Words by: Liam Woods
Shimano has been making bicycle drivetrains much longer than I have been alive and they have gotten really dang good at it over the last four decades. Shimano now makes lots of mountain bike drivetrains, but today we are going to be looking at their top four levels. Starting with the highest end offerings and moving down we have Shimano XTR, Shimano XT, Shimano SLX, and Shimano Deore. All of these models are going to be 12 speed and can have up to a 10-51t rear cassette range.
The most recently released is the Shimano Deore, just coming out a few months ago. Deore comes in at a killer price for a 12 speed drivetrain that can be found on an entry level mountain bike up to a professional’s rig. This is the beauty of when companies make nice parts at an affordable price. All of these Shimano models are going to shift great and have that precise feeling you expect from a brand new drivetrain, but there are some differences between each level, especially price, ranging from $296 for Deore up to $1,350 for XTR. So what do you get for an extra $1000 in price?
As with pretty much all bike parts, the more money you spend typically the lighter the parts get, with the exception of some parts getting stronger. But in the drivetrain market, it's pretty much always more money for less weight. This is very apparent in the Shimano lineup, as with Shimano XTR you're as light as 1,557g for the complete five piece group, compared to Shimano Deore, which puts you at 2,108g for the complete five piece group. For you Americans that are not familiar with grams, that is a 1.25lb. difference between the two. Quite a bit of weight for parts that will be constantly moving on your bike. You also tend to get nicer parts when jumping up in levels. The nicer materials seem to strike the balance of stronger yet lighter, so even though you save lots of weight, they also become more durable which is pretty impressive for any brand to do on most equipment.
You also get more features when you go up in price. For Shimano, there aren't many but the few you do get are pretty worth the upgrade costs. With the two levels of XTR and XT you get some features on both the shifter and rear derailleur that you do not see on the lower two levels of SLX and Deore. To start, the shifter gets a two gear up shift on the XT and XTR models, whereas the SLX and Deore just have a single up shift. While that may not seem like a big deal, once you get used to that double up shift, it's actually a really nice feature, possibly making it worth upgrading the shifter to at least XT. The other really cool feature you find on the top two tiers of Shimano drivetrains is you get an adjustable clutch on your rear derailleur. While all levels do have this, the XTR and XT have an easy access window covered by a rubber plug that you can easily use to tighten or loosen up the clutch. This can be especially useful if you are traveling and get to a bike park and your chain is rattling all about with the foot-deep braking bumps. SLX and Deore also have this feature but it's covered and you have to remove the plastic clutch cover in order to make the adjustment. It’s not the end of the world having to take the extra step, but worth noting the differences. If having the easy access adjustable clutch is a top feature for you, then the XT and XTR rear derailleurs would be the choice.
Another thing to mention is that all of these Shimano drivetrains need to use the specific Microspline freehub body to run any of these 12 speed Shimano cassettes. This not only needs to be the correct Microspline cassette but also needs to be the correct one for your hub. This can be quite confusing so do your research and if you have any compatibility questions, please contact our customer support team via email or phone. They will have the knowledge to figure out your exact situation.
As mentioned earlier, all four of these Shimano drivetrains have amazing performance, especially when compared to drivetrains just 10 years ago. The new technology that has been put into these parts is all new and improved. Anyone can hop on the Deore level drivetrain, technically the lowest level we are comparing today, and have a great ride without any performance loss and be able to enjoy the ride. I always say that parts that disappear under you are the best type, as you know they will work and you no longer have to think but can focus on the trail ahead.
Shimano Deore is going to be the entry level into the 12 speed market if you want to run Shimano drivetrains. I mentioned it before and I'll mention again, the Deore level groupset from Shimano is a killer value for what you get. At just $296 for the entire five piece set that includes shifter, rear derailleur, cassette, chain, and crankset, it's hard to beat the price and quality that you get.
Shimano SLX is also a killer value and sees a bit of weight savings over the cheaper Deore groupset. Much of the weight is in the rear cassette that gets an alloy cog and carrier compared to the steel Deore option. Looks get a bit cleaner and materials also get a slight improvement. If XT is out of your budget but you can afford more than Deore, SLX fits right in there as an amazing option.
