So this year we are in Lake Tahoe, or Truckee, more accurately, for the industry’s annual tour of everything we’ve already heard about. It’s a shame that there aren’t any real surprises to this event anymore, but what is pleasantly different is how we weren’t afforded the opportunity to ride any of the new stuff for most of the show’s existence.
The bulk of my day yesterday (other than the nearly five-hour drive because accidents, not mine) was spent with Shimano receiving an introduction to the new XTR group. This is the one with the 10-51 cassette and the utterly silent freehub.
As you may have read elsewhere, there are two versions of the group, a race group, and a trail group. The race group is the XTR you’ve come to know over the years: lighter than many road group and with two-piston brakes with stopping power that is sufficient but not eye-bulging. The trail group now features a four-piston brake which our assembled cohort were instructed to, “go easy on.”
We took a couple of lifts up near the top of the ski area and then rode over the rim and spent the next 90 minutes descending some 1500 feet to Lake Tahoe.
I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t been a big fan of XTR for most of its existence. The brake levers flexed, the brakes themselves didn’t have enough stopping power and the cassettes wore out way too quickly.
I can’t speak to the longevity of this group, but I can say that what I experienced yesterday was a revelation. I like this group a lot. The brake lever clamp has been moved a bit and the way it sits against the bar it now has more support so it doesn’t flex as you pull on it; or at least, it doesn’t flex the way it used to.
Even though I was riding the race version of the group with the two-piston brake, for the first time ever I felt like I had enough brake power to control the group the way I wanted to. Put more specifically, while we’d gone to some trouble to set up the suspension on the Intense Sniper I was riding, the Shimano techs never let any air out of the tires after setting them up, so they must have been at 50 psi. I got into a bit of a rock garden and was bouncing wildly and think the rebound on the fork was just off the charts and finally bounced my way to the edge of the trail and rather than head into some boulders, I hit the brakes hard so I could clip out. The XTR brakes stopped my forward motion exactly when I needed them to.
I did eventually realize that there was too much air in the tires, but not before I washed out in a turn and created a massive cloud of brown dirt.
As with all of Shimano’s high-end groups, the shifting was flawless and while I haven’t had a chance to ride this group on diverse terrain, the 12-speed 10-51 gave me more range than I needed for the ride we were doing, while also making the steps between gears well-graduated.
What sits out there, tantalizingly out of reach for now, is the prospect of riding 2×12 with four-piston brakes and a bike at weighs 25 lbs.
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