Tested: Reid Solo360 27.5″

Subtle, killer value and as we were to find out, quite a lot of fun to ride, too!
Ripping smooth singletrack is what the Solo360 is best at.

What is it?

We looked closer at the Solo360’s spec and value in our first impressions piece, have a read of that one here – Flow’s First Bite, Reid Solo360.

Reid Bikes are all about bang for buck, and their direct sales model is helping them deliver some impressive bikes at attractive prices. We reviewed Reid’s aggressively priced Solo360 last year. Quite simply, it’s the sum of its parts, which happen to be very bloody good for the money.

A FOX fork with the Grip damper on a $1799 bike is seriously appealing.

The Solo360 is a subtly presented and well-finished, 27.5″ wheel size aluminium hardtail with a Shimano 11-speed XT drivetrain and brakes, FOX fork. At a quick glance, you could be fooled thinking the frame is made from carbon as the welding around the joints has been finished off with a smooth appearance, and the graphics are gloss black which almost disappears on the matte black frame.

The rear wheel uses a quick release thru-axle for added security.
The black-on-black graphics only appear from certain angles, a nice feature if you don’t want a bike that screams for attention.

What’s new from the previous version?

In our review last year of the same bike, we found a few minor elements that weren’t exactly to our liking that detracted from our experience, so to see many of those addressed, we’re more than impressed. The latest model scores upgrades to the tune of a wider handlebar, through axle on the rear wheel, wider and tubeless compatible rims, dual water bottle mounts and a single-ring 11-speed drivetrain.


How did it go on the trails?

The Solo360 is a lively little thing, perhaps because we’re used to riding larger diameter 29″ wheels on hardtails like this, the Solo360 just wanted to sprint everywhere and pull wheelie out of every corner! A hard crank on the pedals is rewarded with a strong jump in acceleration; there is very little loss of energy going on. Winding through singletrack the steering felt very predictable and calm, though when you got it up to speed you really needed to hold on tight.

Woohoo, so much acceleration speed!

Once we got a feel for it, we began to enjoy how engaging and fun it was to ride, pumping through undulations the trails to milk more speed and dropping the seat post down to get a bit more aggressive through the corners.

With the wider bars and wider rims it feels more confident than the previous version we tested, that’s for sure.


Does it fit well?

Sort of, the frame is very low at the front end and seat tube, we had the seat post out at near maximum extension and the stem as high as they would go on the headset spacer stack. Make sure you check the sizing chart to be sure the bike won’t feel too small or low for you.

Up to speed, the frame isn’t particularly forgiving, so hold on tight!

What trails is it best suited?

Smooth ones, that’s for certain! The small wheels and aluminium frame don’t give you much in the way of compliance, and in comparison to a hardtail with 29″ wheels, the Solo360 would be more at home on tighter singletrack with less rock to stop the wheels rolling. You can’t have everything, and we often see the high-end brands doing amazing things with compliance in carbon frames to provide a bike that is fast and also smooth to ride, but we’re talking well over double the price for that type of benefit.

We could only imagine what this bike would be like built around 29″ wheels, while it might lose some of its snappy handling and fast acceleration, it’d roll through rougher terrain easier and give you a smoother ride overall.

But if the trails you ride are rocky, loose and technical, we’d suggest considering a bike with bigger rubber. Reid does an excellent ‘plus size’ bike, using 27.5″ wheels with big tyres and a dropper post, called the Vice, we rated it for trails that are more demanding. Check out our review of the Vice here – Tested: Reid Vice 3.0.

Good times on the fast and fun Solo360.

Favourite bits.

The Shimano 11-speed drivetrain is a favourite of ours – read our long term review here – for being a consistent performer all the time, and it brings tremendous performance to a bike of this price point. The bike shifted gears perfectly, was quiet in operation and we already know it’s very durable.

Shimano XT all round, too good. The single-ring is very clean and neat, too!

The XT brakes are excellent too; one finger has all the power you’ll need for a confident ride.

Top shelf brakes.

Up front, the FOX fork felt very sophisticated, smooth and the Gripdamper is easily adjusted on the fly via the big blue dial. Another part that gave this bike serious credit far beyond its price.


Best value upgrade areas?

If you’re keen to throw some dollars at the Solo360 down the track, we’d start by matching the tyres to your terrain and make sure they’re tubeless compatible, the rims are good to go, just choose tubeless tyres, add sealant and the bike will ride much smoother with lower tyre pressures, there’s less risk of pinch flats too. The Continental X-King tyres (not the tubeless compatible versions, too) are fast rolling and fine for softer surfaces, but on hard packed or dry trails they are a little nervous, we’re all about matching tyres to the terrain you ride most.

A dropper post would be a good upgrade if you’re one to jump and throw the bike around on the trails, the best invention since tubeless tyres can be found for around $350 these days, try the PRO Koryak or Bontrager Line for a significant upgrade. And perhaps a higher ride handle bar would help raise confidence on steeper trails, and not a big cost item either.

