Commencal Meta AM 4.2 – Long-Term Test Update

RockShox Super Deluxe Coil RCT vs RockShox Super Deluxe RT Remote

The Commencal Meta has been given a plush injection! It has been a long, long time since we rode a coil shock. With air shocks being so damn good, we didn’t understand the point of throwing on a coil – extra weight, fiddly setup swapping coils, it all seemed unnecessary. For hardcore racers, with 15 minute descents to contend with, it made sense. But for the punters… really? To be honest, we’d painted the recent uptake of coil shocks as a trend, driven by wannabes with an overinflated sense of their own abilities, and one that would surely pass.

We’d painted the recent uptake of coil shocks as a trend, driven by wannabes with an overinflated sense of their own abilities.

Fitting a coil shock added just under 400g to the Meta.

But then we pulled our head out of our butt and actually gave this whole coil shock renaissance a go. And, holy hell, there’s something to it! We’d been toying with the idea of swapping the shock on our Meta for a while (we didn’t like the clutter of the remote lock out on the original shock), so when the chance to try out the new RockShox Super Deluxe Coil RCT came our way, we grabbed it.

Weight difference – coil vs air shock

The weight penalty cannot be overlooked. The RockShox Super Deluxe RT Remote weighs 480g, the RCT Coil shock is 860g (with a 350lb/in spring fitted). That’s not an insignificant amount of weight, and if you’re a heavier rider using a beefier spring, the weight penalty will be higher still.

With a three-position compression lever to stiffen it up on the fly, the only real downsides when you’re climbing is the extra weight.

We welcome you, plush gods

But the weight difference took about three seconds to forget. From the very first moment we hopped on the bike, we had a big, big grin. We’d forgotten just how good a coil feels – that lively, silken PLUSHNESS – it’s brilliant. You can feel the difference instantly – the rear suspension is more active, more sensitive. There’s more traction, so you can go faster. It’s simple, really.

Now we’re not suggesting that a coil is the right option for everyone, but on this kind of bike a coil shock does make a lot of sense. The Commencal is always going to be a bit of pig on the climbs, so why not optimise its performance on the way back down? The shock has all the levers you need to aid your path back up the hill (including a compression lever, which firms it up dramatically, plus separate low-speed compression adjustment) so you’re really just contending with the extra weight. We can’t see ourselves rushing to put an air shock back on.

Compared to our usual go-to XT Trail pedals, it’s clear to see just how much more surface area the Saints have.

Shimano’s Saint pedals have been a long time coming.

Shimano Saint SPD pedals.

The long-awaited follow up to the DX SPD is finally here, with the new gravity oriented Saint pedal, and we’ve just popped them onto our Commencal to review.

Compared to our usual go-to XT Trail pedals, it’s clear to see just how much more surface area the Saints have. They’re designed to give you as much stability as possible with more flexible gravity style shoes, plus there are four height adjustable pins per side too, to bite into the soles of your shoe if you end up getting a little loose and need to ride it out without being fully clipped in. They weigh in at 540g/pair, which is a fair whack more than the XTs, which are just 403g/pair.

Maxxis Forekaster 2.6″ tyres

The Maxxis Minions that came on the Meta have been swapped out too, replaced by the generous 2.6″ bag of the Maxxis Forekaster. They’re billed as ‘last season’ tyre, which we assume is North American for ‘damp conditions’. Now, we don’t have a lot of damp to ride these in, but we’d heard good things about their performance in sandy trails too, which we have plenty of.

The large volume of the Forekaster 2.6″ makes for a supple ride.

Fitting the Forekasters shaved about 300g off the Meta, which was welcome given the extra heft added by the coil shock and Saint pedals. Our impressions so far are that they’re fast rollers, and that the big bag floats beautifully over sand and loose surfaces. They’re a supple tyre too, giving plenty of climbing grip on the rear. Where they do feel less impressive is under hard braking – compared to the Minions, they just don’t bite nearly as firmly. We’ve had one puncture so far, which isn’t unreasonable given the rocky conditions, but we’d had no such dramas with the Minions.

Looking for more on our Commencal? Check out our initial impressions here, or our recent update here.

 

 

 

Shimano Enduro Tour: All-New Three Race Series Announced

Australia’s top Enduro event managers, Event Management Solutions Australia have today launched a brand new, top-tier Enduro Series, the Shimano Enduro Tour.

The 3-round series will take in some of Australia’s most iconic riding destinations.  Starting on the Gold Coast in October, the series will then travel to the home of the Blue Derby Trail network in the Northeast of Tasmania.  Riders will then round out the 3-round series at the top of the Mt Buller trail network.

All three events will aim to cater for the top level rider, looking to prepare for, or break into the Elite level of riding in the Enduro World Series.

Ripping through the snow gums at Buller.
The Derby EWS in 2017 was a real highlight of the season, with Detonator claiming the trail of the year too.

All three events will aim to cater for the top level rider, looking to prepare for, or break into the Elite level of riding in the Enduro World Series.  All events will carry qualifying points towards the 2019 Enduro World Series.  The Derby and Mt Buller events will also form legs 1 and 2 of the newly formed EWS Asia Pacific Continental Series before it continues in New Zealand in early 2019.

Following on from the success in 2017 of the Shimano Enduro Tasmania, Shimano has once again partnered with the EMS Australia team, to take Enduro racing to the masses.  Whilst there will be plenty of motivation for the top riders to participate, the relaxed and fun atmosphere that EMS Australia are known to create will carry through with participation categories, and kids / junior events at most venues.

 

Series Dates

Gold Coast, QLD                 Sunday October 14

Derby, Tasmania                 Sunday November 11

Mt Buller, Victoria           Sunday December 2

 

With significant industry support the series will be able to offer over $20,000 in cash prizes with over $10,000 for the series top 3 elite men and women.  Thanks to Shimano there will also be over $10,000 of product to give away to participants.


About the venues

Gold Coast.  With views to the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise, the trails on the Gold Coast can be brutal.  With many stages consisting of rocky technical sections that can be very unforgiving once off line. With the beaches just ten minutes drive from the venue, every day is going to be a great day.

Derby.  What hasn’t already been said and written about Derby, probably isn’t worth talking about. Since the inception of the Blue Derby Trail network, the area has continued to grow and develop.  The accommodation offerings continue to grow along with the trail network itself.  In the lead up to this event, the team at World Trail are busy constructing event more trail, some of which will rival, Detonate, voted Trail of the Year by the EWS community in 2017.

Mt Buller.  One of Australia’s original Alpine Mountain Bike Parks, the Bike Buller network will utilise a range of trails in the area to ensure that participants get the most out of the Alpine riding experience.

Event Website    www.emsaustralia.net.au/events/shimanoendurotour/

Facebook and Instagram @emsenduro

e-mail  [email protected]

Fresh Product: Shimano’s New AM7 and AM9 Shoes

If you have shoe fetish, then Shimano are here to satisfy your needs. The big S have been rolling out enough new models over the past two years to keep even this bloke happy. There was the M200 (review here), then the ME7 (which we rate as one of the best all-round shoes available), plus on the XC side there’s been the new XC5, XC7 and XC9, and the premium S-Phyre range too.


The new AM7s are our favourite shoe from the new Shimano trail/enduro range. We like the slightly casual styling and the fit is very comfortable.

The latest to land are the new AM7 and AM9, two new SPD shoes that are intended for everything from trail riding to downhill. If you don’t clip in, there’s a flat pedal equivalent too, the GR7 and GR9, though we haven’t grabbed a pair of them to review yet.

We first saw these shoes a few months back when we headed to the Rockhampton round of the National Gravity Enduro series with the Shimano team (read the write up from the weekend here – it was epic), but they’ve only just landed for sale this past week, right in time for the National Enduro Champs, where Chris Panozzo rode the AM9 shoes to third place.

The AM9’s have a little more protection around the ankle than the AM7, and get speed laces rather than traditional style laces.

 First impressions? They’ve got that classic Shimano set-and-forget feel, with just the right amount of friction between the shoe and our XT Trail pedals.

There are plenty of similarities between the two shoes. Both have the same grippy sole with the huge pedal channel, which really helps guide clipping in and keeps the cleat nicely recessed for plenty of shoe/pedal contact, and both use a velcro strap for ankle closure. On both shoes, the top box is a semi-firm plastic, for more toe protection. The AM7 runs laces however, and a slightly lower ankle which has the same neoprene cuff as seen on the ME7 to keep rocks, dirt and water from entering the top of the shoe. There’s a little more tech going on with the AM9, which has speed laces and a flap to keep it all tidy. There’s a more ankle protection too, with a higher cuff using more padding. They’re still not a bulky shoe, and a significantly slimmer looking than the previous version of the AM9000.

The deep pedal channel really helps with locating your pedal when clipping back in in the heat of the moment.
Flat pedal users get the GR7 or GR9, which have very similar styling to the AM7/AM9.

We’ve begun riding the AM7s already, with a couple of outings under our belt so far. First impressions? They’ve got that classic Shimano set-and-forget feel, with just the right amount of friction between the shoe and our XT Trail pedals. They’re not too wide either, easily clearing the girthy seat stays found on our new Commencal Meta AM test bike.

The AM7s will retail for about $179, the AM9s at $219. In terms of the flat pedal shoes, GR7s will also be $179, with the GR9s at $199.

New Gravity-Focused Shimano Bike Buller Festival: Entries Open

Entries are open now for the new-look, more gravity-focused Shimano Bike Buller Festival, which will be held 10-12 March 2018.


So what’s new? For 2018, the crew from Rapid Ascent have opted to make the most of Mt Buller’s seriously epic descending potential. They’ve shifted the event focus away from the longer cross-country formats, following the market demand for more gravity and enduro style stages. The event now even includes a proper multi-stage Enduro race.

You’ve got to give credit to the Rapid Ascent crew – they’ve kept this event evolving. If you’ve done Bike Buller in years past, you’ll find it’s an entirely different experience now.

2018 sees a return of the 1100m descent of the Super D.

They’ve also introduced a new Gravity Gods combined title, which will be awarded to the rider with the best overall position across the ABOM Downhillm, Gravity Enduro and Outlaw All-Mountain events.

Cross country isn’t overlooked – there’s still a 30km XC stage, taking in the ridiculously good singletrack of Stonefly and Cornhill – but the shift towards more gravity is definitely a good evolution. After all, Buller’s descents are what make this place such a standout destination! Read below for the official word from Rapid Ascent.

Buller is a superb spot, we love it here.

EVENT DETAILS:

When: Saturday 10th – Monday 12th March, 2018 (March long weekend – VIC)
Where: Mt Buller, Victoria, Australia
What: A 3 day mountain bike festival on the spectacular trails at Mt Buller in the breathtaking Victorian Alps. The event coincides with the renowned ‘Picnic in the Park’ food, wine and music festival

  • GRAVITY RACES:
    ABOM Down Hill
    Gravity Enduro
    Super-D
    Outlaw All-mountain Trophy
  • XCOUNTRY RACES:
    30km Stonefly / Corn Hill circuit
  • SPECTATOR EVENTS:
    16” Dual Slalom
    Pump Track Pursuit
    Picnic in the Park
  • KIDS EVENTS:
    Village Ride
    Picnic in the Park Bike Fun

Entries are now open for the 2018 Shimano Bike Buller Festival that will see three massive days of mountain bike racing on Mt Buller’s internationally-recognised trails from the 10th-12th of March, 2018.
The mighty 10th edition of the event features a packed schedule of racing for all types of riders, including downhill, gravity enduro and cross country races, as well as spectator and kids events.


There will be a greater emphasis on gravity in 2018 that will see the return of the Mt Buller Super-D, and the Gravity Gods title for the key gravity races; The ABOM downhill, Gravity Enduro (Round 4 of the Victorian Gravity Tour) and the Outlaw all-mountain trophy.
The new 30km Stonefly-Corn Hill Circuit features all the best cross country single track in a ‘royal loop’ of the mountains, and the 16” Dual Slalom and Pump Track Pursuit round out the three-day schedule of racing.

What event would be complete with out kids’ bike slalom?

Over 600 riders are expected to race at Mt Buller for the event, with an even larger number of friends and family who also come to the alpine resort to spectate and enjoy the range of other, non-riding activities on offer.

Sam Maffett General Manager of Rapid Ascent Event Management said he was thrilled to have officially opened entries to the 2018 Shimano Bike Buller Festival.

“We are stoked to be bringing the 10th anniversary of the Bike Buller Festival to riders of all backgrounds and levels. Mt Buller is Australia’s most epic mountain biking destination, with some of the best trails in the country. Combined with a stacked schedule of races and full social calendar the appeal is high for groups of friends to come to the event together as well as riders and their families,” said Maffett.

“We welcome riders to enter just one or two races or lock in for the combined-races and contest the ‘Gravity Gods’ crown. It is the ultimate MTB event at the ultimate MTB destination. We can’t wait to see you there.”

The three-day celebration of mountain biking features an extensive Bike Expo with a range of social activities including the spectacle of the pump track and dual slalom races, MTB movies in the cinema, kids’ rides and the popular ‘Picnic in the Park’ food, wine and music festival held in the Mirimbah Park at the base of Mt Buller.

Toby Shingleton of Shimano Australia said he was excited to be heading to Mt Buller in 2018 for the Shimano Bike Buller Festival.

The Buller pump track sits right in the middle of the village, making for awesome spectating.

“As a supporter of MTB in Australia over many years our team is looking forward to joining riders from all over the country for this three day festival of riding in the Victorian Alps,” said Shingleton. “In addition to our Shimano Experience Project event centre, we will be bringing a team of our best sponsored riders across Gravity Enduro, XC and DH, as well as our fleet of STEPS E8000 demo bikes.”
The revolutionary Shimano Bike Buller Festival brings all that is great about mountain biking to the one location for a huge weekend of bikes, single track, fresh air and good times at a spectacular mountain top destination. Entries are now open for the Shimano Bike Buller Festival at BIKEBULLER.com.

Rumble in Rocky Enduro: Dust, Rock, Steak and Dust

A gang of three walk into a bar: one lightning fast kid from Mt Beauty, one ultimate cyclist from Sydney and an iconic veteran from the Gold Coast. They order a steak, ride a bull and swap tales of roosting their photographer in dusty turns, pounding rocks on bikes and what bike races they were winning in 1999. It turns out both Jon Odams and Michael Ronning won the legendary 1999 Big Hill Downhill Race in Mt Beauty, VIC, just up the street from the hospital where the kid – Ben McIlroy – was taking his first breaths and stepping into the world as a wide-eyed baby. Funny, coincidence, eh?

Downhill legend, Ultimate Cyclist and The Junior lined up and ready for action.
The anticipation of flying somewhere completely new to ride bikes, a great feeling.
Flat floodplains, large ranges, meandering rivers, and a strong QLD flavour all round.
Where are we again? Whoa, a looooong way from home.
Rockhampton after sunrise, a major city in South East Queensland with a population of 80,665 and allegedly has 300 days of sunshine each year. Sun!

We are in Rockhampton for the fourth round of the MTBA Gravity Enduro National Series, a place that none of us had visited prior, we’d heard rumours of an expanding network of trails where the weather is absolutely prime in July and as we’d also find out; it’s the steak capital of Australia. Joining us was Flow’s Mick Ross (Hi everyone, yes, that’s me), Toby Shingleton from Shimano HQ on his 765th domestic flight of the year and so eager to shred, and Ronning’s lovely partner Karla.

Our grand master plan was to race, test out the new Shimano shoes, Pearl Izumi threads, get Ben dialled in on his brand new Giant Reign and score some banger shots of the crew riding sweet trails.

So, we somehow fit into our deluxe low-speed rental mini-bus and let the spirit of enduro reign.


Ben McIlroy – The Kid.

Ben, he’ll drop you on the trail faster that you can say, “Hey, wait for me, I’m in my thirties!”
Ben, circa 1999.

Fresh off the press was Ben McIlroy’s new ride, trading in his trusty Trek of many years for a brand new Giant Reign, he enters a new era of support from the excellent folks at Giant and adding to his well-earned position as one of Shimano Australia’s investments as an up-and-coming talent in Enduro. Giant and Shimano have a knack for picking young talent to foster, it’s bound to do good things for Ben.

Under the shade of a mango tree, Ben cracks a grin, he’s wearing shorts in July.

Let’s just talk about Ben for a moment here, for those that may not know who he is. Ben is born and bred in Tawonga just around the bend from Mt Beauty in Victoria’s northeast, one of Australia’s most iconic mountain bike battlegrounds of the mid-to-late nineties. The place is steeped in MTB folklore, it’s played stage to many great races, and anyone from this era will be fairly nostalgic about the mountain town. In his last year in high school, he’s just 18 and as mellow as a fat cat at 4 am on a weekday, but get him up to speed on the trail, and he’ll blow the doors off his opponents. Why so fast? Just take a closer look at his mentor – Chris Panozzo – who has taken Ben under his wing from a young age, showing him the finer things in life like holding your phone in your hand at all times, ok, not necessarily that, but riding damn fast and attacking trails like mad.

Ben won the U21 Category Enduro World Series round #2 in Derby, Tasmania – yeah, he’s kind of hot right now. It’s far from easy to win an enduro race anywhere, let alone the EWS in Derby; a rain-drenched nightmare where the biggest names in the sport floundered, fell to bad luck, struggled in the conditions and failed to live up to the hype. Ben tells us that his performance came down to drawing confidence from the reaction from the crowds, when he rode sections of the race at his best to the delight and cheers of the crowds gave it him the confidence he was racing fast and competitive, so he kept pushing for an amazing result on the international stage. He’s also th reigning U19 National and National Series Champ, solid.

He’s a quiet kid, super quirky and witty, he communicates in the modern channels of Snapchat and Instagram (we’re old, we know) and dresses in random garb from op-shops around the place, he’s likeable, a wizard on the bike and his future is bright.

Ben’s new ride, a Giant Reign Advanced with Shimano XT and Pro Components all-round. Siiiiick!
We arrived in Rocky to find the dustiest, driest trails built ready for the race we’ve ever seen. The trail builders were so excited to see everyone roosting and loving the trails, that’s why they built them.

Michael Ronning – The Iconic Legend.

A magazine cutout of Ronning riding a prototype Gary Fisher downhill bike on the late 90’s was glued into my high school diary, yeah, I was a big fan. Though I’m surely not alone, right, c’mon someone save me…?

Ronning ‘was’ – err, sorry – ‘is’ a huge name in mountain biking around Australia. He was amongst the first Aussie pro riders in downhill racing on the international scene, a real pioneer, and continuing to this day he plays a prominent role in the sport. He was a part of the experimental and fascinating early days, ask him about prototype Shimano dual disc rotors, water cooled brakes, racing downhill in 1992, etc, etc.

Opening a tricked-out Giant bike store in Nerang, QLD (with an upstairs bar dripping in fabulous retro memorabilia!!!) was bound to happen, he’s the man about the place and has a strong role in mentoring and supporting juniors in the local community, we saw it first hand at this race in Rockhampton. He’s famous to anyone who’s been around a while, yet at the same time, he’s approachable and warm to anyone who’s not awkwardly star-struck.

Nothing to be taken too seriously, Ronning’s just happy to be riding and exercising his endless stream of witty banter on anyone within earshot.
So much speed, so much shred, Ronning is great to watch and ride with.
Ronning, circa 1999.

A wealth of knowledge from being deeply immersed in the mountain bike scene for so long is rare in Australia, and Ronning represents with heart and genuine love of the sport, he’s the one that kept dropping the term ‘spirit of enduro’. While he did vanish from the game for quite some time, it was inevitable that he’d come back to rekindle his love and passion for riding and racing bikes. A downhill pro from Cairns, the transition into enduro was natural, and he’s damn good at it, and this weekend would confirm that to all.

This guy, a legend of the sport, so stoked to be shredding trails with mates.
Young Ben Jenkinson under the wing of the master, Ronning.

Jon Odams – The Calm Assassin.

Jon has enough medals from all corners of the sport to fill a filthy big cabinet, add to it his retro late-nineties national titles on the downhill circuit and you’ll agree that Jon is deeply entrenched in Australian mountain biking folklore. He’s a cool character, chilled-out, a father of two, wise with his energy during a race. He loves to ride his bike hard and far; he enjoys travelling to a new place to race. With all this comes an inherent confidence to hold his own amongst the whole field when it comes to race. He’s so bloody relaxed it’s almost unfair; maybe it comes from being around so long in a variety of circles recently like; road, cyclocross, cross country, downhill and yeah – enduro.

During practice at an enduro race, he will not tire himself punching multiple runs like a downhill race; rather it’s about recognising factors that will play to his strength. This time he’d see that if you pushed too hard many would suffer a flat tyre, a crash or a mechanical. Jon aims to stay above it all and remain competitive in the way he knows best.

Jon, calm, racing travelling, reading news made from a paper thing.
“Rip this corner, Jon” ooooooooooh s#$t.
Jon, circa 1999.

We recall seeing him racing the Highland Fling on a cyclocross bike (crazy nutjob) with blisters all over his hands. He’ll be mixing it up with the elites at marathon stage races like the Port to Port and Cape to Cape, calling on his deep base of skills and base strength topped up with a dose of training to make up for sacrifices he makes from being a father of two in a nine-to-five job. He’s raced a Foes LTS in the late nineties, a GT Lobo, Intense M1, 6th place U19 World Champs in Sierra Nevada, Spain, 1999, and top-ten in a 24-hour World Champs. No way would you see many riders placing in the top ten at both Cross Country and Enduro in an MTBA National Round in one season either.

Odams chasing Ben down Lepers Leap, a steep rocky drop down into a quick left and right turn that saw Ben rolling his rear tyre off in practice.

Last year he raced the World Cup Cross Country in Cairns admittedly stating no matter how much he trained and was in the form of his life, the level of racing was out of this world. See what we mean, pretty solid cyclist, huh?


Rockhampton/Dusthampton.

By the colour of the place, it appears to have not rained for a wee while in South East Queensland, the Trailworx crew have been building trails like mad on the foothills of Mount Archer but it had not rained since, it was dry and dusty. Bad? Maybe, but damn it was nice to be riding somewhere so unique.

The moment we rolled out of the carpark and into the singletrack we knew these trails were going to be fun to ride. Coming from Sydney in early July, we were so stoked to be riding the warm trails in the dust. The terrain is quite varied, from tight jangly rocky sections, to open drift corners and massive berms it’s a real mixture of good stuff. The trails take you down steep chutes and along dry creek beds under thick canopies, and the descent from Mount Archer is a seriously mind-bending experience.

We arrived in Rocky to find the dustiest, driest trails we’ve ever seen.
Sussing out the trails during practice.
Riding the brand new descent Trailworx Black, huge berms, hip jumps and fast A-lines.
Ronning leading out the lads on stage two.
Spot the riders.
Training down Turkey.


One down, two remain.

Ben McIlroy took a massive slam in practice, smashing his right side into a rock with a suspected rib injury he made the call to sit out the remainder of practice which would make racing on unfamiliar trails not ideal. Frustratingly sidelined, Ben trundled out on course to support his teammates.

Bruised and battered, and long way from home, time to sit it out.


When in Rockhampton…

A pit-stop to Rockhampton Vinnes for an outfit for the evening’s antics, the crew wanted to do as locals would do and wear some appropriate kit.

Known for its beef industry, when in town, this had to be done.
What a stitch up, Toby from Shimano somehow had us lining up for a publicity stunt, Odams was to ride a bull at the rodeo.
Hahahaa, hahaaa.

“Yeah, nah, yeah, nah”


The Race.

Oh yeah, we are here for the racing, almost forgot that bit!

A round of the 2017 Shimano Queensland Enduro, this event was also a part of MTBA’s National Enduro Series. There was a lot of talk about the ‘MTBA thing’ at this event; it was hard to ignore, possibly responsible for the entry numbers nearly half of a the non-MTBA events in QLD. In June they had almost 300 entries at the Toowoomba round, (admittedly closer to larger population centres of Gold Coast and Brisbane) including around 70 for the women-only event the day before, a very impressive turnout! While here in Rockhampton there was less than 150. What value does the MTBA National Enduro Series bring to the scene? Or does it intimidate potential entrants? We’re just speculating, anyhow.

A handful of dedicated privateers put in the work to make it to all the rounds, from Falls Creek in VIC, Stromlo Forest Park in ACT, Linga Longa in WA, Rockhampton in QLD so far it’s been a very varied and nation-wide series!

With a great format, and a well-thought out stage plan, riders would climb to the top of Mount Archer for the first stage and tackle each stage from 1-6 in numerical order which created a straightforward and easy format for spectators and riders alike. It all went off without a hitch.

Race day! But no big deal… right?
The MTBA badge, legitimising the stature of the event, or an intimidating element?
Getting ready, take your maps out. The course was well thought out, with only two starting locations and a closely bunched finish area to heckle and spectate.
Jon’s Giant Reign Advanced with Maxxis rubber, Shimano XT and FOX suspension.
EMS, the crew behind the EWS event in Derby, are doing an excellent job all round.
Cairns shedder, Berend Boer heads out for a long day in the dust.
Ian Harwood points out the brutal climb from the base of the MTB park up to the summit of Mount Archer to begin stage #1.
Long way to the top under your own steam.

That first climb was way harder than I thought it would be, took nearly one hour. And then dropping into the hardest stage of the day was hard, you hadn’t done any real riding that morning yet, just pedalling on the road and all of a sudden you’re doing Red Bull Rampage… Ronning.

#1 plate holder Dave Ludenia and U19 winner Harrison Dobrowolski nearing the summit.
Aaron Cairns about to drop in.
Old mate loves it.
Mount Archer gives the riders tremendous perspective of the elevation drop to come, and mega views of the whole region.
Jon Odams on ‘The Dawg’, an insane run down from the top of Mount Archer. Soooo fast, so rocky, so much consequence.
Ronning on the hunt.
Wheels, brakes and tyres were destroyed on this day in July.
Riders were carrying chain lube for a regular refresh; it was that dry out there.
Yeooo, the locals!
Ruts from your worst nightmare.
Dobrowolski about to pin it.
Anywhere the brand new trails had a chance to set and pack down, and it was super fast.

The incredibly fast Angela Williams on the grind back to another stage start.
Lepers Leap a fast rock drop into a tight turn was a great point for spectators to gather and heckle.
Local support.


What could have been, Dave Ludenia won five out of six stages, messing up ‘The Dawg’ put him back into third overall. He’s in touch for a top podium place soon for sure.

Dobrowolski skimming.

Job done.

After slogging it out on the trails with only a bit of skin and one collarbone casualty, it was time to compare times and pack up. And it was smiles all round in our camp, with Ronning on top of his age category and Odams taking a very impressive second place in the elite category. Yeaaaah!

For full results, click right here.

Mel Hayes always frothing.
Yeoo, dusty hair product!

Medic!
Casualties.
The day’s fastest, Ryan Leutton from Brisbane. Placing second in all six stages was the key to the win overall.

I thought it was going to be super tight, I think it was consistency across the board that did it for me. It was tough, the old legs were feeling it towards the end. Coming from Brisbane I’ve been doing the South East QLD Series, and really loving it. Stage six would have to be my favourite, mainly because it was the last one…

I’m on the Santa Cruz Nomad, with NS Dynamics helping me with my setup, I use the Fast Suspension cartridge in the forks and a few special air spring mods, and they’ve got me on the Push ElevenSix coil rear shock which is a real standout after trying a few other coil shocks. I went from carbon wheels to aluminium at the last minute, too, it’s better to get down safe and sound especially on that first stage.

I don’t generally play with my suspension too much, I just let Aaron from NS Dynamics handle it, he knows what I need.

Elite Women’s podium from left to right – Mel Hayes, Angela Williams, Julia Boer, Jodi Newton and Caitlin Dore.
Men’s Elite podium from left to right – Adrian Dawson, Jon Odams, Ryan Leutton, David Ludenia, Daniel Hallam.

Yeah, old boy!
Ciao, Rocky.
Job done.

Rumble in Rocky Enduro: Dust, Rock, Steak and Dust – Racing in QLD with Mates

Downhill legend, Ultimate Cyclist and The Junior lined up and ready for action.
The anticipation of flying somewhere completely new to ride bikes, a great feeling.
Flat floodplains, large ranges, meandering rivers, and a strong QLD flavour all round.
Where are we again? Whoa, a looooong way from home.
Rockhampton after sunrise, a major city in South East Queensland with a population of 80,665 and allegedly has 300 days of sunshine each year. Sun!

We are in Rockhampton for the fourth round of the MTBA Gravity Enduro National Series, a place that none of us had visited prior, we’d heard rumours of an expanding network of trails where the weather is absolutely prime in July and as we’d also find out; it’s the steak capital of Australia. Joining us was Flow’s Mick Ross (Hi everyone, yes, that’s me), Toby Shingleton from Shimano HQ on his 765th domestic flight of the year and so eager to shred, and Ronning’s lovely partner Karla.

Our grand master plan was to race, test out the new Shimano shoes, Pearl Izumi threads, get Ben dialled in on his brand new Giant Reign and score some banger shots of the crew riding sweet trails.

So, we somehow fit into our deluxe low-speed rental mini-bus and let the spirit of enduro reign.


Ben McIlroy – The Kid.

Ben, he’ll drop you on the trail faster that you can say, “Hey, wait for me, I’m in my thirties!”
Ben, circa 1999.

Fresh off the press was Ben McIlroy’s new ride, trading in his trusty Trek of many years for a brand new Giant Reign, he enters a new era of support from the excellent folks at Giant and adding to his well-earned position as one of Shimano Australia’s investments as an up-and-coming talent in Enduro. Giant and Shimano have a knack for picking young talent to foster, it’s bound to do good things for Ben.

Under the shade of a mango tree, Ben cracks a grin, he’s wearing shorts in July.

