If you didn’t already know, Shimano’s venerable XT group has received a major overhaul for 2012. While the last generation saw the addition of Dynasys 10 speed to the XT group, the construction, design, and performance didn’t really change. Knowing Shimano, that meant they were up to something big, which was revealed shortly before Sea Otter this year.
What wasn’t known, was just how different the new XT group would actually be. Based on the radically improved performance of the newest generation of XTR, the new XT had some big shoes to fill. In order to give us, and many other cycling news sources a chance to find out, Shimano invited us out to Northstar at Tahoe to give XT 780 a spin.
Check out our initial impression after the break!
In all honesty, I would have to say the star of the 780 group is no doubt, the brakes. The new stoppers are shockingly familiar to the XTR 980 trail brake with a nearly identical lever feel. According to a few of the editors that were there that have more time on the 980 brakes, the XTs may even have a more positive return spring feel which serves to add to the brakes incredible power.
Even with loads of stopping power, the brakes never felt unmanageable with the silky smooth modulation keeping things in check. While riding the Emigrant Trail in Truckee, the brakes bailed me out of a tricky situation more than once on Emigrant’s ripping downhills, but allowed me to save enough speed to keep up momentum. Emigrant was followed by some runs on the lower half of Northstar’s resort, and repeated high speed runs were not able to cause any sort of brake fade for the XT stoppers. It’s hard to tell whether this is due to the Icetech rotors, radiator backed pads, or the 22mm ceramic pistons, or a combination of all three, but the performance is stellar. You may notice that the calipers have indeed changed to a two piece design, and while Shimano didn’t offer a reason as to why, it doesn’t seem to have had any effect on the overall performance.
At the lever, all of the previous features including tool free reach adjustment and free stroke adjustment find their way through, with the welcomed addition of a split brake clamp. It should be noted that due to crash standards, Shimano has had to integrate a safety catch into the lever clamp to keep the lever from coming off in the event that the bolt brakes. Regulations state that if one bolt brakes, the lever must remain attached to the bar and since most other companies use two bolts for the brake clamp, there is no need for a catch. Shimano uses a hinged design and only one bolt, so a simple safety button is uses that is released by inserting a 2.5mm allen into a hole on the clamp.
When it comes to the cranksets, the major difference is obviously the addition of the double. While I don’t think I would have wanted a double for the Sierra mountains, they were none the less unavailable for review at the time of the press camp. We hope to get our hands on a set as soon as they’re available, so we’ll keep you posted.
Otherwise, the cranks are just as stiff as you would expect and are cosmetically different than the 770 Dynasys cranks, but functionally remain the same. One added bonus of the new arms, is that if you are the type to rub your heels on the crank arm, the logo is now on the lowest part of the arm which should keep it from being rubbed off. I’ve never really had an issue with rubbing on the arms, and that remained true for the 780 cranks.
Under your feet, Shimano now offers the wider platformed trail pedal to the XT line up, in addition to the typical XT SPD. After some time on the XTR Trail pedal I have really come to like the extra support the platform offers, which is surprisingly noticeable especially when rolling you foot to the outside. The XT pedal is very similar, although I did feel that the contact with the shoe was more loose than with the XTR. Regardless, the XT trail pedals remained extremely easy to get in and out of, and were especially nice when cruising the bike park.
Shifting wise, even though the chain and cassette remain unchanged, the shifters have brought the shifting feel remarkably close to XTR. The feel still isn’t quite as polished as its big brother, but it is now noticeably different than SLX. Up-shifting is still very crisp and quick, while down-shifting now has that almost hollow popping feel that XTR has been known for. XT’s new shifting precision allows you to be extremely sloppy with your shifts, especially in the front, and still find yourself in the right gear. More than once I thought I had botched a shift, only to look down and find myself in the right gear.
Unlike the brakes, not all of the adjustments on the shifters made it through from the previous generation of XT. When initially setting up the bike, I noticed that the new shifters no longer have the option of adjusting the offset of the mounting clamp (non-ispec model). When asked, I was told it was because it was an option that was rarely used and the elimination of it reduced the weight. Initially, I was dismayed to learn the adjustment was gone since I did use it, though after fiddling with the setup I found that the new design of the brake lever made my old setup uncomfortable. The new brake lever is so short, that running it on the outside of the shifter still allowed me a comfortable one finger operation, and still put the shift levers within reach. I still prefer the thumb-thumb operation of the levers, but with the way I have them set up, you can still use thumb-trigger if you like.
However, the shifters do get the ability to switch between 2x and 3x drive trains via the small mode adjuster on the bottom of the front shifter. This makes it so bike shops only have to stock one shifter, and you can switch between a double and triple whenever you want.
Last, but not least, the XT line up gets two new wheel models as well. The more XC oriented 785 with a 19mm rim profile, and the wheels my bike was set up with, the 22mm wide 788s. Both wheelsets are fully UST, and utilize a hand built, straight pull spoke design for a very stiff wheel. The 788s are the first XT level wheel that is available in a 142x12mm rear axle design, while both wheels use a 15mm thru front hub. Both the XC and the trail wheel feature Shimano’s angular contact bearings. Initially I had thought that the 788’s nearly 1800g weight might make them feel a bit sluggish, but was delighted to find them to be quite snappy, and plenty stiff in the corners. Time will tell, but I think I will really like these wheels.
To serve as the platform to test the new XT group, Trek provided a Remedy 9.9 frame which was an excellent rig for the duration of my stay in Tahoe. Even with Emigrant being a roller coaster XC type trail, the Remedy handled it admirably hiding its 150mm of travel quite well. Of course, when subjected to the likes of the Northstar bike park it really came into its own, easily transforming from an XC machine into an all mountain ripper. Originally, we had planned to test a DT EXM 150 fork on the remedy, but I showed up to Northstar to find out that the DT was leaking a bit of oil. Thankfully, Fox Racing Shox was on hand to hook it up with a 140 Talas RLC, which was flawless. We still plan on revisiting the DT as soon as it is fixed.
Shimano XT has always been the go to group for anyone looking for a high quality, durable component group without breaking the bank. The fact that it is celebrating its 30th birthday is proof that XT has always been what most riders look for in the way of performance and price. If initial impressions hold to be true, Shimano XT 780 is absolutely the group to buy if you are a 10 speed hold out.
Look for complete reviews on everything above in the near future!