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.
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frames yet- but the idea does have merit and it’s good to see the mountain world making at least half-steps away from outdated road standards.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…
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).
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.
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…