Brendan Johnston needs little introduction. He's the rider who has won just about every marathon race or stage race in Australia, and been the national marathon champion three years straight. Johnston is also a hard working tradie, putting in big hours at work as well as on the bike. HIs work ethic is super impressive!

As I write this, Johnston is flying to South Africa for the 2019 Cape Epic, which he will be racing with long-time friend and adversary Cameron Ivory. Cam is the current National cross-country, marathon and cross-country eliminator champion.

Both riders will be riding the new Shimano XTR M9100 12-speed group set, and as we have barely seen the products, taking a look at the setup on Johnston's new Giant Anthem seemed like a good opportunity to learn more about Shimano's top group set.

"The new Shimano XTR 12-speed is great," said Johnston who praised how smooth running the group set is. "The way the chain meshes with the rear cassette and the chainring is so much smoother. It pedals far more smoothly, and it's quieter and smoother when shifting too."

The new XTR M9100 shift lever has a lighter action than M9000, and the new chain, chainring and cassette profiling help with the smooth running drivetrain.

One of the big changes of course is the extra gear. Shimano have a 10-45t 12-speed cassette, and a 10-51t 12-speed cassette.

Johnston likes the extra range, but finds the 10-45 suits him the best.

"The 10t cog with the 10-45 cassette is good. I used to ride a 36t chainring with a 11-42 cassette which was pretty good for the places we would ride and race. But with the climbs at the Cape Epic I think a 34t chainring with a 10t at the back is good enough for the flats, and the 34/45 is plenty for the climbs."

Plenty of riders would opt for the greater range of a 51, but as a bike racer Johnston feels it's not suited for him.

"I like this cassette. A 51, there would be times to use it but I think for what I do it's overkill."

Shimano have the options so riders can pick what they need. The smaller cassette is lighter, and offers greater ground clearance as well. That's something just about any mountain biker will appreciate. Shimano's ShadowPlus derailleurs already sit out of harms way, but some extra drivetrain security never goes astray.

The Shimano XTR M9100 brakes have a new bar clamp and design, and Johnston has said they feel even better than before. Shimano claim much more stiffness at the lever thanks to the new design, which braces against the bar as well as have a clamp.

The Giant Anthem is a new colour for Johnston, but otherwise is the same as what he rode in 2018. But there are more changes.

"I've got some custom wheels built up and I've moved onto the PRO Stealth saddle too this year."

"I'm on a super wide rim, as it sets the Mitas tyres up with a bit more size in the bag. I like that feel. I've got an XTR M9100 hub on the front but it's DT Swiss on the back, just due to availability." The rims have a 29mm internal width and weight about 365g each. With aero spokes and the hub mix they would weight about 1400g - a very respectable weight for a 32h wheel set on a wide rim.


With the demands of the Cape Epic and long, hot days in dusty conditions, Johnston still has a few changes to make (including cleaning his bike after The Willo.)

"I'll be throwing a rear bottle mount on the seat post, strap the spares on and I've got a Fox factory suspension upgrade coming before the race too."  

The rear shock and fork have now had a Factory upgrade with Kashima coat. Both are remote lock out from one lever.

The whole bike weighs about 10kg, and there are no silly superlight parts on it.

The Cape Epic starts this Sunday, and we can't wait to see Johnston and Ivory take the race by the horns. They're one of a number of Australian riders at the race, with some competitive teams in Masters and Grand Masters as well.