Shimano are the kings of the trickle down. It seems like only a few months ago that we first clapped eyes on the XTR Shadow Plus derailleur with its revolutionary clutch mechanism, yet already there are Shadow Plus derailleurs in SLX, XT, Saint and Zee versions.[private]
XT has been the working man’s bling for over 25 years now. As a groupset, it lacks the polish, glamour and giggle-worthy weight figures of XTR. But it consistently delivers on-par trail performance, and at prices that let you feed the habit without becoming destitute. The new XT Shadow Plus continues that trend.
The original nine-speed XT Shadow series derailleurs came out a few years ago now (2008), and were so called because of their extremely low profile that made them slip, all shadowy like, past trail obstacles that would’ve ripped off bulkier derailleurs. At the time, they were revelatory; far more stable than their predecessors, excellent cable routing and far more likely to stay attached to your bike.
Ten-speed Dynasys versions followed shortly after, but it was only last year that Shimano really stepped it up a gear with the introduction of the Shadow Plus system, initially on XTR and now throughout the range. The standout feature of the Shadow Plus system is the incorporation a clutch mechanism to control the movement of the lower arm of the derailleur. From the outside, the only difference the rider sees compared to a standard Shadow derailleur is a little lever with an on/off position. Internally there’s some clever stuff going on, namely a very smart one-way clutch.
So what does this clutch actually do? In a nut shell, the clutch mechanism all but prevents the lower arm of the derailleur from pivoting forward, meaning that the chain is kept under considerably more tension. The claimed benefits are many; less chain slap, fewer dropped chains, more stable and accurate shifting over rough terrain…. So does it work?
We’ve been running the XT Shadow Plus derailleur for two months now on a Trek Fuel EX (with a 3×10 drivetrain) and a Yeti 575 (setup with a 1×10 drivetrain). Our XT Shadow Plus was a long-cage version, weighing in at 256g, less than 50g heavier than the XTR equivalent (208g).
Installation is simple, the only added complication being that you must switch the clutch mechanism to the ‘off” position before tuning your gears. With the clutch off, the lower arm is free to move unrestricted, making it easier to set your cable tension etc. With gear tuning done, flip the lever back to ‘on’.
This particular derailleur is compatible with Shimano’s new direct mount derailleur system, but alas, the dropouts of our two test bikes didn’t support the new standard yet.
Like all Shadow derailleurs, the XT is extremely low profile, with the bulk of the derailleur sitting within the boundaries of the chain stay. Ergo, you’re far less likely to rip it off, or bend it should you drop the bike drive side down.
So, on trail performance? Just sensational. It’s hard to appreciate what a difference such a small addition as the clutch mechanism can make to your whole riding experience.
First, you notice how much quieter everything is. Even on the triple ring setup of our Trek, the reduction in chain rattle was tremendous. On our Yeti, with a 1×10 drivetrain, the was practically zero noise from the drivetrain at all. Bouncing down the roughest tracks, the usual cacophony of chain and derailleur was replaced by the sound of whirring freehubs and tyres on rocks.
The chain security and shifting stability are what grab you next. We’ve never dropped a chain with the Shadow Plus either, not even once. It’s hard to overstate the peace of mind this gives you, knowing that even at the end of the roughest descent you lay down the power with full confidence that your chain will be in place.
You can crank out shifts with more confidence too, even when pedalling over choppy sections of trail, meaning fewer crunched gears and less chance of twisting or breaking chains.
Any downsides? Over the course of our ride time, the tension of the clutch mechanism did drop a little, but thankfully it’s adjustable – simply whip off the clutch cover and tighten the little band clamp.
The shift action is a smidgen heavier than a traditional Shimano derailleur too, and the tighter you adjust the clutch mechanism, the more resistance you’ll feel at the shift lever. We feel it’s really a non-issue, a worthy trade off for all the benefits the clutch brings.
The big question for us, is why spend the extra dough on XTR when the XT is so damn good? Or perhaps even more relevant, why go to XT when the SLX has the very same features and is cheaper again?
Either way, if you’re a Shimano user, this is perhaps the single best, most cost-effective upgrade you can make to your bike.
Want mo’ Flow?
We review the Shimano SLX 12 speed drivetrain and we’ve also taken a look at a few of the components now available for Shimano XT 11 speed. If SRAM is more your style, we also put the SRAM GX Eagle 12 speed to the test.