Shimano XT 11-speed with new 11-42 cassette

TOOT TOOT! The Shimano Trickle Down Express has arrived at Working Man’s Station.

Yes, all those lovely evolutions debuted with the XTR 11-speed groupset have made their way down to a level that is well within the grasp of much more of the mountain biking population. With the launch of XT 11-speed (and the recent unveiling of SRAM’s GX 11-speed groupset too), 11-speed is a truly affordable proposition.

XT 11-speed 8
11-speed Shimano at prices that won’t force you onto a packet rice and canned tuna diet for six months.

There’s no Di2 version yet, but given the popularity of Ultegra Di2 on the road, we can’t imagine Shimano will wait too long before offering us a battery-powered version of XT. We certainly hope so, because we have been loving the bejesus out of our XTR Di2 groupset! By our reckoning and market research, Shimano XT continues to be the most popular groupset in Australia. It’s real bread and butter stuff – light enough for racing, but really built to be enjoyed by trail riders, reliable year after year, harder to kill than one of those massive flying cockroaches. So how have Shimano improved their XT groupset to make sure it remains competitive in this new era of 11-speed drivetrains and single-ring fever?

11-42 wider range cassette: Shimano have seen the light! It might seem like a small thing, but Shimano’s decision to offer a 42-tooth option with the XT 11-speed cassette is going to be massive boon for lovers of 1×11 drivetrains. For many riders, the 11-40 range of the XTR 11-speed cassette was just a little too tight for 1×11 use, making it hard to get a low enough climbing gear without sacrificing the top end. But with an 11-42 tooth option, those concerns will definitely be reduced.

XT 11-speed 6
This fella is an 11-40, but an 11-42 will be available too.

Yes, compared to a SRAM drivetrain, you do miss out on the 10-tooth high gear, but we’re less concerned about this top end than we are about having a good swathe of climbing gears. XT will be available with either an 11-42 or 11-40 tooth cassette; the 11-42 is designed specifically for 1×11 use, while the 11-40 is designed for 2×11 or 3×11 configurations.

XT 11-speed 5
The cassette is concave on the rear to clear the spokes without requiring a new freehub design.

For now, XTR will continue to only be available in an 11-40 tooth configuration. The justification is that XTR is a racing product, and racers are more concerned with tighter, smoother gear ratios, rather than a massive spread of gears. Ho hum… we’d rather see XTR in an 11-42 as well, but we’re sure it’s only a matter of time. The new 11-speed XT cassette will fit any existing Shimano freehub body too. We see this as another big plus, as it’s easy to upgrade to 11-speed without forking out for a new freehub (or hub/wheel) to do so.

XT 11-speed 7
As you can see from the packaging, Shimano don’t recommend you use a 11-42 tooth with a double or triple chain ring setup. Why? We’re not 100% sure, other than saying you probably don’t need gears that low!

Single, double or triple chain ring options: While we’re unashamedly most excited about an XT 1×11 drivetrain (available with 30, 32 or 34 tooth rings), for those seeking a broader spread of gears there is a suite of double chain ring options available (28/38, 26/36 and 24/34), as well as a triple option (22/30/40)  in case you need to tow a trailer up Mt Kosciusko.

XT 11-speed 15
XTR-esque. The XT grouppo is only available in one colour scheme now, not the silver or black of previous years.

Visually, the crankset takes a lot cues from XTR, with the same funky rectangular bolt pattern for the chain rings. The double and single ring cranks are interchangeable (i.e. you can buy a single and then convert it to a double or vice versa), but the triple is not – it’s #tripleforlife.

XT 11-speed 14
Sculpted! Almost makes us want to run a double ring, this looks so nice!

As usual, the technology poured into Shimano’s chain rings is pretty amazing. In a double or triple chain ring setup, the large ring is a carbon/aluminium mashup, while the single ring gets stainless steel teeth to cope with the chainline demands of using one ring across the whole cassette spread.

Slick shifters: Along with a claimed 25% reduction in shift effort, the new XT shifters get some of the same ergonomic tweaks as XTR. Knurled and dimpled shift paddles provide more grip for your digits when changing gears, and a revised I-Spec II brake/shifter mount system gives you more customisation of the shifter placement. If you already have Shimano brakes, and only want to upgrade your drivetrain, you’ll be happy to hear the shifters come with the original I-Spec mounts too, so they’ll work fine with existing I-Spec brake levers.

XT 11-speed 1
More grip for your thumb, plus more versatile I-Spec mounting. The cable has a new impregnated coating too, for slicker operation.

Derailleurs: XT front derailleurs now come in 106* different variants, including the neat side swing configuration that was released with 11-speed XTR, which once again makes more room for large rubber and shorter chain stays.

XT 11-speed 10
The clutch lever is hidden away for supreme slickness.
XT 11-speed 9
The little rubber cap hides an external adjuster for the clutch tension, should you want to really stiffen things up (which is a good idea if you’re running a single ring).

The rear mech gets the same XTR-inspired clutch configuration, with a more streamlined clutch lever and externally adjustable clutch tension too.

Brake it down:  Shimano XT brakes are pretty hard to improve upon, so the aside from a slight diet (-10g), there haven’t been too many changes here. The bar clamp is lighter and slimmer, and the lever body has seen the surgeon’s scalpel.

XT 11-speed 2
A leaner and more angular XT brake lever.
XT 11-speed 3
Not seen here, the caliper is of course compatible with Ice Tech finned pads.

Boost compatible: With the advent of the new Boost (un)standard for hub spacing, things get once again more complicated, with new variants of hubs and cranks to suit. All new XT cranks and hubs will be available in Boost mode, which doesn’t give you extra powers like some kind of Nintendo power-up, but does mean the cranks have a 3mm offset spider for more chain clearance around big tyres and a straighter chainline.

XT 11-speed 12
M8000-B: the B signifies this crank as being Boost compatible.

In the coming weeks we’ll be bolting the new XT 11-speed drivetrain onto a test bike to garner some initial ride impressions. In the meantime, we feel this is a really hard-hitting salvo back at SRAM in the 1×11 drivetrain market. Game on!

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