First Impressions: Shimano XTR Di2 & Mechanical Mountain Bike Groups

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

The new XTR Di2 M9050 has ushered in the era of official electronic shifting for mountain bikes, and we have a feeling it’s going to shake things up quite a bit. Announced all the way back in May, it’s still not really available as of this post – only a handful of pros are racing on it. Fortunately, four of the new Orbea Oiz test bikes we just rode had it installed, giving us a chance to run it through the gears.

Over two days of riding XC and enduro-ish segments, the XTR Di2 showed why it’s going to be popular. Instantaneous shifts, effortless transitions under power and the ability to choose just the right gear combo for you. Heck, you can even customize it to work just the way you want, from which buttons do what to how and when it shifts between chainrings in Synchronized Shifting modes. That’s right, plural – modes. You can set two shift maps and swap between them on the fly while riding.

Add in the legendary stiffness and precision for which Shimano’s top level groups are known and, well, I just rode the future…

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

The beginning of the system is the display and shifters.

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

The shifters’ default setting is to use the larger bottom lever to shift to an easier cog on the cassette and to the larger chainring. It should feel immediately similar to mechanical converts since the larger lever is used to pull the cable to the same effect. The triggers do have a tactile click and require a small bit more effort compared to road Di2. Shimano’s rep said this was intentional since your hands are typically bouncing around more on a mountain bike, so the more pronounced click/push helps improve shift accuracy. At first, I was thinking they should be lighter and smaller, but after riding it more the design makes sense.

Shimano XTR 9000 mechanical mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

Aesthetically, it seems like they could make it smaller if they didn’t need to build in a solid feeling click, but it’s still pretty sleek.

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

The display stays dark until you shift, switch modes or run through a set up mode. The display time can be customized to go dark after a fixed amount of time. There are set increments, ranging from 5 to 300 seconds. Quicker black out will save battery life. Once clicked, it shows battery status, mode and gear. The small button on the bottom (click to enlarge, you’ll see it under the “Shift Mode” text) cycles through the three available modes with a double click. Those are M, S1 and S2. Manual is simply that, you’re in charge of shifting. S1 and S2 are your two Synchronized Shift maps, which you can set via their eTube software.

Shimano-XTR-Di2-9000-etube-software

The group comes with a charger that doubles as the cable to customize the system. Download eTube software (PC only for now, no Mac version), then choose Mountain Bike. It’ll always check for any system or group firmware updates, which can sometimes bring up new settings options. That’s how multi-shift came about for road Di2 groups, as an update, but it comes standard on XTR.

Shimano-XTR-Di2-9000-etube-software

You’ll have to run a connection check so the system can verify you have the parts you say you have (by selecting them). If everything shows green, you’re all good. Orange means a part needs an update, and red means something’s wrong. The consumer version of eTube simply shows red, you’ll have to take it to an authorized dealer to have them run a diagnostic and tell you what’s actually wrong.

Once set up the way you like, you can save it as a preset, then upload it to the group again should you have to change a part in the future. For shops, they can save each customer’s or team rider’s settings, making it easier to get things back the way they like them after any service calls.

Shimano-XTR-Di2-9000-etube-software

Like the road groups, you can customize the button’s functions, letting the bigger button shift harder or easier and vice versa. Or you can switch sides and left the left shifter work the rear derailleur. You can even set it so the second click on any button immediately kicks in the multi-shift. Otherwise, you simply hold the shift button down for about 1.5 seconds to get it to multi-shift.

Shown above are the shift maps. Once you tell it which gears you have, it’ll show you the ratios and let you pick when you want it to switch between big and small chainrings and how many cogs it shifts up or down in the process. The default is a single cog since that’ll have the least effect on cadence, but you can set more if you want. The system comes set with both S1 and S2 running all the way up the cog to a big/big combo before shifting down. Shimano’s rep says that’s fine, that there’s no harm in running a big/big combo on it, but you’ll want to change at least one of them to suit your needs. What’s really cool is that you can set one map for climbing and another for descending, or one for racing and one for playing. Here’s what it looks like out of the box:

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the beeps. When it reaches the end of a map segment in a specific chainring, it double beeps to let you know the next shift will swap chainrings. A single beep means you’ve shifted to the last cog (big or small), which lets you know you’re at the end since there’s no haptic feedback from a cable.

Synchronized shifting only works via the rear shifter. Press the front shifter buttons and you’ll over ride it, but once you’ve shifted again on the rear, it’ll sync back up the next chance it gets and go back into normal synchronization. If you don’t like that audio feedback, you can turn the beep off in eTube.

