mmm... SLXy.

While it goes without saying that Shimano’s top-end XTR group is a virtually flawless performer, most of us ride in a reality populated with components a step or two down the company’s component ladder.  And you know what?  It usually works really, really well.

With a new SLX third-tier (after XTR and XT) group arriving for 2013 (the disc brakes were new in ’12), Shimano sent out a kit to test.  Notable are the slap-reducing Shadow+ rear derailleur, wide-range double crankset, a more positive shift action, and a value-priced version of Shimano’s excellent disc brakes.  Now that we’ve had a chance to fondle, weigh, and install the kit, here are some photos and initial impressions…

Borrowing heavily from 2011’s XTR brakes, the 2012 Shimano SLX brakeset is a compact mineral oil system.  The one-finger levers (here slammed against the grip for middle finger braking) feature the tool-free reach adjust of XT and XTR trail brakes- but go without the free stroke reach adjust.  The calipers are a 2-piece design and feature Shimano’s heat-dissipating finned pads.  $125 per wheel plus $40-60 for rotors and adapters.  While firm, the lever provides plenty of feedback and a surprising amount of power.  These are some brakes to watch.

The adjustable banjo is a nice touch and the only obvious cost-saving measure is the awkward cotter pin (rather than bolt) retaining the pads.
Brake bleeding is easy and the lever feel is firm but excellent. Forgoing Centerlock rotors means going without Shimano's multi-layer IceTech technology- but the 6-bolt rotors are awfully good looking.
Shadow+ for the masses

Improving chain retention and reducing chain noise are both very good things.  The second-generation Shadow+ mechanism in the current SLX group (a non-Plus version is also available) claims to be simpler and more durable than first-gen XTR models.  On Direct Mount compatible frames, the uppermost link can be removed and the derailleur more solidly mounted to its hanger.  We haven’t seen many Direct Mount frames yet- but the idea does have merit and it’s good to see the mountain world making at least half-steps away from outdated road standards.

Seeing as rear derailleurs could be considered consumables for many riders, we wouldn’t be surprised to see relatively inexpensive ($100 vs. $140 for XT) SLX models paired with XT and XTR shifters out on the trail.  The only obvious cost savings here come from the stamped steel cable fixing arm.  Interestingly, it’s tucked out of sight in all of Shimano’s studio pics. Whatever it takes to keep prices down on the bike’s single most vulnerable component…

Don't look too closely at the stamped steel cable fixing arm.
38-24 double crankset with dedicated spider. Maverick ownership means finagling non-standard road derailleurs.

Weighing in four grams lighter than the XT 38-26 double, the 743/88g SLX crank/BB set looks like a steal.  The forged aluminum arms are unlikely to give anyone but the heaviest downhillers trouble and while the stamped steel big ring isn’t as pretty as others’ CNC’d aluminum chainrings, it undoubtedly shifts better than 90% of them. The dedicated double spider doesn’t allow for a third position, though- anyone looking to run a double with bashguard will want to start with the triple.

Along with the 42-32-24 triple (with Shimano’s composite/steel middle ring), 40-28 and 38-28 doubles will appeal to riders in flatter areas.  29er and big-mountain rider favorite 36-24 combination is surprisingly absent.  MSRP is a reasonable $260 for the set (including bottom bracket).

Hooray for aluminum carriers!

What’s this?  An alloy carrier for the CH-HG81-10 cassette’s four largest cogs makes it every bit as attractive as XT models- and keeps weight to a reasonable 367g.  Expect to see a lot of these $85 sets spec’d on complete bikes going forward.  A nice touch, even if it’s tucked away and out of sight.

Extra clicky!

Of course, the SLX drivetrain won’t do much without shifters directing the action.  Shimano’s excellent ergonomics have been tweaked slightly and the shift paddles given more distinct ‘clicks.’  An Ispec version is available to cleanly mate with Shimano brake levers- our independent mount versions have Shimano’s removable gear indicators.  At 295g with cables, these are nipping at the big brother XT’s 278g heels.  The included pre-lubricated cables and housing are always welcome.  Functionally, the main difference is the lack of a 2-click cable release (XT and XTR can release two at a time).  Not a bad compromise for nearly 1/3 less dough ($110 vs $160).