Let’s just talk about Ben for a moment here, for those that may not know who he is. Ben is born and bred in Tawonga just around the bend from Mt Beauty in Victoria’s northeast, one of Australia’s most iconic mountain bike battlegrounds of the mid-to-late nineties. The place is steeped in MTB folklore, it’s played stage to many great races, and anyone from this era will be fairly nostalgic about the mountain town. In his last year in high school, he’s just 18 and as mellow as a fat cat at 4 am on a weekday, but get him up to speed on the trail, and he’ll blow the doors off his opponents. Why so fast? Just take a closer look at his mentor – Chris Panozzo – who has taken Ben under his wing from a young age, showing him the finer things in life like holding your phone in your hand at all times, ok, not necessarily that, but riding damn fast and attacking trails like mad.

Ben won the U21 Category Enduro World Series round #2 in Derby, Tasmania – yeah, he’s kind of hot right now. It’s far from easy to win an enduro race anywhere, let alone the EWS in Derby; a rain-drenched nightmare where the biggest names in the sport floundered, fell to bad luck, struggled in the conditions and failed to live up to the hype. Ben tells us that his performance came down to drawing confidence from the reaction from the crowds, when he rode sections of the race at his best to the delight and cheers of the crowds gave it him the confidence he was racing fast and competitive, so he kept pushing for an amazing result on the international stage. He’s also th reigning U19 National and National Series Champ, solid.

He’s a quiet kid, super quirky and witty, he communicates in the modern channels of Snapchat and Instagram (we’re old, we know) and dresses in random garb from op-shops around the place, he’s likeable, a wizard on the bike and his future is bright.

Ben’s new ride, a Giant Reign Advanced with Shimano XT and Pro Components all-round. Siiiiick!
We arrived in Rocky to find the dustiest, driest trails built ready for the race we’ve ever seen. The trail builders were so excited to see everyone roosting and loving the trails, that’s why they built them.

Michael Ronning – The Iconic Legend.

A magazine cutout of Ronning riding a prototype Gary Fisher downhill bike on the late 90’s was glued into my high school diary, yeah, I was a big fan. Though I’m surely not alone, right, c’mon someone save me…?

Ronning ‘was’ – err, sorry – ‘is’ a huge name in mountain biking around Australia. He was amongst the first Aussie pro riders in downhill racing on the international scene, a real pioneer, and continuing to this day he plays a prominent role in the sport. He was a part of the experimental and fascinating early days, ask him about prototype Shimano dual disc rotors, water cooled brakes, racing downhill in 1992, etc, etc.

Opening a tricked-out Giant bike store in Nerang, QLD (with an upstairs bar dripping in fabulous retro memorabilia!!!) was bound to happen, he’s the man about the place and has a strong role in mentoring and supporting juniors in the local community, we saw it first hand at this race in Rockhampton. He’s famous to anyone who’s been around a while, yet at the same time, he’s approachable and warm to anyone who’s not awkwardly star-struck.

Nothing to be taken too seriously, Ronning’s just happy to be riding and exercising his endless stream of witty banter on anyone within earshot.
So much speed, so much shred, Ronning is great to watch and ride with.
Ronning, circa 1999.

A wealth of knowledge from being deeply immersed in the mountain bike scene for so long is rare in Australia, and Ronning represents with heart and genuine love of the sport, he’s the one that kept dropping the term ‘spirit of enduro’. While he did vanish from the game for quite some time, it was inevitable that he’d come back to rekindle his love and passion for riding and racing bikes. A downhill pro from Cairns, the transition into enduro was natural, and he’s damn good at it, and this weekend would confirm that to all.

This guy, a legend of the sport, so stoked to be shredding trails with mates.
Young Ben Jenkinson under the wing of the master, Ronning.

Jon Odams – The Calm Assassin.

Jon has enough medals from all corners of the sport to fill a filthy big cabinet, add to it his retro late-nineties national titles on the downhill circuit and you’ll agree that Jon is deeply entrenched in Australian mountain biking folklore. He’s a cool character, chilled-out, a father of two, wise with his energy during a race. He loves to ride his bike hard and far; he enjoys travelling to a new place to race. With all this comes an inherent confidence to hold his own amongst the whole field when it comes to race. He’s so bloody relaxed it’s almost unfair; maybe it comes from being around so long in a variety of circles recently like; road, cyclocross, cross country, downhill and yeah – enduro.

During practice at an enduro race, he will not tire himself punching multiple runs like a downhill race; rather it’s about recognising factors that will play to his strength. This time he’d see that if you pushed too hard many would suffer a flat tyre, a crash or a mechanical. Jon aims to stay above it all and remain competitive in the way he knows best.

Jon, calm, racing travelling, reading news made from a paper thing.
“Rip this corner, Jon” ooooooooooh s#$t.
Jon, circa 1999.

We recall seeing him racing the Highland Fling on a cyclocross bike (crazy nutjob) with blisters all over his hands. He’ll be mixing it up with the elites at marathon stage races like the Port to Port and Cape to Cape, calling on his deep base of skills and base strength topped up with a dose of training to make up for sacrifices he makes from being a father of two in a nine-to-five job. He’s raced a Foes LTS in the late nineties, a GT Lobo, Intense M1, 6th place U19 World Champs in Sierra Nevada, Spain, 1999, and top-ten in a 24-hour World Champs. No way would you see many riders placing in the top ten at both Cross Country and Enduro in an MTBA National Round in one season either.

Odams chasing Ben down Lepers Leap, a steep rocky drop down into a quick left and right turn that saw Ben rolling his rear tyre off in practice.

Last year he raced the World Cup Cross Country in Cairns admittedly stating no matter how much he trained and was in the form of his life, the level of racing was out of this world. See what we mean, pretty solid cyclist, huh?


Rockhampton/Dusthampton.

By the colour of the place, it appears to have not rained for a wee while in South East Queensland, the Trailworx crew have been building trails like mad on the foothills of Mount Archer but it had not rained since, it was dry and dusty. Bad? Maybe, but damn it was nice to be riding somewhere so unique.

The moment we rolled out of the carpark and into the singletrack we knew these trails were going to be fun to ride. Coming from Sydney in early July, we were so stoked to be riding the warm trails in the dust. The terrain is quite varied, from tight jangly rocky sections, to open drift corners and massive berms it’s a real mixture of good stuff. The trails take you down steep chutes and along dry creek beds under thick canopies, and the descent from Mount Archer is a seriously mind-bending experience.

We arrived in Rocky to find the dustiest, driest trails we’ve ever seen.
Sussing out the trails during practice.
Riding the brand new descent Trailworx Black, huge berms, hip jumps and fast A-lines.
Ronning leading out the lads on stage two.
Spot the riders.
Training down Turkey.


One down, two remain.

Ben McIlroy took a massive slam in practice, smashing his right side into a rock with a suspected rib injury he made the call to sit out the remainder of practice which would make racing on unfamiliar trails not ideal. Frustratingly sidelined, Ben trundled out on course to support his teammates.

Bruised and battered, and long way from home, time to sit it out.


When in Rockhampton…

A pit-stop to Rockhampton Vinnes for an outfit for the evening’s antics, the crew wanted to do as locals would do and wear some appropriate kit.

Known for its beef industry, when in town, this had to be done.
What a stitch up, Toby from Shimano somehow had us lining up for a publicity stunt, Odams was to ride a bull at the rodeo.
Hahahaa, hahaaa.

“Yeah, nah, yeah, nah”


The Race.

Oh yeah, we are here for the racing, almost forgot that bit!

A round of the 2017 Shimano Queensland Enduro, this event was also a part of MTBA’s National Enduro Series. There was a lot of talk about the ‘MTBA thing’ at this event; it was hard to ignore, possibly responsible for the entry numbers nearly half of a the non-MTBA events in QLD. In June they had almost 300 entries at the Toowoomba round, (admittedly closer to larger population centres of Gold Coast and Brisbane) including around 70 for the women-only event the day before, a very impressive turnout! While here in Rockhampton there was less than 150. What value does the MTBA National Enduro Series bring to the scene? Or does it intimidate potential entrants? We’re just speculating, anyhow.

A handful of dedicated privateers put in the work to make it to all the rounds, from Falls Creek in VIC, Stromlo Forest Park in ACT, Linga Longa in WA, Rockhampton in QLD so far it’s been a very varied and nation-wide series!

With a great format, and a well-thought out stage plan, riders would climb to the top of Mount Archer for the first stage and tackle each stage from 1-6 in numerical order which created a straightforward and easy format for spectators and riders alike. It all went off without a hitch.

Race day! But no big deal… right?
The MTBA badge, legitimising the stature of the event, or an intimidating element?
Getting ready, take your maps out. The course was well thought out, with only two starting locations and a closely bunched finish area to heckle and spectate.
Jon’s Giant Reign Advanced with Maxxis rubber, Shimano XT and FOX suspension.
EMS, the crew behind the EWS event in Derby, are doing an excellent job all round.
Cairns shedder, Berend Boer heads out for a long day in the dust.
Ian Harwood points out the brutal climb from the base of the MTB park up to the summit of Mount Archer to begin stage #1.
Long way to the top under your own steam.

That first climb was way harder than I thought it would be, took nearly one hour. And then dropping into the hardest stage of the day was hard, you hadn’t done any real riding that morning yet, just pedalling on the road and all of a sudden you’re doing Red Bull Rampage… Ronning.

#1 plate holder Dave Ludenia and U19 winner Harrison Dobrowolski nearing the summit.
Aaron Cairns about to drop in.
Old mate loves it.
Mount Archer gives the riders tremendous perspective of the elevation drop to come, and mega views of the whole region.
Jon Odams on ‘The Dawg’, an insane run down from the top of Mount Archer. Soooo fast, so rocky, so much consequence.
Ronning on the hunt.
Wheels, brakes and tyres were destroyed on this day in July.
Riders were carrying chain lube for a regular refresh; it was that dry out there.
Yeooo, the locals!
Ruts from your worst nightmare.
Dobrowolski about to pin it.
Anywhere the brand new trails had a chance to set and pack down, and it was super fast.

The incredibly fast Angela Williams on the grind back to another stage start.
Lepers Leap a fast rock drop into a tight turn was a great point for spectators to gather and heckle.
Local support.


What could have been, Dave Ludenia won five out of six stages, messing up ‘The Dawg’ put him back into third overall. He’s in touch for a top podium place soon for sure.

Dobrowolski skimming.

Job done.

After slogging it out on the trails with only a bit of skin and one collarbone casualty, it was time to compare times and pack up. And it was smiles all round in our camp, with Ronning on top of his age category and Odams taking a very impressive second place in the elite category. Yeaaaah!

For full results, click right here.

Mel Hayes always frothing.
Yeoo, dusty hair product!

Medic!
Casualties.
The day’s fastest, Ryan Leutton from Brisbane. Placing second in all six stages was the key to the win overall.

I thought it was going to be super tight, I think it was consistency across the board that did it for me. It was tough, the old legs were feeling it towards the end. Coming from Brisbane I’ve been doing the South East QLD Series, and really loving it. Stage six would have to be my favourite, mainly because it was the last one…

I’m on the Santa Cruz Nomad, with NS Dynamics helping me with my setup, I use the Fast Suspension cartridge in the forks and a few special air spring mods, and they’ve got me on the Push ElevenSix coil rear shock which is a real standout after trying a few other coil shocks. I went from carbon wheels to aluminium at the last minute, too, it’s better to get down safe and sound especially on that first stage.

I don’t generally play with my suspension too much, I just let Aaron from NS Dynamics handle it, he knows what I need.

Elite Women’s podium from left to right – Mel Hayes, Angela Williams, Julia Boer, Jodi Newton and Caitlin Dore.
Men’s Elite podium from left to right – Adrian Dawson, Jon Odams, Ryan Leutton, David Ludenia, Daniel Hallam.

Yeah, old boy!
Ciao, Rocky.
Job done.

Shimano’s New Gravity and All-Mountain Pedals and Shoes

Shimano are announcing the release of a whole stack of new shoes: SH-AM901, AM701, GR900, GR700, and GR700-WOMEN

SH-AM901

The flagship All-Mountain AM901 shoe is designed for Downhill and Enduro riding and, with a revised Upper, offers reduced water ingress, quicker drying times and greater protection over previous models. The added moulded toe cover offers protection and the quick lacing cord further reduces water ingress and improves adjustability in all weather conditions.

The ultra-grippy, high traction rubber sole makes walking easier and improves contact with the pedals. A handy pedal channel on the sole behind the cleat creates a stable pedal connection when clipped out. At 400g (size 42) the shoes are best paired with the 546g SAINT M820 SPD pedals.

Below the AM9 is the AM701 (408g), which is now also an SPD shoe. Unlike the AM9, the AM7 removes the lace shield, offers a harder sole and uses an ankle gaiter to offer protection and keep out debris. The AM701 has a stiffer midsole (stiffness rating: 6) than the AM9 (rating: 5) for trail riding. It also comes in a super loud lime green option to stand out on the trail.

SH-GR700

Completely new for 2018 are two dedicated Gravity shoes. The top-level GR900 shoe shares many of the outstanding protection attributes of the AM901, such as the asymmetric raised ankle collar, armoured lace shield and molded toe cap, but the difference comes with the GR9’s simplified sole construction. Not only do you get superb grip and improved walkability from the Michelin rubber outsole but the GR900 is 35g lighter than the AM901, weighing in at 365g (size 42). The GR9 is best paired with the SAINT M828 493g at pedals.

Much like the All-Mountain line-up, the gray/green or blue GR700 (366g) ditches the armoured lace shield for increased heat ventilation and a more multi-purpose looking shoe. The GR7 is also available in a dedicated women’s version.

NEW PEDALS: PD-M820, M828, M8040, and GR500

SHIMANO’s revised Gravity pedals feature one SAINT-level SPD option, three at pedal options at SAINT and DEORE XT-levels, and a non-series option, all designed to t perfectly and offer the optimum pedalling connection with Shimano’s Gravity and All-Mountain shoes.

The SAINT-level PD-M820 is one half of Shimano’s most advanced Downhill and Enduro-specific pedals offering ultimate bike control, contact, grip and durability with SPD efficiency and stability.

YOUR CHOICE: PEDALING DYNAMICS OR PEDALING PLATFORMS?

The M820’s wide alloy body is system engineered to match perfectly with the AM901 shoe providing a very solid pedal/shoe interface. The double-sided durable alloy pedal body protects the SPD mechanism from impacts whilst the low pro le design lowers the stack height and the weight (546g). Four adjustable pins per side offer grip when you’re not clipped in.

PD-M820

Its compatriot, the SAINT-level strong and durable PD-M828, is an eight-sided concave platform pedal offering excellent grip and support. Twelve stainless steel pins per side (optional 3mm or 5mm) deliver the aggressive downhill or free-rider the ideal balance of connection to the bike and pedalling stability, with the best balance of weight and durability across riding conditions.

PD-M828

“I’ve been testing the PD-M828 at pedal with the GR900 at shoe and I’m really happy with the developments. These pedals are bombproof. The support under foot is excellent due to the large platform and my feet feel really well connected to the pedals. They’ve handled everything I can throw at them and really live up to the SAINT name.”

“The GR900 shoe is a perfect match. The new sticky rubber compound from Michelin provides a tonne of grip and we worked a lot on the sole stiffness to nd the right balance of support and pedal feel. Additionally, Shimano incorporated some nice features like a rubber toe cap for added protection and quick drying construction so that you don’t wake up to wet shoes!” Thomas Vanderham, freeridee athlete and Shimano test rider.

The DEORE XT-level PD-M8040 comes in small-to-medium (shoe size recommendation 36-44) or medium-to-large options (shoe size recommendation 43-48) for optimized support and rider-tuned performance. With 10 pins either side and a slight concave design for comfort and efficiency, these Trail and Enduro pedals offer the legendary off-road performance associated with Deore XT. Sold with optional 3mm pins or 5mm pins. Weights: 460g (S/M) or 503g (M/L)

PD-M8040

Finally, the PD-GR500 builds on the strong reputation of its predecessor (PD-MX80) as a Shimano-branded durable at pedal for entry-level Trail and All-Mountain riding. The PD-500 features height-adjustable pins and low- maintenance sealed cartridge bearing chromoly axles, available in black or silver options at a weight of 533g.

 http://www.shimano.com.au/

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.

This Is Paradise: Riding Finale Ligure

You know where this is going, don’t you? Call off the search party, close the Wikipedia entry, stop selling tickets to the debate, because this is it. We’ve found paradise. And it’s called Finale Ligure.

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Words cannot convey the awesomeness. Finale has a huge variety of trails, but they’re all good.
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This photo is taken from the side of an incredible downhill track, which finishes by the beach. Perfection.

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The Shimano Australia crew had rustled together a fine mob for what would prove to be the most memorable mountain biking trip we’ve ever been on. Meet them below:

Left: Damian Breach – Lensman extraordinaire and very (very) proud Canberran. Right: Toby Shingleton – Shimano Australia marketing manager, with a training regime that starts tomorrow/after one more gelato/after one more beer.

Left: Will Levy – Two Wheel Tours head honcho and all-round mother hen. Right: Neil Kerr – Editor of Spoke Magazine and our crew’s dirt abrasion tester.

Left: James Klousia – Token Tasmanian, bends a mean sheet of ply. Bottom left: Chris Panozzo – Australian National Enduro Champion, makes berms quiver in fear. Bottom right: Jon Odams – Pearl Izumi athlete/man model/insurance expert.

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Long-travel bikes are the ticket for Finale Ligure – you’ll do most of your climbing either in a van, or on the tarmac. It’s all about the downhills here.

This flawless little Italian Riveria town is obviously no secret, it’s been the final stop on the Enduro World Series for the past three years, and the destination of choice for thousands of European mountain bikers. But, like the first time you make love, nothing we’d read or seen quite prepared us for the overwhelming reality. We didn’t wipe the grin off our face for a week. Even when our favourite gelateria run out of pistachio, the buzz didn’t die – we couldn’t believe the perfection we’d stumbled into.

"I'll take that one, please."
“I’ll take that one, please.” Ocean, mountains, perfection.
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Atop Monte Carmo di Loano. A few hours later, we’d be back on the beach.

Let us paint the picture. On your left, you have the Mediterranean, sapphire blue, languid and inviting, dotted with white sailing boats. On the coast you’ll find the town of Finale Ligure and its medieval sister, Finale Borgo, both charming spots full of seafood and gelato. Inland just a smidge you hit the mountains, thrusting up to a lofty 1400m above sea level. And etched into the rocky terrain of these peaks, you’ll discover more than 400km of trails, largely accessible by shuttle vehicle.

Did we highlight that there's 400km of trails to play with?
Did we highlight that there’s 400km of trails to play with?
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Every mountain bike town has a trail called Rollercoaster, but few are this good.

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This impossible sandwich of trails, town and sea was our domain for the week, which was ostensibly all about putting the latest Shimano XT Di2 gear through its paces. But to test something properly, you need to ride it a lot. And riding a lot means you need to eat a lot. And eating a lot means you need to ride a lot. It’s a terrible, vicious circle.

The little fella that brought us here. Finale was the ultimate testing ground for the new XT Di2 groupset.
The little fella that brought us here. Finale was the ultimate testing ground for the new XT Di2 groupset. Read our full review here. 
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HOW GOOD IS THIS?!
Riding back into town after a mammoth day. Just a cheeky castle in the background.
Riding back into town after a mammoth day.

Finale Ligure isn’t a trail centre like we’re accustomed to in Australia, where the riding is often fantastic, but the other essential components of a great holiday can be lacking. Here you’ve got a very best of both worlds – world class trails, butted into  a fully fledged holiday town, set up to handle the huge number of coconut-oiled Germans who flock to the sea each summer. There’s no 7:00pm scramble to find a counter meal after your ride (“Mate, kitchen closed at 6:30!”) – waltz down to the town square and you’re spoiled for choice, which just means you can spend more time riding into the late evening.

Cheers, to another awful day in paradise.
Cheers, to another awful day in paradise.

But what really sets Finale apart is the riding itself, and the level of challenge the trails present. “This one we call little Champerey,” explained Peter, our guide, on our first day of riding. “So, it’s steep then? Like the Champerey downhill track in Switzerland?” I asked. “Not so steep, just a little bit steep,” Peter reassured us, before launching off into a trail that was a ‘little’ steep in the way that Trump is a ‘little’ bit offensive. Brakes cooked, perceptions reset, Finale was treating us to a new level of riding.

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Panozzo ripping into another bobsled turn.
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Like many trails in Finale, this one clearly passes through an ancient farming area. The trails flow through old water runs, past ancients walls and abandoned orchards.

There’s no graduated approach to ease you into the trails. You’re all in, or you’re out.

Half way down the insane Monte Carmo descent.
Half way down the insane Monte Carmo descent.

That’s just the way it is – there’s no graduated approach to ease you into the trails. You’re all in, or you’re out. The hand built single track has grown organically over the last 30 years; raw, often unpredictable, nearly always rocky, these trails demand 100% engagement all the time. You’re never on cruise control. Our group suffered a few early casualties, both bike and body, victims of a dangerous mix of jet-lag and over enthusiasm But soon enough we found the rhythm and respect for the conditions, and thankfully everyone made it through the week.

Neil's hip went through all the colours of the rainbow over the course of the week following a crash on day one.
Neil’s hip went through all the colours of the rainbow over the course of the week following a crash on day one.
#lightbro
#lightbro

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There’s nothing manufactured about the riding either, the trails feel a natural part of the landscape, with many of them evolved from centuries-old walking trails or watercourses. Quite often you’ll suddenly pop up out into a little village, the trail literally scooting past the front door of a church, or over someone’s doormat. If you’re game to pull your eyes away from where you’re pointed, you’ll see the ruins of farmhouses deep in the trees, or realise that you’re actually riding through an abandoned olive grove or orchard, or over the foundations of a village lost in time.

Very, very much rock.
Very, very much rock.

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An abandoned NATO base is the kick off point for many of the region's best descents.
An abandoned NATO base is the kick off point for many of the region’s best descents.

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It’s up to you how you want to enjoy the trails of Finale Ligure, but you don’t come here for the climbs. The trails pretty much universally point downhill, so using one of the eight or so local shuttle services is a good way to start. The switchbacking roads are thick with vans towing bike trailers, heading out to the various trailheads in the hills. Some of the most popular runs actually kick off from the site of an old NATO base, about 1000 metres above the sea. It’s a surreal place to begin your ride, amongst the graffitied ruins with the huge turbines of a wind farm whirring overhead, and networks of secret tunnels below. If you want to stretch the legs, riding up to the top of the trails is manageable as the road never gets too steep – just be prepared for a long, steady climb of about an hour and a half.

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Early morning shuttles. LIKE.
Early morning shuttles. LIKE.
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Heading up into the clouds, from the beach.

Many, many miles off them, in all sizes, the longest rock garden on the planet.

Heading further out into the range presents another world of trails, rawer still, and even more epic. Perhaps the most memorable day of the journey was spent out here in the alpine area of Monte Carmo di Loano, the highest peak in the region. A long shuttle was followed by a tough hike-a-bike, but the pay off was truly something else. The trail down had only one predictable attribute, and that was rocks. Many, many miles off them, in all sizes, the longest rock garden on the planet. Even with 170mm of travel beneath us, it was a hysterically bouncy experience, the bike bucking about for kilometre after kilometre, line choice irrelevant, breathlessly trying to keep light and save our rims from the pounding. By the time we were deposited back on the coastline, hours later, our hands were raw and our legs throbbing from staying out of the saddle for the entire trail. It was unbelievable, one of the most memorable days riding we’ve ever had.

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Beginning the grind up to the peak of Monte Carmo di Loano.
The summit.
The summit.
Just a few more steps!
Just a few more steps!

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Epic.
Just look at that terrain.
Standard Finale mid-descent church drop.
Standard Finale mid-descent church drop.
A rare moment of buff trail.
A rare moment of buff trail.
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Rim pinging, flat out fun.

Our trip also coincided with the finale round of the Enduro World Series, and getting to see the level of riding at the peak of this discipline was humbling and thrilling. With Enduro still a relatively new part of the sport, few people have had the chance to actually experience an EWS race in the flesh, and it’s hard to convey just how tough it is. The demands are simply enormous. Some of the stages in the Finale Ligure round were full-blown downhill tracks, but preceded by hour long climbs, rather than a cushy chairlift ride. Over four days of practice and racing, the fitness, focus, preparation and consistency needed to be successful is mind blowing. If you had it in your mind that Enduro was a step back from the demands of downhill racing, then think again, because this game is brutal!

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Just some of the amazing crowd lining the final stage of the 2016 EWS.
Giving Aussie Enduro Champ, Chris Panozzo, some loud (distracting) support.
Giving Aussie Enduro Champ, Chris Panozzo, some loud (distracting) support.

We left Finale feeling permanently adjusted, and not just in the waistline, after a week of pasta, gelato and cheese, but in our outlook too. The convention for developing trail centres in Australia follows the wisdom that accessibility is key – start with more moderate trails to get a critical mass of visitors, then build in the technical stuff to enrich the experience for advanced riders. In Finale, that first step has been skipped – the trails will push even the most skilled riders, but that level of difficulty hasn’t hampered the success of this place as a mountain biking destination at all. We’re certainly not advocating that this should be the approach across Australia en masse, but seeing Finale Ligure certainly gives us the belief that the appetite exists for a truly challenging trail centre experience. We wonder which Aussie destination will be the first to emulate the Finale model?

A big thanks to Shimano for hosting us in Finale and giving us a chance to put Shimano XT Di2 through its paces in fine style – it was a week that will stay with us for a long, long time, as will the two kilos of cheese we ate.


Our test sled for Finale - Canyon's Strive CF. Read more about the bike here.
Our test sled for Finale – Canyon’s Strive CF. Read more about the bike here.
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Taking a breather after an hour and a half climbing up to NATO.
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Tight tech, on ancient walking trails.
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Odams gets in the hunt.
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Under a glowing canopy, Breachy grinds up into the backcountry.

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Long-Term Test: Shimano XT Di2

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Our Canyon wasn’t designed specifically for Di2, but integrating the wiring neatly was easy and secure.

It’s now been two years since Shimano first brought their Di2 electronic shifting to the mountain bike universe, during which time we’ve all become more accustomed to the presence of battery power on our bikes – electronic suspension lockouts and dropper seat posts, plus power meters and of course GPS units, plus other gadgets, are improving the mountain bike experience.

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The long (very long) and rough descents of Finale Ligure were an amazing testing ground for the XT grouppo. This place is hard on all parts of your bike!

We’ve been riding Shimano’s new XT Di2 groupset for a few weeks now, including for seven days of non-stop riding in Finale Ligure, Italy, where it got a serious work out on some of the most superb trails on the planet. You can read our initial report on our XT Di2 test bike here, including the build process, or get all the details about the different chain ring and cassette options available for XT Di2 here.


Do we need electronic shifting in mountain bikes though?

When low cost, mechanical shifting (like the new SLX groupset we reviewed here) works so well, we appreciate it is hard to justify the extra complexity of electronics. There’ll always be the ‘don’t need it, don’t want it camp’, but we’re not in it.

The instantaneousness and the precision. Every shift happens lightning fast, and because there’s no cable friction, each shift is perfectly accurate too.

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Our test sled.

Di2 has been well proven on road bikes since 2009, and while road racing is different to mountain biking, in many regards it’s in the dirt were Di2 makes even more sense. And with XT bringing the cost of Di2 down a long way, electronic shifting is now far more relevant than in the past.


Explain please. Why does Di2 make sense for mountain bikes?

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Unfortunately the Di2 shifter doesn’t integrate with the brake lever using the I-Spec mounting system like a regular mechanical Shimano shifter can, which makes for a more cluttered bar (especially with the Canyon Shapeshifter system).

Maintenance is a big one. The quality of mechanical shifting on a mountain bike tends to degrade much faster than it does on the road, and Di2 totally removes this issue, as there are no cables to get gummed up or kinked, so your shifting stays consistent and effortless.

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Because the Di2 hits each shift so precisely, you never think twice about shifting under full power.

Consistency of shifting, no mater what the circumstances, is another big plus. On a mountain bike, panic shifting under heavy load tends to happen frequently, whereas on the road things tend to be done more smoothly. With Di2 on your bike, it doesn’t matter if you hit the button desperately as you strain on the pedals mid-way up a steep pinch, the shift will still be perfect and smooth.


So what makes electronic shifting superior to mechanical shifting?

The instantaneousness and the precision. Every shift happens lightning fast, and because there’s no cable friction, each shift is perfectly accurate too.

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Crank the derailleur clutch tension up high for superior chain retention.

Chain retention is improved as well, not just because the shifts are crisp, but because you can crank up the tension in the derailleur clutch without any issue, greatly reducing chain slap. (The new XT derailleurs allow you to do this very easily using a 2mm Allen key). On a mechanical system, loading up the derailleur with heaps of tension would result in a very heavy shift action, but on Di2 you don’t need to worry about this as the motors do the work for your thumbs.

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The end result is more chain security and a quieter ride, and despite blindly riding down some of the roughest trails we’ve ever encountered in Finale Ligure, we didn’t ever drop a chain.


So are there any downsides?

Compared to the mechanical cable systems that most home mechanics are familiar with, installing a Di2 system takes a little more time. You’ll need to decide where you want to store the battery firstly, plus work out the lengths of the various wires required to link it all up, because they can’t be cut to length later like a cable system.

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As we’ve discussed below, installing the battery in the fork steerer tube can present some dramas. We’d recommend you put it in the top tube, or in the down tube. Wrap it securely in some kind of foam or padding to wedge it safely inside the frame and prevent it rattling.

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The shifter paddles are located in a slightly different to spot to a mechanical shifter, but they do slide horizontally to adjust the reach. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.

It took us a small period of adapting to the feel and location of the shifter paddles. You can adjust the paddle positions, but they never felt quite as natural to us as the mechanical shifters we’ve been using for decades.