Shimano XT is often considered the standard in mountain bike drivetrain options. From price, to weight, to durability and performance, it all seems to strike a perfect balance and many riders out there are die hard fans and will run nothing else. You save some weight over the SLX groupset, as well as get a few more features like the two up shift on the shifter and the adjustable clutch on the rear derailleur.
Shimano XTR is the top of the line option, not only saving the most weight, but in many opinions, looking the best as well. No detail is spared with Shimano XTR. It’s quite a bit lighter than the other levels, but it comes with a pretty steep price jump as well. If you are looking to have the lightest Shimano setup and price isn't an issue, XTR is the way to go. If you are looking to save some weight and money, I would suggest getting the XTR cassette and crankset, as these two parts save the most weight, while running the other parts as Shimano XT.
Shimano is the longest running manufacturer of mountain bike drivetrains, and they have the parts to prove just how much experience they have. With four 12 speed models now, there is a level to get almost every rider on a Shimano drivetrain, so which model is best for you? There is no doubt the weight savings and the amazing looks of XTR draw all the eyeballs, and XT is often said to be the standard. But I think now that there are some lower priced options from Shimano that offer the same great performance with just a weight penalty, the mix and match option could fit more riders' budgets now. Are looks and weight important to you? Or do you want some solid components at a wallet friendly price? Both are now possible with Shimano’s 12 speed options.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.
If you're one strange human and would like to read the transcript of the video above, continue reading below!
Ladies and gentlemen, Shimano recently released the Deore 12-speed mountain bike drivetrain so now they have four high-end 12-speed mountain bike drivetrains and today we are going to go in depth in what is the actual difference between all of them. So probably most of you already know that Deore is the least expensive and xtr is the most expensive but what do you get for your money when you go from one to the next drivetrain we're gonna dive into every little aspect of that right now.
As many of you know the mountain bike industry is pretty consistent with the fact that the more money you spend the lighter weight things get and the more feature rich things get and that is the name of the game with drivetrains and basically anything else in the mountain bike world and it's really kind of the same thing here. So to gloss over real quick you have Deore at 295 bucks for a five piece groupo 388 for slx 603 for xt and 1350 for xtr very very significant differences in the price points of these group sets so what really is the difference between them? Kind of what this boils down to well before we get into the nitty-gritty let's get down to the nitty-gritty these things all shift absolutely incredible so shimano and sram have been making drivetrains for a couple decades or way more now and they shift amazing they work amazing they're the two best brands and it's super high quality so there really is in my opinion no performance no noticeable performance difference between any of these and neither is there with sram drivetrain so the entry level stuff is going to shift crisp and snappy and really well as long as it's adjusted and assembled correctly just like the really high-end stuff you might notice something that's a little bit less tangible and that's kind of the feel right so there is going to be materials differences and that kind of boils down into the weight differences as well those material differences which are just higher quality materials tighter tolerances tighter those are going to make the things just shift and feel snappier and just more expensive you can kind of tell that so that's just if you were to do a blindfold test aside from the noticeable different features on some of them which are nothing huge but there are some differences and features we'll get into the actual just feel the the way that thing shifts the the flex in the shifter lever the way you hear the chain move from the cassette cog to the next one there's a little bit difference there that you can kind of just tell as more quality and lighter weight on the really high-end stuff versus the slightly less expensive stuff and that's kind of the name of the game with this stuff so to dial a little bit more into what is the differences between these things other than uh features and weight right off the bat a couple like really noticeable things with shimano drivetrains that to me is like oh wow this is pretty significant is the actual shifter functionality the Deore and the slx the downshift so to get to a harder gear you when you're using the thumb lever you only get one shift at a time so that's a single click on the downshift whereas the xt and the xtr this is actually a really nice feature when you push the thumb actuated lever you get two clicks that is seemingly might be like oh who cares but it's pretty nice it's actually you know when you're pedaling up a hill and then all of a sudden it just pitches down really quick to just knock that chain down further down the cassette as quick as you can being able to do that like double down shift is is pretty awesome and a really nice feature and that's only available on xt and xtr but not on Deore and slx so that is one of the key features that is different and and noticeable right away. When you were to ride these things the other a little bit more noticeable one is the adjustability of the derailleur so all of these derailleurs the way shimano's work you can turn