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

The ease of shifting and the ability to quickly and easily customize its function is the real selling point. The actual performance of the group is as good as you’d expect from XTR. Other than the occasional servo whir from the front derailleur’s auto trim or shift, everything runs smooth and quiet. The bulk of the rear derailleur stays tucked inward the whole time, protecting it. It shares the same breakaway function as the road Di2 parts, too, helping save it from destruction in a crash.

The clutch switch has been moved slightly, but it functions the same.

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

Just like the road groups, it’s the front shifting that may end up converting you. Whether I was shifting manually or letting Shimano do the thinking for me (which I used more often than not because, seriously, Synchronized Shifting is the cat’s meow), it moved the chain from one ring to another regardless of whether I was cranking it up hill, sprinting along flat ground or descending some rough techy sections.

One big difference between this group and the mechanical ones below from the parts originally shown earlier this year are the chainrings. Shimano’s launch materials all used chainring teeth with triangular perforations. Those holes are gone, but I didn’t notice until I started editing photos, so I’ve reached out for comment and will update when I hear back.

First impressions are very good, and my long term Ultegra Di2 kit has proven flawless, so I’m rather optimistic on this stuff. I’d put it on my own bike in a heartbeat.

MECHANICAL XTR 9000

Shimano XTR 9000 mechanical mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

Having ridden several recent iterations of XTR at length, I’m happy to say the latest version’s trigger is much better on two fronts. The “click” is crisper and more pronounced, and the lever throw is shorter. Particularly with the pressing motion to push the chain up the cassette to an easier gear or from the little ring to big ring, it’s much a much shorter motion to complete the shift. Where prior generations have moved to a lighter and lighter feel requiring quite a bit of lever throw to commit to a shift, the 9000-series is far snappier with well defined shifting. I couldn’t be happier.

Shimano XTR Di2 9000 electronic mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

From a technical standpoint, the new Side Swing front derailleur is nothing short of amazing. It’s a wonder no one figured this out before. The cable enters from the front and pulls the cage outward in a perfectly horizontal shift. It takes very little effort at the lever, even under power. Try it and you’ll wonder why anyone would need the electronic version above (unless, of course, you’ve tried the electronic version above). If you’re stuck on mechanical for budgetary or emotional reasons, this should make you quite happy.

But, if you’re a frame manufacturer, you may be lamenting the late notice Shimano gave, which is requiring some last minute mold changes and has presented some real challenges to frame design. Yes, it makes it easier to clear the rear tire since there’s no cable mechanism facing backward, but the cage’s pivot points come awfully close to the seat tube, meaning some suspension pivot points may need to be slimmed down (Orbea’s did, which we’ll detail in another post). This new design can also affect those wishing to upgrade on existing bikes. You’ll need to find a way to run the cable to the front of the derailleur, which can result in some unsightly electrical tape or zip tie applications, or some warranty busting holes being added to the downtube (which, for the record, we don’t recommend). This may make it a tough sell for any 2014 and earlier bike owners unless you’re going with the single chainring up front.

Shimano XTR 9000 mechanical mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

The rear derailleur’s quite the looker, with flowing curves and a revised clutch switch placement. The shifting performance is what you’d expect from a top level group, made quicker thanks to the revised triggers and new parallelogram geometry in the derailleur.

Shimano XTR 9000 mechanical mountain bike group first ride review and technical details

The cassette squeezes 11 gears in the space of 10 thanks to dished larger cogs that hug closer to the spokes. The top two clusters use carbon fiber spiders. Like the other parts, shifting performance across the cogs was XTR worthy. Get the full technical details of the M9000 mechanical group in this post.

With the new XTR groups, whether you choose mechanical or electronic, you’re going to get fast, sharp and smooth shifting. For someone that’s generally preferred the faster, tighter triggers of SRAM’s 2×10 and 1×11 mountain bike groups for the past few years, these have me stealing glances in the other direction. Time (and a long term test group) will tell how it all holds together, but, well, Shimano’s got a pretty good track record.

Bike.Shimano.com

Comments

Tim A - 08/24/14 - 5:00pm

When is the mechanical supposed to hit shops?

Rico - 08/24/14 - 5:03pm

Di2 xtr is going to be amazing, can’t wait. The flexibility of the controls is so smart, you can customize it for your style and terrain.