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We mounted the battery tucked up inside the steerer tube, which was very neat and didn’t rattle, but the PRO stem/headset arrangement needs a little bit of refinement.

One issue, which isn’t a problem with Di2 per se, is related to the PRO Tharsis stem we used with our Di2 test bike. The Tharsis stem is designed to work seamlessly with Di2, and it allows you to store your battery in the fork steerer tube. To do this, it does away with a regular headset star nut and uses a threaded collar system to preload the headset bearings. It’s a finicky system that is prone to coming loose on really rough trails. Until the system is improved, we’d recommend using a regular star nut and running the battery inside your frame.


Is water an issue? 

Unless you’re taking your bike to the bottom of the harbour, you’re not going to have any water related dramas. You can wash your bike as normal, and river crossings or any of the usual water you encounter in mountain biking aren’t a problem.

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How about battery life?

‘What happens if I run out of batteries?’ is one of the questions we get asked the most. Basically, if you run out of batteries, you should give yourself an uppercut. Can you remember to charge your phone every day? Then you can surely remember to charge your bike every few weeks.

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The battery is charged via a little plug into the side of the display unit. Over the course of the week of riding, we dropped just one bar of battery (we started on 3/5 bars, and dropped to 2/5).

The display very clearly shows you how much battery life remains, and the charge lasts for ages – in a week where we rode approximately 20 hours, the battery indicator dropped by one bar. If you’re running a front derailleur, the battery will drain more quickly because a front mech uses more juice, but still a few weeks of normal riding is what you can expect from a charge.

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There is actually a new chain ring design that has just been released for 1×11 XT – our test bike was using the older tooth profile, but even still it hung onto the chain perfectly and operated quietly.

Does it operate any differently to XTR Di2?

Riding XT and XTR Di2 back to back, you can definitely pick up some small differences – the XTR shifting action is lighter, and the motor in the rear mech a tiny bit faster too. But then XT has some benefits over XTR too, such as the Bluetooth connectivity via the new display unit, which allows you to customise the operation of the shifting via Shimano’s iOS app.

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When it comes to functionality, the XT Di2 system has all the same options as XTR, including the Synchro Shift mode (learn more about it here), so you’re talking seriously marginal differences overall.


So would you recommend it? 

If you’re looking at a new bike, put Di2 down as a big positive. We’ve already started to see a number of manufacturers speccing this drivetrain  on their 2017 offerings, and the performance would be enough to sway us in the direction of Di2-equipped bike versus a mechanical bike.

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Di2 won’t revolutionise your ride, but it will improve it. And despite the system adding complexity to your bike, it actually simplifies things from a maintenance standpoint, which is a big plus.

If we were looking to upgrade to Di2 on an existing 11-speed bike, then you’ll need to decide if the performance improvements are worth the cash. If you’re running a Shimano 1×11 drivetrain already, upgrading to Di2 (a shifter, rear derailleur, battery, display units and wiring) will cost you about $1200, but it will improve your ride and reduce ongoing maintenance. Weigh it up! There really are no downsides, so it’s simply a matter of whether you can justify the expense.

Shimano XT Di2 Long Term Test Bike

What bike have you slung it on?


The bike that got the nod for this build is a Canyon Strive CF 8.9, which we got as a frame only and built up from there. We went for the burly Strive as we wanted something with some serious travel – the first place we’re taking this test bike is Finale Ligure in Italy, home to the last round of the EWS series, so a bike that could take the big hits was mandatory!

The unmistakable sight that gives away the fact that this bike has electronic shifting.
The unmistakable sight that gives away the fact that this bike has electronic shifting.
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From a bare frame grew this dream machine, seriously desirable stuff.

We’ve spent a lot of time on the CF 9.0 Race version of this bike, which you can read about here.

Does that have the Shape Shifter system?


Yes. In its long-travel mode, the Strive CF has 163mm travel out back, and 170mm up front. But Canyon’s Shapes Shifter geometry/suspension adjustment system allows you to totally flip the bike’s character on-the-fly to make it more climb friendly. Hit the button and the rear travel goes to 139mm, with less sag, higher bottom bracket and the geometry is steepened. It’s one of the features that makes this bike a bit of a favourite of ours, giving it more versatility than other big travel Enduro rigs.

The Shapeshifter remote lever, hit the lever and the bike changes between climbing and descending modes.
The Shapeshifter remote lever, hit the lever and the bike changes between climbing and descending modes.
The cable travels up the upper shock area where the Shapeshifter unit hides out of sight.
The cable travels up the upper shock area where the Shapeshifter unit hides out of sight.
From above you can see the adjustable air chamber for the Shapeshifter unit. A tight fit for most shock pumps, so we don't misplace the hose adaptor supplied with the bike!
From above you can see the adjustable air chamber for the Shapeshifter unit. A tight fit for most shock pumps, so we don’t misplace the hose adaptor supplied with the bike!

What was the build process like? 


A little complicated. The first time you build up a Di2 bike, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a bit of time up your sleeve, especially if the bike isn’t designed for Di2 specifically (which the Strive is not).

With building a Di2 bike it's all about the wiring, the battery, and where it all goes inside the bike and parts.
With building a Di2 bike it’s all about the wiring, the battery, and where it all goes inside the bike and parts.

Firstly, you need to decide where you’re going to stash the battery. Normally, you’d need to install it in the frame somewhere, but because we’re using the PRO Tharsis Trail bar and stem (read about it here) which lets you run the wiring all internally in the cockpit, we were able to install the battery in the fork steerer tube using Shimano’s neat expanding battery holder.

PRO Tharsis Di2 specific cockpit.
PRO Tharsis Di2 specific cockpit.

Because we opted for a 1×11 drivetrain too, we didn’t need to muck around with a separate junction box to wire up a front derailleur, meaning all the wiring junctions are up front at the display unit and easily accessed should any maintenance be needed.

The wiring with a 1×11 setup is minimal – one wire goes from the shifter to the display, a second wire runs from the battery to the display, and then one final long wire from the display to the rear derailleur. Running the wiring through the frame for the rear mech required a little bit of gentle modification, where we drilled out one of the gear cable ports to allow the wiring to pass through (shhh, don’t tell Canyon).

The thin but tough Di2 wire only sees a few inches of daylight.
The thin but tough Di2 wire only sees a few inches of daylight.
No front mech for this bike.
No front mech for this bike, 32 tooth chainring.

Have you customised the Di2 setup?


Not yet, but we will. One of the cool features of Di2 is that you can customise the shifting speed and controls to suit your preferences – previously this was something that had to be done with a PC, but Shimano now have a iOS app that connects to the Di2 via Bluetooth, making it a less arduous process!

Yes, we know...
Yes, we know…

What about the rest of the build? 


FOX Factory suspension got the nod for this one, including the superb FOX 36 RC2 fork in a beefy 170mm version. We debated about putting a Float X2 rear shock into the bike, but decided the Float X with its three position compression control was the go.

FOX 36 with 170mm of travel.
FOX 36 RC2 with 170mm of travel.
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FOX Float X out the back, superb stuff.

The bike we’re taking to Finale Ligure is fitted out with a full XT groupset (including wheels, not the Wheelworks wheels seen in these pics), and PRO componentry – Tharsis carbon bars, a 45mm stem, and a Turnix saddle.

Shimano XT brakes with the IceTech finned brake pads.
Shimano XT brakes with the IceTech finned brake pads.
PRO Tharsis bars come standard at a whopping 800mm wide, we trimmed them down a touch.
PRO Tharsis Trail bars come standard at a whopping 800mm wide, we trimmed them down a touch.

Reliable rubber is a must if you’re travelling, so we went for Maxxis Aggressors in the new Double Down casing, which are tougher than the usual EXO casings with about a 100g weight penalty.

Maxxis Aggressor tyres, tough and reliable rubber.
Maxxis Aggressor tyres, tough and reliable rubber.

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We’ll be bringing you a lot more on this bike in the coming weeks, with a full review on the performance of XT Di2. Now, it’s into a bike bag and onto the plane it goes! Next stop, Italy.

 

Fresh Product: Shimano S-Phyre XC9 and XC7 Shoes

Have your feet been good to you? Want to treat them right? Then take a look at Shimano’s new S-Phyre XC9 shoes, some supremely sophisticated footwear from the big S, aimed squarely at the cross-country race market.

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We’ve been huge fans of Shimano’s XC90 shoes (read our full review here) but having got our hands on the all-new S-Phyre XC9 (in very FLUORO yellow, no less), we can tell you these are a big leap forward in terms of construction refinement and weight savings.

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Excellent ventilation.

The S-Phyre is remarkably sleek, with the kind of seamless look that’s akin to a high-end road shoe, using a very supple, one-piece synthetic leather upper that really moulds to the shape of your feet.

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11 on the carbo-stiff-o-meter.

Speaking of moulding, the S-Phyre shoes do not have the custom-fit system which was previously found on Shimano’s top level shoes. Apparently the custom-fit system added a fair amount of weight, and with the new one-piece upper and BOA laces, Shimano are able to achieve the same level of comfort and conformance to your foot as was possible with the custom fit system. Interesting stuff.

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The Michelin outsole looks minimalist, but actually provides full-length coverage of the sole, which is great for slip prevention should you miss a pedal.

A degree of customisation is still possible with three different levels of arch support, adjusted via simple inserts that slip into the insole itself. This is a smart solution, much cheaper than having to buy new insoles if you have higher arches.

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BOA laces with instant release spools for easy exit.

BOA laces are so hot right now the S-Phyre  are BOA equipped. In our experience, the BOA laces offer more precise adjustment than a ratchet strap with less susceptibility to damage or getting gummed up with mud too. Anyone who has had to fight their way out of muddy shoes with the ratchets seized up will appreciate the ‘instant release’ spools, no doubt.

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Inserts in the arch change the level of arch support without the need to buy new insoles.

As a race shoe, the S-Phyre XC9 offers better power transfer than a fork in an electrical socket. Full carbon soles ensure every precious caffeine fuelled Watt is delivered to your pedals, and a low stack height keeps your foot closer to the pedal axle which makes for a more stable pedal stroke.

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Like the ME7 Enduro shoes we’ve been riding lately, the S-Phyre shoes also get a Michelin rubber tread, which is grippy and also lighter than the previous tread configuration found on the XC90 shoes. We weighed our size 43 shoes at 335g each.

If you’re not a fan of the blistering fluoro, there’s black, or the classic Shimano blue available too, which we’re sure will be popular. As an extra sweetener, every pair of S-Phyre shoes comes with matching socks too – #sockgamestrong as our roadie friends would put it!

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For almost $200 less than the XC9, the XC7s are a killer shoe.

Slightly down the pricing totem pole you’ll find the XC7 shoes, which get many of the features of the XC9s, just with one BOA dial, not two, and a slightly lower stiffness carbon sole. The XC9s also have more extensive ventilation too, for keeping your feet cool when you’re on the rivet.

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Just like the S-Phyres, the XC7 gets a Michelin outsole.

Pricing on the S-Phyre XC9s is $449, and they should be here in Australia by October, while the XC7s come in at $259 with a November availability.

 

Tested: Shimano SLX 11-Speed M7000 Groupset

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Bringing 11-speed to the masses. We opted for a 1×11 SLX setup.

Well, weight savings are one reason, and certainly XT or XTR will last a little longer and ride a little smoother than SLX. Or perhaps you just prefer the feel and operation of SRAM over Shimano. But when get down to the nitty gritty of performance and price, the new SLX groupset smashes the ball out of the damn park. It’s insanely good for the price.

 From a features and performance standpoint, SLX isn’t far shy of the XTR of three years ago.

The trickledown effect might be dubiously truthful in economics, but Shimano bring it to bear in their drivetrains with sensational results. From a features and performance standpoint, SLX isn’t far shy of the XTR of two years ago. Fortunately for Shimano, there are plenty of people who simply must have the latest and greatest right away, because savvy consumers know that if they’re patient enough it’s only a matter of months till Shimano’s top-end features are available at a fraction of the price.

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The SLX groupset is a good match for unflappable Giant Trance.

We popped our SLX groupset onto an alloy Giant Trance 2015 frame – a sturdy, workhorse frame for a similarly themed groupset. Before we get into the specifics, let’s do a quick weigh in… Now this surprised us: with a 1×11 setup, including brakes, the weight difference between XT and SLX is a paltry 151g! Here’s the breakdown:

Weights

Crankset, 1×11 with 32-tooth ring (no bottom bracket): XT 694g vs SLX 715g

Right hand shifter: XT 127g vs SLX 135g

Cassette, 11-42: XT 434g vs SLX 476g

Brakes, pair with 160mm rotors and 800mm line: XT 804g vs SLX 836g


Drivetrain

Like XTR and XT, the new SLX groupset is available in a few variants, with 1×11 or 2×11 options. We opted to test the 1×11 version, pairing a 32-tooth ring to the 11-42 cassette out back. Riding with a front derailleur feels like going back in time. We’ll happily accept the reduced range in exchange for lower weights and increased simplicity (though after riding SRAM’s 1×12 Eagle setup, you can see the appeal of that extra low gear!). The ratios are nicely spaced across the range, and the shifting is typically Shimano smooth.

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The SLX mech is low profile and shifts superbly, with great chain stability too. We haven’t dropped a chain yet.

Shimano have used SLX to debut a new chain ring design, with a narrow/wide tooth profile and more rounded tooth shape. Coupled with the stability of the rear mech, it clearly does the job, as we haven’t yet dropped a chain.

The new chain ring profile is quieter and smoother running than the previous version,

The main benefit of the new chain ring profile is that it’s quieter and smoother running than the previous version, which had square-shaped teeth. It’s noticeably less ‘grindy’ in the wet or when in the largest cog out back. We do still feel that SRAM has the edge in terms of quiet running though, overall.

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Clean and simple.

The SLX rear derailleur may cop a weight penalty when compared to its more expensive friends, but the operation is 90% as good. The clutch mechanism keeps the chain on, and quiet, and the low-profile design is tucked up nicely away from trail debris, especially when compared to SRAM’s derailleurs.

Take care to tighten the pinch bolts that secure the left-hand crankarm nice and tight.

One of the most eye-catching elements of the new SLX grouppo are the cranks, which look simply sensational, even better than XTR in our opinion. SLX uses the same crank arm for 1×11 or 2×11 configurations (unlike XTR).

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Shimano’s 11-speed cassettes are far from light, but that’s no biggie we feel. The SLX cassette comes in 11-40 or 1-24 sizes.

Anyone who has ridden Shimano’s cranks knows just reliable and foolproof they are, but take care to tighten the pinch bolts that secure the left-hand crankarm nice and tight. We stuffed up badly, not torqueing them enough, and off a particularly harsh landing we actually rounded out the splines of the crankarm / axle interface. We stress though that this was our fault entirely, so we say this as a warning to others not to replicate our mistake, not as a criticism! (We said they were foolproof cranks, not Flow-foolproof!)

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The feel of the shifter under your thumb is really the only immediate giveaway that you’re riding SLX and not a more expensive groupset.

In terms of functional differences between XT and SLX, there’s bugger all in it – only the shifter gives up any obvious ground to XT. It feels a little more clunky under your thumb than XT, but the build quality still is far nicer than SRAM NX, which is the closest equivalent to SLX. We did miss the ‘dual-release’ function that you get with XT shifters – having that ability to fire off two upshifts in one push of the lever is great when accelerating out of a corner.

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The SLX calipers deliver the consistent, powerful braking we expect from Shimano.

Brakes

Shimano’s flawless reputation for amazing brakes (how sweet the sound…) took a bit of a hit in recent times, and there have been some running changes made to the master cylinders on some XT and XTR brakes to alleviate a few consistency concerns. The new SLX brakes benefit from the lessons learned, and we cannot find fault with them. Resin pads are fitted out of the box, and they have a nice gentle engagement that makes it easy to modulate the power. If you want more bite, we suggest fitting the sintered metal pads. Both the rotors and pads are Ice Tech items, with fins to cool the pads and an aluminium/steel sandwich design for the rotors, to dissipate heat. None of our riding has been steep enough to so much as raise a sweat from the brakes.

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Finned pads for heat dissipation. While the stock resin pads offer a nice braking feel, we prefer the bite and power of the sintered metal pads overall.

As we said at the start of this review, the quality of SLX 11-speed is going to leave a lot of people struggling to justify the leap to XT, let alone XTR. Still, that’s Shimano’s problem to worry about, not ours, and if the new SLX helps get more people onto 11-speed (particularly 1×11) then that’s a good thing! A seriously great product at a great price.

 

 

Shimano Releases Two New Mountain Enduro Shoes

There are lot of players in the mountain bike shoe game now, so Shimano are having to work hard to stay a step ahead (shoe pun #1) – the unveiling of two new ‘Mountain Enduro’ series shoes hot on the heels (#2) of their recently released AM9 and M200 shoes proves that Shimano aren’t putting their feet up (#3).


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The ME7 gets a new neoprene ankle collar to keep crap out, and a reverse ratchet strap arrangement.

It was only a year or so ago that Shimano dipped a toe (#4…ok, no more) in the waters of the Enduro world, but already they’re following up with the ME7. (You can read our full review of the M200 here).

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The flap (also found on the AM9, AM7 and M200 shoes) remains, keeping the speed laces tucked away.

The ME7 continues to use many of the features found on the M200. M200 users will be familiar with the speed-lacing system, and the large flap for keeping things dry and protecting the laces. The sole gets the Torbal treatment, which allows a nice amount of foot roll laterally without compromising pedalling stiffness, perfect for aggressive riding where you tend to twist your feet about a lot.

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Michelin and Shimano worked together on the chunky sole and rubber compound.

New features include a neoprene collar around the ankle to keep crap out of the shoe, and the ‘reverse’ ratchet strap that has been used on Shimano’s road shoes in the past (it’s super neat, and means you don’t have any strap ends sticking out). But the more notable new addition is the Michelin rubber sole. Shimano and Michelin have partnered up to produce a very grippy, aggressive sole. We heard reports of riders ripping tread blocks off their M200s, so it’s good to see Shimano have taken the bull by the horns and really improved this area. We’re sure other Shimano shoes will follow suit with the Michelin collaboration too.

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The ME5.

The ME5 is follow up to the M163 (which we reviewed here) and is a little more low-key on the technical features front, more of a traditional trail shoe. It still scores the Torbal sole, and retains the ‘cross strap’ system which disperses pressure nice and evenly across the foot. It also gets the ‘zero dangle’ reverse ratchet strap. We like.

See how the new reverse ratchet system works?
See how the new reverse ratchet system works?

Both shoes are quite light for their category too; the ME7 is 375g and the ME5 is 385g for a size 43. Prices are approximately (and subject to change) $279 for the ME7 and $239 for the ME5.

 

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano XT Di2

What’s the difference between XT and XTR Di2? Not much – a bit of weight and a lot of dollars. XT actually gets some features that makes it an even more attractive offering than XTR in many respects.

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The XT Di2 head unit communicates with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth to let you operate the E-Tube app. XTR Di2 users can add the new head unit to their existing system.

Read all about our experience with XTR Di2 here: XTR Di2 Long-Term Test 

Watch a video XTR Di2 in operation with an explanation of the shift modes here: Di2 Shift Modes Explained


XTR is a racer’s product; it’s all about the incremental gains that most of us wouldn’t really even notice. A few grams shaved here, a few Watts saved there. XT on the other hand, is aimed directly at the trail rider – the person who wants a tough, reliable but still high-performance groupset. So what is the weight penalty? Well, if we look at a 1×11 XTR vs XT setup (excluding brakes), then the weight penalty is about 290g. If you want to run an 11-42 cassette with your XTR 1×11, then the weight difference drops to just 180g. Yep, that’s it. Take a look at the spreadsheet below for the full weight comparison of XT and XTR Di2.

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From a features perspective, XT Di2 misses out on the multi-release shifting found on XTR (the ability to fire off two shifts with one push of the lever), but frankly, that feature is kind of redundant, given you can simply hold down the shift button and shift through multiple gears anyway.

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The XT shifter doesn’t have the multi-release functionality of XTR.

Otherwise, it essentially mirrors the features found on XTR. It has all the programmable Syncro Shift modes, customisable shifter paddle functions and adjustable shift speed features, and like XTR you can get it in 1x, 2x or 3x configurations.

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An 11-42 cassette gives you broad range, or there’s an 11-46 option too.

What makes XT even more appealing than XTR, in our mind, is two things; a broader cassette range and an improved user interface.

Unlike XTR, which only comes with an 11-40 cassette, XT gives you an 11-42 and even an 11-46 option as well. With this extended range out back, we’re sure to see a lot of people going down the 1×11 route with XT Di2, which reduces the expense of the system a lot too.

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The new E-Tube App is a huge improvement over the previous PC-based software.

Finally the Di2 E-Tube interface (the software which allows you to customise the performance of your Di2, or to run diagnostics should a problem arise) gets brought into the 21st century. The previous version of this software was PC only, and required you to physically plug your Di2 system into a computer. It was clunky at best. XT sees the introduction of Bluetooth to the world of Di2, with all new E-Tube App for both iOS and Android devices, allowing you to customise your Di2 from your phone or tablet. Admittedly, once the system is configured how you like it, you’re not likely to use the E-Tube software very often, but it’s still a great improvement. XTR Di2 users can ‘upgrade’ to XT Bluetooth system by purchasing the XT display/head unit.

XT has built its reputation on reliability, that’s what’s made it the go-to for weekend warriors who can’t afford unnecessary trips to the local workshop. Does the introduction of electronics risk undermining this reliability? Based on our experiences, no. We’ve had well over a year of riding XTR Di2 now, and reliability hasn’t been a concern. In fact, with no cables or housing to get gummed up or damaged, we’ve had to spend far less time making shifting adjustments than we would have with a mechanical system.

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Our XT Di2 test sled is a Giant Reign Advanced. It weighs in at 13.1kg including XT pedals.

We’ll be getting our hands on an XT Di2 groupset for a proper long-term test in the near future. For now, we’ve nabbed one of Shimano’s demo fleet, a Giant Reign Advanced, setup with a 1×11 drivetrain. Unlike an increasing number of frames, it’s not specifically optimised for Di2 use, but even still the Di2 integrates into the bike very cleanly, especially as the bike has the PRO Tharsis bar and stem which facilitates internal wiring of the cockpit.

We’ll bring you more on XT Di2’s performance on the trail in coming weeks.

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Flow’s First Bite: Shimano SLX M7000 1×11 Groupset

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Sleek.

Without a doubt, this is best looking version of SLX yet. In many respects, at least visually, we prefer it to XT, especially the new crank arm. It’s a stunner.

While Shimano do offer the SLX in multiple chain ring options, we opted to go for a 1×11 setup. For the trails we ride, a single chain ring paired to an 11-42 cassette is all the range we need.

Upon receiving our SLX grouppo, we were both surprised and pleased to see that there have been some major changes to the Shimano 1×11 chain rings. Gone are the blocky, square-topped teeth that we saw on XT and XTR single rings. Instead, you’ll find an adaption of the narrow/wide tooth profile that has been utilised by SRAM and so many aftermarket chain ring manufacturers. Shimano call the new profile Direct Chain Engagement +.

The tooth profile change is a positive move. We always found that the previous square tooth profile was rather noisy when riding in the lowest gear out back, and we had suspicions this was causing premature chain wear too. Shimano claim the new profile is both quieter running and harder wearing, and it will be introduced as a running change to XT and XTR as well. We’re yet to ride this bike in anger, but in the work stand at least, the chain seems to run noticeably more smoothly with this new chain ring, when compared to our XT test groupset which has the old tooth profile.

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11-42 tooth cassette.

Just like with XT, the SLX grouppo has a number of cassette options, with 11-40 or 11-42 sizes in 11-speed. There’s also an 11-40 ten-speed option, which is designed for use with a triple chain ring – it’s purely intended for touring, towing trailers up Kosciusko and the like.

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The 11-42 cassette we opted for is rather hefty, at just over 460g (about 50g heavier than XT). When it comes to 11-speed cassette weights, Shimano have some ground to make up. SRAM’s GX 11775 11-speed cassette, which we’d say is roughly equivalent to SLX in market positioning, is a sizeable 140g lighter.

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SLX brakes get the same finned pads as were originally pioneered on XTR brakes.

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Externally, the SLX brakes are basically unchanged, excluding the new new black finish. But internally, there has been some tweaking to the master cylinder shape to ensure even more lever feel consistency. The pads get the F1-esque Ice Tech fins, and the rotors are Ice Tech numbers too, with a two-piece design for better heat dissipation. The actual braking surface itself is stainless steel, but the inner core of the rotor is aluminium, which further aids heat management.

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The SLX mech gets all the same features as XT, including a super slim profile.

We’ve fitted our groupset to a Giant Trance 1 frame. A real workhorse of a trail bike, perfect for testing out this workhorse groupset we feel. Built up with XT wheels (tubeless), a FOX 34 and PRO Koryak alloy bar/stem and XTR Trail pedals, the complete bike weighs in at 13.14kg.

$600 to upgrade your whole drivetrain to 1x11 SLX? That's chicken feed.
$650 to upgrade your whole drivetrain to 1×11 SLX? That’s chicken feed.

Pricing on SLX is pretty damn hot, and we’re sure it’ll inspire a lot of fence sitters to make the jump from their old 10-speed groupset and go to 1×11. Shimano don’t set RRPs, but based on our estimates a 1×11 conversion (an SLX shifter, cassette, derailleur, chain and 1×11 crankset) will set you back about $650. Adding brakes into the mix will make it about $1000. Now that is seriously affordable, especially as you don’t need to swap out a freehub body too.

We’ll be riding SLX consistently over the next few weeks to see how it performs, so check back soon for more.

 

 

 

Shimano SLX Goes 11-Speed

Flow like water, trickle down like Shimano. The big S have just announced the launch of the new SLX M7000 groupset, which naturally sees 11-speed shifting move into a truly affordable price point. And by jingoes, doesn’t it look a lot like XT?!

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Now that’s a nice new look for SLX! Sleek!

The new SLX groupset clearly takes a lot of visual and functional inspiration from XT, and that’s a great thing – as you can read in our review of the latest XT groupset here, we’re huge fans on Shimano 11-speed offerings.

SLX always kind of slides under the radar in Shimano’s range, but the performance is truly awesome for the bucks. In a practical sense, there’s never been much of functional difference between SLX and XT (until XT went to 11-speed of course), it has always been more of a weight and refinement difference. And now SLX has made the leap to 11-speed too, we think it’ll be an incredibly popular option for riders looking to add all the benefits of 11-speed to their bikes without dropping a money bomb.

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If double rings are your thing, you’re not neglected, with three chain ring combo configurations to choose from.

Unlike SRAM, who’ve gone all in with their single-ring drivetrain, Shimano continue to offer multiple chain rings if you want them. You can get the new SLX in a 2×11 setup if you desire, with three different chain ring configuration options:  34/24, 36/26 or 38/28-teeth. If your preference is for a single-ring, you’ve got the choice of 30, 32 or 34-tooth chain rings. Oh, you can also still get a 3×10 crankset too, so you can ride to the internet cafe to send a fax.

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Cassettes are available in 11-40 or 11-42 sizes in SLX.

Both 1×11 and 2×11 drivetrains can be run with either a 11-40 or 11-42 cassette, or if you’re on 1×11 you also have the option of using the recently released 11-46 XT cassette, for huge gear range.

The SLX M7000 groupset also includes new hubs with a much quicker freehub take up, now featuring 36 engagement points. As far as we can discern, the brakes remain unchanged aside from a bit of a visual spruce up and the use of an alloy carrier on the rotors – suits us, they work incredibly well already! The shifters look very XT-ish, with reach adjustability via a sliding bracket mount.

Firm pricing is not yet available, but you should be able to pick up a 1×11 drivetrain and SLX brakes for under $1000, which is a pretty darn neat. Read below for the full details direct from Shimano.


New SHIMANO SLX M7000 groupset expands the possibilities for trail, adventure and recreational mountain bikers

Sleek makeover and high performance from the best pound-for-pound competitive-level mountain biking cranksets, derailleurs, cassettes, shifters, levers, rotors and hubs on the market.

The launch of Shimano’s new mid-range off-road SLX groupset brings many of the performance features of DEORE XT with affordability, durability and compatibility to make it suitable for almost every type of mountain biker.

Provision for a wide range of MTB riding styles was the focus of the new SLX M7000 design. Three types of riders are catered for within the drivetrain options; those who favour a single chainring 1×11 set up for simplicity, those looking for an optimal 2×11 double chainring set up, or those riders needing the enhanced gear options and convenience coming with a 3×10 speed set up.

Drivetrain efficiency

The lightweight and durable 11 speed-compatible FC-M7000-11 chainring (1×11 and 2×11) teeth feature Shimano’s new Dynamic Chain Engagement technology and are designed for the different power outputs delivered in each ring, offering enhanced chain retention, driving rigidity and highly efficient, precise shifting.

In the 2×11 set up, close gear ratio combinations ensure a minimum shifting gap between gears and allow the rider to maintain an efficient rhythm throughout the complete range of gears. Set up options are kept to a chainring capacity of 10-teeth with three options (34-24T, 36-26T and 38-28T). 1×11 riders have the option of 30T, 32T or 34T chainrings to combine with two cassette options (11-40T and 11-42T). B-spec options are also available in double and single ring set ups to ensure chain lines can accommodate 148mm rear hubs.

The system solution behind these rider optimized gear combinations is known as DYNA-SYS11, which blends Shimano shifting technologies and designs to allow riders to deliver consistent, efficient power while maintaining traction and momentum.

Meanwhile, the 3×10 crankset (FC-M7000-10) with its 40-30-22T tooth profile and DYNA-SYS shifting technology has been designed to give a consistent shifting performance with the most efficient drivetrain and practical gearing for recreational riders anywhere.

