The buzz in the mountain bike world right now has to do with two things: 650b wheels and the new Sram XX1 eleven-speed drivetrain. Of course there is more but the online community is raving with reviews and opinions and the forums on our favorite bike sites are abuzz with uneducated people going back and forth about the pros and cons of the latest technology. Both of these new developments are great and the innovation is pushing the bicycle industry forward in a positive direction. And both of the developments are mostly centered on the trail bike market, which is fast becoming the most dominant genre of bicycle sold in the U.S. and abroad.
However there is an element and a certain company in the bicycle industry that hasn’t been featured in very many articles found on popular sites like Vital MTB, Cycling News, and Pinkbike. As enduro racing and five to six inch travel “pedal friendly” bikes take over the news and trails, we lose track of one of cycling’s most reputable disciplines: cross-country. And as everyone scrambles for the latest trail bike components like XX1, we can’t forget about Shimano XTR.
Okay… that was dramatic. I’m sorry. Shimano is a bike component powerhouse that isn’t going anywhere and has been innovating as much as Sram, if not more. And their high-end XTR components line has largely been centered on cross-country as much as it has been on trail in the last few years.
And I can’t leave out their Di2 and Ui2 electronic road shifting, which has revolutionized the way we look at switching gears and has begun to steer the entire industry in a new direction. But for the dirt lovers in all of us, those who kneel down to the tacky dirt gods, we aren’t highly concerned with servos making cool noises in our derailleurs, internal electric cables, satellite shifters, and lithium-ion batteries zip-tied to our frames. Not yet at least.
For 2014 Shimano has refocused on their XTR M980 cross-country series. And they have done a damn good job. The brakes are lighter, modulate better, and have increased power. The shifting is crisp and fast. And the new 29” carbon tubular wheels will have you spinning to the top of the podium and be the envy of your riding buddies.
Lets start with the brakes. According to a Shimano press release, the 2014 XTR brakes will be the lightest hydraulic brake system that Shimano has ever produced, dropping approximately 40 grams per wheel. And their championed Ice Tech rotors and brake pads have updated fins to keep your brakes up to 40 degrees cooler. When brake fluid becomes too hot the water inside the fluid can evaporate and create air bubbles, which leads to a crappy feeling brake. This dramatic cooling effect gives your brakes more power and better consistency as the brake fluid can’t heat up as quickly when under heavy use.
An updated drivetrain gets a new chain and a lighter bottom bracket by 19 grams. The new bottom bracket comes in a variety of options including thread-in and pressfit to work for any frame. Crossing over from the Dura-Ace 9000 road chain, Sil-Tec is a new low friction surface plating coating that sheds dirt and mud and retains lube over a longer period of time. This new feature is ideal for wet rides and races and makes maintenance that much easier. If you do find one of these new XTR chains in your hands, be sure that you have it properly installed by a qualified mechanic.
But enough of these silly little details that make subtle but important impacts on your riding. Lets talk big details and huge impacts. For 2014, Shimano has debuted the XTR WH-M980 carbon tubular 29” mountain bike race wheels. Tubular mountain bike wheels and tires are a touchy subject for a lot of riders. If you aren’t familiar, road riders, for their light and comfortable ride, have long championed tubular wheels and tires. Tubulars don’t have a clincher rim that grabs the bead of a tire. Instead they utilize a shallow groove and glue to hold a completely sealed tubular tire with integrated valve onto the rim. If you can picture it, visualize a tube, cut it in half and mate it with a tire. While that may seem odd, the lightweight and efficiency makes tubular worth it. And as far as changing flats… you don’t really unless you have full time professional mechanic to swap them out for you. So these new XTR wheels might not be for the weekend or after-work rider.
But racing cross-country at professional level is the name of the game with these 29er wheels. The wheels come in at a staggering low weight of 1349 grams with 15 mm front axle and a 12 mm rear axle. Your bike will pedal like it is significantly lighter weight due to the low rolling mass accomplished by the new 2014 XTR wheels.
The Jans Take
We’re super excited about the 2014 Shimano XTR components specs. Bikes and parts just keep getting better and Shimano is pushing that trend. I’m personally really excited for brakes that don’t get insanely hot and lose power. The more reliable the parts, the longer they will last. And as the bike industry continues to get more expensive, long lasting reliable parts that work exceptionally well are welcome on my frame.
– Paul Boyle, Marketing Specialist