An even cheaper upgrade would be to drop the forks out and stuff some foam into the down tube to silence that internal cable rattling around inside.


Yay, or nay?

We’d just make sure your trails aren’t too rough for the solid frame and 27.5″ wheels, or we’d be inclined to seek out a 29″ hardtail, or considering the Reid Vice plus bike with more traction. But if you’re keen to dabble in a bit of cross country racing or only tend to race about on smooth trails, this is a great option for the dollars.

Double check the fit and match the tyres to your terrain, and it is good to go.

For more on the range of mountain bikes from Reid and details on their direct-to-consumer sales model, click through here.

Head To Head: Shimano XT Trail vs Crankbrothers Mallet E

The Crankbrothers pedals have larger proportions overall, but interestingly the overall depth of both pedals is identical at 31mm.

We’ve put two of the most popular ‘trail’ pedals on the market head to head: Shimano’s XT Trail and Crankbrothers’ Mallet E LS. As it turns out, the way they ride is very different, and both are excellent pedals overall in our opinion, so we’re sure you’ll find yourself happy with both options. But they do each have real highlights and lowlights.


Shimano XT Trail: 403g/pair, $179

The SPD system has been incredibly enduring. Recent evolutions have opened up the mechanism’s design to improve mud shedding. Note the tension adjustment too.

Highlights:

Work perfectly without any fuss or faff on a huge variety of shoes and without needing any cleat shims or shoe modification.

Tension adjustability will be a boon for riders who really muscle the bike around through the pedals or who want to be really securely locked in.

Very positive and crisp engagement/release – you know when you’re in or out.

The tapered edges of the XTs are resistant to catching on rocks.

Lowlights:

Convex pedal body shape really doesn’t offer a lot of grip or support should you happen to miss a pedal entry.

While these latest versions are better in the mud than in previous iterations, they still are prone to collecting crap and becoming hard to engage in muddy, gloopy conditions.

Bolt them on and go ride. Setting up the Shimano XT pedals is never fiddly – they work well with zero fuss on nearly every shoe.
The pedal body is convex, so there’s actually not a huge amount of pedal/shoe contact.

Crankbrothers Mallet E LS: 430g/pair, $259

Crankbrothers ‘winged’ pedal mechanism is impressive for its simplicity. Though theoretically you can clip in in more ways than the Shimanos, we didn’t actually find entry any easier than with the XTs.

Highlights:

Large amounts of shoe/pedal contact gives you a feeling of support normally associated with using a flat pedal.

Concave body shape and grub screws offers decent traction should you miss a pedal entry.

Open design is resistant to mud to build up, making these pedals very consistent in the wet weather.

The large surface area of the pedal and subtle concave shape mean your foot has a tonne of support.
Grub screws add a small amount of extra grip should you happen to miss an entry.

Lowlights:

Some shoes will require the use of cleat spacers to get these pedals performing properly.

Entry/exit is rather vague, and feels less precise than the Shimanos.

We had to run one of the supplied shims under the cleat to get the Mallets to work with our Specialized 2F0 Cliplite shoes. Without the cleat, it was just too hard to clip in and there was too much friction between the shoe and pedal.

Overall:

We came into this comparison with our view slightly clouded by past experiences. We last tried Crankbrothers pedals during a dark patch in the brand’s history, when corners were cut and durability suffered. Partly because of this experience, we’ve tended to stick with Shimano over the past few years. We’ve always loved the consistent, crisp and precise feeling of the Shimano SPD mechanism, and the overall durability of the pedals has been a big drawcard too. As we’re regularly swapping shoes too, we’ve appreciated the ease of setup and how the pedals just seem to work well with almost any shoe on the market.

We’ve admittedly done a lot more miles in our XT pedals than in the Mallets.

But the new Mallet E is a much better offering than in years past, and we can now really appreciate what so many people can see in these pedals.

The ride feel is certainly different to the snappy Shimanos. Whereas the XTs have you locked in and it takes a good consistent force to release them, it feels like you more gradually ease out of the Crank Bros. We’re still adapting to it.

We’re impressed! We don’t know if the Mallet E is necessarily a ‘better’ pedal than the XTs, but there are lots of elements about it we love, and certainly nothing that lets it down when stacking the two up.

We had figured the absence of tension adjustment on the Mallet’s would worry us, but it hasn’t been a consideration at all. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much shoe/pedal contact that you don’t rely solely on the pedal mechanism to keep your feet in place, so release tension is less of an issue. We’re also impressed by the support and grip of the Mallet’s too – the concave body shape makes a hell of a lot of sense for riding in conditions where you’re often clipping out and not always able to get back in straight away.

It really comes down to ride feel when choosing between these two pedals: do you like the crisp, precise Shimano feel, or do you the support and less ‘restrictive’ feel of the Crankbrothers?

In truth, we’re now completely torn between the two brands and we’re going to continue to use both for the time being. In our minds, both are emerging as a great product, and they prove to us there’s no one right way of designing a pedal. Fence sitting isn’t popular, but to pick either of these pedals as being ‘better’ than the other would mean ignoring too many positive attributes of the other. Pay your money, make your choice, you’ll be happy.