Dave - 08/24/14 - 5:09pm

OCTOBER but from my understanding it will be limited and only a few bike companies will have it that early, and it’s not the big guys.

herrow prease - 08/24/14 - 5:16pm

^^^^^^^Tim^^^
they keep pushing it back. It was supposed to be sept1 , then 2 weeks ago it changed to sept 9, now it looking like oct.

Travis - 08/24/14 - 5:23pm

The bike pictured is an Orbea Alma.

jdjd - 08/24/14 - 6:36pm

Mechanical… Budgetary… Emotional… Or just dont like having to.switch batteries if it works just as well?

Jeff - 08/24/14 - 6:37pm

Is the cog spacing the same as Sram? i.e. could you run a Sram11sp cassette (42T) with an XTR electronic shifter and rear deraileur?

Alfus - 08/24/14 - 6:57pm

@Jeff for sure, this is the winning combination, XX1casette with Di2 derailleur.

badbikemechanicx - 08/24/14 - 7:31pm

So sick

CJ - 08/24/14 - 7:46pm

Glad to see a company with amazing front shifting actually working to make it even better. 9000 Mechanical was the same way, major step forward for mechanical front shifting.

I look forward to that, versus SRAM’s “improving” their front shifting, but simply removing it.

Tim A - 08/24/14 - 7:48pm

Jeff & Alfus,

I seem to remember hearing that Di2 wasn’t going to be single-ring compatible- only the mechanical group. Hoping that’s not the case- but at $770 for the derailleur alone (http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/us/en/s?q=xtr+di2), it’s really a moot point.

Antipodean_G - 08/24/14 - 8:15pm

@craigsj , have to agree. I see no reason to add expense, complexity and electronics into something that works just as well or 99.999999% of riders out there with just a simple cable.

Don’t get me wrong, I like progress and electronically controlled suspension is a very reasonable step forward but electronic mechs on mtb’s is a step in no direction – it’s bad enough having to replace a top tier mech after it’s been wiped out by a rock or branch (I think the system on the road has merit for top level riders).

Hype removed, I’d love to see some independent data illustrating just how much of a performance enhancement (ie. just how much faster it make an elite level rider) electronic shifting offers over a well tuned mechanical system.

hjb - 08/24/14 - 8:22pm

Regarding XX1 42T cassette compatibility and spacing, I’m going to say ‘most probably’. But I guess technically the RD will be running beyond it’s 40T capacity so depending on the bike, the B-tension may be an issue. Although usually it’s fine.
Expensive experiment though, I’d rather keep it all Shimano.

Ilikeicedtea - 08/24/14 - 8:44pm

@timmmmay

What? How would that even be a possibility? Pat any attention to WC XC races? There’s quite a few Di2 single ring setups. Multi ring setups are the anomalies.

dtandem - 08/24/14 - 10:09pm

I’m pretty excited about this for our mountain and fat tandems. Any word on extra long wiring harnesses?

rupert3k - 08/24/14 - 11:32pm

Cool, cool, like the 11 onto 10 freehub cassette (but gimme sensibly priced XT)
The new front mech pivot is great (too little too late?)
Bit chunky & 1st gen beta-ish for my wallet (in appearance if not function).
When they slim down the shifters & release 1 x 12, 13, 14sp.. we won’t really need multiple chainrings by then, plus hopefully everything will be wireless and the batteries will have improved whether it’s one central battery, or several like SRAM’s wireless.
Still tempted by 11-40 cassette, chain with a mechanical mech & shifter but it’s a very hard sell as long as the cassettes cost as much as they do.

Hugh - 08/25/14 - 8:18am

“From a technical standpoint, the new Side Swing front derailleur is nothing short of amazing. It’s a wonder no one figured this out before. The cable enters from the front and pulls the cage outward in a perfectly horizontal shift. ”
Shimano have done it before in 1981 with the Shimano AX groupset – side swing FD –
http://citybikedepot.com.au/info/news/back-to-the-future

BT - 08/25/14 - 9:18am

Call me shallow, but the new XTR crank is ugly

CXisfun - 08/25/14 - 9:56am

I would say that since the XX1 cassette has different spacing than SRAM road 11, and since SRAM road 11 is the same as Shimano road 11, I’m going to guess Shimano road, MTB, and SRAM road 11 are the same spacing, with XX1 being different than all of them.

Tom - 08/25/14 - 10:13am

It’s so easy to sit back and lob bombs at these ideas, so I’ll start with a compliment: My wife would LOVE to have a gear indicator back on her bike. To each their own, and she would love it.