on or off your derailleur clutch right so that derailleur clutch is what makes it nice and frictiony when the derailleur cage is moving like this that keeps your chain from falling off etc when you take your wheel off you don't want it like that because it's hard to get your wheel off so you flick this lever right here boom now it's nice and smooth and you can get your wheel on and off so that's what that lever is there for it that lever is apparent on all of these derailleurs one of the differences though the Deore and slx do not have the ability to adjust the friction of that clutch um without taking off this entire cap so in case you were wondering this since this is a pretty new drivetrain the Deore drivetrain we did test check all this if you pull this cap off you can still adjust which is really cool features from derailleurs you can adjust the tension of that clutch with a two millimeter allen but in order to do that you have to take off this whole lid which is three two millimeter allen bolts to just open this thing up and adjust that and that's the same way it is on slx as well. Once you step up price point wise to xt and xtr you don't need to take off that whole lid you've got a little dust cover cap that you pull off right here and there's a two millimeter allen head in there that you can just adjust right there pretty much on the fly right it's a lot easier to do it because you just pull off this cap and boom you can adjust the tension of that clutch why you would ever want to do that well those clutches do it's a friction component right so over time it does wear out and you want to tighten it up a little bit as the derailleur ages but some people just have a preference right it will shift a bit smoother with the clutch having less friction but it will make less noise and have more likelihood of the chain actually staying on with the clutch being tighter and there being more friction so it is a little bit personal preference right if you're riding cross-country trails that are not very rough you might want to loosen that clutch a bit so it shifts really smooth and buttery and feels really nice that way and doesn't wear out as quickly if you're riding more chunky sort of burlier stuff you might want to adjust that clutch to be nice and tight so that way it makes less noise and you have less likelihood of that chain falling off or the or the you know the thing goes shifting when you're in really really rough terrain and the trailer is slapping all around slap the base big time so those are you know between the double downshift on the shifters on these guys xt and xtr and the adjustable clutches the derailleur clutches not having to take off the whole lid those are kind of the two major feature differences between the d1 slx versus the xt and xdr last one xtr only this uses a different system to actually get your bottom bracket the correct bearing tension so this has a built-in expansion ring on here which is really nice and it doesn't use pinch bolts good very sleek design also saves weight again weight is obviously getting lower as we go across the board we'll get more to waste in a little bit but this this design is much more mechanic friendly and nicer to work on and just a more high quality futuristic design whereas currently on the xt and below you've got more of the traditional it's got a dual 5 mil pinch bolt design with a little plastic thing that locks over it and this is kind of how shimano cranks have been for quite some years now it's not as light it's not as mechanic friendly it's not as quick it's equally just as adjustable once you get it all you know dialed in it's kind of the same but weight wise mechanic friendliness and looks these are a little bit lesser on this end and the highest end stuff xtr you do get that feature so now let's dive in a little bit to the weights now that we've kind of covered the feature differences
So let's talk about weight and weight mixed in with price point we weighed all of these components individually on our own scale so they are our actual recorded weights and we have photos of that so we didn't mess it up shimano is very very complicated in their model names their part numbers and weird things like oem only products or releasing certain stuff in north america and not europe or vice versa so if anything seems very strange it could be something like that or maybe we just messed something up but we've done our best to really make sure we get actual weights of all of these new modern 12-speed shimano group sets. By the way i didn't mention earlier the all of these things use a 10 to 51 cassette every one of these drivetrains and it all uses now the shimano proprietary micro spline freehub body so keep that in mind for any of these new generation shimano 12 speed groupsets. So let's talk about weight Deore 12 speed group set versus the slx so there is a 229 gram weight difference and you're getting 229 grams for basically 93 bucks difference um moving over slx to xt it's only a 75 gram weight difference for a 215 dollar price jump but remember slx to xt does have a couple features that are important to remember there one is that double down shift on the shifter and the other one is that ability to adjust the clutch on the derailleur without having to take the whole lid off so pretty significant change there. Xt to xtr is where things get a little bit more interesting 247 gram weight difference pretty significant remember a pound for those americans is 454 grams so pretty significant weight difference between xt and xtr however the price jump is 747 bucks so quite a big difference and really the only feature that you're getting is a holopin chain and uh the basically the bottom bracket preload on the crank. Those are the features keep in mind of course the materials are different and and