The new design of the 1×11, 2×11 and 3×10 cranksets is more than just a stunning aesthetics and outstanding mechanical design. Better bottom bracket sealings reduce water and dirt ingress and increase the long-term efficiency of crank rotation.

At the rear, lightweight and minimally designed 467g 11-40T cassette sprockets are in line with DYNA-SYS philosophies, allowing the rider to make smooth and precise gear changes and keep riding in the most efficient front driving gear for longer. 1×11 and 2×11 riders also have the option of choosing a wider 11-42T cassette for an expanded low end range. Meanwhile 3×10 riders can choose from 11-32, 11-34 or 11-36T set ups with the existing CS-HG81-10 cassette.

Where shift levers command, derailleurs respond. Now featuring at SLX lever, Shimano’s SHADOW RD+ technology provides sharp and silky shifts along with chain stability and a reduction in chain slap thanks to a lockable rear derailleur position. The medium cage 11-speed rear derailleurs (RD-M7000-11-GS) offer a drivetrain capacity of 41-teeth, whilst the long cage 10-speed rear derailleur (RD-M7000-10-SGS) offers a larger drivetrain capacity of 43-teeth to accommodate its triple chainring.

Shifting on the SL-M7000-11/10 levers is taken care of by ergonomically designed RAPIDFIRE PLUS shift levers, allowing riders to downshift three gears in one stroke and release shifts by the index finger or the thumb. This simple but incredibly useful feature also provides light and consistently stable shifting across front and rear gears. I-spec II (SL-M7000-I / SL-M7000-10-I) and I-spec B-type (SL-M7000-B-I / SL-M7000-B-I) mount options allow for adaptable and versatile, rider-tuned cockpit options.

Where shift levers command, derailleurs respond. Now featuring at SLX lever, Shimano’s SHADOW RD+ technology provides sharp and silky shifts along with chain stability and a reduction in chain slap thanks to a lockable rear derailleur position. The medium cage 11-speed rear derailleurs (RD-M7000-11-GS) offer a drivetrain capacity of 41-teeth, whilst the long cage 10-speed rear derailleur (RD-M7000-10-SGS) offers a larger drivetrain capacity of 43-teeth to accommodate its triple chainring.

The shifting power of the 11-speed (FD-M7020-11) and 10-speed (FD-M7000-10) front derailleurs has been increased allowing for rapid shifts with efficient cable routing and a light shift operation. Mounting options include Side Swing, Top Swing and Down Swing front derailleurs to offer compatibility with shorter chain stays and large wheels and tyres.

Rolling reliability

SLX hubs have been redesigned to provide all-weather durability and reliable performance thanks to high quality sealings and angular contact bearings. FH-M7000/7010 rear hubs also feature a refined and rapid gear engagement mechanism, offering 36 pick-up options over 360 degrees. The front hubs come in at a light weight 189g (HB-M7000) or 148g (HB-M7010), while the rear hubs are 384g (FH-M7000) or 357g (FH-M7010). The both front and rear hubs offer variations compatible with the Boost 110 and 148 standards.

Stopping supremacy

The Rider Tuned position of the SLX BL-M7000 lever allows for smooth, consistent and predictable operation of the hydraulic disc brake system (BR-M7000) and, combined with heat-radiating, mud-shedding SM-RT70 160, 180 or 203mm rotors, you get high performance stopping power in all manner of riding conditions.

In all in, the new SLX M7000 groupset achieves an unrivalled level of high performance, efficiency, durability and value. Competitive-level technologies found in Shimano’s premium MTB components have been transferred to the new SLX M7000 cranksets, derailleurs, cassettes, shifters, levers, rotors and hubs, letting you focus on what matters, getting maximum fun and enjoyment out of your rides.

Shimano XT Di2 Unveiled

Zap zap! Shimano have just confirmed that electronic shifting will be soon be available at a more accessible price point with the soon-to-be-released Di2 XT groupset. This is fantastic news, as the benefits of electronic shifting aren’t just relevant to the high-end market.

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We get the feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more Di2 now.

We’ve been riding XTR Di2 for the more than a year now, and it’s superb (read our review here!). While Shimano billed XTR Di2 a real racer’s product, we’ve found it’s far more versatile than that, but the price was always going to be a barrier to most. Now that’s set to change.

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One of the neatest improvements over XTR Di2 is that you now have Bluetooth integration for all E-TUBE adjustments, along with a smartphone/tablet app to drive the software. If you’re already an XTR Di2 user, you can fit the XT display to take advantage of these new additions.

Before we delve into the XT Di2 equipment, let’s quickly recap on our time with the XTR Di2 system. We’ve now had the groupset fitted to two different bikes, the cross-country oriented Pivot Mach 4 and the all-mountain Trek Remedy. We’ve also run it in a number of different configurations, initially we had a double ring up front using the cool Synchro Shift mode before converting it to a single chain ring with an 11-42 cassette out back. Make sure you watch our video explaining all the Di2 shift modes below:

It’s fair to say that over the past 12 months, we’ve been able to put all of our initial fears about electronic shifting to bed – the system has been flawless, impervious to the crud and mud of mountain biking, and intuitive to use too. The benefits of Di2 are pretty obvious once you’ve ridden the system, but to sum up quickly:

  1. The shifts are instantaneous and consistent no matter what the conditions.
  2. There’s no adjustment required as with a cable system.
  3. Unlike with a mechanical cable system, the shift quality never degrades, so shifting feel is always light and smooth.
  4. The whole system is completely customisable (you can set which buttons do what, and the speed of the shift).
  5. You can shift through multiple gears by simply holding down the shifter.
  6. If you want, you can run a front derailleur and still only have one shifter (great if you also use a dropper post).
  7. The system integrates very cleanly into the bike as the wiring is unobtrusive, especially if you use the PRO Di2 bar/stem.
  8. You get a lot of riding out of one battery, like hundreds of kilometres.
  9. It sounds awesome.

Read our review of the XT 11-speed mechanical groupset here.


 

We still haven’t seen XT Di2 in the flesh and won’t for another week or so, but from the information we’ve received, it appears to have all the same functionality as XTR Di2, with a couple of notable improvements:

Easier to use E-TUBE software:

Judging by the information we’ve received from Shimano, the XT Di2 groupset has all the same functionality as XTR Di2, but with some welcome improvements to the  E-TUBE program, which is the software used to make adjustments or customisations of the Di2 system. Previously, using the E-TUBE software involved physically plugging the Di2 display unit into a PC (it wasn’t Mac compatible!). This has all changed with a new Bluetooth integration that allows users to control all the Di2 functionality from a phone or tablet.

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If you’re keen for multiple rings, XT Di2 will facilitate double and triple ring setups.

Wider range single-ring drivetrain, or still double/triple compatible:

XT Di2 is compatible with every drivetrain configuration you could ever want. You can run it with a triple ring crankset or a double ring (using an 11-40 cassette) with one or two shifters. Or you can set it up as a single chain ring system, using the recently released XT 11-46 tooth cassette or an 11-42 if you prefer. We’re a big fan of single ring drivetrains, and the massive 11-46 range will be broad enough to satisfy just about all riders we’d imagine.

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New Boost hubs for XT.

Boost hubs:

Shimano have used the XT Di2 release as an opportunity to also introduce new Boost compatible XT hubs as well. Boost hub spacing is rapidly being adopted across the industry, and now you’ll have the option of using XT’s bombproof hubs for your Boost bike too.

In terms of weights, we don’t have any more info yet, but we’d imagine it’ll be very similar to current XT offering. Nor do we have any pricing from Shimano Australia unfortunately, but the best indicator we’ve received is that “XT Di2 will be to XTR Di2 what Ultegra Di2 is to Dura-ace Di2.” We’ll leave deciphering that riddle to you!

We’ve confirmed with Shimano Australia that we’ll be getting a full review on this groupset very soon. Read below for the official word from Shimano.


Di2 technology lands at DEORE XT level

Di2 now features wireless customization capabilities with upwards compatibility to XTR level

 Sitting between the granite-hewn professional racers and the weekend warriors you’ll find a group of highly competitive and highly skilled mountain bikers. These are the privateers and the self-supported riders. These are the riders who put the hours in to keep themselves race-fit and have the skills to test themselves against the best. These are the amateur mountain bike racers. And these are the riders Shimano had in mind when it developed DEORE XT Di2 M8050.

If you’ve dreamt of winning races, if you’ve sent in a race application and started to wonder if you’ve got what it takes, if you’ve pinned on race numbers and glanced enviously at the other riders’ bikes then you know what the trail to triumph involves. If you cravethe latest components in search of the technology to change your ride, then the answer is Shimano DEORE XT Di2 M8050.

The technology to change your ride

Two years after launching the world’s first commercially available mountain bike electronic shifting system, Shimano brings the power and the technology to drastically change the way you ride to DEORE XT level.

At the touch of a button and with just one lever you can now change gear with extreme accuracy, speed and precision. When the trail suddenly turns up hill, your DEORE XT drivetrain can now respond to your every demand. When your hands are aching from gripping your bars, a light touch of your Di2 button is all you need to move to a more efficient gear. And together with Synchro Shift technology, which adjusts your front derailleur and your chain line automatically, you’ll always have the right gear options to quickly switch between tough climbs, technical descents and pure-adrenaline racing.

Much like the Shimano DEORE XT M8000 mechanical derailleur, the DEORE XT Di2 M8050 rear derailleur also includes Shadow RD+ technology, which is designed to eliminate chain bounce and keep chains on sprockets over multiple types of terrain, leading to a more stable shifting platform.

The most groundbreaking technology featuring on DEORE XT Di2 M8050 though is a new wireless Bluetooth connection to Shimano’s E-TUBE program, which is the system Shimano uses to set up and control the Di2 shifting behaviour. Through Bluetooth technology riders or mechanics can wirelessly communicate with their computer, tablet or a smart phone via the SC-MT800 system information display and a new battery. As well as allowing wireless workshop customizability, it allows riders to customize their shifting preferences on the trail via an app on their smartphones.

Additionally, Shimano’s wireless D-FLY Data Management system will allow riders to see battery and gear information on their compatible third party display devices (eg bike computers). This technology will be rolled out with DEORE XT Di2 components and will be available as an upgrade for those currently riding Shimano XTR Di2, either with SC-MT800 or SCM9051 system information displays and a new internal or external battery.

The components of adventure

In terms of the components themselves, it’s the drivetrain where DEORE XT Di2 M8050 developments have focused.

SW-M8050 front and rear FIREBOLT shifters are designed to provide easy operation and accurate shifting with an ergonomic rotary action, short single-click action and effortless multi-shift possibilities. The FIREBOLT shift button placement is customizable and can be positioned exactly where the rider’s thumbs naturally rest. This allows you to shift faster and match your efforts like never before.

The SYNCHRO SHIFT technology inherent in the shifters means riders can rely solely on one shifter to take care of their rear and front gear changes. A customizable shift map means riders can program the exact gear ratio at which Di2 automatically shifts into the big ring when going up through the gears, or into the small ring when going down through the gears. Whichever gear ratio you choose, Shimano’s Rhythm Step philosophy ensures that riders make the minimum amount of incremental steps when changing up or down gears, allowing the rider to maintain an even cadence and fluid riding style. No large gear steps, no over-working joints and muscles, just effortless pedaling throughout the gear range. No compromises, just a focus on simplicity and enjoyment.

The shifters are designed to work in harmony with the SC-MT800 system information display, the RD-M8050 rear derailleur and the FD-M8070 front derailleur. Not only does the SC-MT800 system information display give a visual display of the rider’s gear and battery level, but it is also the control point for operating the trim adjustment and reboot function and wirelessly adjusting the multi-shift speed and SYNCHRO SHIFT operation via computer, tablet or smart phone.

The FD-M8070 front derailleur and RD-M8050 rear derailleur retain the accurate and stable shifting developed for XTR Di2 components. Computer-controlled auto trim on the front derailleur keeps the drivetrain running smoothly. Meanwhile, at the rear, changes are seamless, even under high loads, on steep inclines or when cassettes are more mud than teeth. The derailleur motors are twice as powerful as those on Dura-Ace and Ultegra Di2 to give precise shifting in difficult conditions.

Battery performance is identical to that of its big brother, XTR Di2, giving a minimum of several hundred kilometres of power under heavy usage (eg lots of shifting over three chainrings plus control of ancillary devices). The visual LED display indicates battery charge and the LED screen shuts off after a few seconds of inactivity to save battery life. If you do find yourself running low, charging the battery takes around 90 minutes and internal batteries work on a simple plug and play operation so can be easily swapped.

Durability is also in line with XTR Di2 components. A sealed, waterproof system means DEORE XT Di2’s electronic signals will stand up to mud, water and dirt from the worst of winter. Plus, with no worrying about cross-chaining, cable stretch, or cable adjustments, your gear changes will be incredibly consistent.

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano XT M8020 Wheels

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A wider rim brings the new XT M8020 wheels closer into line with its competition, in terms of rim width.

The 27.5″ M8020 wheels we’ve got on test come from the ‘Trail’ line of XT components (most XT components are available in either Race or Trail variants), so they’re built tough and the design is quite a departure from XT wheels we’ve ridden in the past. If you’re a 29er rider, never fear, they come in a ‘size large’ too. Like all Shimano’s high-end wheels, these guys are hand built from start to finish.

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The rim has a tubeless tape now, rather than using a UST-style sealed rim bed.

First up, the M8020 rims get a welcome increase in width. They now measure up at 24mm internally, which should afford more stability to big tyres run at lower pressures. 24mm still puts them on the narrow end of the spectrum for a trail-specific wheelset, but it’s a good improvement over previous versions. The rim is offset too, which allows for more even spoke tensions between the drive and non-drive side spokes, ultimately making for a stronger wheel.

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Cup and cone bearings with a sturdy steel freehub body.

Previous versions of the XT wheels had a sealed rim bed, which required the use of a funky, threaded, screw-in spoke nipple, but this has been abandoned in favour of a tubeless rim tape to seal the spoke holes. Moving to a more conventional arrangement like this allows the use of regular spoke nipples for repairs, plus the rim can be made lighter too.

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Straight pull spokes.

The hubs retain Shimano’s user-friendly cup and cone bearing system. It can serviced with just a couple of cone spanners and a lick of grease by most home mechanics. They’re not light hubs, but anyone who has tried to remove a cassette from a chewed up a lightweight alloy freehub body will happily accept a few extra grams associated with the steel freehub found on the XT wheels. We clocked the pair in at 1910g on the Flow dream-crusher scales.

We’ve mounted these wheels to our Trek Fuel EX 9.8 long-term test bike, and fitted them with a set of Bontrager SE3 tyres, which have the same tread pattern as the XR3 just with slightly tougher sidewalls. It should be a good combo, and we’re looking forward to asking them some lumpy questions on our rocky home trails.

 

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.

Tested: PRO Tharsis Trail Di2 Cockpit

Shimano’s revolutionary electronic shifting is more than just having great shifting gears with zero maintenance. It’s the first step we’ve seen in mountain bike development opening up all sorts of freedom in areas that cables dictate frame design, wires can go anywhere, bending and travelling where cables simply can’t.

_LOW1413
Now that is neat, is it not?

What is it?

Pro is Shimano’s component line, with a big range of bars, stems, saddles, wheels and any accessory you would ever need. Working alongside Shimano has its benefits, especially when integrating the XTR Di2 into a dedicated bar and stem, the Tharsis. Available in cross country and the ‘Trail’ series we have here, it’ll cater for any bike between an XC race bike and a big enduro rig.

– The Tharsis Trail series stem comes in four sizes from 35mm up to 65mm. Weights start at 95 grams.

– The Tharsis Trail series bar is available in Di2 specific or regular, 800mm wide with 20mm ride. Weighing 214 grams.

– The bar is available in a non-Di2 option too.

– Full details at PRO website here.

_LOW0123
The slim and attractive shifter and brake combo.
_LOW0167
The wires sneak into the stem, just under the faceplate there is a gap, designed just big enough for the wires.

How it works.

The whole idea behind the Di2 specific components is to accomodate and hide the electrical wiring for both or just one shifter/derailleur. The wires travel inside the bars, through the stem and into the fork steer tube where the Di2 battery is stored.

The typical star nut assembly that keeps the headset bearings tight is replaced with Pro’s Headlock system, a 32mm cone spanner winds down a threaded collar underneath the stem to preload the bearings. This frees up the inside of the steer tube for the battery to be stashed inside. The battery clips into a cradle that wedges itself securely inside, never a hint of movement is possible with this method.

_LOW0185
From the shifter to the computer, the wires travel inside the bar.
_LOW0189
Into the stem goes the wire to the battery.
_LOW0193
The tiny Di2 battery wedges itself inside the fork steerer tube.
_LOW0190
And up and over into the steer tube.
Holes and grooves in the carbon. Whoa.
Holes and grooves in the carbon. Whoa.
_LOW0174
Spot the wire?

Installation

The installation process is certainly quite fiddly and time consuming when compared to a regular old setup, in fact with all the latest bikes going with internal cable routing in some fashion we are forced to be spending a whole lot more time doing the tasks that were once quite quick and painless. But we all know how nice it is to have a neat bike once its all done, so we put up with it.

Shimano supply a little plastic cable guide tool which can help you guiding the wires through the bars and stem, but we found the best way to save swearing and cursing is using the Park Tools Internal Cable Routing Kit. This little life saving kit will save you so much time and frustration, a worthy investment if you’re often working on internally routed bikes.

The battery cradle that houses it inside the steer tube is a simple and effective, and there’s enough room around the battery to stuff any excess wire inside for extra neatness.

The bars are 800mm wide, unless you’re particularly broad and aren’t bothered by trees in tight singletrack, it’s best to trim them down to suit you best. We ended up at 760mm wide.

_LOW0177
Nifty little cap finishes off the clean setup.

We fitted the PRO Tharsis cockpit to a cross country bike too, the Pivot Mach 4. Read that review and see how neat we could make it too – Tested: Pivot Mach 4.


Riding Tharsis

We like the aesthetics of the bar and stem, it’s got a nice feel to it and is very stiff for its weight. The subtle black on black finish adds to the minimal nature of the internal wires to create a very understated look up the front of your bike.

The stem took us a little bit patience though. The Headlock system is a pretty straightforward system but finicky to setup, follow the instructions closely but do crank up the stem bolts slightly higher than the recommended 5NM torque, and we used friction paste on the steer tube for an extra secure grip, or the headset would come loose during rides. Frustrating to say the least early on during testing, but we’ve sorted that out now with the paste and extra torque and it’s remained tight since. We’d not go travelling without the supplied 32mm cone spanner provided though just in case, its not exactly your standard tool found on the everyday multi tool kit.

_LOW0158
Neat! And quiet.
_LOW1425
Sneaky little wires hiding away.

From your riding point of view its certainly very refreshing to have zero clutter, looking down at your bars you see only your brake and dropper post cables, very tidy indeed.

_LOW1601
Quiet bikes are fast bikes.

With rumours of Shimano trickling down their excellent Di2 electronic shifting to lower price points the Tharsis Trail gear will have even more appeal, it takes what we love about no gear cables to another level.

During our long-term review of the Di2, we’ve become accustomed to just set and forget and enjoy the ride, and now with the wires hidden away it’s easier than ever to forget what’s now out of sight.

Shimano XTR Di2 Synchro Shift Review

“Man, I don’t want my bike deciding for me when it’s time to shift!” That was our very first line of thought when we heard about Shimano XTR Di2’s Synchro Shift system. But like so many of the ranters out there in Internet land, we totally misunderstood what Di2 Synchro Shift was about and how it worked.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 3

[divider]What is Syncro Shift?[/divider]

In a nutshell, Syncro Shift is a function/mode found on Shimano’s new XTR Di2 groupset which allows you to have a drivetrain with multiple chain rings (i.e. 2×11 or 3×11), but only use one shifter. This has the advantage of allowing you to maintain the wider gear range of a mutli-ring drivetrain, but makes for a simpler, cleaner  and lighter cockpit, or allows you to run a dropper post lever in place of the second shift lever.

To be 100% clear, Syncro Shift is not an automatic shifting mode. It only shifts when you tell it to – it won’t go all Skynet on your arse and start deciding when it’s time to change gears autonomously!

[divider]How does it work?[/divider]

As you probably know, in a multiple chain ring drivetrain, there is significant overlap/duplication of gear ratios. Even in a 3×11 drivetrain, there are really only 15 or so unique gears (in a 2×11 drivetrain it’s even less, only 12 0r 13). What Syncro Shift allows you to do, is use every single one of these unique gears sequentially, without having to think about the front derailleur at all. This is because Syncro Shift mode handles the front shifting in order to maintain that sequential order of gear changes.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 1 3

As you move up or down the gear range, the front and rear derailleurs are shifted in tandem in order to maintain the logical progression of gear ratios. Because you don’t have to think about the front shifting, from a rider’s perspective, it’s like you’ve got a single chain ring, but with a 15 gears out back (or 13 if you’re using a 2×11 setup).

Confused? Watch the video below. It explains all the shift modes in detail – please note, this was shot months ago, early on in our testing.

[divider]No surprises[/divider]

Even once we understood what the system was all about, some reservations remained, mainly that we’d somehow be ‘surprised’ by the front shift occurring. Needless to say, that hasn’t been an issue. The system gives you a loud double beep to alert you that a front shift is about to occur, and even if it did not, the front shifts occur with such precision and so quickly that they’re really just as smooth and seamless as a rear shift.

[divider]Customising the system[/divider]

Shimano Shift Mapping
Shimano’s E-Tube software allows you customise just about all aspects of your Di2, including the shift patters for Synchro Shift. Unbelievably it’s not available for Mac yet, and it’s pretty clunky software, but workable.

Di2 actually has two Synchro Shift modes, designated by S1 and S2 on the display. Using Shimano’s E-Tube software (which is PC only!)  you can customise the shift patterns for each Synchro mode, in order to best serve different situations. For example, we configured S1 as our ‘trail’ mode, adjusting the shift mapping so that the chain dropped to the smaller chain ring earlier, weighting the gearing range towards the lower end, and maintaining a straighter chain line overall. S2 we configured as our ‘race’ setup, so the chain would remain in the large chain ring until we’d downshifted to the very lowest gear on the cassette, and only then would it drop the chain to the smaller ring. When shifting back up the range in S2, we configured the shift patterns to be more aggressive, with a larger jump in ratios between gears 3 and 4. Either way, as long as you know which of the two modes you’re in, the behaviour of the system is completely predictable.

[divider]No brainer front shifting[/divider]

Front shifting normally demands a fair bit of attention, even if it’s largely subconscious in more experienced riders – shifting under heavy pedalling load can lead to all kinds of dramas, like snapped chains, bent chain-ring teeth, dropped chains or ruined derailleurs. Then there’s the consideration of cross-chaining, running gear combos that cause premature wear of your drivetrain or sub-optimal performance.

Pivot-Mach-4-20
Synchro Shift won’t bungle a shift under heavy pedalling load like you might with a mechanical groupset.

Synchro Shift removes these issues from the ride experience entirely. You can shift under load whenever you want with total confidence that there’ll be no dramas, the chain slots into the next gear perfectly and won’t over-shift or drop off the chain ring. And because the front derailleur and rear derailleur work in tandem, you’ll never find yourself running really extreme chain lines inadvertently either.

In this regard, Synchro Shift really does deliver some of the aspects we like about 1×11 drivetrains, but with the benefit of multiple rings.

[divider]1×11 or Synchro Shift?[/divider]

Undeniably, Synchro Shift is better than using two separate shifters – we can’t imagine there will be many riders out there who’ll opt to run separate front/rear shifters once they’ve experimented with Synchro mode. But the million dollar question is:  Is Synchro Shift better than a 1×11 drivetrain?

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift Remedy 1 (1)
No doubt, 1×11 looks slick. But there are compromises.

And that IS a very good question. Do multiple chain rings combined with Synchro Shift offer sufficient benefits over a 1×11 system to justify the complexity? Or are you better off saving the weight, expense and battery life and just going for a 1×11?

The answer, of course, is that it depends on your priorities. We’ve configured our Di2 system with both all the possible variants: 1) 2×11 with two shifters 2) 2×11 with one shifter and Synchro Shift 3) 1×11. We straight up can’t see any benefit of option 1, but when it comes to options 2 and 3, there are pros and cons.

A significant factor is gear range. If you want a larger gear range, then a multiple ring system is better, hands down.

We raced our XTR Di2 equipped bike at the Convict 100 Marathon race, and we relished having a full gear range of a 2×11 drivetrain – it made a long, hard day in the saddle easier, both on the climbs and on the flat, fast road sections. We could have done it on a single-ring, but it would have been a tougher ask.

The chart below serves as good comparison of the relative gear range offered by Shimano 3×11, 2×11, 1×11 and, for comparison, SRAM 1×11.

Gear Chart XTR 2

[divider]Broader range cassettes:[/divider]

If the single chain ring option is your preference, then it’s possibly worth looking into other cassette options which offer a broader range of gearing than the standard XTR 11-40. The heavier (but much more afforadable) XT cassette is available in an 11-42 spread, or you could theoretically run a SRAM 10-42 as well (though Shimano would obviously say this was a no-no). The standard 11-40 XTR cassette offers a good spread, and the gear ratios are well spaced, but it is a bit constraining overall.

Shimano-XT-11-Speed-3
We prefer the wider 11-42 range of the XT cassette to the 11-40 of the XTR.

[divider]Weight savings:[/divider]

On the plus side of a single-ring set up is that there are decent weight savings to be had in ditching a front derailleur, chain ring and shifter – with XTR, those savings amount to approximately 290g. Going to a single ring is also quieter, and looks bad ass.

[divider]Chain retention: [/divider]

We have dropped the chain on our XTR drivetrain in both 2×11 and 1×11 configurations. This is no huge surprise – it’s not a Shimano issue, and we’ve thrown the chain on SRAM 1×11 setups many times too. The saving grace of a having a front derailleur, is that if the chain does come off, you’re more likely to be able to pedal it back on, whereas if it comes off a single-ring your only option to stop and put it back on. (Or, of course, you could run a chain guide if you’re using 1×11).

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift Remedy 2 (1)

[divider]Reduced battery life:[/divider]

Synchro Shift is much more demanding of your battery life than either manual shifting or 1×11 modes. The front derailleur uses the lion’s share of the battery juice, because it requires a lot more force to execute each shift, and Synchro Shift puts it to work more often. We also seemed to experience accelerated chain wear in Synchro Shift mode, though we’re reluctant to 100% attribute this to Synchro Shift, nor can we explain it other than to say that perhaps we didn’t have our Synchro Shift configured to deliver nice, straight chain lines.

[divider]So what would we do? [/divider]

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 6
For us, being able to position a dropper post lever where you’d normally find the left-hand shifter is a big plus.

If we had to make a choice between running a single-ring or running 2×11 Syncro Shift, what would we bolt to our bike? Once again, it would depend on what we wanted to do. We’re happy to admit that we’re suckers for the simplicity, ease of use/maintenance and clean lines of a single-ring drivetrain, and 90% of the time the gearing range it provides is fine. We’d be happy to live with the small compromises in gear range on our home trails, where the speeds are never that high, and the climbs aren’t that long.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 4
The front derailleur isn’t dead. Batteries recharged it.

But if we did more racing (of any sort; marathons, Enduro, cross country), or if we regularly rode in steeper, bigger terrain then we’d go for a 2×11 with Synchro Shift all the way. We’d also most likely pair it up with an 11-42 cassette as well, just to extend the gear range even further.

Interestingly, if the choice was to run 1×11 or 2×11 in a mechanical groupset (i.e. no option to have Synchro Shift), then we’d most likely opt for a single-ring. For us, being able to position a dropper seat post lever in place of the left-hand shifter is a really big deal – it makes using a dropper much, much easier, and when we’re able to use the dropper post quickly and easily, we enjoy the ride a lot more.

As we’ve outlined above, Synchro Shift makes the front derailleur desirable again. It allows you to have your cake and eat it – a bigger gear range, but with far fewer of the downsides you’d normally associate with a front derailleur and a left-hand shifter. Is it a revolution? No. Does it make us pause in our headlong rush towards single-rings on ever bike? Yes.


 

For more reviews and our experiences with XTR Di2 read on:

Our first impression of XTR Di2.

Fitting XTR to the Pivot Mach 4 Carbon with internal wiring.

Explaining the Di2 shift modes.

Tested: Shimano Unzen Hydration Bags

Arriving in time for a summer full of shredding under the hot hot sun, Shimano have two new hydration bags with a suite of unique features to secure them snugly on your back.We’ve been testing the Unzen 2 for $109 and its bigger brother, the Unzen 4 Enduro for $129.

Both bags use Shimano’s new Rider Fit X-Harness where the shoulder straps join together with a clip above your sternum, creating a cross harness on your chest. Shimano say the design gives you more freedom of movement, and takes pressure of your (massive) pecs, so you can breathe more easily and feel less restricted. The two straps are held together with robust harness hook, rather than a clip. There’s still a waist strap too, for extra stabilisation and security.


Shimano Cycling Bag 13

[divider]Features up the wahzoo[/divider]

While the harness system is the most obvious point of difference, in Shimano fashion, the both bags are so feature packed you need a Powerpoint presentation to take it all in.


Unzen 2

Complete with a top quality two-litre Hydrapak bladder for $109, this is a seriously good bag for the bucks!

The first thing that struck us with this bag is the slim shape and very low weight (350g-ish). It sits close and low on your back and doesn’t occupy much space keeping a slim profile, we quickly forgot it was there. When we all spend so much time, effort and cash on making our bikes as light as possible, we often overlook the opportunity to save grams in what we carry on our bodies. We’ve been enjoying having such a light bag for quick local rides.