BUT, I really think Shimano missed out on gear spacing. So close, but the brass ring prize would have been 11-speed fitting on a standard freehub body AND going up to a 42t cog………

Damien - 08/25/14 - 10:34am

To Whom It May Concern!

EVERY SINGLE 11SPEED CASSETTE IS COMPATIBLE with EVERY 11SPEED DRIVETRAIN.

I currently use an Ultegra di2 medium cage derailleur with a XO1 cassette on my road/cross/touring bike. It works flawlessly. It did require a longer b-tension screw, but that is it. I have the rear paired with a cx1 crank and a 46t chainring up front. Before this I used both sram and shimano cassettes in various configurations.

My current road bike is campy record 11, and rather than purchase an expensive Campy freehub body for my r45′s, I simply used a DuraAce cassette.

Point being, all 11 speed spacing is compatible, and if your derailleur can handle it, you can use XO1 without issue.

FYI!

Damien - 08/25/14 - 10:35am

Oh yeah, chains all work the same too!

Puck - 08/25/14 - 12:01pm

It’s funny seeing Shimano not wanting to give credit for the 1X movement to SRAM.

“…it’s the front shifting that may end up converting you.”

My cranks are never again going to see a second (or third ring), no matter how much Shimano USA MKTG tells me otherwise. Get over it. For the Alivio and Sora crowd, keep at it, but for the majority of the XTR (or XX1)-buying demographic, we’re over it. (That’s, of course, based on my anecdotal pseudo-scientific poll at my local trailhead.)

Chsad - 08/25/14 - 12:47pm

So if I want to use mech xtr 9000 on my 2014 epic I cannot use the front der?
There is no way it will route through the front on the epic.
Looks like for 15 spesh put a 10speed front der. on the bike….

NotAMachinist - 08/25/14 - 1:29pm

@Hugh

“From a technical standpoint, the new Side Swing front derailleur is nothing short of amazing. It’s a wonder no one figured this out before. The cable enters from the front and pulls the cage outward in a perfectly horizontal shift. ”
Shimano have done it before in 1981 with the Shimano AX groupset – side swing FD –

Campagnolo did it decades before that with the Gran Sport and Valentino front derailleurs. When I found one of these in the used parts box at a bike shop many years ago the owner said “I remember those, they were terrible.”

NotAMachinist - 08/25/14 - 2:18pm

The rest of my comment got cutoff so here goes…

Hugh, good eye for the AX front derailleur.

In typical Shimano fashion they copied an idea (the lateral front derailleur movement) and when it didn’t work well (AX) they shelved, but didn’t abandon, the concept until they could make it work correctly. Good for them!

dontcoast - 08/25/14 - 2:29pm

@puck

1x is great for trail bikes that get driven to the trail, and hucked

I usually have 2-5 miles road/climbing to the trailhead, and pin it back in TT trailbikemode to work/kids/etc… so I use my 44/11
and when I have time to do a 50-100 mile epic with 15 mile climbs and/or sustained double digit grades, the 22t gets some love

don’t get me wrong, I love 1x drivetrains (owner of multiple single speed/fixed/1x bikes) but the triple on the trail bike works for me

Johan - 08/25/14 - 2:31pm

Much more complicated, much more expensive and a narrower range of gears for 1X setup.
also the new XTr crank and rings look less clean/elegant etc.
I think they took the blue pill.

Frippolini - 08/25/14 - 2:57pm

I don’t know about you guys (and gals), but for me using and fixing bikes was always a refreshing escape from computers, software, installations, drivers, software updates, etc etc.
Perhaps I’m just old fashioned, but I hope Shimano, SRAM and the others lets me keep the option of using traditional metal cables to shift my gears without batteries, software, computers, Bluetooth, etc.
Otherwise the new XTR looks great. Keep up the good work Shimano.

CXisfun - 08/25/14 - 3:34pm

@Damien: that interesting to hear that it’s been done and works. I just spoke last week with a couple of the engineers at SRAM and they were in agreement that everything 11sp is the same spacing, with the exception of XX1/XO1 etc. They specifically called the XD cassettes out as not being their own standalone product not to be used with other bits.

CXisfun - 08/25/14 - 4:59pm

Sorry, the SRAM engineers told me XD WAS a standalone product not to be interchanged with the other 11sp drivetrains.

Holymolygemmesummathat! - 08/25/14 - 5:52pm

@ CXisfun

Whereas Damien is saying it can. He has been using X01 cassette with an Ultegra derailleur. X01 is XD isn’t it?