Flow’s First Bite: Giant Trance Advanced 1

With an all-new carbon frame, wide carbon rims, FOX Factory level suspension and a full Shimano XT groupset the Trance Advanced 1 comes in just shy of six gorillas at $5799. And if its predecessor is anything to go by, we’ll certainly enjoy this review.

The Giant Trance Advanced 1 is one good looking bike.
The Giant Trance Advanced 1 is one good looking bike, we especially like the understated logos and shimmering carbon shining through a glossy paint job.

Check out our range highlights of the 2017 Giant lineup.

See our review of the 2016 Trance Advanced 1 here.


The good bits.

FOX, Shimano and Giant’s own components make up the bulk of the spec. We’re most impressed with the way the Trance Advanced 1 (and last years version too) comes with the absolute best from FOX suspension, the cream of the crop fork and shock with Kashima-coated sliding bits and all the external adjustments we love.

Shimano’s XT is always a winner in our minds, but new for this year the 11-46 tooth cassette that widens the range significantly from last year’s 11-42 cassette, to sweeten the deal Shimano’s new chainring is here too, a new teeth profile promises to cut down on noise, increase lifetime and maintain chain retention without the need of a chain guide.

This will be our first experience with Giant’s new TRX 1 wheels, which claim to be only 1680g and the rims a generous 27mm internal width (33mm external). We like these numbers a lot!

As always, there’s much more to a bike than its components, but in terms of value for money and deciding how to spec a bike, Giant are off to a running start.

The Trance Advanced 1 comes with Shimano's 46 tooth XT cassette for lower climbing gears.
The Trance Advanced 1 comes with Shimano’s XT 11-46 tooth cassette for a super-wide range.
FOX Factory 34 fork, absolutely premium stuff.
FOX Factory 34 fork, absolutely premium stuff.
Delicious Kashima coating.
Delicious Kashima coating.
New and wide, and carbon!
New and wide, and carbon!

What’s the Giant Trance Advanced 1 all about?

The Trance Advanced 1 is a long travel trail/all-mountain bike that’s designed to cover a wide range of needs. It sits in the middle of Giant’s shorter travel Anthem and burly Reign, so its intended use is to fill that large segment of the market that is made up of riders that are not fussed on racing, those that are prepared to pedal all day and could do with a generous amount of suspension travel for control on rough trails and comfort on long rides. 

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Colour-matched wheel set and custom stickers from FOX, the bike looks gorgeous in the flesh.

The 2017 Trance frame looks similar but is vastly different to the 2016 one, what has changed?

The Trance platform received major updates to the frame this year, it’s longer in reach, lower in bottom bracket height, shorter in its chainstay length and fork travel is bumped up 10mm to 150mm. The 2017 model comes with a host of new and emerging technologies, such as boost hub spacing front and rear, a trunnion mounted rear shock and a flush Kabolt (not a quick release) axle on the fork and Giant’s allen key axle on the rear.

The upper linkage is now one-piece, curvy and carbon and mounts sideways to a trunnion mount shock.
The upper linkage is now one-piece, curvy and carbon and mounts sideways to a trunnion mount shock.

How much travel is the Trance packing, and what about the wheel size?

Built around 27.5” wheels, the Trance range comes equipped with 140mm of rear travel mated to a 150mm travel fork up front.  Giant have colour-matched their frame and wheelset with custom stickers from Fox, and the bike looks gorgeous in the flesh.

140mm of Maestro suspension out the back.
140mm of Maestro suspension out the back.

Where to now?

A bike like the Trance Advanced 1 is probably going to have an owner that uses it for many things, so that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. From buff singletrack to downhill bike worthy terrain, we’re keen to see what this bike is capable of. Even just looking at the 2016 model of this bike, one of the major gripes we had was its narrow rims holding back the bike’s performance on rougher trails, with this rectified and with a host of other improvements this is sure to be a hot bike for 2017.

We’ll be putting a full review up in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!

Fresh Product: North Shore Billet Chainrings for Shimano XT

Building on the success of our Variable Tooth chainring line, North Shore Billet is excited to release our 1x rings for the 2016 XT M8000 cranks. Committed to North American manufacturing—from raw material sourcing to the creation of the final product—we’re proud to don the “Made in Canada” moniker.

Our latest range of rings for the M8000 cranks keep true to this statement while adding an exciting “first” for the XT line of cranks; 28T ring compatibility.