that's what is making that weight difference 247 grams so materials are different it is much lighter but noticeable features it's really pretty minimal right so that gives you a little bit more understanding there if you want to see this chart and sort of an even more extensive breakdown check the link below in the video description to our blog article on this where we're going to break this down a lot more and have a lot more images on every single one of these individual components sitting on our own scale and the whole chart and everything like that for you guys to view if you want to get even more into the nitty-gritty between the differences of these drivetrains so it's it's pretty interesting what's going on here. Another thing that i should note and mention um that a lot of people probably talk about and i glossed over this earlier but the feel of these drive trains right a lot of what you feel in a drive train are kind of the actual tactile feel of that shifter when you shift what it feels like when the chain hops over from one cassette cog to the next those are things you're gonna feel the other things you're gonna feel are the flex in the cranks right how flexy are the cranks every crank has some amount of flex to it shimano for some reason i'm not 100 positive why has totally steered away from carbon in their cranks i think forever i don't think they've ever made a carbon crank maybe ages ago but none of these are carbon whereas every other drivetrain brand and other component brand is making carbon cranks shimano they're not a fan of carbon they're just sticking with alloy cranks but they obviously the cranksets do get considerably lighter right so let's take a look at you have a Deore crankset with a 32 tooth chainring 780 grams slx at 624 xt our weight was actually 10 grams more for the xt go figure xtr 541 grams so that's a super light um super light crank is it stiffer i think it's supposed to be stiffer. The reason i'm not going to tell you it's stiffer is because i've never scientifically put these things on a scale to actually test the you know the torsional flex of the things and i can't confidently tell you that i would notice a difference if i was blindfolded between a Deore crank and an slx crank or an xtr crank is there a difference if you put them on a machine maybe there is, there's obviously a weight difference but is it actually stiffer and lighter i don't know i can't confidently tell you the answer to that. I think you know that's kind of the claimed theory out there is that the cranks get lighter and stiffer as they get more expensive in the shimano realm and just kind of in cranks in general but once again i'm not gonna lie to you guys and say that there's a huge noticeable difference in the actual feeling of the cranks between these things. Obviously if you pick these things up in your hand you're like oh holy crap this one's a lot lighter than the other but there you go that's it with cranks i mean other than that this chart that you guys are looking at right now that gives you the broken down weights of every single component and the individual price of every single component should be sort of a guiding light where it would help you sort of come to your own conclusion. How much are you willing to pay for those features that i mentioned how much are you willing to pay for the weight savings that you get as you sort of go from Deore all the way up to xtr it's a personal preference and how much do you just kind of like the beautiful looks of xtr so obviously you know that is another aesthetic part of this whole equation is the less expensive stuff does it look as fancy as the xtr i don't think so i think the xtr looks fancier not to say Deore looks bad or any of these group sets look bad the duo actually has a really cool it's kind of like an oil slick but it's basically the way that they laser etch the logos on there and you kind of flash it around in the light you can kind of get some green and purple on the logos it looks really nice it doesn't look as fancy as xtr for sure that this looks like straight up bike blink jewelry but you know to each their own on that sort of thing so hopefully that gives you guys a bit of a difference sorry not a bit of a difference a bit of an idea between the difference of all of these four group sets the end of the day they're pretty similar right so the price point is significantly different so you have a 1054 difference in price from a five piece Deore groupo to an xtr five piece groupo that's a huge price jump and yeah there's there's a weight difference there is some feature difference but at the end of the day Deore shifts amazing and it works great and it's a really high quality drivetrain and you know as you go up the ladder i wouldn't say there's like diminishing returns but between xt and xtr major difference i don't know a little bit in weight for sure a little bit in prestige factor for sure um all these things are great and there's there's definitely sort of minimal differences between all of them but all of them at this point you know mountain bike drive trains have evolved a long way shimano's been making them i think longer than anyone and they work really well so hopefully this video gave you guys a little bit of a you know more context on sort of what the difference is between all these things i'm stoked that we were able to compare these and that shimano finally stepped up and now has the Deore 12 speed because it's taken a long enough for them to come out with a good 12 speed and sort of that 300 sub 300 price point for a five speed five piece grupo but uh yeah there it is if you guys want to subscribe to this channel i'd really appreciate it we produce a lot more cool mountain bike content like this and uh that's all i got for you today see you next time.