On the trails on Shimano 12-speed Deore XT

It's quite a treat to have a high end bike built up for you to test a group set. Shimano built a Santa Cruz Hightower with a full Deore XT group set to ride for a couple of days in and around Bellingham, Washington state in the USA.

With only about a dozen hours riding XTR 12-speed, riding the new XT on a new bike actually was a great way to get more time on some of the tech that carries across most of the 12-speed group sets.

There are four things that really stand out.

1. The speed and accuracy of shifting

This is for upshifts and downshifts, and also the consistency of the shifting load felt at the shifter lever. The effort at the lever remains the same, even under load and no matter where you are on the cassette. I also had zero ghost shifting issues thanks to greater chain stability with the updated chain ring teeth and chain. What's more, it was silent, even when pointing up at over 20 percent, or down over roots and into steep chutes. 

2. Predictable and consistent braking

With a combination of rotors that deal with heat better, and a 4-pot design and updates to modulation, I never felt lacking with the brakes. The new levers are super stiff, and all in all it was a really confidence inspiring package - whether you wanted to feather the brakes or jam them on.

3. Excellent climbing and ratcheting

The rear hub system is new, and it involves two drive plates being pushed together via a spring. It engages faster than any other Shimano hub I have ridden on, and they spin for days!

Faster engagement means a small pedal dab has more effect, and applying extra torque on low cadence tech climbs feels more precise, especially when traction over wet roots and rocks is a concern.

The hub buzzes nicely at low speeds but at higher speeds it runs almost silenty, which is a nice feature. So far they are the best Shimano MTB hubs I have ridden.

4. Dialled ergonomics

From the integrated iSpec EV dropper lever, to the myriad of options for getting the shifter in the right place, everything just fell to hand. This was a really easy group set to get along with, and so many of the updates are most noticeable when you go back to a different bike.

Overall, I think Shimano have nailled these two group sets. 

It's clear that Shimano came to the 12-speed game a little late. They always had the range, albeit with 2x group sets. But given the limited time I have had on the Deore XT and XTR parts, and some carpark shifts on SLX, it's clear that Shimano have brought a superior 12-speed gear range to the mountain bike realm, with the solid build and engineering that they have been known for for decades.

We'll have a further look at the ins and outs of the 12-speed group set parts and how they work on the trial in our next issue, along with a look at the trails in Bellingham where we test rode the Deore XT gear. If you never want to miss an issue, make sure you subscribe.