Due to the high demand for small rings, we’ve designed a 28T ring for 1x use. By mounting to the 64mm BCD and offsetting the ring towards the spider, we are able to achieve a 49mm chain line—the perfect place for a 1x ring to be.

nsb-narrow-wide-profile-040216


Specs:

• Fits Shimano Deore XT M8000 FC-M8000-1 FC-M8000-2
• 49mm Chain line
• CNC machined from 7075 T6511 Aluminium
• Ring Sizes: 28T 30T 32T 34T 36T


Our Rings, Our Process

Material

High quality parts come from high quality metal; we’ve found this to be important for any component, but most notably for chainrings. As a result all chainrings are created using US made Kaiser 7075 aluminum. The raw aluminum starts as large, rolled sheets that we have saw-cut to our required specifications. These blanks are then delivered to our Whistler factory ready to be machined.

nsb-raw-material-040216-6660 copy

Machining

When the time comes to create a new ring we grab a stack of the saw-cut pieces of aluminium which we refer to as “ring blanks”. These blanks are loaded into our high speed machining centers where the ring is cut precisely into shape. We use custom carbide cutting tools that create unique features that are otherwise difficult to achieve with standard tooling. Haas DT1 and the whole machining process only takes a few minutes to produce a complete ring. Producing thousands of rings per year, this machine rarely anything else.

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Deburring

After the machining process the rings are still unfinished with many sharp edges and small burrs that need to be removed. To clean up these edges we run the rings through a vibratory deburring machine. This has a similar appearance to a bucket full of pebbles but the process is much more controllable and consistent than manual deburring. The vibratory action gently rolls the rings through the ceramic media removing the sharp edges without removing metal from tight tolerance areas such as the teeth. Depending on the size of the chainring, this process can take anywhere from 30–60 minutes to complete and can run from 6–10 rings at a time.

nsb-m8000-facilities-070116-ajbarlas-9237

Quality Control

Once the deburring process is complete the rings are gathered and each is carefully inspected and measured to ensure that all of the features are within tolerance. Our standard tolerances are pretty tight, and important features like the teeth are made within +/- .002”; the thickness of a human hair. Any rings that do not conform to our measurement or appearance standards are immediately discarded. On a typical production run our scrap rate is less than 1%. These out of spec parts along with all the excess aluminum from the machining process to become new aluminum.

Finishing

Once the rings have passed our QC measures, we box them up for anodizing. Anodizing is an electrochemical process that adds the colour to aluminum parts and also gives it a protective finish. This is the only process that is not done in house at NSB.

With the ring cut, deburred, QC’d, and anodized, we’re ready to brand them with our laser etching machine. This process burns through the anodizing on the surface of the ring. The laser beam’s width is only .005” of an inch thick,   This is the fastest of the processes, with all of the graphics burned onto the ring in less than 10 seconds. With the laser etching complete the products are packaged and sent off to distributors worldwide.

nsb-davis-english-squamish copy

About NSB’s Variable Tooth Pattern

At NSB we’ve opted to utilize a variable tooth pattern that is designed to the ASME/ANSI B29.1M industrial standard, which provides a tried and true tooth shape with an alternating tooth thickness that helps retain the chain. While other companies have radically changed the fundamental tooth profile to reduce chain drop, we felt that the negative aspects of asymmetrical and ‘square’ teeth outweigh any benefits of chain retention. The NSB Variable Tooth pattern ensures efficient power transfer by allowing the chain to freely roll on and off the ring, and long wear life due to our thicker than standard teeth.

While not the first to release aftermarket M8000 rings, we’ve taken the time to ensure our rings have the best chainline and perform flawlessly. Our rings are now available from our worldwide partners and online through northshorebillet.com.


Since 2003, NSB has been making high quality Canadian made bicycle components. First located in North Vancouver, we were drawn to Whistler for its diverse riding and small mountain town atmosphere. While being a small company in Whistler has allowed us to stay close to the roots of mountain biking, we strive to keep up with the latest manufacturing technologies and to remain competitive on a global scale.

www.northshorebillet.com

New Shimano 11-Speed Drivetrain Additions

Today Shimano releases a selection of new products and features making their way into the component manufacturer’s 2017 road and MTB line-ups.

Mountain bikers benefit from new 11-speed drivetrain additions with the following new products:

  • 1×11 chain ring with Dynamic Chain Engagement.
  • Wide ranging 11-46T cassette compatible with XTR or DEORE XT 1×11 set ups.
  • QUICK-LINK for 11-speed chains.

  • Elsewhere additions at the mid-range level include:

  • New gear combinations for 2×11 and 3×10 cranksets.
  • New hydraulic disc brakes at the middle and entry level.
  • And a disc brake rotor lock ring promising easier assembly.

    Drivetrains

    New XTR and Deore XT 1×11 speed chain rings have been developed thanks to studies with world level cross-country and trail riders in all conditions, from the dry and dusty conditions of the Americas and southern Europe to the heavy mud of winter-time northern Europe.

    Efficient chain management was the goal and the new XTR (SM- CRM91 and DEORE XT (SM-CRM81) chain rings do this by introducing a concept called Dynamic Chain Engagement (DCE).

  • The modified tooth profile on the CRM91 and CRM81 DCE chain rings are designed to provide superior chain retention, lower driving sound and increased durability. Steel plated teeth on the XT version provide greater durability, while strengthened aluminum teeth on the XTR version keep the weight down.Dynamic Chain Engagement

    The new cassette for 1×11 riders offers a super-wide 11-46T range providing optimal gear choices for Enduro riders. The target weight of the CS-M8000 cassette is 450g and it’s designed to work across XTR and Deore XT platforms.

