I think it’s probably fair to say that Shimano might be the king of trickle down technology when it comes to component groups. Whether it’s entry level, or top of the line – it all has to work, and work quite well. Typically, that results in the entire range of products boasting similar functionality, but differing mainly in materials and weight. This is why it is fairly surprising to run across a second tier group such as Zee, that so close to the weight of the new Saint line, which was introduced at the same time.
Just what is the weight difference between Saint and Zee? Well, by our measures of the drive train and brakes there is a miniscule 26 gram difference between the two. Of course this doesn’t include hubs, rotors, or pedals, but you get the idea. In fact, or scales show that the Zee derailleur (wide ratio version ) is actually lighter than the Saint unit! The weight difference likely points to Saint upgrades (like longer banjo fittings on the brakes) to better handle the heat and rigors of the World Cup circuit, but for the average consumer Zee looks to be more than adequate. If the Zee group proves to be durable in the long run, it may be Shimano’s best non-top tier group yet.
Check out the full weigh in after the break.
Like the new Saint group, the star (other than the cheaper Zee Shadow + rear derailleur of course) would likely be the brakes. Initial feel seems to indicate that they will have that familiar Shimano hydraulic feel, but with lots and lots of power. Our first coverage of Zee, showed the calipers without the radiator fin backed brake pads – though our samples included them. Regardless, they are the same H03C (metal) pad you will find on the Saint brakes which means one less part for bike shops to stock. The Zee group does not include Zee specific rotors, so you could splurge for the super cool (and super expensive) finned Saint rotors, or more likely a set of XT IceTech rotors. The same goes for disc caliper adapters which do not come with the brakes, so make sure to order the proper adapters ahead of time!
While the brakes will have similar functionality and textured lever feel to their big brother Saint, a few luxuries have been omitted to bring down the price. Rather than the nice tool-less reach adjuster, you will find a simple 2.5mm Allen for your lever positioning needs, along with the absence of a free stroke adjuster. At the caliper, the threaded pad retainer bolt is replaced by the lower tech clevis pin and as mentioned the caliper lacks the elongated Saint banjo fitting which improves heat dissipation even further.
The Zee shifter gets slightly shorter shift paddles than the Saint (5mm), but offers the same pull ratio and dual release shifting. Only a right shifter is offered, but thanks to the wide range derailleur below climbing isn’t out of the question.
The Zee levers see some texturing of the grip surface, though not to the level of Saint. Like the rest of the group, it is slightly more chunky than Saint but looks every bit as burly.
Maybe the most surprising part of the group in terms of weight? The crankset. Now granted, the Saint crank Saris is reviewing is for an 83mm bottom bracket (the spindle is the heaviest part) while this Zee crank is for a standard 68/73mm shell. However, this crank is a 170 while hers is a 165mm and a 2 gram difference even with the different standards is still pretty impressive. Zee cranks feature a steel pedal thread insert that is flared on the back to prevent the insert from being pulled through the crank arm. Interestingly, unlike most other Shimano cranksets, the Zee crank included pedal washers – presumably due to the increased punishment the crankset is likely to see. Chainrings are affixed through a traditional 104 BCD pattern so you can replace the chainring with any standard ring including Saint. Since there is no front derailleur offered, there is no way to attach a granny gear so don’t expect to add one after the fact.
Cranksets for 68/73mm shell frames include a standard threaded bottom bracket and all the hardware required. Not sure if the amount of grease that was included in, and on, the Zee group is standard procedure, or something specific to the DH groups, but there was certainly no lack of it. Maybe Shimano is anticipating most of these groups will be installed and then abused with little maintenance after the fact?
There it is. Somehow, the Zee Shadow+ rear derailleur which uses a forged steel arm for the cable clamp instead of the Saint’s aluminum arm, ends up 2 grams lighter on the Feedback scale. How? We’re betting it’s due to the fact that not only does Saint have a high density urethane bump stop to reduce noise, but the Saint derailleur is also convertible between close range, and wide range gear ratios. The Zee derailleur on the other hand, is one or the other meaning you can’t switch back and forth between close and wide ratio cassettes without changing derailleurs. Since Zee is more likely to be found on privateer or freeride bikes, there probably won’t be a whole lot of part swapping going on so just make sure you know how you want your bike set up, and pick the right one.
Either due to previous Shadow+ clutch levers being more difficult to use, or the fact that Saint and Zee likely have stiffer clutch springs, the derailleurs have a much longer, easier to use lever.
While there are no wheels in the Zee line, there are hubs. Front hubs are only available in 32h, 20mm thru axle versions with Centerlock rotor mounts. Weighing in at 235g, if Shimano’s claimed weight of 228g is without the rotor lock ring, then it is under claimed weight like most of the line. Note that in order to adjust the front hub you will need at least one 28mm cone wrench. Since the lock nut is open ended, you might be able to get away with one 28mm cone wrench and an adjustable wrench, though ideally you will need two 28mm cone wrenches.
While the rear Zee hub is available in 32h, 135×12, 142×12, and 150×12 configurations, we were sent a Saint 142×12 hub for our build likely due to availability issues. At 349 grams, the Saint hub isn’t a porker by any means especially with a steel freehub body. A rear Saint hub could be a great upgrade for anyone, not just down hillers who are constantly destroying aluminum freehub bodies. Both versions of hubs use Shimano’s standard angular contact bearing design, which means they are easily adjusted and should last for a long time.
There is no doubt that the Saint group is likely more refined and offers that racer’s edge, but the Zee line up is looking super competitive right out of the gate. Something that just about every down hiller or free rider who actually rides their bike will greatly appreciate with its more wallet friendly prices.