Eddie Barksdale - 08/25/14 - 6:45pm

Will the rear mechanical derailleur work with a STI road shifter? There has to be others that enjoy using brifters with a double road crankset and mountain rear derailleur, right?

Damien - 08/25/14 - 7:23pm

@CXisfun. The only thing that I could think they meant was the spacing for the freehub body, which isnt right either, since either freehub fits the same on my I9 wheels and I don’t have to redo my disk brake alignment. Otherwise, the cassettes are the same length and spacing. The cassette will also work with a non-XD chain, but it definitely makes a difference using the XD specific chain. I did run 1000 miles with the original 11 speed shimano chain before I switched without issue though.

rgeniec - 08/25/14 - 7:56pm

Shimano missed the boat with the 11-40 rear cassette. SRAM nailed it with the 10-42.

CXisfun - 08/25/14 - 11:00pm

@Holymolyblahblahblah: Yes. Exactly. As I said, it’s interesting to hear since SRAM engineers specifically said it wouldn’t work. I took it as they had tried it, but clearly if someone else is doing it, it must work.

@Damien: Cool, good to know, I may give it a shot.

Sam - 08/27/14 - 4:16am

That crank is hideous!

Eric - 08/28/14 - 12:50pm

This is where I get off the Shimano train.
I guess it’s finally time to try SRAM.

Mike - 08/29/14 - 1:11am

One of Shimano’s uglier designs, those cranks.

Jeff - 08/31/14 - 6:14pm

I am fairly excited about Shimanos new offerings. Hopefully the technology trickles down soon. People are clamoring about the aesthetics of the cranks but I think they look pretty trick with the curved large ring… it at least looks stiff as hell.

David French - 09/01/14 - 3:44pm

Surely they’re going to offer a top/bottom pull derailleur as well? Unless of course that new derailleur also has a revised cable-pull ratio. There must be a ton of people out there with decent frames that want a new group set and are going to use XX, X0 or XT rather than XTR if they can’t have a FD.

MBR - 09/02/14 - 8:38am

How about weights for the individual components and complete system? Run time? Cost? Well, guess that last question was stupid… We all know it will cost an arm and a leg…

Ricky Allen - 09/03/14 - 10:10pm

Beautiful ..used the very first xtr groupo M900 !!

Keith - 09/04/14 - 10:27am

So then, is it possible to take the MTB derailleur and put it on a Road Bike Di2 system? Am thinking of going up to a 36T at the back! Big long hills where I am circa 8%+.

Thanks

JMH - 09/05/14 - 10:38am

@Travis – Actually it’s the 2015 Oiz as stated. There is a review posted elsewhere on the site.

BW - 09/06/14 - 2:10am

I was hoping that Shimano would come out with an 11-44 cassette. It would give the same range as a 10-42, but with out the need for a special hub. Just a larger chainring up front for a 1x setup than a SRAM, but simpler. I’m sure it’s harder to get the shifting crisp, but you’d think Shimano could do it.

Jason Mitchell - 09/09/14 - 12:39am

I’m pretty averse to adding more battery-powered gadgetry on bikes, but that Synchronized Shifting is pretty cool. It’s almost like automatic transmission. I’m still decidedly in the mechanical camp, but kudos to Shimano there — more importantly for the road than MTB though.

Damian - 09/09/14 - 10:10pm

No one has mentioned the number of cables and routing that this will require. An already busy cockpit is made even busier now with Di2 cables zip tied onto the brake cable as well as the cable for the head unit. Add this to the fork/ rear suspension remote and for some a seat post, you have a total mess. I’ll be sticking with my SRAM 1x until they have a better option. Simple is best!

chukko - 09/12/14 - 8:09am

@Damien: Did you have any shimano cassette before using X01 to compare shifting smoothness of XTR mech on X01 vs shimano only solution?

chukko - 09/12/14 - 8:40am

Interesting – reading http://www.cxmagazine.com/shimano-xtr-m9000-11-speed-road-compatible-questions – Shimano guy says new M9000 XTR is not compatible with Ultegra due to different cable pull.
That means either it is BS to prevent people from trying to combine different models or he is right, which would mean X01 is compatible with Ultegra (as Damian confirmed) but not with M9000 XTR.
This would rather picture X01 matching road derailleurs and M9000 being a lone animal…

chukko - 09/12/14 - 8:44am

Damn – scrap that – they are talking about combining shifters with derailleur, not derailleur with cassetess.

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