    To provide greater flexibility Shimano now introduce an 11- speed chain QUICK-LINK (SM-CN900-11).

  • It is designed with tool-free assembly in mind for quick on-the-trail repairs, although for rapid assembly of multiple chains a professional assembly tool (TL-CN10) is also available.SM-CN900-11

    New gear combinations offered on new 2×11 and 3×10 cranksets are focused on lower gears for riders riding in steep mountainous areas.

  • The DYNA-SIS 11 FC-MT700 34-24T crankset features HOLLOWTECH II crank arms. Meanwhile the 3×10 MT500 crankset provides 40-30-22T rings and a 2-piece crank arm with a stiff, solid and robust construction.FC-MT700-2_zz_zz_STD_S1

    Brakes

    Sitting just below ACERA level, Shimano introduces two new non-series M365 and M315 hydraulic disc brakes. The M365 comes with a lighter aluminium lever and both brakes offer technology adopted from top-of-the-range disc brakes such as noise-free stable braking performance, and quick and clean bleeding.SM-RT10

    Complementing the new M365 and M315 disc brakes is a new lock ring style for 160mm or 180mm SM-RT10 rotors, designed to simplify handling and operation for workshops and manufacturers.

    Two new tools provide quick and easy maintenance for rotor installation, either the TL-FC36 outer serration wrench or the TL-LR11 inner serration socket tool.

Flow’s First Bite: 2016 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

The best travel companions are fun, interesting and relaxed. But when it comes to bikes and not people to travel with it pays to be light, smooth and versatile, right?

It’s our pleasure to introduce to you our new Pine Lime Express – the 2016 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5.

The second half of our Flow Nation fleet that joins the Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5, this 140mm travel carbon beauty is winning us over already after one week of enthusiastic ‘new bike frothing’ riding. We’ll be throwing this on the back of the car, and packing it in a box to fly and drive around as we feature our next season of must ride destinations.

Check out our Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 first impressions here: Flow’s First Bite: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5.

We’ll be putting in a lot of miles on this rig, and it’ll be used to test a lot of parts but in the meantime let’s take a look at how it came out of the box.

Trek Remedy  26
Remedy 9.8 27.5 for $6099.

Where does it fit in? With 140mm travel and fairly modest geometry, the Remedy sits just below the realm of the super-slack ‘enduro race bike’. It’s aimed to be ridden hard, but also isn’t going to shy away from flatter terrain, so to put the Remedy in a category we’d call it a big all-mountain bike.

There’s a near mirror of this bike with 29″ wheels available, same price, nearly the same spec just with 29″ wheels. We went 27.5″ for the fun of it, sure the 29″ may be faster but we’re not racing anyone.

It’s a well thought out bike, with nice features like a thinner rear tyre for less weight and faster rolling, the Mino Link little reversible chip in the rocker arm for geometry adjustment and frame protection underneath the down tube an on the sides of the seat stays.

Trek Remedy  2

Trek Remedy  4

FOX and Shimano. It’s a FOX and Shimano show here (with a RockShox Reverb seatpost sneaking in there) and the new 11-speed Shimano XT gives the Remedy an enormous range of gears, via the new wide range cassette and double chainring setup. We can’t sing louder praise for this new groupset, hear our thoughts in our full review here: Shimano M8000 11-speed tested. 

The new XT is closer in performance to the premium Shimano XTR stuff than ever before, the brakes are so dialled and light under the finger and shifting is even more precise and solid to engage gears.

It does have a double chainring and front derailleur, we’ll be swapping to a single ring as we like the neater and less cluttered loop

A FOX 36 fork is not exactly a common sight on a bike of this travel amount, typically reserved for bigger 150mm+ bikes the big legged 36mm diameter legs look huge on the front of this bike and sitting down at 140mm travel its going to be amazingly stout when ploughed into rocks, woohooo! We reviewed the older version of the FOX 36 at 160mm on the front of a Norco Range, check that review out here. FOX 36 review. But with the new FIT 4 damper and a regular 15mm quick release axle, the new version is more user friendly and feels extra supple.

RE:aktiv: Out the back the FOX rear shock uses Trek’s proprietary RE:aktiv with a 3-position damper. But the DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) dual air spring system has gone from the 2016 range due to the new FOX EVOL large volume air can giving the bike its targeted spring rate curves and suppleness.

We’ve ridden the RE:aktiv damper a few times, and it sure does remain active and supple whilst in trail and climb mode, breaking away the instant a bump hits the rear wheel. We find ourselves riding in the middle rear shock setting a lot, which keeps the shock riding high in its travel and with less wallowing, but thanks to the fancy damper it still takes a hit without spiking harshly.

Trek Remedy  10
The FOX/Trek RE:aktiv damper keeps things firm yet sensitive.
Trek Remedy  22
Chunky legs up front! A FOX 36 fork at only 140mm.