There’s not a lot of internal storage with this one – there’s the large main compartment which houses the bladder and has just enough space for a pump and tube, then there’s a smaller pocket out front for your multitool, keys and tooth brush. It’s best suited to shorter rides or racing where you’re aiming to keep the weight down. That said, you can still secure a jacket using the elasticised loops on the outside of the bag, and there are other neat storage inclusions like a fleece-lined pocket for your phone or glasses.

Unzen 4 Enduro

With more space for gear and water, Shimano’s Enduro Racepack is the go for all-day rides. It doesn’t come with a bladder, but the $129 pricepoint is fair and you can pick a three-litre bladder of your choosing. Weight-wise, it’s around 600g excluding a bladder.

The main compartment is accessible from both sides, there’s a huge external flap/pouch that’ll take a jacket, a spare bottle, your full-face helmet, or a large bunch of bananas. We’ve found it suitably roomy even when loaded it up with a full bladder, spares, tools, food, first aid and a wet weather jacket.

Like the smaller bag, you’ve got a fleece-lined pocket, glasses hanging loop and a billion other little storage solutions. The most handy is the small elasticised pocket on the chest harness, it’s the perfect size and location for a gel or two to dig you out of a hole.

[divider]About that harness[/divider]

Setting up the Rider Fit X-Harness is certainly a little more involved than with your standard bag, and we found it took some fiddling and trial and error to set it up correctly. You can’t just throw it on,  pull on the straps to tighten and go – we needed to take it on and off a few times until it was just right.

Because the length of the harness system is adjusted internally (like you’d find on a bigger hiking pack), you need to unpack the bag to make big adjustments to the fit too, which is time consuming because when the bag is full of stuff it fits differently to when it’s empty. You can then make smaller adjustments to the tightness of the fit on the fly with the big Velcro tabs. Shimano have good instructions on their site here to help get it all fitted correctly. If you don’t get the fit right, the harness will restrict your expanding chest as you breathe heavily during a climb or hard effort. We found this more noticeable with the Unzen 4 Enduro than with the smaller Unzen 2.

On the positive side, you do feel very unencumbered around your arms. The bags are both super stable too, though we’re not sure whether this is because of the harness system along or because they’re both low-profile and keep all the mass close to your body.

Shimano Cycling Bag 8

[divider]Final thoughts[/divider]

Great value, well-constructed and a little bit different from everyone else’s bags. Don’t be put off if the fit isn’t perfect in the shop, because getting the adjustment just right takes a bit more persistence than usual. the Unzen packs are good option for both short and long days in the saddle.

Happy New (Bike) Year: Here's Our 2015 Top Five

Happy New Year! The bike industry has done the countdown, popped the cork and, with Rod Stewart’s rendition of Auld Lang Syne on the hi-fi, said goodbye to 2015.

With Eurobike done and dusted, just about every bike brand has now shown us their wares for the new season. But before we begin afresh, riding whatever wheel size it is this year, we thought we’d take a look at our personal five top mountain bike ‘things’ of the past 12 months. These are just our personal picks – what would you put on your list?


Shimano XT 11-speed:

XT-11-speed-6

It took a long time for Shimano to come up with an 11-speed mountain bike grouppo that was a viable contender for SRAM’s plethora of 1×11 drivetrains; SRAM had already released XX1, X01 and X1 before Shimano showed us their XTR 11-speed groupset. But not only was XTR mega bucks, it also topped out at with a 40-tooth cassette, which wasn’t low enough for many people to consider going 1×11.

And then, finally, came the XT version. Not only was it a shitload more affordable, but it also comes with a 11-42 cassette, which is a nice low granny gear. The use of a standard freehub body means it’s an easier upgrade to 11-speed too. Plus it works flawlessly too.

Read our full XT review here. 


 

Tasmania:

Ok, so Tassie has been around a lot longer than the last 12 months. But it’s only in recent times, thanks to the development of new trail centres, that we’ve been happy to call it Australia’s leading mountain bike state.

Tasmania-Flow-Nation-68
Riding the Juggernaut at Hollybank.

In particular, the amazing Blue Derby and Hollybank MTB parks, both not far from Launceston, really put Tassie at the forefront of Australian mountain biking. We were lucky enough to spend some time at both of these trail centres last year, and they blew us away. Since our visit, Blue Derby has undergone a whole stack of new trail building too, and we’re itching to get back.

Flow-Nation-Blue-Derby-19
The Blue Derby trails are stunning.

But there’s far more to Tassie’s mountain bike scene than just these centres – Hobart has killer riding too, the west coast has some of the best adventure/back country trails going, and there’s a healthy race scene too (take the Hellfire Cup or Wildside for example).

It’s a little nugget of mountain bike awesomeness. Read more about Hollybank, Blue Derby and Hobart.


 

Crankworx Rotorua:

Crankworx’s first foray to the southern hemisphere was a huge success, in every regard, and Rotorua further cemented its status as one of the coolest mountain bike towns on the planet.

Crankworx-Slopestyle-52
Slopestyle at Crankworx Rotorua.

The courses were great, the town was totally buzzing, the locals got right behind it all and it all went smoothly! It was great to see how many Aussies made the trip over too, filling the forest trails in between the events and getting into it.

We’re bummed to hear that the Enduro World Series won’t be combined with Crankworx Rotorua next year, but apparently there will still be an enduro, just not an official part of the EWS. Given how much the riders seemed to froth on Rotorua, we’d imagine a healthy contingent of the world’d best riders will still be on hand.

The Enduro World Series down under.
The Enduro World Series down under.
Crankworx-Day-1.1-17
The local crowds came out in force for Crankworx Rotorua.

Regardless, we’ll be back next year, and if you’ve been thinking about a riding holiday to Rotorua, we think it’s the perfect time to do it.


 

FOX 34 and 36 forks and DPS EVOL shock:

FOX got their arses handed to them when RockShox released the Pike, but they’ve responded with a furious bout of development and the new 36 and 34 forks are the result. Put simply, the Factory versions of these two forks are mind-blowingly good.

Fox-36-First-Bite-8

The 36 is lighter than many of the old 32 forks we used to ride, but has proper downhill race-worthy performance, and the 34 is so sublimely smooth it seems to be predicting the terrain.

FOX-2016-14

While FOX have traditionally had the edge when it comes to rear shocks, they’ve been losing ground to RockShox in this arena, but the DPS EVOL shock should stem the bleeding. The new air can shape seems like such a simple change, but the improvement in small bump response in particular is so dramatic it’ll make your old shock feel like it’s filled with Selleys Space Invader.

Read our full review of the FOX 36 here, and our review of the 34 and DPS shock here.


 

Yeti SB5c:

For us, this was the standout bike of 2015 in a field of incredible contenders. We admit to having a soft spot for Yetis, but when you look raw performance alone (and ignore the stunning looks and fantastic heritage) this bike is a winner.

Yeti-SB5-C-16

Yes, it costs a million bucks and can’t fit a water bottle, but as a tool for slicing and dicing the trail, they don’t get any better. Just enough travel, delivered via a suspension system that is both efficient and plush, perfectly poised geometry, low weight, great versatility – this is a bike you can race at an EWS round one day then cross country on the next. In short, it embodies the kind of do-it-all performance that the best trail bikes shoot for.

Read our full Yeti SB5c review here. 


Also on the shortlist:

RedBull’s race coverage: It just keeps getting better and better. We’ve been glued to the computer too many Saturday and Sunday evenings to count this year!

Aussie young gun downhillers kicking arse: We get the feeling we’re about to see a return to that age of Aussie domination in downhill, with Andrew Crimmins, Connor Fearon and Dean Lucas all set to follow in the footsteps of Brosnan and Hill.

Cairns: Rad trails, crazy jungles and even crazier locals. The scene in Cairns just keeps on growing as it undergoes a huge revival. Bring on the 2016 World Cup!

Ibis 741 rims: These 35mm wide rims have been a revelation, transforming out trail bikes into grip seeking missiles!

 

 

Happy New (Bike) Year: Here’s Our 2015 Top Five

With Eurobike done and dusted, just about every bike brand has now shown us their wares for the new season. But before we begin afresh, riding whatever wheel size it is this year, we thought we’d take a look at our personal five top mountain bike ‘things’ of the past 12 months. These are just our personal picks – what would you put on your list?


Shimano XT 11-speed:

XT-11-speed-6

It took a long time for Shimano to come up with an 11-speed mountain bike grouppo that was a viable contender for SRAM’s plethora of 1×11 drivetrains; SRAM had already released XX1, X01 and X1 before Shimano showed us their XTR 11-speed groupset. But not only was XTR mega bucks, it also topped out at with a 40-tooth cassette, which wasn’t low enough for many people to consider going 1×11.

And then, finally, came the XT version. Not only was it a shitload more affordable, but it also comes with a 11-42 cassette, which is a nice low granny gear. The use of a standard freehub body means it’s an easier upgrade to 11-speed too. Plus it works flawlessly too.

Read our full XT review here. 


 

Tasmania:

Ok, so Tassie has been around a lot longer than the last 12 months. But it’s only in recent times, thanks to the development of new trail centres, that we’ve been happy to call it Australia’s leading mountain bike state.

Tasmania-Flow-Nation-68
Riding the Juggernaut at Hollybank.

In particular, the amazing Blue Derby and Hollybank MTB parks, both not far from Launceston, really put Tassie at the forefront of Australian mountain biking. We were lucky enough to spend some time at both of these trail centres last year, and they blew us away. Since our visit, Blue Derby has undergone a whole stack of new trail building too, and we’re itching to get back.

Flow-Nation-Blue-Derby-19
The Blue Derby trails are stunning.

But there’s far more to Tassie’s mountain bike scene than just these centres – Hobart has killer riding too, the west coast has some of the best adventure/back country trails going, and there’s a healthy race scene too (take the Hellfire Cup or Wildside for example).

It’s a little nugget of mountain bike awesomeness. Read more about Hollybank, Blue Derby and Hobart.


 

Crankworx Rotorua:

Crankworx’s first foray to the southern hemisphere was a huge success, in every regard, and Rotorua further cemented its status as one of the coolest mountain bike towns on the planet.

Crankworx-Slopestyle-52
Slopestyle at Crankworx Rotorua.

The courses were great, the town was totally buzzing, the locals got right behind it all and it all went smoothly! It was great to see how many Aussies made the trip over too, filling the forest trails in between the events and getting into it.

We’re bummed to hear that the Enduro World Series won’t be combined with Crankworx Rotorua next year, but apparently there will still be an enduro, just not an official part of the EWS. Given how much the riders seemed to froth on Rotorua, we’d imagine a healthy contingent of the world’d best riders will still be on hand.

The Enduro World Series down under.
The Enduro World Series down under.
Crankworx-Day-1.1-17
The local crowds came out in force for Crankworx Rotorua.

Regardless, we’ll be back next year, and if you’ve been thinking about a riding holiday to Rotorua, we think it’s the perfect time to do it.


 

FOX 34 and 36 forks and DPS EVOL shock:

FOX got their arses handed to them when RockShox released the Pike, but they’ve responded with a furious bout of development and the new 36 and 34 forks are the result. Put simply, the Factory versions of these two forks are mind-blowingly good.

Fox-36-First-Bite-8

The 36 is lighter than many of the old 32 forks we used to ride, but has proper downhill race-worthy performance, and the 34 is so sublimely smooth it seems to be predicting the terrain.

FOX-2016-14

While FOX have traditionally had the edge when it comes to rear shocks, they’ve been losing ground to RockShox in this arena, but the DPS EVOL shock should stem the bleeding. The new air can shape seems like such a simple change, but the improvement in small bump response in particular is so dramatic it’ll make your old shock feel like it’s filled with Selleys Space Invader.

Read our full review of the FOX 36 here, and our review of the 34 and DPS shock here.


 

Yeti SB5c:

For us, this was the standout bike of 2015 in a field of incredible contenders. We admit to having a soft spot for Yetis, but when you look raw performance alone (and ignore the stunning looks and fantastic heritage) this bike is a winner.

Yeti-SB5-C-16

Yes, it costs a million bucks and can’t fit a water bottle, but as a tool for slicing and dicing the trail, they don’t get any better. Just enough travel, delivered via a suspension system that is both efficient and plush, perfectly poised geometry, low weight, great versatility – this is a bike you can race at an EWS round one day then cross country on the next. In short, it embodies the kind of do-it-all performance that the best trail bikes shoot for.

Read our full Yeti SB5c review here. 


Also on the shortlist:

RedBull’s race coverage: It just keeps getting better and better. We’ve been glued to the computer too many Saturday and Sunday evenings to count this year!

Aussie young gun downhillers kicking arse: We get the feeling we’re about to see a return to that age of Aussie domination in downhill, with Andrew Crimmins, Connor Fearon and Dean Lucas all set to follow in the footsteps of Brosnan and Hill.

Cairns: Rad trails, crazy jungles and even crazier locals. The scene in Cairns just keeps on growing as it undergoes a huge revival. Bring on the 2016 World Cup!

Ibis 741 rims: These 35mm wide rims have been a revelation, transforming out trail bikes into grip seeking missiles!

 

 

Tested: iSSi Trail Pedals

Shimano are the big gorilla in the clipless pedal zoo, so perhaps it’s a sign of animal respect that iSSi’s new Trail pedals look, feel and perform just like Shimano equivalent. But iSSi, a small manufacturer out of Minneapolis, do have a few points of difference that may sway riders away from ubiquity of Shimano.


ISSI 8

The nearest equivalent pedal in the Shimano range is the XT Trail – the similarities between the XT and iSSi Trail pedals are obvious – so throughout this review we’ll be drawing a lot of comparisons between these two pedals, apologies in advance if you’re not a Shimano user! The size and weight is practically the same (both around 420g/pair) and getting Shimano riders to give the iSSi pedals a go is simple too, because they will work fine with a Shimano cleat. We didn’t ever bother to install the iSSi cleats, because the Shimano cleats already bolted to all our shoes worked perfectly. The entry/release of the pedals is close to identical too, so there’s no adaptation needed there.

[divider]What makes these pedals different?[/divider]

So what are the differences? Most obvious is the colour – you can get both iSSi’s Trail and XC pedals in a rainbow of colours to match or clash with your bike. The downside with a painted pedal is that they become a bit tattered looking pretty quickly if you ride in rocky terrain. Our red pedals look a bit less Ferrari and a bit more pizza delivery Corolla now. Perhaps the polished silver colour option is the best if you’re worried about your bike looking scuffed up.

ISSI Pedals 2
A 6mm Allen key gives you access to the guts of the pedal.

From a functional perspective, you can get iSSi pedals in two bearing/bushing options; the more expensive ‘Triple’ option runs three sealed bearing, whereas ours has a bearing and bushing combo (like a Shimano). To the pedal’s credit, we’ve had no play develop yet in the bearing/bushing assembly, but servicing is simple with just a 6mm Allen key and 9mm socket needed to take them apart. Riders with massive feet or those with clearance issues (like your heels rubbing on the frame) will appreciate that iSSi offers their pedals in three axle lengths too, with variants that are 6mm or 12mm longer than the 52.2mm standard axle.

ISSI Pedals 3
The cleat tension indicator is big and obvious, making it easy to ensure even tension on both pedals.

But for us the most important difference is in the pedal’s cleat tension adjustment. The iSSi pedals use a 3mm Allen key for adjustment (which we prefer to the Shimano’s 2.5mm) and allow you to ratchet up a higher level of entry/release tension than with a Shimano. This is good if you’re the kind of rider who often pulls out of a pedal, either under power or while throwing the bike about. While we personally don’t run our pedals that tight, we know some people do, and so it’s good to have that option of cranking them up. We also really appreciate the clear tension indicator of the iSSi pedals, which makes it really easy to ensure you’ve got the same tension across both sides of both pedals. In this regard, the iSSi pedals have the edge.

Where Shimano continue to have an edge is in the support stakes. We’ve just received a set of Shimano’s newest XT pedals this past week, and once again Shimano have increased the contact patch between your shoe and pedal to increase foot stability. It’ll be interesting to see if iSSi follow suit in the near future.

 

[divider]Final Thoughts[/divider]

All up, we’re impressed. We’re not sure if the iSSi Trail pedals are necessarily better than a Shimano XT, but the performance is so similar that we’d struggle to tell the difference underfoot. The colours, cleat tension adjustment range and axle length options will be enough reason for many riders to give them a try, and having such a close competitor to Shimano’s performance can only be a good thing.

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

Tested: Shimano M200 Shoes

Shimano are old hands at making cycling shoes and now in the 25th year of the SPD, we are privy to a very complete lineup of great options. From quality entry level shoes, carbon cross country racing shoes, and now a trio of all-mountain/enduro shoes – the whole enchilada.

The M200 certainly doesn’t have a cool name but it packs features aimed squarely at the cool school, the growing all mountain/enduro segment. This type of riding isn’t exactly new, it’s simply just riding everything in your path and hammering descents, but lately we’ve been lucky enough to see bikes, gear, accessories and even fashion to cater for these new needs.

Tested - Shimano M200 8

The ingredients for a good shoe in this segment? Riders want protection, support, pedalling efficiency, walking and traction capabilities, mud and water resistance and of course, casual looks. Getting the balance of all those aspects is the challenge, the M200 does a great job, with a focus on protection and creating a supportive and efficient shoe while still maintaining a certain level of ‘feel’ between you and the bike.

Where a cross country shoe aims to be as stiff as possible, the M200 uses Shimano’s new Torbal sole which allows the rear section of the shoe to flex and twist sideways a little, whilst still remaining supportive when your energy is pushing downwards up the front of the shoe.

Tested - Shimano M200 2
The inside of the shoe is raised at the heel, protecting your ankles from banging the cranks or frame.
Tested - Shimano M200 6
The buckle copped it a few times, but never showed signs of letting the shoe’s structure down.
Tested - Shimano M200 5
Those deep grooves in the mid sole give the sole its natural feeling flex. The cleat positions are also a lot longer than other Shimano shoes, we ran ours a long way back.

On the trail we found the Torbal sole which initially sounded like a gimmick to really let our feet move in a natural way when pedalling and as the bike moved beneath you, there is a degree of freedom with a strong connection.

We’re all about pairing a less-racey shoe with a trail style pedal (like the XT or XTR Trail pedal), in this case the balance of pedal efficiency was just right. It sounds silly how Shimano describes Torbal on their product description, but that’s just Shimano and their way with words, the shoes feel great when pedalling and descending.

The shoe gets its odd looks from the protective flap that covers the laces, it does two jobs really well, keeping the laces from snagging anything whilst providing a shield from mud and water. The green colour with orange highlights will polarise, but we got used to it.

Fit wise it was a close and tight fit, the laces provide a sturdy enclosure for the shoe, but at the same time quick tension adjustments during rides isn’t as fast as a traditional velcro strap or BOA dial. In true Shimano fashion, the ratchet buckle is easy to use, slim in its shape and always functioned perfectly. They are also replaceable, if you manage to tear one off.

The sole is nice and tacky and we were able to clamber up rocks without slipping, but we did notice some of the softer orange coloured rubber coming away on one shoe, disappointing, but surely a warranty case from Shimano if it became an issue. All around the shoe there are sections of tough armour, these shoes should stay looking pretty clean after some time, no fragile fabric is vulnerable at all.

Tested - Shimano M200 4
Thin laces provide the front foot with an even and secure tension, and kept clean and dry by the broad velcro flap.

Tested - Shimano M200 1

Tested - Shimano M200 (1)

Check out some other similar shoes that we’ve tested recently:

Giro Terraduro

Five Ten Impact VXi Clipless 

Specialized 2FO Clip

Shimano M163

In a competitive segment, the M200 brings a lot to the table. It’s a shoe that you forget you’re wearing, the slim and secure fit and lightweight shoe is protective where you need it and we love the way that when you’re clipped in to the bike, you gain a real feeling of the way it moves beneath you, with no noticeable sacrifice in pedal efficiency. It might look odd with the big flap, but your feet will stay drier and cleaner longer, and with the added support and scuff protection your feet will love you when you bash them into rocks on Sunday.

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.

_Q5A0214
11 Speed, double chainring, that is a lot of gears!
_Q5A0213
Are we missing anything?
_Q5A0220
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.
_Q5A0225
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.
_Q5A0228
22 speeds should be enough.
_Q5A0229
Shimano XTR Trail wheels, wide and tough.
_Q5A0231
Rolling on the 650B treads from Specialized, a Butcher up front, Purgatory out the back.
_Q5A0235
The brakes shave a few grams from the current version, but will take up less space on the bars with a new slimmer clamp.
_Q5A0236
Shifter windows are back! We’ll try them out for a while at lease, but they are easily removed if you wish.
_Q5A0237
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.
_Q5A0238
Shimano are all about being cool, with their aluminium brake rotors sandwiched by a steel tracking surface. Ice-Tech, good name for it.
_Q5A0239
The Yeti 5C is a real dreamy bike, and deserves any fine test product that walks through the doors here at Flow.

Build time!

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!

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.

Shimano XTR Di2 – Shift Modes Explained

We’ve now logged about three weeks on board Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed drivetrain on our Pivot Mach 4 carbon test bike, happily zapping, beeping and whirring away through the trails. We’re conducting a long-term test on this remarkable new groupset; our aim is to find out what it’s really like to live with electronic shifting on a mountain bike. You can read all about the installation process and some of the questions we hope to answer in the coming months, here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/shimano-xtr-di2-long-term-test-installation/

Shimano XTR Di2 9
A whole stack of gears. The 11-40 cassette is broad enough that we’re spending most of our riding time in the big chain ring.

One of the most unique features of the Di2 drivetrain, is that it offers you a variety of different shift modes (all of which can also be customised, which is an aspect we’re yet to really explore). Our drivetrain is a 2×11 configuration, and as such we have three different shift modes to choose from.

Shimano XTR Di2 10
Ultimately, we’d like to just run the right hand shifter and use Syncro Shift mode full time.

 

There’s a ‘conventional’ manual shift mode, using both left and right shifters which control separate derailleurs, just as with a regular cable-actuated shift system. The big difference between a cable system and the Di2 system is that the shifts are completely instantaneous, and you can hold down the shifter button to shift across the entire cassette in one go.

The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next.

Then there are two Syncro Shift modes, which allow you to use just one shifter, with the system automatically shifting the chain between the chain rings. The two Syncro modes can be programed to offer different shift patterns; for example, you might set one mode up for racing and and configure it to keep the chain in the big-ring most of the time, only using small chain ring as a bailout gear. Then you could set the other mode up to use more lower range gears, staying in the small ring for longer. Again, we’re yet to delve into customising these modes, and so far we’ve been sticking to the pre-programed settings.

Shimano XTR Di2 21
The display is not intrusive. In fact, the only time we’ve been distracted by it is when riding in very low light, when it’s actually quite bright!
Shimano XTR Di2 8
The front shifts are powerful and crisp. The little servo motor that drives the front derailleur packs a punch, so much so that it carries a warning to keep your fingers out of the way!

Any fears we had that the Syncro Shift mode would prove somehow disconcerting or unpredictable have already evaporated. The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next. The shifts between chain rings are conducted with a corresponding shift at the rear derailleur (i.e. it downshifts the rear at the same time as upshifting the front), so that the ratio changes are kept even, and you don’t have that same huge jump in gear ratios that you normally associate with a front shift.

Shimano XTR Di2 6
The rear derailleur is bulkier than a standard Shimano mech, but we haven’t had any impacts yet.

Our preference is to eventually remove the left hand shifter and install a dropper seatpost remote lever in its place, and our experience with the Syncro Shift mode thus far definitely gives us the confidence to do so. We’re going to be revisiting our XTR Di2 drivetrain plenty more in the coming months, so we’ll leave it there for now. Stay tuned. Zeeeeeep!

 

 

Shimano Celebrates 25 Years of SPD

NEW PEDAL/SHOE COMBINATION TO CELEBRATE 25 YEARS OF SHIMANO PEDALING DYNAMICS

In 1990 Shimano’s introduction of the M737 pedal and the M100 shoe started a revolution within cycling; a pedal & shoe combination called ‘Shimano Pedaling Dynamics’ or SPD. In celebration of its 25th Anniversary Shimano releases a new, limited-edition, commemorative shoe and pedal combination.
IMG_2486
25 years have brought many design improvements to Shimano’s SPD pedals. Making them lighter, offering greater mud clearance and introducing the ’Pop-up’ mechanism for easy & fast entry. There are now SPD pedals specific to each kind of riding style, from professional athlete to commuter.Complementing improvements in pedal engineering, the shoe designs also evolved. Shimano was one of the first companies to use a buckle for the closure and introduce carbon in the outsoles. Proprietary Shimano technologies Custom-FitDynalast and Torbal were developed for professional riders, yet are available to all cyclists.
SH-M100_01
Ensuring comfortable feet with each pedal revolution, riders are able to choose from seven different lasts to customise fit to their feet and riding style. Even though the SPD system is already the most winning pedal/shoe combination in road racing and mountain biking, Shimano will consistently improve their pedal and the shoe, ensuring they really are made for each other.
One critical feature has remained unchanged over the last 25 years; the SPD cleat. The original connection between pedal and shoe, its reliable design resulted in a cleat system that is unique in its use by so many people and for so many different types of cycling world-wide and in all conditions.
IMG_2485
As homage to the M737 pedal and the M100 shoe, Shimano introduces a new pedal/shoe combination to the cycling world; a limited edition of the PD-M530C and the SH-M163G. A dual-sided SPD pedal, perfect for cross country and trail riding. The PD-M530C tackles technical, single-track descents with control and confidence.
A multi-condition Trail/Enduro shoe, the SH-M163G features Shimano‘s latest shoe technologies like the Cross X-Strap to reduce top of the foot hotspots and the TORBAL midsole technology offering greater control and confidence for challenging descents. 25 years of proven design and technology available in a unique limited-edition package.

Shimano XTR Di2 Long Term Test – Installation

After an agonisingly long wait, we’re finally embarking on our long-term test of Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed groupset! Over the coming months, we’ll be putting the most high-tech mountain bike groupset on the market to the test. Hold onto your butts.

We’ve previewed (and ridden) the XTR Di2 groupset extensively last year at the product launch in October. Make sure you read all about it in our XTR First Ride Impressions piece: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/seismic-shift-xtr-di2-first-ride-impressions/

But what we’re interested to learn now in our long-term review, is what it’s like to actually live with this groupset: what the installation process is like; what it all weighs; how hard is it to setup and maintain; how does it perform in different conditions; how useful are all the programmable shifting modes; is a double or single-ring our preference; is the twin-ring / single-shifter option any good; how useful is the Syncro Shift mode….?

These questions, and many more, are what we hope to answer. But for now, let’s look at our bike of choice for the build, and what the installation process was like for a Di2 newbie.

Pivot Di2 build 1
The Mach 4 Carbon weighs in at 2.68kg, with 115mm rear travel.

For this long-term test, we chose the 2015 Pivot Mach 4 Carbon as the frame for our XTR build. Why? Well, it’s freaking gorgeous. We have a real fondness for Pivot bikes, and we’d have to rank them as one of the best engineered bikes on the market. They’re amazing performers.

The new Mach 4 Carbon hits the sweet spot in terms of usage too; with 115mm of DW Link rear travel and geometry designed around a 120mm fork, it’s just a banging trail bike, and ideal for the bulk of trails we ride around home and on our travels.

Pivot Di2 build 9
The Di2 battery is housed inside the frame, accessible through this port, which also gives you the access needed to make wiring it all up a little easier.
Pivot Di2 build 2
See the little plugs near above the the linkage? Those are ports for Di2 wiring.

But there’s another reason we picked this bike too, and that’s because it’s the first Di2 optimised frame on the market. The frame features a battery port, and the cable port covers are interchangeable to accept either regular gear cables/housings or Di2 electric wires. Pivot are leading the way for Di2 compatibility.


Getting started with a Di2 installation requires more forethought than your standard build. You can’t just install all the components and then bung the housing/cables in at the end – you need to be a little more strategic than that. Our XTR Di2 system included two shifters (you can run just one, even if you’re using multiple chain rings), front and rear derailleurs, a display, two junction boxes, battery and a bunch of wires in varied lengths (1 x 250mm, 2 x 300mm, 2 x 500mm, 1 x 750mm and 1 x 1000mm) – now we just had to connect the whole web.

Before we delve into the detail, it’s worth mentioning a few things. Firstly, we’re only going to be focusing on the Di2-specific elements of this bike build now – the other elements (brakes, cranks etc) we’ll touch on in later pieces.

Secondly, there are no concrete rules around how you have to wire up a Di2 bike – we could have done things in a variety of ways – the parts don’t have to be wired up in some precise sequence. All that matters is that all the elements of the system are connected in some fashion. As long as they’re joined up, it’ll all talk to each other and work fine.

The third point worth mentioning is that it’d be bloody handy to have a proper internal cabling kit/tool before tackling a Di2 installation. Compared to regular internal cables, the flexible wires of a Di2 system can be a menace to manipulate through the labyrinth of a carbon dual suspension frame – we used every trick in the book, especially when installing the wiring for the rear derailleur. Get the right tools and you’ll swear a lot less than us.

Pivot Di2 build 23
In addition to a Di2 compatible frame, we also opted to use latest Di2 compatible cockpit from PRO. These components really make a huge difference in terms of giving you the cleanest possible integration.

The shifters and handlebar were the first port of call. For the same reasons that we chose the Pivot frame, we opted to run the new Tharsis XC bar and stem from PRO. This equipment is Di2 optimised, with provisions for running all the wiring largely internally, making for an exceptionally neat build.

The PRO Tharsis XC bar has three small holes in it – one in the rear-centre and towards each end of the bar – so you can run the Di2 wires from the shifters through the bar and back into the stem. Threading them through was initially a nightmare, until we realised we’d accidentally chucked out the special tool to aid this process. After digging it out of the bin and watching this incredibly helpful video, things became much easier.

