping between gears. Granted, it’s the sort of issue I fixed easily with a quick tune-up, but still, I expect my bike components to be tough. After less than a month of riding, it shouldn’t be slipping.
That said, I’m happy with the XT line. The derailleur is light and sleek, the shifters are small and responsive, and, together, they work almost perfectly for an avid mountain biker who simply enjoys riding singletrack, minus spitting and cursing at equipment. Just be sure to have your bike tool at the ready.
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