The other bits. Bontrager make up the majority of the cockpit components and the tyres. A big 2.4″ XR4 up front is a great sight, we’ve been huge fans of this exact tyre for a couple years now, the big volume and tacky tread wins us over every corner.

You could dress it up, or down. The Remedy is the bike we want for exploring new trails, it blurs the lines between an all-round trail bike and a hard hitting enduro machine with the ability to go either side really well.

If only the Remedy was available from their cool Project One custom paint job and spec program, this is a bike that we’d love to have as our own but we’d probably just select this colour and build with Shimano XTR Di2 anyhow… Did we say Di2? Stay tuned.

Tested – 2016 Shimano XT 11 Speed

The new Shimano XT looks, feels and works so damn nice that it’s hard to believe this isn’t Shimano’s top tier offering.

Shimano’s workhorse component group has gone under the knife in a big way. Front to back, everything has received some love, with the most notable change that it’s now an 11-speed drivetrain. Highlights of 2016 Shimano Deore XT M8000 include:

– 11-42 wider range cassette. Previously only going as low as a 36 tooth sprocket, Shimano’s 11 speed XT now has 11-40 and 11-42 tooth cassette options, giving riders a huge useable range of gears.

– Single, double or triple chain ring options.  XT retains a wide range of options for all riders, and is still available a triple and double chainring setup, as well as single-ring options.

– Crisp new shifters.  The new shifters look a lot like the premium XTR models and feel lighter and crisper under the thumb than before.

– Derailleurs.  More options for the front derailleur (including the new side cable pull version, for bikes with tyre clearance issues) and a sleeker, tougher rear derailleur with an adjustable clutch tension.

– Refined brakes. Dropping a few grams, the new XT brakes also look a lot more like XTR in their shape.

– Pedals. Revised pedals offer more support around the cleat area in both Race and Trail configurations.

For more background info on the new XT, read our first impressions piece here: XT First Impressions.

Shimano XT (1)

Shimano XT 11 Speed 11
Shimano’s Shadow + derailleurs do a great job of hiding away out of harm, tucked underneath the dropout. In comparison to SRAM they certainly look a lot slimmer from the side profile.

Riding XT

We’ve had the new 11-speed XT drivetrain fitted to our Yeti SB-5 for a few weeks now. Previously this bike was fitted with a SRAM X01 drivetrain, so we opted to run the nearest XT equivalent, a 1×11 setup with 32-tooth ring. Here are our early impressions.

Drivetrain:

The single-ring drivetrain we fitted was equipped with the 32-tooth DCE (Dynamic Chain Engagement) chainring and the super-wide range Rhythm Step 11-42 tooth cassette out the back. The two big questions that we brought to the this test were: would the 11-42 cassette provide an adequate spread of gears for 1×11 use (especially compared to SRAM’s 10-42 offering)? And would the chain stay on without a chain guide?

The second question is easy to answer. Did the chain drop off the chain ring? No, not once. During our testing we didn’t experience any dropped chains, not even a hint of it. And after a few rides bedding in the system, the chainring and chain were a quiet and smooth duo, gliding along with zero noise or feedback.

Did the chain drop off the chain ring? No, not once.

The SRAM narrow/wide chain ring system has proven to be near flawless – we’ve only dropped chains with narrow/wide rings a handful of times or in muddy conditions – so effective chain retention was always going to be vital in ensuring uptake of Shimano’s 1×11 system. Many other chain ring manufacturers have been jumping aboard with the alternating teeth thickness design (Race Face, Wolftooth and E13 are just a few), Shimano’s take on the single ring design however is very different. The teeth are consistent in shape/width but they are much taller and squarer than on traditional rings. Said to increase chain retension by 150%, the new teeth profile has us convinced.

Shimano XT 11 Speed 1
The new DCE (Dynamic Chain Engagement) ring, available in 30, 32 and 34 tooth options.

Even still, the old debate applies: would you run a chain guide for added security and peace of mind? You only need to drop the chain once for it to become a problem… It’s up to you to decide. Thankfully there are many neat, lighter upper guides coming out that do a great job of making sure the chain won’t wander off the teeth when you don’t want it to.

Shimano XT 11 Speed 3
The Rhythm Step cassette. Steel construction on an aluminium spider, and a dark grey aluminium 42 tooth cog.

Changing gears with the new shifters is so very precise; they have a much more positive and solid feel to the click, but with such a resounding click does not come increased effort, the action is really very light. In many respects, the new shifters feel like the perfect mix between the solid of Shimano’s beefy gravity group, Saint and the lightness of XTR.

Shimano claim shifting action to be 20% lighter overall, and with a new OPTISLICK coated gear cable, the effort to shift is reflected in the way the derailleur unmistakably selects gears, providing you with a very easy system to use.

