Product Review

The mountain bikers’ guide to Shimano groupsets

The groupset is the part of the bike that allows you to pedal, spin your wheels and change gears, so it’s essential to know a bit about them.  Here’s the lowdown on Shimano’s range of mountain biking groupsets.



Deore – Shimano’s entry level group set for actual mountain biking.  This groupset is currently 10 speed, with hydraulic disc brakes.  It has clean, precise and reliable shifting, with much of the trickled down technology from the more expensive groupsets, such as Shadow Plus.  This groupset will get you started, but you may need to upgrade fairly quickly, as you become more aware of the weight penalties and fade that is inherent in any lower end parts.


SLX – Having recently undergone a significant make over, SLX is now, undoubtedly, the best value for money groupset on the market.  With 1×11, hydraulic brakes with ICE technology and a sleek new look, this clean shifting groupset is bound to be one you’ll see on the trails more and more.  While it may be heavier and lacking the ultra new tech of the more expensive groupsets, if you’re restricted by budget, this groupset gives great bang for buck.


XT – Shimano’s most popular group set.  Striking a nice balance between price and spec, this is the groupset of weekend hackers and top-tier enduro racers alike.  XT has almost everything you need: Shadow Plus, a clutched derailleur, great brakes, and the crispest shifting I’ve ever ridden, all at a decent weight.  XT has the option of adding wheels to your groupset, so if you want a matching bike, they’re sure to impress.  For those with a bit of extra cash to splash, you can choose to go electronic, known as DI2 (Digital Integrated Intelligence), for that extra cool factor out on the trails.


DI2 has more tech in it than my smartphone

XTR  – There is some debate over what Shimano’s acronym stands for, but the rumour on the bike forums seems to be that the R in XTR stands for Race.  I’m yet to see official verification for this, but it would be certainly appropriate, because race, it does.  XTR is Shimano’s no holds barred, no expense spared group set.  Coming in two options, XTR Trail and XTR Race.  These groupsets are everything XT is, but at a much lighter weight.  The major difference between the Trail and Race groupsets is the Race option is even lighter than the Trail group, but you lose some customisation on your brakes for Shimano to achieve this.  For those willing to splurge for luxury, or sell their organs to improve their bike, XTR is also available in an electronic option, because nothing says, ‘my other ride is a Porsche,’ like the XTR DI2.



Zee – Shimano’s cheaper downhill groupset, but don’t be fooled, Zee is anything but low end.  Similar in build quality to SLX, the major difference for this 10 speed system is that it’s designed for the insane demands of downhill, and is able to take more of those hits that are inevitable in this sport.  Both of Shimano’s gravity groupsets use a 4-piston brake design, compared to the 2-piston style used in non-gravity groupsets, to provide the increased power required for long, technical runs.  This adds weight, but prevents brake fade.


Saint  – The XTR of downhill: what more is there to say?  Lightweight, with strong, superlative shifting, and powerful braking.  There’s a reason the groupset costs well in excess of one thousand dollars.




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