With the group mounted on a trusty Maverick Durance, it’s time to hit the trail.  Initial impressions suggest that SLX gives up very little to higher-end other than polish and a bit of weight.  How it performs over time will be the true test.  Stay tuned for more…




  1. “Forgoing Centerlock rotors means going without Shimano’s multi-layer IceTech technology- but the 6-bolt rotors are awfully good looking.”

    Just a point of clarification – six-bolt IceTech rotors are available, just not at the SLX level (yet). Presumably they will roll down the line, or one can simply spring for six-bolt XT or XTR rotors, neither of which are terribly expensive.

  2. I never comment on these articles, I am more of a lurker, but I feel compelled in this instance to say something. I have owned the new generation of both XT and SLX disc brakes. On my previous bike, I had installed the new generation of XT brakes with a standard disc rotor (read: non-Ice-Tech). The brakes worked pretty well.

    I eventually sold the bike equipped with the XT brakes and bought a bike equipped with the 2013 SLX disc brakes (with Ice-Tech rotors). While I didn’t believe that there would be much difference, the difference between Ice-Tech rotors and non-Ice-Tech rotors on essentially the same caliper was huge. The stopping power was infinitely better and the feedback was much more responsive.

    Therefore, if you are going to buy a set of the new generation of XTR/XT/SLX brakes, do yourself a favor and also buy the Ice-Tech rotors that were designed to go along with the calipers. You will not regret it.

    As somebody mentioned in a previous comment, the Ice-Tech rotors are available in both center-lock and a 6-bolt configurations.

  3. @ Buriendinpine

    I believe you when you say that there’s a huge difference, but I’m questioning if it is the ice-tech feature, or the fact that they were new / clean pads or new / clean rotors, or…..?

    The reason I say this is because it seems like the main difference between ice-tech and non is the heat dissipation. Which would only come into play on long sustained downhills, no?
    Or does the rotor / pad really heat THAT fast under any braking conditions that it is actually noticeable?

    In light of that, I wonder what they would do in my case – I’m running Avid Juicy Ultimates on the non Ice-Tech XT centerlock rotors…..


  4. @Visser

    In both instances, I was running brand new pads on brand new rotors. At least one other person that I know of switched from running a standard rotor to an Ice-Tech rotor and experienced the same results.

    As for your setup, I could not speak to the efficacy of switching rotors on an Avid caliper.

  5. i love the direction that the slx and zee lines are heading! you gain a few grams from xt/saint but still get the same level of performance and you save a bunchhhhh of cash.

  6. I have been running 2012 SLX brakes for the past 8 months on one bike and 2013 XT brakes on another bike for the past month, both with Ice-Tech rotors.

    I cannot tell a bit of difference in the power or feel between the two.

  7. @Visser – One of the mechanics in our shop tried putting Ice-Tech rotors on his Elixer 5s, and the pads wouldn’t widen up enough to accommodate the slightly wider rotors, but your mileage may vary since X5-level stuff isn’t the best metric for comparison.

  8. Mindless,

    It looks like the stuff is just showing up now- I haven’t noticed anyone else who has had hands on anything but the brakes (which were new for ’12). We haven’t seen any through yet…

  9. There is no difference between standard Shimano and Ice Tech rotors under normal riding conditions. I is only when the brakes get really hot after a sustained downhill that the extra cooling of the Ice rotors comes into play. I have 3 bikes with XTR Trail brakes and have a mix of Shimano rotors on 7 sets of wheels. Same excellent braking no matter which wheels/rotors I have on.

  10. @Tim Aah: I have had bits ordered from Germany and they are on my bike. And I did read the equivalent articles last May or something. Though they did not have a derailleur, I got Zee for 1×10. Awesome.

    BTW, IceTech (6 bolt for me) is the real deal.

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