Our test kit uses a 32 tooth front chainring and the super-wide 11-42 tooth cassette. We found the range to be highly effective, and at the low range we could ride up steep pinches without wishing for any lower gears. If you’re particularly keen to gear your bike lower or taller, you can opt for a 30 or 34-tooth ring, or of course XT is also available with a double or triple ring. In comparison, SRAM’s single rings are available in a much wider range of sizes (even going as low as a 26-tooth), but the most popular size is a 32-tooth.

As many have noted, SRAM’s XD Driver allows for a wider range cassette than Shimano (10-42 vs 11-42), but in our opinion we never missed the slightly higher gearing at the top end – we think having adequately low climbing gears is much more important than a higher top gear. Admittedly, we aren’t exactly cross country racers, but our thoughts are that if you’re going that fast you’re likely to be on tarmac, so just chill and watch out for cars.

The Rhythm Step cassette comes in two variants: 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-27-31-35-40 (optimal for 2×11 or 3×11 use) and 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-37-42 (for use with a single front chainring).

Shimano XT

Brakes:

It’s safe to say Shimano’s hydraulic brakes are known as being the most reliable and consistent options over the last few years. But no brakes are perfect, and we’ve had our fair share of issues from both the SRAM and Shimano parties – SRAM have often proven inconsistent and requiring frequent bleeding, while some Shimano’s have had weeping piston seals.

Like the rest of the groupset, the XT brakes have had a complete overhaul. Looking more like XTR brakes than ever before, the slim shape and stumpy lever takes up very little space on the bars, and with the I-Spec mounting option, combining the brake and shifter to neaten your cockpit even further is a possibility.

What we look for in a good brake is a consistent lever feel at all times and powerful bite that can be modulated with one finger on the lever. The XT stoppers score top marks in this regard, they feel absolutely fantastic under the finger. In many regards they are on par, if not better feeling, than the more expensive XTR brakes.

The two external adjustments let you decide exactly where you want the lever to sit and how far you want it to pull into the bar before the pads contact, and they work a treat.

These brakes provided perfect modulation and power whilst never feeling grabby, delivering a sweet amount of power consistent with how hard you squeeze the lever.

Shimano place a real emphasis on heat management, using a variety of technologies to ensure heat doesn’t become an issue. A trick aluminium rotor with a steel braking surface makes the most of the best properties of both materials, dissipating heat whilst proving a durable braking surface. We had no chance in heating up these brakes to a significant degree on our usual test grounds around Sydney, but we tried our best with no sign of fade or power loss. Top marks once again.

The new brake levers are slimmer in shape and look and feel a lot more like their expensive brother, XTR.
The new brake levers are slimmer in shape and look and feel a lot more like their expensive brother, XTR.

Verdict:

Shimano had definitely lost some ground to SRAM over the past couple of years as single chain ring drivetrains have become more and more popular, but with the new XT we’re seeing a turning of the tide. Shimano now have an affordable 11-speed option, and with XT’s 11-42 cassette, they can offer a viable 1×11 drivetrain for the masses as an alternative to SRAM. Because XT 11-speed will fit just fine on a standard Shimano freehub body, we also think it’s going to be incredibly popular with riders who’d been holding out on going to 11-speed because they didn’t want to have to purchase a new rear hub/freehub/wheel.

We don’t have any set-in-stone pricing for the new XT drivetrain yet unfortunately, but Shimano have indicated that prices will be within 5% of current XT.

This makes the new 11-speed XT considerably less expensive than SRAM’s X01 drivetrain, which we’d pick as being an equivalent item in terms of placement and performance.

If you’ve been thinking it was about time to give your bike a drivetrain upgrade, or if you’ve sitting on the fence of going for a 1×11 drivetrain, we can highly recommend the new XT group, or if you’re eyeing off a new 2016 bike that is specced with the 11 speed XT, snap it up.

Shimano XT 11 Speed 25

Shimano XT – Components of Adventure | Episode 1: Chile

Shimano XT was the first ever dedicated Mountain Bike group and we work hard to make sure XT serves the needs of mountain bikers everywhere.

To celebrate the launch of the new M8000 version, We set-off to Chile with Thomas & Andrew to meet up with locals Ignacio & Nicholas, to celebrate and document the fundamental enjoyment of Mountain Biking. To remind us all that no matter where you live, who you are or how you ride, nothing beats going on a mountain bike adventure with friends.

The Build Begins: Shimano XT 11 Speed On Test

It’s time to unbox all the goodies and build up our Yeti 5C test bike with the all-new Shimano XT groupset. Oh dear, this is going to be fun.

Take a peek at our first impressions of the whole XT group here: http://flowmountainbike.com/post-all/shimano-xt-11-speed-with-new-11-42-cassette/

The Yeti 5C has been mighty impressive, on a recent trip to Rotorua we fell in love with the grounded and hard-charging bike that loved the flowing singletrack.

For the XT test we will begin with the double chainring version of the new groupset, opting for a 36/26 tooth crank with the 11-40 tooth cassette out the back. And in a few weeks when the single chainring and super low range cassette arrives we’ll be fitting that up too.  The single ring variant has made us most excited about the new XT, and could be Shimano’s answer to the super popular SRAM 1×11 drivetrains.