Pivot Di2 build 16

The shifters themselves are one of the neatest elements in the whole groupset. They have sturdy highly-textured paddles, which have a really positive mechanical click to them (unlike road bike Di2 shifting, that kind of feels like pushing a Nintendo controller). For now, we’re running both left and right shifters, though later we’ll experiment with running just the one using the Syncro Shift mode.

Pivot Di2 build 17

The final element of the cockpit area is the display unit which mounts alongside the stem. We’ve heard plenty of mutterings from people saying it’s one element of the system they could do without, but it’s very unobtrusive in fact, and carries all kinds of good info about battery life, shift mode as well as facilitating adjustment of the derailleurs.

Pivot Di2 build 25

We used the two 500m wires to run from each of the shifters and back out the port in the centre of the bars, and into a junction box. The junction box would then be housed inside the body of the stem. Our experience is that the 500mm wires are only just long enough for the job – in this configuration they’re pulled quite tight. Ideally, we’d have gone with slightly longer wires to make threading them easier. As it stands, if we ever wanted to swap the current 720mm bar for the 740mm version, then we’ll need to install some longer wires to make it work.

Pivot Di2 build 13
The PRO Tharsis XC stem uses a rotating sleeve to pre-load the headset. You fasten up the top stem bolt, then tighten the headset by turning the threaded sleeve with the supplied 32mm spanner, before tighten the lower stem bolt to hold it all in place.

Next up we installed the fork and stem. The stem is a little different – it uses a threaded collar/insert to preload the headset, which removes the need to run a star nut. Without a star nut, you’re able to  install the Di2 battery into the fork steerer, a feature that we didn’t take advantage of as the Pivot already has its neat battery port. If you did want to go down the route of a steerer-mounted battery, it’s worth noting that the PRO Tharsis stem is not available in lengths shorter than 80mm.

Pivot Di2 build 41
No star nut means you can run the Di2 battery inside the fork steerer if you wish.

From the junction box we ran two wires – a 250mm wire to the display unit, and the 1000mm wire to the battery – with both wires exiting from inside the stem on the lower edge of the face plate. Although super neat, mounting the junction box inside the stem was a super tight fit – the cables had to be bent pretty severely to get it all in. If you were hoping to run a shorter stem, you’ll need to find a different location for the junction box – either inside the handlebar (yes, that’s an option), or externally somewhere.

Pivot Di2 build 34
The junction box is housed inside the stem for super clean lines. It’s a very tight fit though, with an 80mm stem.
Pivot Di2 build 39
Here you can see the wires exiting the junction box via the underside of the stem faceplate, with one wire leading to the display unit, and the other heading back inside the frame towards the battery.

The longer 1000mm wire was then routed inside the down tube to another junction box, which we were able to easily install via the battery port. Into this second junction box, we also plugged the wires for the front derailleur (300mm wire), rear derailleur (750mm wire) and battery pack (300mm wire).

Pivot Di2 build 37
The second junction box is housed inside the frame, down near the bottom bracket, and accessed by the battery port. From this junction box run wires to the battery, front derailleur and rear derailleur.
Pivot Di2 build 38
The long, slim Di2 battery fits neatly into the Pivot’s frame. We took the precaution of securing it with a zip tie around its base to help prevent rattling.

It was here that the Pivot’s Di2 port system came into its own. While threading the cables through the swingarm for the rear derailleur was enough to make us weep (read our point above about using a proper internal cabling tool/kit), the end result is exceptionally clean. The battery port tucks the whole hoohah up inside the seat tube perfectly too, and because all the battery charging is done via the display unit, there’s no need to ever actually take it out of the frame again.

Pivot Di2 build 36
The tiny section of wire spanning from the seat tube to the rear triangle is almost all you see of the wiring for the rear mech.
Pivot Di2 build 28
The Pivot’s Di2 ports secure the wiring neatly, but we’ll probably tape or zip tie this small section of exposed wiring to the frame so it won’t snag.
The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon comes with a bunch of these flush cable port covers so you can seal up any unused ports.
The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon comes with a bunch of these flush cable port covers so you can seal up any unused ports.

Installing the derailleurs is a damn sight easier with Di2 than with non-electric shifting. There’s no trimming cable housings, fitting cable crimps or fiddling with barrel adjusters. You just bolt the derailleurs on in the regular fashion and plug in the wires and they come alive like magic.

Pivot Di2 build 10
Don’t bash this on a rock. Please. The rear derailleur is a work of art. It actually features a ‘safety’ mode that disables it temporarily if it detects an impact, preventing you from then overshifting into your spokes with a bent hanger.

Setting the derailleurs up is a largely a plug and play affair too. You simply set the limits up limit for the for rear derailleur, shift to the gear number five, then change the computer to ‘adjustment mode’ which allows you to make tiny tweaks to the derailleur position using the shift paddles to get it perfectly aligned. You then set the lower limit and b-tension and you’re done. The front mech is even easier, as the lower limit is all you need to worry about.

Pivot Di2 build-3
The front derailleur features neat rubber pads to reduce chain rattle.

Pivot Di2 build-2

The final step is to charge the battery, which is done via a port on the side of the display unit. A full charge takes about an hour and a half. Shimano are reluctant to put a figure on how many shifts a fully charged battery will give you, but if it’s anything like their road Di2 shifting, a few weeks of regular riding wouldn’t be out of the question.


Overall, the installation process did take us longer than what we’d usually expect with mechanical drivetrain, but we put that down to inexperience – this was our very first Di2 build, while we’ve been building bikes with cables for decades. And having said that, some recent bike builds we’ve had to contend with, in this era of internally cabled everything, have been equally as tricky.

Pivot Di2 build complete 2
11.06kg of super bike!

Knowing what we do know about how it all goes together and what length cables should be used where, we’d love to have another go at building a Di2 bike from scratch, as we think the whole process would be quite fast and smooth. The actual adjustment element once all the components and wiring were in place was far easier than with mechanical shifting, and hopefully it’ll require a lot less maintenance in the long term too.

Feel free to post any questions you have in the comments section below too, and we’ll do our best to answer them.

 

 

 

Tested: Shimano M163 Shoes

Shimano shoes are fantastic pieces of kit, with particularly legendary durability. But while Shimano have always made great cross-country shoes, and some great downhill shoes, the brand hasn’t really had an offering that was aimed specifically at the trail rider; you could choose either a stiff-soled cross country shoe, or a softer, but much bulkier, downhill shoe and not much in between.

Shimano M163 2

We ran the M163 shoes for the entirety of our recent trip to Queenstown and loved them.
We ran the M163 shoes for the entirety of our recent trip to Queenstown and loved them.

But now Shimano have filled that void, with two new shoes aimed at the trail/all-mountain market (ie. the kind of riding that most of us do day to day). One of these new shoes is the M163 (the other is the M200 – previewed here) – well-priced, understated and beautifully fitted shoes that we’ve been sullying with our stinky leg ends for the last couple of months.

While it’s too early to comment on whether or not this shoe lives up to Shimano’s usual standards of durability, we can definitely deliver a verdict on how this shoe fits and performs.

Shimano M163 (1)
Just riding along.
Shimano M163 5
TORBAL is all about longitudinal flex where it counts.

The M163 uses Shimano’s new TORBAL (Torsional Balance) system, which basically allows the shoes to offer a good degree of longitudinal flex through the midsole so you can roll your foot side to side and get better pedal feel, but retain pedalling stiffness under the ball of your foot. TORBAL, despite sounding like the name of a robotic dog, works like a charm and there’s great support on offer where it counts, but without any of that isolating woodenness that can come from a really stiff shoe.

Shimano M163 7
The opposing direction and offset positioning of the Cross X Strap system is designed to more evenly distribute pressure from the upper across your foot.

The Cross X-Strap and ratchet buckle closure provides a supple and secure fit, which ensures that your foot never feels like its floating or squirming in the shoe – as you roll your foot around in a corner, the upper moves with it, rather than your foot simply slipping about inside the shoe.

Shimano M163 6
The sole is grippy the whole way through, from toe to heel, and the longer cleat slots allow more positions than your standard Shimano shoe.

We particularly appreciate the longer-than-normal cleat positioning slot thingos, which allow you to run the cleat a long way back. Normally on a Shimano shoe, we have the cleat at the very back of its adjustment range, but on the M163s we’re closer to the middle. Having a more rearward cleat position puts less leverage on your ankles if you’re riding aggressively and landing hard. A handy little insert is also provided to plug up the large cleat holes and stop excessive mud or water getting in.

Shimano M163 4
Shimano’s ratchet buckles are strong and don’t get easily clogged like some brands’ buckles. On the M163, the leading edge of the buckle has a protective lip, to deflect impacts that could potentially damage the ratchet.

The M163 is built for a bit of rock scrambling too, with a fully rubberised sole – a blessing if you miss a pedal entry – and slim armouring around the generous toe box as well. Its big tread blocks aren’t super tacky like on some shoes (such as the Five Ten shoes we recently tested), but they are malleable and grippy all the same.

These are really ideal shoes for the masses, and exactly what we’ve been looking for from the big S; put ’em on, ride ’em up, ride ’em down, kick ’em about and repeat for many years.

 

Seismic Shift: XTR Di2 First Ride Impressions

2015_XTR_C2C_Launch_new-1-2

Flow was invited by Shimano to the recent Cape to Cape MTB stage race in the Margaret River region of Western Australia to sample the new XTR Di2 (Digital Intelligence Integrated) technology. Over a couple of race stages, and a few classroom sessions and some tasty beers, we got a great introduction to this new world order of intelligent, electronic shifting.

mmmmmmm. What more can we say.

The great debate begins

We humans love to debate; VB vs XXXX, Capitalism vs Communism, Apple vs Android, Justin Bieber vs Metallica – the list is endless. We mountain bikes are just the same, and we’ll fight tooth and nail over a technology that we either love or loathe. Since the advent of the 29” wheel, we can’t think of a product that will draw a line in the sand clearly as XTR Di2. And yes, we now know which side of that line we stand on.

We can’t think of a product that will draw a line in the sand clearly as XTR Di2. And yes, we now know which side of that line we stand on.

For some, the idea of electronic shifting seems unnecessary, but we see it as part of the evolution of our sport. We’re all for smart evolution and the introduction of electronic functions and intelligence into our ride experience is just part of that journey. You can close your eyes to the possibilities and stroke your beard as you ride your rigid singlespeed, or you can embrace this evolution. We’re going with the embracement, because who doesn’t love a hug, even if it’s from a robot derailleur.

2015_XTR_C2C_Launch_new-11

Back to the classroom

Before we were able to hit the trails, we hit the books – it was off to the classroom for a little lesson on all things new on XTR and Di2.

Sitting in the mobile Shimano showroom on the grounds of the Colonial Brewery were treated to all the background and technical details of the entire new XTR range. Overtime we will introduce you to that entire range, including new brakes, hubs, and carbon/aluminium wheels, however we’re going to focus our attention with this article on the Di2. It’s the sexy part after all.

Oh doggy, pictures cannot detail how good the new XTR hubs look.  (dribble, dribble, dribble).
Oh doggy, pictures cannot detail how good the new XTR hubs look. (dribble, dribble, dribble).
Our test Mach 4 is fitted with Shimano XTR XC/Race series parts and the smaller 160mm Freeza rotors are on both front and back. the new XTR also comes in a Trail/Enduro version wich gives you more stopping power. There have been some changes to the brakes themselves and heat management is still a priority for Shimano.
Our test Mach 4 is fitted with Shimano XTR XC/Race series parts and the smaller 160mm Freeza rotors are on both front and back. We’ll conduct a full review of the revised XTR brakes once the bike is back on our home turf.

Shimano have had half a dozen years experience with electronic shifting in the road world, but they haven’t just shoe-horned roadie tech onto our bikes. XTR Di2 has been engineered for our needs, so much so we can now thumb our noses at the road crew, as our version is a more advanced product. Not only has it been designed to handle the abuses of mountain biking in a physical sense, but it has greater functionality too; most notably, the addition of Syncro Shift (more on that later), a digital display unit, plus the capability to integrate with your FOX electronic suspension lockouts.

Shimano is still offering 2X and even 3X (and yes, you can get Di2 and mechanical in 1X).
Shimano is still offering 2X and even 3X (and yes, you can get Di2 and mechanical in 1X).

Shimano are firm in their assertion of the benefits of a multiple chain ring setup, as opposed to a single ring. A single-ring XTR option will exist,  but Shimano believe a 2x system is prime for most of the market, even at the high end. While SRAM are focused on a single ring coupled with a 10-42 tooth cassette, Shimano feel a closer ratio cassette of 11-40 teeth with multiple rings is a better arrangement and it delivers a larger overall range with a much closer ratios.

2015_XTR_C2C_Launch_new-18
The 11-speed cassette offers a 11-40 tooth spread.
The position of the clutch switch has been moved on both Di2 and mechanical derailleurs.
The position of the clutch switch has been moved on both Di2 and mechanical derailleurs.

What this means in reality is a much smaller difference in leg speed and/or power change at each shifting point. Big differences in gear ratios do impact upon your cadence meaning you have to rebuild power with each shift, while closer ratios enable a more constant pedalling speed and more consistent power output.

The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and Syncro Shift modes. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that's because you can hide the batterty in the steerer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is achieved by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.
The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and Syncro Shift modes. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that’s because you can hide the batterty in the steerer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is achieved by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.

We’ve seen some internet warriors disparaging of the system’s digital display (‘I don’t need a computer to tell me what gear I’m in… etc etc’) but in reality it’s a very neat addition. Aside from current gear information, it also allows you toggle between manual and Syncro Shift modes, plus view battery life, suspension mode and more. We noted that the display unit does sit in a position that should protect it from most crashes too. In the case of our bike, the display was made all the neater with the new Shimano Pro Tharsis bar and Di2 specific stem which neatly hides all the cables. The whole arrangement was so clean and simple, it was weird looking at our bike to start off with, like something was missing!

Another look at how neat the whole package looks. You do feel like something is missing!
Another look at how neat the whole package is. You do feel like something is missing!
And here's where the battery is hidden on the Mach 4. It mounts directly inside the frame and is easily accessed through a well sealed port. Battery and junction box location may not be as integrated with other manufacturers however with other locations including stem, seatpost, and bottle cage mounts you're going to see some different flavours on the market.
And here’s where the battery is hidden on the Mach 4. It mounts directly inside the frame and is easily accessed through a well sealed port. Battery and junction box location may not be as neat on all bikes; Shimano offer various options for batter mounting, including inside the seat post, steerer tube or on the bottle mounts.

It’s the possibility for clean integration that is another benefit of an electronic system. Because the wires can bend and twist in ways that a shift cable never could, the whole system can virtually disappear into the bike frame. In the case of our test bike, this was taken to a whole new level. The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon is one of the very first bikes to be specifically designed to work with Di2, with a port at the bottom of the down tube to house the battery, and cable routing ports for the thin wires.

Di2 will come OEM on a few bikes soon and how these accommodate the battery and cables will vary as there isn’t a single standard yet. Shimano does however offer a few different configurations including a seat post battery, head tube battery, and external battery housings. Di2 can also be retrofitted but that’s a job best suited for your local bike shop.

Ride time, baby

After school, we got to ride the bikes. Our first spin was in the Cape to Cape’s famous Red Bull Shootout.

The Cape-to-Cape is a super fun event and the local folk come out to support the riders.
The Cape-to-Cape is a super fun event and the local folk come out to support the riders.

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Our very first impression was just how much the shifters felt like a mechanical system. Unlike the road variety if Di2 (which we’ve ridden quite a lot), the shift feeling is strong and positive, with a real click. Shimano explained that a soft “electronic” feel wouldn’t work as the rough terrain and aggressive nature of our movement on the handlebars would introduce too many false, or accidental shifts. We loved that feel of a strong, positive shift and immediately it felt “normal”. The shifters also have all the multi-release functions of the mechanical brother (ie. two upshifts at once) but with a little more firepower; hold your thumb down and it will keep on shifting across the whole cassette.

We loved that feel of a strong, positive shift and immediately it felt “normal”

Our test bike post-race on display in the Shimano shipping container. It had been cleaned up at this stage but only a few moments before was covered in mud.
Our test bike post-race on display in the Shimano shipping container. It had been cleaned up at this stage but only a few moments before was covered in mud.

That evening there were a few minor changes we wanted to make to our shifting. We sat down with our friendly Shimano techs and watched as they connected a laptop with the free E-Tube software (PC only at the moment) to our bikes and made a few minor tweaks.

We got to see how adaptable and programmable the whole Di2 system is. From something simple like changing shifting paddle function, to more complicated operations like setting the Syncro Shift programs, it’s all as easy as sitting on a laptop and not a greasy finger was to be seen.

It can shift underwater

The next day saw us entered into Stage 3 of the Cape to Cape race, and the 57km stage from Xanadu Winery to the Colonial Brewery proved to be super fun and a great way to get a feel for the new Di2. With loads of undulating terrain we shifted thousands of times in those couple of hours and we never missed a shift.

Midway through stage 3 of the Cape-to-Cape and we're getting really comfortable with the new world of electronic shifting.
Midway through stage 3 of the Cape-to-Cape and we’re getting really comfortable with the new world of electronic shifting.

The crisp, firm, mechanical feel at the thumb is transferred to a sweet futuristic robot sound as the derailleur executes perfect shift after perfect shift. At no time did the feeling at the thumb ever change. Constant, instant, snappy, and comfortable. It was hard not to fall in love with it.

We also spent some time in the Syncro Shift mode and explored the automated front derailleur shifting. Syncro Shift is designed to give you the benefits of a multi-ring setup, but with only one shifter (ideal for people who want to run a dropper seat post, like us). It did take us a little while to get used to only using the right hand shifter to go up and down all 22 gears. Our brains are so wired against this automation that we were initially hesitant to trust the system but it proved to be more than trustworthy.

At no time did the feeling at the thumb ever change. Constant, instant, snappy, and comfortable. It was hard not to fall in love with it.

The Synro Shift mode is completely programmable and depending on your riding style, preferred cadence, and other factors, you might want to change the shifting points (at what gears you automatically shift from small to big front ring and visa versa). We found it a very interesting experience, and more time on the Di2 will enable us to put it through a longer test. We’re looking forward to getting this bike on home soil, removing the front shifter entirely, fitting a dropper post remote and seeing how Syncro Shift goes in the long term.

 

You can see the cable leave the shifter body and immediately run away and hide, never to be seen again! We hope to remove the left shifter and use Syncro Shift full-time.
You can see the cable leave the shifter body and immediately run away and hide, never to be seen again! We hope to remove the left shifter and use Syncro Shift full-time.

We also had a bit of a fun experiment planned with the new Di2. Electronics and water are times at enemies and we knew that there were a few water crossings along the way. Our plan was some submerged shifting! Even in the deepest-axle-high-rear-derailleur-competely-covered-in-muddy-smelly-water crossings we were still able to shift – literally underwater.

And what about other issues? Shimano have it covered, and probably have an answer for all of your questions. As an example, in order to protect your investment, the system has a safety mode where the rear derailleur can sense an impact and avoid further damaging shifting, such as over-shifting into the spokes. In this safety mode you can then re-adjust the shifting (without getting off your bike, of course) and get it back into tune.

That bit at the back, that's the motor that takes care off all the heavy lifting. Your thumb will always rest easy, not matter what the conditions.
That bit at the back, that’s the motor that takes care off all the heavy lifting. Your thumb will always rest easy, not matter what the conditions.

And yes, the battery can go flat, but the system is smart enough to shut down less important functionality first (like the front derailleur) in order to save power. Of course, once you’re done for power you are done for shifting, but with a worst-case scenario range of over 300km, we think you’ll be ok.

At the end of the 57km we were buzzing at how great the event was, and how perfect our first experience on Di2 had been. It shifted perfectly all day, it felt the same at our thumbs from shift number one through to shift one million, it took a dive in some pretty muddy water, and it held off a few sticks and rocks. And it made sweet robot noises, which didn’t lose their novelty!

Our first thoughts

Shimano XTR Di2 is not just an evolution that finally removes a cable system we’ve had for almost 200 years, it’s also a shift (pun intended) in how we think about changing gears. While the system is complex, its effect is to simplify the riding experience, and to open up new possibilities in bike design.

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What Shimano may sometimes lack with sexy marketing they more than make up with long lasting, well-built products of consistently excellent quality. And just like in the road world where Di2 has been a game changer, we’re sure the long-term implications for mountain biking will be huge.

The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon test bike with full XTR and Di2 is staying in our test shed for a little longer and over the next little while we’ll be going into more detail about the new technology. Until then here’s some answers to your questions you’ve posted already:

 

Your first questions from Flow social media:

 You: Now if they can make wireless brakes…

Us: http://www.gizmag.com/wireless-braking-for-bicycles/20150/

 

You: So u have to charge the battery before you canuse your mtb bike? If something breaks thats gonna be expensive to replace ouch. $600 of rear der.

Us: We haven’t been informed of the cost yet but we can pick few more parts for around that cost that are pretty damn easy to break too. Also, we’re all pretty accustomed to charging a phone, so one more battery every few weeks should be ok.

 

You: too much money we can have fun for far less money.

Us: True. We have actually found a pretty good way to have fun with some stickytape, a hamster, and a dollar coin, so it’s all relative really. We think that the technology is well worth the money and when compared to other expensive upgrades it stacks up well in the cost vs performance ratio.

 

You: Are you sponsoring me with this bike?

Us: Yes! Can you please send us your resume, with a large sum of money attached.

 

You: Tough job.

Us: But someone has to do it.

 

You: Had a squizz at this at the C2C in between beers at the Colonial Brewery. Didn’t know the Flow team was over here this year – enjoy yourselves?

Us: We dad a blast and highly recommend both the race and riding in the area.

 

You – It would be super nice to take it for a test ride in a place like Oregon.

Us- Yes, yes it would. Can you please purchase the tickets for us? And also make a booking at your most recommend Mexican restaurant too.

Battery Powered Dream Machine: XTR Di2 Pivot

Let us introduce the most advanced mountain bike we have ever tested – the Pivot Mach 4 Carbon with 2015 Shimano XTR Di2. Fitted with all kinds of new XTR goodies from Shimano, this 115mm travel 27.5” Mach 4 is designed specifically to accommodate the new Di2 electric shifting. The battery is hidden inside the frame, plus the wires are housed internally resulting in a remarkably smooth cockpit that serves a visual reminder of what the future may hold for the sport.

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The shifters and padels of the XTR Di2. Small, neat and not a little button as you might expect. Shifting still has a very manual feel, and it's a good thing as a little electric button may be too easy to accidently press MTB trails.
The shifter and paddles are small, neat and ergonomic, not just a little press button as you might expect so shifting still has a very manual feel.  This is a good thing as a little electric button may be too easy to accidently press on bumpy trails.

Neat, clean, precise, and efficient is what we see in this new world and Shimano have gone to great lengths ensuring that their first dip into electron and proton controlled shifting for mountain bikes is even better than our roadie friends have been enjoying for a couple of years. We literally just picked up the bike and rode it straight onto the amazing trails of Margaret River on stage 3 of the epic Cape to Cape MTB race. The bike and gear worked flawlessly and we also proved that you can still shift Di2 when the whole drivetrain is submerged in foul, brow, smelly, infested water.

The 11 speed (11-40)  is 10 speed feehub compatible and backward compatibilty is a nice touch. The  Di2 derailluer is bigger than it's mechanical cousin, and yes it will cost a bunch, but considering the technology and other part upgrades avaliable on the market it's all relevant to your needs.
The 11 speed (11-40) is 10 speed freehub compatible and backward compatibilty is a nice touch. The Di2 derailluer is bigger than its mechanical cousin, and yes it will cost a bunch, but considering the technology and other part upgrades avaliable on the market it’s all relevant to your needs.
The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and more intellgent "Syncro Shift". Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that's because you can hide the batterty in the stearer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is then controlled by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem. It's not the old threadless stearer, just a modern simplier twist.
Di2 displays information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and the intellgent “Syncro Shift” mode. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that’s because you can hide the battery in the fork stearer tube. Headset tightning is then controlled by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.
The new XC/Race brake has a carbon lever, new insulated piston construction, magnesiam caliper and master cylinder and Shimano report a 10% increase in heat resistance.
The new XC/Race brake has a carbon lever, new insulated piston construction, a magnesium caliper and master cylinder and Shimano report a 10% increase in heat resistance.

We expect Di2 to be polarising, but hey what new, potentially revolutionary technology to the mountain bike world, hasn’t been? We’ll have way more details on Pivot and the new XTR Di2 in the coming weeks as we give the bike a good going over, but until then we’ll leave you with a few images to drool over.

The setting of this photo is more than fitting as less than 24 hours after this snap was taken we finished a super fun 57km stage of the Cape to Cape MTB race at the Colonial Brewery in almost this very spot. More on those first ride impressions soon.
Less than 24 hours after this snap was taken we finished a super fun 57km stage of the Cape to Cape MTB race at the Colonial Brewery. More on those first ride impressions soon.

Tested: Scott Genius 710

The Scott Genius is one of the few bikes that for many years has successfully blurred the lines of the genres that define bike styles. Its versatility bends the rules, and manages to do what a true all mountain bike should – open up possibilities and options to the rider, begging for adventure. And it’s all thanks to one particular clever and well thought out element, the Twinloc. What is Twinloc and how can one feature it have such a positive impact on one bike?

Whilst the one reviewed here is a 2014 model, there is little change to the Genius for 2015, we previewed the 2015 range, check it out here. 

The Genius is available in both wheel sizes, we test the 27.5″ version.

Scott Genius 710 22

[divider]Build[/divider]

This is one seriously subtle and understated carbon bike, with the black on black finish, only very minimal glossy stickers separate the graphics from the matte black frame paint. From a distance the lack of graphics is both refreshing and stealthy. And in an age of brightly branded bikes, we welcome this murdered out stealth black ride.

Scott Genius 710 17
From some angles the frame looks nude, and void of any graphics. You need to look a little closer to see the subtle logos and branding.

A carbon mainframe is joined to an aluminium rear end, the cables are a mixture of internal and externally routed and included is a super neat rubber chain stay guard finishes off the impeccable frame.

At the heart of the Scott Genius (and integral to the shorter travel Scott Spark and longer Scott Genius LT) is a nifty handlebar mounted lever that controls the rear shock and fork, the Twinloc. It may just only be one of many features of this bike, but it impacts on multiple elements of the bike’s ride character via by changing both the suspension feel and geometry. Hitting the Twin-Loc lever on the bars engages Traction mode: the rear travel is reduced from 150mm to 100mm, stiffening the suspension rate and therefore the amount of suspension sag, to aid climbing. Push the lever to its second stop and the rear suspension is locked out entirely, along with the fork, making for a rock solid pedalling machine.

Yes, the Twinloc adds an extra two cables into the mix creating a very busy cockpit. Scott are also pretty experienced with this stuff, and they manage to keep any clutter to a minimum with clean routing, but with a little bit of time and care in the workshop you could trim the cables down in length, plus shortening the gear cables and brake lines a touch will lessen the birds nest of cables in front of the bars.

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The Twinloc is a perfectly effective system controlled via a neat and ergonomic lever.
A bit of time in the workshop will reduce the extra clutter of the cables.
A bit of time in the workshop will reduce the extra clutter of the cables.

A bike with 150mm of travel is fantastic if the trails are on the rougher and steeper side of things, but it’s still a fair bit of bounce to be lugging up the climbs or through flatter trails. With the Twinloc it felt like we were riding two bikes in one. Heard that before? Well, try one out and you’ll see.

Not only does the Twinloc lessen the suspension travel quantity, it also sharpens the bikes important angles in favour of climbing when in Traction Mode. So the Genius will never feel like too much bike, it cleans up in the versatility stakes. You could ride the Genius hard on the rough trails and still enter the odd 24 hour or marathon race without any penalty from a non-efficient or heavy bike to battle with.

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Check out that massive section of the frame, the beef is where you need it on this one. Providing a sweet balance of lateral rigidity, comfort and low weight.

[divider]Spec[/divider]

Shimano XT score the majority of the business with the Genius 710, and we’re totally fine with that. Although our test bike had a slight issue with the brake calliper leaking a tiny amount of mineral oil onto the pads, making for a noisy action for a few stops before coming good again, most definitely a warranty issue that can be sorted quickly by your local bike shop. A shame, as XT brakes are usually a benchmark for reliability and consistency.

A double chainring setup gives the Genius a real ‘all mountain’ conquering range of gears. Some riders may be rushing out to single-ring their bikes but if you ride all day in steep terrain a gear range as wide as this is a real blessing! It’s silent in its operation, and we didn’t experience any dropped chains at all. The trendy conversion to a single ring would clean up the bars with one less cable and shifter, but we appreciate the useable range too much to consider that, long live the low gear range!

Scott Genius 710 13

Syncros components have been around for yonks, but a couple years ago they were snapped up by Scott and are now their in-house component brand. The benefits of the bigger brands having in-house components is boundless, with the big players able to match colour, spec and intended use of each component to the bikes models easier and cheaper. In this case with Syncros already having such a great reputation for quality prior to the merger with Scott, the perceived quality matches our positive impressions after testing. Even the saddle was a fave for all testers. A short stem and wide bars were faves too.

The wheels use Syncros hubs and rims with bladed spokes. With such a capable all mountain bike, we’d prefer the rims to be wider as some of the new generation of wide rims are really impressing us with the way they boost the tyre’s traction and low pressure abilities. They are tubeless ready though, and come with tubeless valves for quick and easy conversion.

Schwalbe handle the rubber bits with the Nobby Nic in a tacky triple compound and tubeless ready casing. We’d swap them out for a tyre more suited to our hard packed trails, perhaps a Hans Dampf on the front at least, but if your soils are softer these tyres are lightning fast and light for their size. The 2015 Genius 710 comes with the new generation Nobby Nic on the front, which we’ve been much happier with in a variety of conditions in comparison the the ones we find here.

