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2011 XTR Sneak Peak

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |July 14, 2010 7:33 PM
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Written by: Evan Plews

During the BC Bike Race, many of us had a chance to check out the new Shimano XTR 980 group for the first time. Some sponsored riders like Geoff Kabush and Melanie McQuaid even had the opportunity to race most of the week on the new parts. I was fortunate to be able to take some short rides on bikes equipped with the group and even interview Paul Thomasberg from Shimano regarding the latest edition of XTR.

Thomasberg is a long-time Oregon resident and was schooling the race scene when I began riding in the early nineties. By then, Paul had already been developing the first ever XTR group as part of Shimano's Skunkworks, and was well on his way to being inducted into the MTB Hall of Fame in 2004. Like many other riders of the old-school, Thomasberg competed in all disciplines of mountain bike racing even finishing on the podium at the 1990 World Downhill Championships and at the NORBA Nationals. He helped found Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) and is likely quite responsible for turning the Bend area into the MTB mecca it has become.
While the new XTR is similar in function to the 970 vintage it replaces, it has gained more refinement and polish--literally. It could be the most cosmetically appealing XTR since 900 as it returns to its roots of forged and finished aluminum. Innovation definitely goes more than skin-deep with major changes throughout the group. The two most prominent being more a general philosophy: Dyna-Sys and Rider-Tuned. While the parts themselves all see some modification, the 10 speed drive train and brakes seem the most obvious.
Dyna-Sys is what Shimano hopes to be the next big revolution in shifting for mountain bikes. I can remember the original SIS groups and wonder if there may be more than just a literal corollary! Dyna-Sys includes a 10 speed cog set that offers a wide range of gears in the back mated to a close ratio front crank set. As Shimano has continued to develop technologies to improve shifting, this next step includes an asymmetric chain which even further integrates the shifting both front and rear mechanisms. While racers will be offered double front crank sets, most riders will find the triple ring options more seamless and functional in gear selection.
Rider-Tuned is the mantra behind the new XTR--it allows different types of riders to select different options with XTR. This is most evidenced in the double/triple cranks and the brakes where the "Trail" version features Servo-Wave technology for more power and modulation at the same weight as 970. For the racer crowd, the standard brake weighs a couple ounces less and is still packed with tremendous performance. After riding them, I have to say it has the most incredible feel of anything currently on the market! Changes don't stop there as the pistons are now ceramic and the rotors are a combination of steel and aluminum to keep the performance high even when the heat is on.
The wheels and pedals will also have "Trail" options with wider rims and larger platforms being the notable difference. Speaking of pedals, the race version of the 980 pedal is also refined with a considerably lower stack height, larger platform, and even more mud clearance. This is great since it also seems to retain the bomb-proof internals that have made Shimano SPD pedals the industry standard since the beginning.
Other small but important changes include the return of a clamp-on left crank arm eliminating the need for special tools required for the 970.The left shifter now has a switch for double or triple crank sets, and front derailleurs also come specific to both applications. Unfortunately for some, two technologies will be discontinued with the latest revision: Dual Control levers and Rapid Rise or low-normal rear derailleurs. While Shimano will still support those innovations, the market hasn't embraced them despite the obvious performance advantages. Instead XTR derailleurs will adopt the Shadow geometry for improvements in rigidity, weight savings, and durability.
It seems that Shimano has set another standard with the new XTR 980 group. While it remains to be seen if it will have the same impact of earlier versions despite the more competitive component market this time around, my first impressions were favorable.  If all the victories at BC Bike Race are any indication, then the new XTR will continue to set the standard for MTB race performance! 

To read more of Evan's work and follow his adventures as a mountain bike racer visit
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