The new brakes will go onto a 180mm front, and 160mm rear disc rotor and will bolt via Shimano’s centrelock mounts to the super hot XTR Trail wheels.  The wheels are 24mm wide internally, and use Shimano’s mouth wateringly attractive and tough carbon/aluminium construction. More on those later.

New FOX suspension front and back add to this bike’s ‘out of the future’ spec, with all these parts still a few months away. We tested the FOX fork and shock recently, review here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-2016-fox-34-fork-and-float-dps-shock/

So stay tuned for an update from the trail as we put the highly anticipated Shimano XT to test.

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11 Speed, double chainring, that is a lot of gears!
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Are we missing anything?
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The new cassette comes in two variants, 11-40 and 11-42. We’ve got the 40t option here, for use with the double chainring.
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The new FOX DPS shock with EVOL air can, next level stuff.
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Expect to see the FOX 34 fork on many bikes next season, it has taken what we love about FOX forks and thrown aside what we didn’t. Longer service intervals, more support in the air spring and all in a remarkably light package.
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22 speeds should be enough.
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Shimano XTR Trail wheels, wide and tough.
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Rolling on the 650B treads from Specialized, a Butcher up front, Purgatory out the back.
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The brakes shave a few grams from the current version, but will take up less space on the bars with a new slimmer clamp.
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Shifter windows are back! We’ll try them out for a while at lease, but they are easily removed if you wish.
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The XT rear mech goes under the knife in a big way, looking a lot like the new XTR one with an adjustable and hidden clutch lever.
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Shimano are all about being cool, with their aluminium brake rotors sandwiched by a steel tracking surface. Ice-Tech, good name for it.
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The Yeti 5C is a real dreamy bike, and deserves any fine test product that walks through the doors here at Flow.

Build time!

Flow’s Rotorua EWS Dreambike: Pivot Mach 6

When Shimano Australia asked us if we’d like an entry to the opening Enduro World Series round in Rotorua, we snapped it up faster than Jared Graves out of the gate. But we needed a bike.

Sure, we could’ve used a review bike or one of our own personal fleet, but we wanted something special.

Yes please.
Yes please.

The Pivot Mach 6 is a bike that we’ve always liked (you can find our review of last year’s model here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-pivot-mach-6-carbon/). One hundred and fifty five millimetres of DW link rear suspension pedals better than just about anything, whilst still gobbling up the hits when the trail points downhill.

Thank you Mr Weagle.
Thank you Mr Weagle.

With the frame sorted, the next step was suspension. Up front we opted for the Rockshox Pike RCT3 (which we’ve also tested: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-rockshox-pike/). This Pike needs no introduction, having been widely accredited as the new standard for fork performance. The ability to dial in a supple ride whilst still retaining control over the big hits makes the Pike a winner.

The RCT3 features low speed compression damping as well as lockout capability.
The RCT3 features low speed compression damping as well as lockout capability.

The rear suspension is handled by Fox. the Float X CTD with Trail Adjust is a shock we’ve been lucky to spend alot of time on (you can find our long term review here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/tested-fox-float-x-ctd-wtrail-adjust/). Despite the infuriating rebound dial, the Float X is an absolute ripper for Enduro racing. The smoothness of the entire stroke is remarkable, and the trail adjust allows you to fine tune your suspension past the regular CTD settings.

Where do I adjust my rebound?
Where do I adjust my rebound?

We didn’t have to worry about the drivetrain or wheels. Shimano Australia were nice enough to strap on a succulent mix of XT and XTR components. The eleven speed XTR drivetrain is a standout, providing lightening quick shifting and a wide range 11-40 tooth cassette.

Shimano's XTR cassette makes use of aluminium, steel and titanium cogs.
Shimano’s XTR cassette makes use of aluminium, steel and titanium cogs.

The wheelset, also supplied by Shimano, is the ever reliable XT hoops. Light, strong and dependable, we feel these are perfect for some Enduro abuse!

IMG_2748
We don’t think there’ll be any shifting issues with the Pivot.

Being able to stop on a dime definitely gives you the confidence to push harder. Shimano XT brakes were an easy choice.

Our XT brakes are strapped onto a seven hundred and sixty millimetre wide carbon bar from Pivot.
Our XT brakes are strapped onto a seven hundred and sixty millimetre carbon bar from Pivot.

Our choice of dropper post was the KS Integra -a reliable choice that should require little maintenance. The post is also cable actuated, making repairs far easier than if a hydraulic system was used.

Black, black and more black.
Black, black and more black.

To round out the build we’ve decided to run Maxxis High Roller II tyres. The High Roller rolls quickly, but still provides enough cornering bite when required. For the fast, ‘hero dirt’ conditions of Rotorua we feel this is a good choice.

Rotorua, here we come!
Rotorua, here we come!

With Crankworx Rotorua fast approaching, it’s time to get out and get acquainted with our new Enduro weapon! We’ll be keeping you posted with our progress on the bike, so keep an eye out.