Scott Genius 710 3
The FOX Float 32 fork led the way with a nice and supple action, but we couldn’t help wish for a fatter 34mm legged fork when things got hairy.

A RockShox Reverb adjustable seatpost with internal Stealth routing is always a welcome sight on any bike, aside from matching the paintwork like they were born together, its action is superb. Our had some leaking issues, with the hose adjoining the bottom of the post not quite tight enough, most probably our fault as we had to instal and bleed the post out of the box. Moments like these we miss external posts, or simply cable actuated ones.

FOX suspension front and back served up smooth and supple suspension as always, with the fork in particular being one of the smoother and progressive forks from the batch of 2014 forks from FOX.

[divider]Ride[/divider]

Spinning to the trails on the tarmac with the Twinloc engaged, we roll along as if we’re riding a cross country hardtail with the fork and shock locked firm. Up and into the trails we engaged the traction mode which dropped the rear travel to a taut 100mm and also firmed up the compression setting in the fork. In traction mode we were able to stand up and crank ourselves up and over the pinch climbs without losing too much energy into the suspension, but still it was able to react to impacts helping maintain traction to the rear wheel, and avoid pinging our front wheel around. We like this!

Scott Genius 710 1

When the trails turn down, we release the Twinloc into open mode and let her rip, with the 150mm or FOX suspension taking more than just the sting out of the trails. Still with the Twinloc in full travel mode, the suspension feels firm under you, the trade off is when speeds get really high the rear end feels choppier and harsher than some of the other 150mm bikes that don’t climb as well as the Genius.

Geometry wise, the Genius uses a nice and roomy front end coupled with a short stem, giving the rider quick handling but plenty of room to move around when negotiating turns and wild terrain.

The Genius is a little different to the others in its category, it may have a generous 150mm of travel front and back but the whole bike rides so light and efficiently that we forget we were packing some serious firepower beneath us for when we needed it most. Riding more like a light trail bike with some backup saved up for the gnarlier descents, the Genius won’t be one for the rougher enduro race nuts out there, but will suit the rider seeking a classic trail bike with some added travel to get up and down any mountain you need to.

[divider]Verdict[/divider]

It’s a well named bike, that’s for sure. The clever suspension adjustment and a nice balance between a lightweight all day riding bike and big hitting all mountain bike is achieved in true style and class. The subtle graphics and stealth image hides it’s racey attitude. On either side of the Genius sit the leaner Spark and burlier Genius LT, we don’t doubt that one of these three bikes would please the most demanding rider.

Flow’s First Bite: Polygon Collosus N9

You ain’t seen curves until you’ve taken a good look at the new carbon monster from Polygon, the Collosus N9. As ridden by the strong Hutchinson UR team, this 27.5″ wheeled 160mm travel bike with the new FS3 floating suspension design is a seriously trippy looking machine, and it’s all ours for a little while for review.

Polygon bikes from Indonesia are growing rapidly into the higher end of the range here in Oz, with an effective online consumer-direct purchasing model from Bicycles Online, the impressive value and ease of availability of their huge range is a real standout feature. Sure, value is a good thing but most important importantly how do the high end bikes ride? We’ll find out soon enough, but to begin we deliver our first impressions in our Flow’s First Bite.

This is the same bike that Kiwi mad shredder, Jamie Nicoll won the mighty Trans Savoie big mountain enduro on, not a bad reference to begin with at all!

From Polygon so far we’ve reviewed their 2014 downhill bike and a budget dual suspension rig.

Tested: Polygon Collosus DHX 

Tested: Polygon Recon 4 

Polygon Collosus 6
If Batman was Indonesian, and rode mountain bikes, he’d surely choose the N9 to match his bad ass style.

To satisfy the needs of the Hutchinson UR enduro team as they take on the Enduro World Series, Polygon have come up with a seriously burly and hardy bike with many of the vital areas for serious shredding covered off; relaxed angles, a short rear end, meaty tyres and a wide and roomy cockpit. Just looking at the numbers, the N9 looks to err on the side of an agile long legged trail bike rather than a big steam roller, with its fairly sharp 66.5 degree head angle and a tight 431mm chain stay.

What makes the N9 appear to be so unique is the long and curvy seat stays and myriad of wild carbon shapes. Typically when you have long sections of carbon like we see here, there is the risk of unwanted lateral flex, but our first impressions when riding just around the block exhibit nothing to be worried about at all, it is solid. Looking down on the frame the crazy shapes of glisten and shine as they curve and weave all over the place, and closer inspections reveal some highly intricate graphics and very smart detail touches making this bike one of the most striking to ever grace our presence.

Polygon Collosus 25

 

Spec wise, Polygon have got it spot on with the N9, a mixture of SRAM, Shimano, e*thirteen, Spank and RockShox deck out this high end ride. A SRAM 11 speed single ring drivetrain and Shimano XT brakes represent what we believe is the best of both worlds from the two main players in the mountain bike game. The XT brakes are as tough, powerful and reliable as they come, and we have never found the limits of SRAM XX1 on any style of bike.

Flow fave’s the Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres find their way onto the N9, with a smaller casing one on the back wheel to keep weight down and the lower profile tyre helps the N9 to achieve such a short rear chain stay length as tyre clearance looks quiet tight. Mounted to  e*thirteen wheels with one of the loudest freehubs in existence, the wheels are sure to be up to serious abuse.

The lustrous gold coloured Kashima FOX Float X rear shock is sandwiched between two opposing aluminium linkages which compress it from both ends. The lower link is of the ‘floating’ type to give the rear wheel the Polygon engineers a specific axle path as it motions through its suspension range. A variation of the popular design seen in major brands like Santa Cruz and Giant, what makes the N9 different is the way the top shock mount also pivots, compressing the shock from the top. The FOX Float X CTD shock has three modes of compression adjustment via the blue lever on the drive side.

Whoa swoopy!
Whoa swoopy!

Polygon Collosus 8

There is no geometry or travel adjustment options, or any provisions for a water bottle on the bike, but that just gives us the opportunity to wear a brightly coloured hydration bag that matches our gloves in true enduro fashion.

So, off we go to the put the N9 through its paces, keep an eye out for our full review soon.

 

Flow’s Freshies: Products We’re Using, Testing and Loving

Flows Freshies 5

Shimano M200 shoes

www.shimano.com.au, $229

‘Designed for the way you ride’ is Shimano’s tag line for their new trail/all-mountain/enduro shoes. What this actually means when you strip away the marketing speak, is that these shoes are built for the kind of riding that more and more people are getting into; the kind of riding where you might do a bit of walking up tricky slopes, where all-day comfort is a priority, where you’re more worried about the descents than the climbs. We’ve long been fans of Shimano’s AM45 downhill shoes, but they’re really a bit heavy and bulky for most rides, likewise we’re big fans of Shimano’s XC shoes but they generally don’t provide much grip or comfort when you’re walking or you miss a pedal entry. The new M200 shoes (and the less expensive M163) aim to hit a middle ground; they use Shimano’s new Torbal (Torsional Balance) system, which gives more flex through the toe and outsole, but plenty of stiffness under the ball of your foot. The aim is to make them more suitable for walking and offer more feel for aggressive riding, but preserve pedalling efficiency. The M200s also offer a great range of cleat positioning than previous Shimano shoes, and there’s loads of protection with raised ankle padding and a tough toe box.

Flows Freshies 19

Flows Freshies 20

Reynolds 27.5 AM Carbon wheels

www.reynoldscycling.com, $2099

Reynolds may have more of a name for themselves on the road than in the dirt, but they do make a great range of hoops for mountain biking, including these carbon 27.5″ all-mountain fellas. We’ve been riding a lot of carbon wheels lately, and while the Reynolds AMs aren’t quite as wide as some at 31mm, they’re well up to spec in every other regard. We actually rode these same wheels on a Focus SAM last year (read the full review here) and loved them. Reynolds claim this is the strongest rim they’ve ever made, and the wheels are tubeless read with the addition of the supplied rim-tape. The modular axle system will fit any dropout combo conceivable too and the complete weight is just on 1660g on our scales. We’ll be popping these onto our Norco Range long-term test bike for a real flogging.

Flows Freshies 13

Contour ROAM 3 camera

www.contouraustralia.com.au, $299.95

Contour have had a bit of an up and down ride in the market. Their sleek camera was one of the first to really challenge GoPro, but then things went a little quiet with rumours that the brand had gone belly-up. Not so, apparently! Contour are back with the ROAM3, a competitively priced and well-featured unit. We’ve always liked the slim, low-profile design of the Contour, and the slide-to-record button is easy to use with gloves on a bumpy trail. It does lag a little behind the latest GoPro in terms of frame rates, but the pricing is sharp, and that will appeal to many. We’ll be reviewing this fella shortly.

 

Flows Freshies 2

Flows Freshies 4

Scott ARX Plus MTB MIPS helmet

www.scott-sports.com, $149.95

The real highlight of this new helmet from Scott is what lies beneath its black low-key exterior – the MIPS Brain Protection System. See the yellow liner? That’s MIPS – it’s a low-friction liner that is designed to allow your head to rotate relative to the helmet shell upon an angled impact, reducing the amount of shock transmitted to your brain. You can read more about MIPS here. Even if you don’t plan on head planting, this is a great helmet; our initial testing sitting in front of the computer reveals it to be very comfy and Micro Rotary Adjustment System doesn’t have any tight spots or pressure points like some. The pricing at $149 is a real bargain in our (MIPS protected) mind.

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Pro Tharsis XC Di2 Integrated Bar, Stem and Post

Shimano are introducing Di2 into mountain bikes at an age where riders are always looking to simplify and clean the look of their bike’s cockpit area.

Electronic shifting will allow bike and component manufacturers to attain new levels of freedom, without the restrictions inflicted by cable routing. The little wires are thinner, bendier and can squeeze through tighter and twisty places better than a gear cable and housing. What’s next? This.

Enter the Pro Tharsis XC cockpit, designed to play to the strengths of the Shimano XTR Di2 system, with an unprecedented level of minimal appearance. Pro is Shimano’s component arm, hence the collaboration to work with the two areas towards a great outcome. The Tharsis range is also available in non-Di2 specific variants, but here we look at the Tharsis XC with Di2 integration.

The Tharsis XC Flat Top Di2 handlebar uses special grooves and holes to hide internally the wires that come out of the Di2 shifters, the seat post has the capabilities of providing a home for the battery, and the stem does away with the star nut to allow the battery to be hidden inside the fork steerer. If you like your bar, stem, and seat post to match and you are lucky enough to have Di2 on order this will take neatness and a squeaky clean appearance to the next level.

The stem uses titanium bolts and Pro’s Headlock system, which allows a 100mm stem to weigh a low 135g.

Pro Tharsis Di2 9
Count the lack of cables.
Pro Tharsis Di2 4
Note the top cap, the Shimano Di2 battery is hidden inside the fork steer tube in place of a traditional headset star nut.

 

 

Pro Tharsis Di2 33
The 720mm wide Flat Top bar.
Pro Tharsis Di2 5
The wire doubles back on itself and travels inside the bar.
Pro Tharsis Di2 34
A threaded ring on the underside of the stem threads outwards, applying the pressure to the headset bearings to keep everything snug and tight.
Pro Tharsis Di2 2
The XTR Di2 shifter, super-minimal.

The next time we see the Shimano XTR Di2 stuff will be fitted to our own test bike, so stay tuned for our first ride impressions of Shimano’s future mid-October.

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano’s New M200 Enduro Shoes

Shimano go full enduro with a completely new shoe, loaded with features that are aimed to please even the most enduro of enduro riders. Even if you’re not full enduro, all these features in this great shoe simply lend it to suit the average trail rider anyhow. Protection, efficiency and a balance of on and off the bike stability.

Shimano M200 8
Even though they kinda look like what Robocop would wear bowling, we like ’em.

The most obvious feature is the big flap that covers the top of the shoe, underneath is a drawstring style set of laces, that pulls tension across the foot. This will also help the shoe from soaking in too much water and mud, and keeps the laces in check too. In classic Shimano style, a slim and low profile buckle is the main source of closure giving the rider quick and on-the-fly adjustability. All Shimano ratchet-style buckles are replaceable, if you ever manage to damage one on the trail.

Shimano M200 1

The inside of the shoe is raised to offer your ankles protection from the sharp edges of your bike and crank, and the toe area is also quite tough. So feel free to ride with your foot out dragging through turns like Jared Graves, your toes will be safe from impending threat.

A new style of sole ‘Torbal’ is introduced into a few mountain bike shoes for 2015. As Shimano puts it “TORBAL allows the outsole to twist, allowing for lateral movement of the rider, while keeping the forefoot aligned with the pedal. This encourages a natural rider “flow” motion, improving control especially during technical downhills, and allowing aggressive trail riders to push their limits even further.”

We’ve got a set of these shoes lined up for dirt time, so stay tuned for our feet’s impressions on these new kicks from Shimano.

Shimano unveils XTR Di2 electronic shifting

Following over half a decade of proven Di2 electronic shifting systems, Shimano introduces XTR M9050 Di2, the world’s first production electronic mountain bike shifting system. An electronic shifting option for Shimano’s new 11-speed XTR M9000 mechanical mountain bike components, XTR Di2 redefines how mountain bikers can control and personalise the way they ride through the proven Di2 digital platform.

Shimano XTR M9050 Di2 electronic shifting integrates with XTR M9000 mechanical components in a variety of Race or Trail “Rider Tuned” 1x, 2x, or 3x drivetrain configurations. The new 11-speed XTR M9000 drivetrain introduces Rhythm Step gearing which provides range and ensures rhythm, no matter the rider or terrain. With the additional efficiency, new shifting options and personalisation of the digital Di2 system, riders now can control their ride like never before.

THE XTR Di2 RIDE EXPERIENCE 

XTR M9050 Di2 has undergone over 20,000 kilometres of testing to ultimately refine how precision and logic can deliver a completely new mountain bike ride experience. Di2 digital shifting is seamless, instantaneous and can be custom tailored for any rider. Shifting becomes a simple rider reflex, allowing riders to place their attention where it belongs – on the trail ahead. Totally new ergonomics reduce hand movement and improve control, further boosting rider confidence.

RD-M9050-GS_STD_01

 

THE POSSIBILITIES WITH SHIMANO Di2 

Over half a decade of experience in electronic shifting components have culminated with the introduction of Shimano’s most advanced Di2 system ever. XTR M9050 Di2 features the programmable, upgradeable and expandable attributes of Shimano’s latest Di2 shifting systems, which now debuts intuitive shifting control. Shimano’s E-tube wiring and electronics make expanding Di2 shifting systems easy and also enable riders to custom program and upgrade the system through a computer software interface. Riders can program and control the shift patterns for single or multi-shift modes, the speed of those shifts and the actions for each shifter and button. With XTR Di2, Shimano Synchronized Shift is also custom programmed through the Di2 program software, allowing front and rear shifts using a single shifter.

 

SHIMANO SYNCHRONIZED SHIFT: TWO DERAILLEURS, ONE SHIFTER 

The new Shimano Synchronized Shift function and programmable shift mapping allows riders to change their focus from the physical effort of shifting to the trail ahead. A programmable option with XTR Di2 M9050, Shimano Synchronized Shift creates an intuitive shifting experience on the bike through customisable synchronized front and rear shifting via a single FIREBOLT shifter.

• Improved efficiency – The XTR M9050 derailleurs communicate gear position and automatically execute front and rear shifts when riders select a sequentially larger or smaller gear. This improves efficiency by minimising time spent on smaller chainrings and cogs.

• Personalised shift mapping – Riders can program when front shifts occur through two customisable shift maps based on terrain and personal preferences. An audible alarm will warn of an upcoming front derailleur shift so that a rider can choose to remain in a given gear.

• Total control – On a mountain bike with both front and rear FIREBOLT shifters installed, the rider can manually shift at any time. Synchronized Shift becomes another available tool for riders, not a requirement. With a touch of a button, riders quickly choose between synchronized maps or choose manual mode for complete control.

SW-M9050_L_STD_01

XTR FIREBOLT SHIFTER: SEAMLESS CONTROL AND INSTANT RESPONSE 

The new, easy-to-use XTR Di2 FIREBOLT shifters make shifting a simple rider reflex and deliver customisable ergonomics that improve bike control. Shimano’s FIREBOLT customisable shift button placement is determined entirely by human ergonomics, not by the needs of a mechanical mechanism. FIREBOLT shift levers are now exactly where thumbs naturally rest, allowing riders to put more grip on the handlebar and control the ride with more confidence – especially in rough conditions.

• New ergonomic rotary shift lever design matches natural hand movement.

• Independent lever position adjustment

• Short stroke, perfect click levers provide faster, more accurate shifting

• Increased trail readiness thanks to decreased shift effort and superior ergonomics

• Programmable, multi-shift and Shimano Synchronized shift functions, including control of Fox Racing Shox suspension components.

 

RD-M9050-GS_STD_01

XTR RD-M9050: UNRIVALED SHIFT PERFORMANCE AND STABILITY 

Shimano’s first mountain bike specific Di2 rear derailleur is also its most technologically advanced. Introducing Shimano Shadow RD + stabilisation to Di2, the RD-M9050 couples unrivaled chain control that aggressive riders have come to love with shift performance that doesn’t degrade over time. Whether cross country or trail riders run a 1x, 2x or 3x drivetrain, the ultra narrow profile help protect the drivetrain in tight trail sections. The refined rear derailleur geometry further improves the performance stability while Shimano Synchronized Shift enables system communication with the front derailleur.

• Instantaneous shift response to rider input

• Seamless gear changes

• Shimano Synchronized Shift compatible – system communication with front derailleur

• Advantage in all conditions – E-tube electric wire transmission guarantees stable performance

• Low profile positions RD safely away from trail obstacles

• 1x, 2x and 3x compatible with GS and SGS cage options

FD-M9070_STD_02

FD-M9050/9070 (3X/2X): POWERFUL, DI2-OPTIMISED FRONT SHIFTING 

Long regarded as the most notable feature of Shimano Di2 shifting, the front derailleur performance remains the best in the industry, now with the additional capabilities of Shimano Synchronized Shift. With XTR M9050 Di2, front shifts require the same light effort of a rear Di2 shift, reducing effort and freeing up the rider to focus on the trail. The FD-M9050 uses computer controlled auto trim as the chain moves up and down the cassette to keep the drivetrain running smoothly. Shimano Synchronized Shift compatibility allows a single shifter to control both front and rear shifting.

• More powerful shifting than mechanical (+25% compared to M9000)

• Reliable gear changes under load

• Computer controlled auto trim – optimised Di2 cage profile and gear tracking

• Shimano Synchronized Shift compatible – system communication with rear derailleur

• Advantage in all conditions

• Modular mounting structure

 

SC-M9050_STD_01

SC-M9050 DISPLAY UNIT: SYSTEM STATUS AT A GLANCE 

Digital Di2 E-tube electronics allow the inclusion of the handlebar mounted SC-M9050 Display Unit for monitoring important Di2 data: gear selection, battery level and shift mode. The SC-M9050 not only provides data, but also is the convenient interface where riders will plug in and charge the system from the handlebar – an especially handy virtue when running an internal battery. The expandable E-tube platform also means that integration with electric-controlled suspension from FOX is a reality.

• Multiple simultaneous display fields – Battery level, Gear position, Shift mode (Synchronized or Manual), FOX iCD position (Climb or Descend)

• Shimano Synchronized Shift mode switch – change between S1, S2 and Manual shift maps

• Audible Shimano Synchronized Shift notification tone

• Precision derailleur adjustment – easy access adjustment mode, numerical adjustment indicator

• Junction A function – battery charging port, three E-tube wiring ports

SM-BTC1_STD_01

 

E-TUBE ELECTRONICS CONNECT THE SYSTEM 

Shimano’s XTR M9050 shifting system uses the same E-tube platform introduced with road Di2 groups that is programmable, customisable and allows for expansion and further system integration. Wires are offered in a wide variety of lengths for bikes of all sizes and shapes and cable routing options will connect the various junction points. Unlike traditional cables and housing, wires are not affected by trail and weather conditions, providing consistent performance in this waterproof system.

• The SM-BTC1 mounts Shimano’s cylindrical SM-BTR2 Di2 battery on a bike’s water bottle bosses and also acts as a Junction B, connecting wires from the shifters to the battery and derailleur.

• Junction B function – Six E-tube wiring ports with cable organiser (case is also available separately for riders with an existing battery)

• Clean appearance thanks to internal wire routing

• System expansion possible thanks to the E-tube platform

Flow’s First Bite: We ride Shimano’s XTR Di2

We’re shocked! Shimano have finally brought electronic shifting to the mountain bike market with 11-speed XTR Di2.

This electrifying development has been rumoured for years, but when Shimano announced a new mechanical 11-speed XTR groupset last month, we started to have our doubts; perhaps Di2 for mountain bikes wasn’t going to happen after all? But the electronic era is here, and frankly it looks amazing.

Shimano XTR Di2-8

The benefits of electronic shifting are many and are arguably more significant for the mountain bike world than on the road; zero cable maintenance, no shifting degradation in bad conditions, instant shifting response. But the potential for electronic shifting to free up frame design is also massive – without the constraints of keeping a clean, smooth line for a shifter cable, who knows where suspension design can go?

Flow was lucky enough to spend some time at Shimano Australia’s HQ recently, where we got the opportunity to actually test ride a near-production prototype version of the Di2 groupset.

The Di2 XTR groupset shares many of the same attributes with the mechanical version (gear ratios, crankset options etc), so we’ll stick to the points of difference and the aspects of the Di2 system which really grabbed us.

Shifters:

Just what the Di2 shifters would look like and how they would operate was a real unknown. Speaking to Shimano representatives, we learnt that there were many iterations, before ultimately settling on a paddle design that’s not too dissimilar to existing XTR shifters. The shifters still feel and sound like a mountain bike shifter – there’s a snappy, loud click with every shift, and there are separate paddles for up and down shifting.

Shimano XTR Di2-3

Maintaining the feel of a traditional shifter (albeit without any cable friction) was a very smart move. If there’s one criticism that Di2 shifting encounters in the road world, it’s that the shifting action feels too disengaged, more like clicking a mouse than shifting a gear.  XTR Di2 manages to keep that engaging, positive feel of a ‘real’ shifter.

The operation of the shifters can be customised too, via Shimano’s E-Tube tuning system. The up/down-shift function of each paddle can be swapped to suit your preferences, and the number of shifts executed when the shift lever is held down can be set. For instance,  you can determine if you want to shift a maximum of two, three or four shifts in one go, or if you’d like to keep shifting for as long as you’ve got the shifter depressed. You can also control the speed of the shifts.

Synchro Shift:

Now this is pretty cool. Part of the appeal of a 1×11 drivetrain is the absence of a left hand shifter and the clean simplicity this brings. The downside, of course, is the slight reduction in gear range associated with having fewer chain rings. But XTR Di2’s Synchro Shift option allows you to run multiple chain rings ( 2x or 3x ), and with only one shifter. It’s pretty crazy.

Shimano XTR Di2-2

[embedvideo id=”2NJCCOGV06s” website=”youtube”]

As you shift through the 11 gears of the cassette, Syncro Shift automatically shifts between chain rings to ensure the jumps between gear ratios are smooth and even. The video above is perhaps the easiest way to grasp the system. It shows Synchro Shift in operation for a triple chain ring setup. On the right you can see which gear of the cassette is currently selected, on the left is the chain ring currently in use (Top, Middle or Low). As you can see, it covers the whole gear range, from the very highest to the very lowest gear, in 14 consecutive shifts. NB. We weren’t able to show you the actual derailleurs in operation as they were deemed to be ‘too prototype’ for video.

By way of example, imagine you’re riding in the big chain ring. As you start to shift to lower gears, the Synchro Shift system will automatically drop the chain to the next smallest chain ring, and will simultaneously shift up a gear or two on the cassette to ensure the jump between gears is even.

Shimano XTR Di2-7

Once again, the parameters of the Syncro Shift system are all totally customisable. For example, you might want to program the system to use the big chain ring primarily; in this case, you could set the Synchro Shift to only drop to the smaller chain ring once you reached the lowest gear of the cassette. You could also set it to then jump back up to the big ring once you’d up-shifted to the fourth gear of the cassette. Because you can determine the parameters of when a front shift is executed, you’re not going to be sprung with a ‘surprise’ jump between chain rings. To be doubly sure, the system actually gives you a double beep to let you know when it’s about to shift between chain rings.

Shimano XTR Di2-4

Of course if you’d prefer the more traditional approach of separate shifters for front and rear derailleurs, then you’re not out in the cold – XTR Di2 systems will still be sold with both left and right-hand shifters and the system can be set to Manual mode, rather than Synchro Shifting.

Shimano XTR Di2-1

Battery:

Like Shimano’s Di2 road groupset, the XTR Di2 system uses one central battery for the whole system, rather than individual batteries for each derailleur. The cylindrical battery can be bolted to bottle mounts, or it can be run internally if your seat post allows. There’s also scope for mounting it inside the fork’s steerer tube, as we’ve seen some riders (such as Dan McConnell) already do with FOX’s electronic iCD lockout battery. In the pipeline is a range of specially designed bars and stems with ports for Di2 wiring.

As with Di2 road shifting, we’re sure it will only be a matter of time till the batteries are internalised and frames are optimised for wiring, rather than shift cables.

Display:

The simple display sits neatly alongside the stem, where it won’t interfere with other devices like your GPS or lights. Aside from displaying which gear/chain ring you’re currently in, you’ve also got information about battery life, the mode currently selected (Manual or Synchro Shift), as well as suspension settings (see below). The display also serves as the adjuster for fine tuning the shifting, just like a barrel adjuster does on a mechanical shifter.

Shimano XTR Di2-5

FOX suspension integration:

The partnership between FOX and Shimano continues to strengthen with XTR Di2, with FOX’s iCD electronic lockout integrating with the XTR display. On the far right of the screen you’ll find an indicator letting you know if your shock and/or fork is in a Climb or Descend setting.

Wheels:

While at Shimano HQ, we managed to get our hands on some all new XTR wheels too. With carbon laminated rims and a very pretty hub finish, these are the best looking XTR hoops yet. Rather than using a dedicated UST rim (without any spoke holes), the new XTR wheels go for the far lighter option of a tubeless tape, as has become the standard of late.

Shimano XTR Di2-11

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano Sport Camera

This one’s more out of left field than Clive Palmer grabbing senate seats! Shimano, the world’s biggest bike component manufacturer have entered the helmet / wearable camera market.

TestShimanoCamera 3

Click here to read our full review.

With the experience in electronics Shimano has developed over the last half dozen years with their Di2 battery-powered shifting, we guess the Japanese giant has been laying the ground work on this move for a long time.

But can Shimano be a serious challenger in this incredibly competitive market? We’ve seen a number of brands throw themselves up against the might GoPro and come away second best. What gives the Shimano Sport Camera a fighting chance? Certainly not the name… Sport Camera?

TestShimanoCamera 4

We previewed the Sport Camera couple of months ago and finally received a test unit in the mail today. After half an hour or so of tooling around with it, we’ve got to say it really does seem to be very good. You can read all the tech specs here, but below are our initial impressions.

First up, it’s absolutely tiny. At just 86g and not much bigger than a box of matches, it’s impressively petite – a child could swallow it – as it doesn’t rely on a waterproof casing to protect the innards. The whole unit is waterproof to a depth of 10 metres apparently (no surprise really, given Shimano also push this unit as a product for their fishing market too).

TestShimanoCamera 1

There’s no live display or menu on the camera – instead it relies on a basic series of coloured LEDs to let you know what mode the camera is in. BUT this rather basic on-camera information is supplemented by a fantastic smart phone App. So far, we’re confident in saying the interface between phone and camera is the best we’ve used. You can change modes, resolutions, replay and delete clips, format the card, switch the lens angle from 135-180 degrees and more from your phone. There also seems to be very little lag from the camera to the phone display.

TestShimanoCamera 2 (1)

In the box there’s a couple of mounting options, namely a stick-on flat surface mount and a vented helmet mount. As we’ve found in the past, the success or failure of a camera like this can really rest on the quality and availability of good mounting options, so we’re super happy to see that the Shimano camera works with all GoPro mounts, as well as a range of Shimano’s own mounts.

TestShimanoCamera 7 TestShimanoCamera 8

Unfortunately you’ll need to shell out for a micro SD card before you can actually record anything, but that’s fair enough as the $449 price tag seems quite reasonable to us thus far.

Incredibly, the camera is also ANT+ enabled, meaning it can record information from your GPS and incorporate that into the video file. And if you’re a roadie you’ll be pleased to know that the camera can talk to your Shimano Di2 shifting (providing you’ve got the new Di2 D-Fly transmitter) and incorporate all kinds of nerdy info about your shifting too. Welcome to #thefuture.

TestShimanoCamera 1 (1)

We’re really looking forward to reviewing this one!

 

Tested: Shimano XC90 shoes

Shimano XC90 shoes-1Shimano’s latest top-end cross-country shoes definitely makes you look and feel faster. We reckon that the metallic blue finish, while being a little out there, is pretty damn cool and it certainly helps draw attention to the fact that these are an absolutely awesome pair of shoes.

Shimano XC90 shoes-4

We’ve been running these guys for almost four months now. When we first picked them up, we made sure to take advantage of the Custom Fit system; the shoes and insoles are heated in a special oven by a qualified Shimano dealer before being ‘vacuum wrapped’ to your feet. We’d highly encourage you to do the same if you have a Custom Fit Shimano shoe, as the comfort is superb. The insoles also come with two sets of arch inserts, allowing you to raise the in-step of the shoe.

Shimano XC90 shoes-6

Hands down, the Custom Fit combined with the low weight, great breathability and quick drying construction of these shoes, makes them the most comfortable ‘race’ shoe we’ve ever ridden in. This is extremely impressive given there has been zero compromise made in the performance stakes too; the full carbon sole is stiffer than a British upper lip and transfers power stupendously and the three-strap closure grasps your foot like a scared spider monkey.

