During the Shimano Deore XT and SLX launch in 2019, we were told that Shimano were reducing the amount of mountain bike wheel sets they would produce with the 12-speed group sets. Shimano did state they would still make a couple of wheel sets where they thought they would offer something unique.

The Shimano WH-M8120 (let's call them XT Trail wheels) are just that - a rugged mountain bike wheel set that is a bit unique. The hubs use Shimano's new Deore XT hubs, 28 butted J-bend spokes per wheel, alloy nipples, and an asymmetric rim with a 30mm inner width. The rims come nicely taped and with valves fitted.

What makes them unique is how serviceable they are, just about wherever your bike takes you. Each spoke is the same length, thanks to the difference in flange heights and the asymmetric rim profile. So the chances of getting a spare spoke around the world is just about guaranteed. And if you want to take some with you on a road trip, you only need to take one length.

The hubs use cup and cone bearings. While some people avoid Shimano hubs for this reason, the benefits are pretty huge. You can service bearings more easily (compared to just replacing them) and with a couple of cone spanners, your hubs can be rebuilt almost anywhere. There's no need for a bearing press, bearing puller or drift, and the right size cartridge bearings.

The welded alloy rim is under 20mm high, meaning it's not super harsh. But with a 30mm inner width the Shimano XT Trail wheels are designed to work with anything from 2.25" through to 2.5". 2.6" is probably fine as well. If you need a narrower tyre you probably bought the wrong wheels.

What's handy is the rim uses a normal process for putting the nipples in. While a solid inner wall is awesome for being airtight, it makes building the wheel or replacing spokes a nightmare! These Shimano wheels don't have that. 

The details

These alloy wheels are availble in 27.5" and 29", and only have a Micro Spline freehub option. They use centrelock attachments for rotors, and Boost spacing for 110x15mm front and 148x12mm rear.

Shimano's latest freehub tech runs pretty quietly, and these hubs have a 9 degree engagement as well, so even though they spin very freely, they let you get back on the gas very quickly as well. This is a bonus for technical climbs, accelerating out of corners, and even chain retention as the cassette doesn't rattle around so much.

What the XT Trail wheels aren't designed to be is super light, the rear does come in at 1101g (confirmed) on our scales, while the front is 950g. They are designed to be a dependable trail and all-mountain wheel, and you might have even seen that riders like Paul van der Ploeg used a set of these wheels at Trans NZ this year.

If you're after something really light, you would still be best served to buy an XTR or Deore XT hub set and having your local builder lace them to a light rim of your choice. Where these fit is the reliable end of the market with a whole lot of performance - especially when you consider the set sells for $599.

The XT branding is really subtle.

With some fresh rubber on the way we'll move these wheels into a long term test. The stats all add up really well for the XT Trail wheels, with the right mix of hub performance and reliability, rim width and shape, ease of tubeless setup and spare parts availability. These should be a set of wheels to last quite some time.

RRP: $599

From: Shimano Australia.