Shimano XC90 shoes-3

We’re appreciative that Shimano has added a little some extra rubber to the sole of the shoe when compared to previous versions, making a poorly aimed pedal entry incident less of a problem. That said, clipping in seems incredibly intuitive with these shoes, especially when combined with a Shimano pedal. There’s a large window of adjustment for cleat positioning as well, allowing us to achieve the quite rearward cleat positioning we prefer.

Our previous experiences with Shimano shoes have often revealed the ratchet strap buckle to be a bit vulnerable. On the XC90s, Shimano have added a little plastic guard to deflect impacts and save the buckle itself, but the strap itself is showing evidence of have caught a lot of rocks. We’ll be trimming the excess 10mm or so off the end of the ratchet strap in the future to neaten it all up a bit.

Shimano XC90 shoes-7

As these are a ‘race worthy’ item, it goes without saying that they’re not really intended for much hike-a-bike work or scampering about the bush on foot. Unfortunately we’ve had to do rather a lot of this kind of stuff during video shoots, and as such the soles are starting to show a fair bit of wear. The toe studs have almost completely worn down (one has left the building completely), but they can be replaced. If you do plan on doing a lot of walking or rock scrambling, we’d encourage you to check out some of the other shoes in the range.

We’re over the moon with how these shoes have performed so far and we hope the sole rubber lasts a few years yet, as the quality of Shimano’s carbon soles and the manufacturing of the shoe upper is superb. And they’re metallic blue. Which is awesome.

Shimano XC90 shoes-2

 

 

Shimano XTR 11-speed revealed

SHIMANO DEFINES A NEW RHYTHM FOR RACE AND TRAIL RIDERS WITH NEW XTR M9000 MOUNTAIN BIKE COMPONENTS AND WHEELS

 

Shimano today introduced new XTR M9000, its most advanced XTR mountainbike components and wheels to date. With this totally new XTR line available in both Race and Trail

“Rider Tuned” product families, Shimano leverages its 22 years of engineering leadership producing the industry’s highest performing mountain bike component group. Inspired by the versatility and capability of today’s riders and the terrain they tackle, M9000 offers refined and tested solutions engineered for the way they ride.

 

DRIVETRAIN SYSTEM: “RHYTHM AND RANGE” DEFINE THE 11-SPEED DRIVETRAIN

Shimano’s unrivalled legacy in producing bicycle drivetrains is evident with the XTR M9000’s most notable rider benefit: ensuring pedalling rhythm. New XTR M9000 provides range and ensures rhythm for diverse riding styles and terrain to create smooth, harmonic pedalling – the ultimate goal of a drivetrain. The XTR M9000 drivetrain system maintains riders’ rhythm thanks to meticulously selected close step gearing configurations of the cassette and crank.

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The XTR Race and Trail cranks are modular – the same crank can be configured to run single, double or triple rings. The only difference between the 9000 and 9020 cranks is the q-factor, which is 10mm narrower on the Race crank.

 

CRANK SETS:

XTR FC-M9000 Race and FC-M9020 Trail cranks are modular, creating a Rider Tuned platform whereby single and double chain rings can be used on the same crank arm. XTR FC-M9000 crank sets debut the most advanced mountain bike chain rings ever produced that utilize combined titanium, carbon and aluminium materials. Dedicated XTR 1x chain rings debut proprietary chain ring retention technology in a tooth profile that eliminates the need for chain retention devices.

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Look, Ma! One ring! Chain rings from 30-36T are available in two-tooth jumps.

• XTR FC-M9000 Race cranks have a narrower 158mm Q-factor and utilize a lighter and stiffer 3D hollow bonded structure on the non-drive arm.

• XTR FC-M9020 Trail cranks are available in single, double and triple chaining configurations on the cold forged more durable, standard 168mm Q-factor crank arms.

• Chain ring configurations: Single (30T, 32T, 34T, 36T), double (34-24T, 36-26T, 38-28T), triple (40-30-22T).

 

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The biggest range cassette Shimano has ever made, with an 11-40 spread.

CASSETTE:

Rhythm is the essence of smooth power transfer and proper gear step is the key to maintaining rhythm over varied terrain. The XTR CS-M9000 11-speed 11-40T cassette is the widest range cassette Shimano has ever produced and also its most balanced. Thanks to its “rhythm step” progression, it maintains calculated, shock-free gear steps from one gear to the next, saving riders energy and helping maintain rhythm on the trail. Key features include:

• A new HG-X11 specific tooth profile.

• Carbon spider with aluminum, titanium and steel cogs.

• Rhythm step gear progression: 11-13-15-17-19-21-24-27-31-35-40T

News_ShimanoXTR012
While the new Dura-Ace road groupset now has a symmetrical chain, the new XTR retains an asymmetrical/direction specific design.

CHAIN:

Shimano introduces its premium new 11-speed chain that delivers overall better performance for mountain bikers. The CN-HG900-11 uses a HG-X11 special asymmetric plate design and Shimano’s new SIL-TEC surface treatment. Benefits of the new chain include:

• Overall total improved performance.

• A quieter ride, and chain operation.

• Better mud shedding.

• Increased chain life.

 

XTR SHIFTING SYSTEM: THE ULTIMATE STABILITY AND RESPONSE

Shimano systems engineering creates a new level of shifting precision in the M9000 XTR shifting system. With both lighter action and increased stability, Shimano’s M9000 XTR shifting system redefines gear change performance while introducing enhanced ergonomics. XTR M9000 debuts a bold new front derailleur design and approach for larger wheels and longer travel that delivers remarkable shifting performance.

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The new I-Spec system offers more adjustment than previous versions, both vertically as well as horizontally.

SHIFTERS:

XTR M9000 offers Shimano’s most responsive mechanical shifting and controlling shifts is easier than ever thanks to a reduction in shift effort by 20 percent. The SL-M9000 shifters feature:

• A ball bearing construction, and slick polymer-coated shift cable for smooth activation.

• A more ergonomic release lever that utilizes wider, dual-textured carbon shift levers.

• An improved vivid index mechanism for more pronounced feedback.

• XTR SL-M9000 shifters also feature and debut new I-spec II mounting for more room on bar and rotation and side adjustability.

News_ShimanoXTR024
Now this is pretty cool! The Side Swing derailleur offers far more clearance than a regular front derailleur, ideal for 29ers with short stays or bigger tyres.

FRONT DERAILLUERS:

Shimano’s new FD-M9000 masters front shifting for double and triple crank sets with a new, first-ever Side-Swing front derailleur design that increases shift performance by a staggering 100 percent. Designed specifically with modern trail bikes in mind, Shimano’s XTR FD-M9000 Side-Swing front derailleur provides 15mm of increased tire clearance, while new cable routing dramatically reduces shifting effort. Rider Tuned front derailleur options include:

• New FD-M9000 (triple) and FD-M9020 (double) front derailleurs that utilize a new structure with three mount options and new cable routing: High clamp, Low clamp, D-type, E-type (without plate).

• A conventional FD-M9025 (double) increases front shift performance by 50 percent and is available in high clamp and low clamp options.

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Our experience has been that on some frames the switch mechanism for Shadow Plus derailleurs can rub. Shouldn’t ever be an issue now, as Shimano have shifted the lever.

REAR DERAILLEUR:

With a refined Shadow RD Plus clutch rear derailleur, a new front derailleur structure and a new XTR chain (CNHG900-11), M9000 offers the most stable drivetrain the industry has ever seen. A new Shadow design optimises the slant angle, lowering shift effort while improving shifting and driving stability while the derailleur is even lower profile protected further from harm’s way. The new Shadow Plus clutch has a simpler external clutch adjustment, and the derailleur has a wider range of adjustment for easier setup.

• The XTR RD-M9000 is compatible with all XTR front chain ring variations.

• The XTR RD-M9000 is available in GS (mid cage) and SGS (long cage) options.

 

BRAKING SYSTEM: RIDER TUNED XTR RACE AND TRAIL BRAKES

New XTR M9000 hydraulic disc brake systems are also Rider Tuned in Race and Trail versions, as not all riders come down the same mountain at the same speed. Shimano’s legacy of leading brake design stems from its dedicated study of the components of control: heat, power and stiffness. New XTR M9000 brakes offer varying levels of heat control from an insulated piston (glass fiber phenolic) and insulated pad coating that created 10 percent more heat resistance. XTR M9000 brake levers also feature new handlebar-clearing I-spec II mounting.

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Magnesium and carbon. Sounds racy to us.
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The minimalist Race caliper.

RACE BRAKES:

Race-tuned power and overall lighter weight thanks to a magnesium caliper and master cylinder as well as a carbon lever blade.

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More venting than a rat-eaten flyscreen, the new XTR Trail brakes.

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TRAIL BRAKES:

Trail-tuned for power and stiffness using pre-loaded aluminium caliper and a new SERVO-WAVE lever with a powerful and stiff carbon-alloy structure. The XTR M9020 Trail brakes come standard with ICE TECHNOLOGIES radiator pads for further heat reduction.

News_ShimanoXTR040
FREEZA… Don’t keep your Paddle Pops in here.

FREEZA ROTORS:

With an increased surface area for heat dispersion, Shimano’s FREEZA rotor for XTR-M9000 remains the ultimate in heat control that is now available in smaller size options with a lighter weight spider. The rotor provides a 50° C reduction in heat giving riders more powerful braking and greater durability and longer pad life.

The SM-RT99 is available in 140mm, 160mm, 180mm and 203mm diameter sizes.

 

WHEELSETS: SHIMANO GOES CARBON WITH XTR RACE AND TRAIL WHEELS

The all-new XTR M9000 wheels mark a serious turning point for Shimano in premium mountain bike wheel sets. They are Shimano’s most advanced mountain bike wheels to date, and also the first featuring carbon laminate rim technology. New XTR M9000 series wheels are even more focused at each end of the spectrum, from ultra-light and durable race wheels to all-mountain tuned trail wheels. All new XTR wheels use 28 butted spokes both front and rear and include a new lightweight bearing and axle system.

News_ShimanoXTR042
XTR Race and Trail wheels both score a carbon laminate. The new Trail wheels have a 24mm internal width.

RACE WHEELS:

Available in both a 27.5 and 29” option, the XTR M9000 Race wheels have a 20mm internal rim width and a new UST tubeless carbon laminated aluminum rim.

TRAIL WHEELS:

Available in both a 27.5 and 29” option, the XTR M9020 Trail wheels have an 24mm internal rim width and a new UST tubeless carbon laminated aluminum rim.

 TUBULAR 29er WHEELS: 

Carbon tubular wheels offer the ultimate solution for XC racers, in a 29” exclusively, ultra-light wheel set.

News_ShimanoXTR031
The hubs score just an aesthetic change. Ain’t broke, don’t fix.

A cosmetic update, lighter rear axle system and a 15mm E-thru axle provide XTR technology at the center of the wheelset.

• FH-M9000 (Quick Release type) and FH-M9010 (12mm E-thru rear) hubs are both 10 and 11-speed compatible.

• The rear hubs feature a new lightweight bearing and axle system that is now 33 grams lighter.

• XTR M9000 hubs are exclusively CENTER LOCK compatible.

 

XTR PEDALS: CONTINUING 25 YEARS OF SHIMANO SPD

In 2015, Shimano celebrates its pioneering 25-year legacy of Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD). Shimano continues this legacy with both the PD-M9000 and PD-M9020 pedal versions.

News_ShimanoXTR033
Could the SPD mechanism be the soundest piece of engineering in mountain bike history? Can’t kill these things.

RACE PEDALS:

The race pedals feature a mud-shedding design, adjustable entry and release settings, and wide bearing placement for extra rigidity.

News_ShimanoXTR034

TRAIL PEDALS:

The trail pedals feature a mud-shedding design, adjustable entry and release settings, and wide bearing placement for extra rigidity. In addition the trail pedal offers a larger contact plate for increased stability on aggressive terrain

 

 

Fresh Product: Shimano XC90 shoes

UPPER

  • Heat moldable Custom-fit Technology
  • Rovenica® ultra-fine fiber synthetic leather
    Supple, lightweight, comfortable with excellent elasticity
    Superior durability and high abrasion resistance
  • Multi-layered moisture control mesh
  • Anti-slip heel lining
  • Low-profile micro-adjust buckles
  • Cross X Strap is optimized for relieving tension on top of foot during push off motion
  • Custom-Fit heat moldable insole with adjustable arch wedge provides support while optimizing heel stabilization

LAST

  • Shimano Dynalast XC secures the foot into the ideal ergonomic position for a more efficient up-stroke

SOLE

  • XC race specific outsole is lightweight, ultra-stiff and combined with a lower stack height provides superior energy transfer and efficiency
  • Ultra-stiff carbon fiber midsole shank and outsole plate
  • Mud-shedding polyurethane outsole lugs
  • Low-profile design spike plugs, with optional metal toe spikes for increased traction
  • Available in half sizes and wide last
  • Best matched with PD-M980, PD-M985

CLIF BAR is Now Officially For Sale in Bicycle Retail Stores Through Shimano Australia!

Shimano Australia Cycling is pleased to announce that CLIF BAR is now available for purchase at your favourite local bike shop.

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CLIF BAR is the original energy bar made with organic ingredients that delivers an optimal blend of nutrition for sustained energy. CLIF BAR uses whole ingredients you can see and taste, such as oats, dried fruits and nuts, to create delicious, convenient food that’s good for you and for the planet.

Athletes and active people have high energy demands. With a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fiber, CLIF BARs supply working muscles with the energy they need for extended periods of activity. Wholesome and nutrient-dense, CLIF BARs steadily increase blood sugar levels without creating a precipitous “sugar crash.” CLIF BARs help athletes and active people who respect their bodies and the planet to push farther with sustained energy.

The initial release will be the CLIF BAR with Crunchy Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip, and White Macadamia Nut. More varieties and flavours will be coming later in the year with Shot Gels expected Mid July and Shot Bloks in October.

Get out and grab a CLIF.

CB Export Wrap_CC_Org_2013

 

SHIMANO MTB Grand Prix Draws out Endurance Racing Talent

The U23 Australian National 24H Solo Champion Mark Tupalski won round three of the SHIMANO MTB Grand Prix endurance racing series at Ourimbah MTB Park near Wyong on the weekend. His fellow Canberran Ed McDonald claimed the second place after a tight race with a local club rider from the Central Coast. Max Richardson from Wamberal came in third after a sensational performance in the prestigious seven hour Solo Elite classification. Sarah Neumann from Newcastle dominated the women’s solo fields again and in the four hour racing categories Jon Odams from Sans Souci took out the Solo Elite title in the men’s and lap racing newcomer Nienke Oostra won the female category.

Overall race winner Mark Tupalski from Canberra loved the trails at Ourimbah.
Successful first lap race for offroad triathlete Nienke Oostra.

The name Max Richardson was on everyone’s lips as the SHIMANO Mountain Bike Grand Prix seven-hour solo riders crossed the line – with 14 completed laps on the 8.5km course in just under seven hours, the 20-year old rider from the hosting Central Coast Ourimbah MTB Club secured himself a podium position at Saturday’s race in the GP7 hour Elite Men’s category. As the race unfolded spectators and supporters of the top three riders realised that Max Richardson was completely unaware of the calibre of riders that he was challenging, up until lap six even placing in second position in the progress results.

Solid performance by Max Richardson at the SHIMANO MTB GP 7 hour race at Ourimbah.

“This year my big focus is on cross-country events – I just love riding my bike and Bikeworx Erina has been supporting me to enter the entire SHIMANO Mountain Bike Grand Prix series. Racing is the best kind of training, they say, so to get such a big endurance race to the Central Coast is great!”, said the talented rider at the finish. With a previous ninth and this third place on his home track in the five-race series by Rocky Trail he will be racing for a top position overall and will be a rider to watch out for in the next few years.

Overall race win goes to Tupalski, series lead stays with Webster
Equally surprised were the Canberrans Mark Tupalski and Ed McDonald, who completed the most laps overall in the race with Tupalski winning by 7.33 minutes. “This is a great track and I gave it my best. It seems Richardson came out of nowhere, congratulations on a great performance!”, said Tupalski after the race and added that he was looking forward to the final two series races at The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan in July and on his home track at Stromlo Forest Park in Canberra in September.

After three events in the five-race series, Grant Webster from Tea Gardens (NSW) maintains his series lead in the GP7 hour Solo Elite category. With a fourth place at Ourimbah he increased his lead by 100 points over second Duncan Middleton from Dungog (NSW). Young Max Richardson is now ex aequo on third with last year’s series winner Andrew Lloyd from Newcastle.

Sarah Neumann from Newcastle was the fastest lady out on course, winning the GP7 Hour Elite Female classification. With her third consecutive win she also clearly leads the series.

Fastest female lap time and 7-hour solo race win for Sarah Neumann from Newcastle.

Odams shows strong form, newcomer Oostra wows crowd
Jon Odams from Sans Souci took out the GP4 hour Elite Men’s race and offroad triathlete Nienke Oostra from Sydney claimed the women’s title in what was her first lap race. The female solo GP4 hour series lead, however, stays with Odam’s team rider Susanna Fasold from Bonnet Bay (NSW), who holds a gap of 23 points ahead of Emily Cunningham (Kirrawee NSW) and Laura Renshaw (Merewether NSW). In the men’s GP4 hour solo classification, Jorge Baron Morris from Kensington (NSW) holds onto his series lead with a fourth place at Ourimbah. Round 4 promises to be a tight race for him, as his gap dropped to 9 points over James Lamb from Bondi (NSW) and cross country state series champion Kyle Ward from Wollongong.

Jon Odams takes out GP4 hour solo elite category.

 

The next series event will be held at The Australian Botanic Garden, Mt Annan near Campbelltown on 13 July ahead of the final round in September at Stromlo Forest Park in Canberra. For more information and detailed results, visit www.rockytrailentertainment.com

7 hour race
Elite Men Solo
1. Mark Tupalski (Onya Bike Belconnen), Canberra ACT, 15 laps in 7:06.39
2. Ed McDonald (Target Trek Racing), Canberra ACT, 15 laps in 7:14.12
3. Max Richardson (Bikeworx Erina), Wamberal NSW, 14 laps in 6:47.
Elite Women Solo
1. Sarah Neumann (Cheeky Velosport), Newcastle NSW, 12 laps in 7:00.23
2. Liz Smith, Mt Ousley NSW, 12 laps in 7:12.41

4 hour race

Elite Men Solo
1. Jon Odams (Bike Culture), Sans Souci NSW, 9 laps in 4:13.55
2. James Lamb (SCV Imports / Rocky Trail), Erina/Bondi NSW, 9 laps in 4:25.28
3. Kyle Ward (Rockstar Racing), Wollongong NSW, 8 laps in 4:04.17
Elite Women Solo
1. Nienke Oostra (MarathonMTB.com), Sydney NSW, 7 laps in 4:08.41
2. Belinda Diprose, Drummoyne NSW, 7 laps  in 4:28.48
3. Emily Cunningham (Sneaky Bacon Racing), Kirrawee NSW, 6 laps in 4:04.24

Fresh: New XTR Brakes, XTR Carbon Wheels, and 27.5 XT Wheels

For 2014 Shimano has updated the XTR XC brakes (including a carbon lever), introduced new XTR carbon tubular wheelsets, and added 27.5 to the XT range of wheels.

XTR – Light weight XC racing brake update

Light weight for race specification, subtle control with improved lever design, and more consistent brake feeling.

New XTR lever with carbon lever.
New XTR brake.

 

  •  Optimized material and structure for light weight
    • Magnesium BL/BR ,carbon lever, titanium small parts
    • 40g lighter than BR-M985
  •  Refined piston with sealing construction BL
  •  Optimized power curve, improved master cylinder & piston design (free stroke, rigidity)
  •  Ergonomic lever shape
  •  Total design of heat management
  •  I-spec compatible
  •  Ice-Technology pad compatible
  •  Reach adjust (tool)
  •  Easy and clean bleeding
    • One way bleeding caliper
    • Funnel bleeding

XTR “Freeza” Rotor

The new XTR rotor using “Freeza” technology.
  • 40 degree C more reduction in heat (vs SMRT98)
  • Aluminum Radiator fin
  • Clad rotor blade
  • Rotor size: 203mm /180mm /160mm /140mm

 

XTR Carbon Tubular Wheelset

Tubular wheel with super light weight carbon rim, optimized design for XC race.

New XTR Carbon 29er Wheel (Rear)
  • Super light weight full-carbon offset rim
  • 28pcs of straight black spokes and aluminum black nipples
  • *Quick engagement freehub body (36/360 degree) for perfect traction
  • High rigidity with front 15mm and rear 12mm E-thru axle
  • Easy maintenance and longer durability
  • CENTER LOCK rotor mount for easy and quick installation

 

XT 27.5 Wheelset

XT wheels now in more size options.

 

Comparison: Shimano vs Bontrager Shoes

Designed specifically for riders with X-factor, Shimano’s SH-WM82 and Bontrager’s RL Mountain WSD race shoes will have you putting the foot down with confidence in a range of performance-demanding riding scenarios.

Flow tested the shoes head-to-head and read on to see which one will suit you better.

Shimano SH-WM82

Shimano SH-WM82 mountain bike shoe.

Positives: Light and stiff for good pedalling efficiency! Deep tread recesses the cleat.
Negatives: That hot pink trim ain’t for everyone. Synthetic upper is less malleable.

Contact: Shimano Australia
Price: $189
Weight: 315g each or 630g/pair (size 39)

We loved the SH-WM82’s ski boot-style ratchet buckle across the arch/ankle, with its two buckle-levers. The larger lever lifts to tighten the strap; and smaller top lever presses to loosened the strap. This escape lever was a real favourite, especially when it came to post-ride shower queues. But the real beauty of this fancy lever system is that we could operate it on the fly, meaning we could tweak the shoe-fit without having to pull over.

We loved the racket buckle.  It was comfortable and worked well.

The sole on the SH-WM82 is good and stiff, with no torsion. This gave us a solid contact point with the bike, one that did not absorb any of that force we put into our pedal stroke, and we could feel variations in the bike’s handling and the track surface through the shoe. And hint of lateral bend, barely detectable to the naked eye, meant our feet were not left fighting to bend against the shoe through every stride or stroke.

The WM82’s hardy rubber sole has a well spaced, high-profile tread that rises above the cleat (we used the SM-SH51 SPD), and the benefits of this arrangement were immediately clear. The ‘recessed’ cleat meant we could clomp around HQ and even down the stairs to the car without going for a skate.

Placing the cleat a little lower than the sole makes on-foot journeys a little safer.

Out on the trails, the combined effect of the sturdy, non-slip sole and the deep tread meant we could walk over rock and through sand, mud and damp grass with confidence – especially useful at this year’s Scott24, when the rain played havoc with track conditions, and while we were filming on the rocky trails around Alice Springs.

The WM82s have held up well to two months of abuse on the sharp rock and gritty sand of our test tracks in Alice Springs and on the dust and rock in Darwin and the mud trails of the Scott24 in Canberra. (If mud is a regular feature in your riding diet, you can get spikes for the WM82 from any Shimano stockist.)

After two months, the synthetic leather shows no tears or general wear, and it shines up well with a quick wipe with a damp cloth. The soles have a bit of rock scuff – around the spike holes – but this is pretty good compared to the amount of wear we usually see on shoes worn on the trails around Alice Springs, where the rocks are super-sharp.

The Shimano Wm-82 on the trails of Alice Springs.

 

Bontrager RL Mountain WSD

Bontrager RL Mountain WSD mountain bike shoe.

Contact: Trek Bikes Australia (Bontrager)
Price: RRP $169
Weight: 310g each or 620g/pair (size 39)

Positives: Light shoes with stiff soles, comfy leather upper and stylin’ looks.
Negatives: Cut very low around the ankle. The ‘two-position’ Micro Fit buckle is a pipe dream.

Bontrager’s latest race offering for women, the RL Mountain WSD, scored high in style points and comfort, with good energy-transference capabilities, and shares many of the features to be found in Bontrager’s pro-level race shoes.

Like the Shimano SH-WM82, the Bontrager RL Mountain has two velcro straps along the foot and a ratchet-style fastener around the ankle to help the shoe clamp around your foot. As well as looking high-tech, the RL Mountain’s two-in-one silver ratchet buckle held firm and offered a snug fit, though the split-unit catch in the buckle seemed to deliver more gimmickry than subtle ‘two-position’ Micro Fit adjustment.

The RL’s silver ratchet buckle held firm and offered a snug fit.

Fit-wise, the RL Mountain differed from its Shimano cousin in that it was cut lower around the ankle, and the heel cup felt a trace shallower, with a narrower general shape and a slightly more pronounced arch. For us, this amounted to less surface area for the shoe to grab our foot with and a trace more wriggle room around the ankle while we were pedalling. But the leather upper and tongue on the RL Mountain did give a more subtly moulded fit than could be achieved by the Shimano’s synthetic upper, making the Bontrager a comfier choice for those longer rides. And shucks, if you have the Cinderella hoof this shoe is made for, you’d be winning in the style stakes because the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD is one good-looking clodhopper. Black with aqua-blue and silver – we love it!

The Bronze Series Composite sole was not quite as grippy on rock as its Shimano cousin, and the tread’s tighter, more intricate tread pattern collected a few Central Australian pebbles under the ball of the foot. But overall, the Bontrager RL Mountain held up to the test conditions we stomped and pedalled it through in Alice and on the dried-out, sandy clay trails around Christchurch, and the silky dust of an intemperately warm Mt Buller in Victoria.

A good sole, but also a stone collector at times.

After two months of steady hammering, the RL Mountain shoe still looks sharp. The buckle on this shoe has fewer scratches and dings than its Shimano counterpart, and the leather upper and synthetic rand has few if any abrasions. On the under-side, there are a few cuts under the toe, but generally the sole shows little wear – the RL Mountain is still revving to go.

Collecting dust, for testing purposes.

The Verdict

The Shimano SH-WM82 and the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD race shoes have been cut to fit the female foot, with a narrower, lower-volume toe boxes and shallower heel cups, and offer a snug fit, if the shoe fits, of course.

Matching the right shoe to your foot shape and size is the key, though. If you’re looking to add one or both of these race shoes to your riding kit, try them on later in the day, when your feet have walked a few kays. ‘Cause let’s face it, for most of your racing, you’re not going to be daisy-fresh.

The bottom line: these two high-performance race shoes are topnotch. But epic backcountry tour riders and comfort queens beware: these podium-hoppers are not for you. Stiffer than that proverbial banana in the pocket, the Shimano SH-WM82 and the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD offer good connection with your bike, improved pedalling efficiency and plenty of opportunity to adjust your shoe-fit without interrupting your cadence. Put a pair on and get ready to put a foot on that podium!

Shimano MT68 Wheelset

Shimano have produced a range of good value and well made wheelsets for a few years, but for 2013 this neat set of hoops has all the features of the higher end models, albeit with cheaper materials and finishes. Two wheelsets are available, the skinnier cross country orientated MT-66s and these MT-68, which are focused toward the trail/all mountain segment. [private]

Out of the box our first impressions are excellent, with nice decals and trendy white rims on black spokes.  All Shimano wheels are hand-built, and you can really tell with perfectly true rims and even spoke tension. Value for money is high, as there is a (arguably best in the business) Shimano quick release skewers included, and the tubeless ready rims have tape and valve already installed. This is a major bonus, especially at this pricepoint as all you need are tubeless ready tyres and some latex sealant to convert to tubeless. The tyres were reasonably easy to fit; the rear sealed up using only a track pump although the front required a trip to borrow the local servo compressor to finally get seated. The rims are good quality, non-eyletted and come in a reasonable 21mm width, ensuring the large volume tyres fitted showed a good profile without threatening to roll off the rim, even at low pressures (for reference, 2.5” Schwalbe Hans Dampf on the front and 2.3” Nobby Nic out back).

The front wheel is 15mm bolt through only, whereas the rear has QR or 12mm options. Hubs are Shimano branded, with a non-flashy, but functional finish.  The wheels use butted straight pull spokes, as this avoids the J bend point of weakness. The whole wheelset is user serviceable; a nice touch is the included spoke grabber is provided so you can true the wheel without the spoke rotating.

The bearings are of the loose ball and cup and cone variety, which from an engineering viewpoint are more efficient than cartridge, and shows the manufacturing muscle of Shimano, as the bearing races are more involved to fabricate (cartridge bearings are easily fitted to CNC’d hubs, which is why smaller companies use them) and are highly user serviceable. The bearings stayed tight over the course of the test period, but prior experience with Shimano hubs suggest that the cones will need adjustment in the future. Disc rotors are fitted via the centerlock mechanism, although adaptors are available should you wish to run 6-bolt. The matching SLX level discs are well made and worthwhile however it should be noted that the front 15mm axle requires a different, larger diameter lockring than the one provided to get over the bigger axle.

For the first ride on the wheels was at the playground that is the You-Yangs in VIC. This spot combines rocky technical downhills with fast, flowing singletrack, an environment that favours fast accelerating and tough wheels, and to which the MT-68’s were well suited. One of the design points of the rear freehub is its fast pick up, and the non-intrusive whizzy ratchet sound, which is different to previous years silent clutch mechanism. This rapid pick up was excellent when accelerating out of corners and also when climbing out of the saddle through technical sections. In spite of their 24 spoke build, no discernable flex was a detectable over the range of situations found on a good ride; through berms, off drops, under heavy braking, stomping on the pedals on technical climbs. The front wheel tracked superbly, with little or no hint of flex. Just to check, they were used on a shuttle day, and they remained true, and the spokes tight, even after two days of repeated downhill runs.

The performance of these wheels was an eye opener. The hoops they replaced were at least twice as expensive, with no discernable difference in performance. [/private]