Shimanos premier groupset, XTR, received the 10-speed DynaSys upgrade about 3 seasons ago in response to the launch of the 2×10 XX groupset from SRAM. Since then, many a high-end bike has been adorned with the shiny chrome finish of the M980 component line, in particular the Ice Tech brakes, which have been well-received all round due to their impressive power and classic Shimano reliability. A year after it’s release, the M980 series received the addition of the Shadow Plus clutch rear derailleur, highlighting the versatility and adaptability of the XTR component line. For 2014, we see the same double and triple crankset options, the same Titanium-enhanced wide ratio cassettes and the punchy trigger shifters carried over. However, there are some new revisions to a couple of key components that see continuous improvement to Shimanos top-tier groupset. Read on!
BL-M987

The hydraulic disc brakes receive an update over the previous ‘Race’ model, and are now called the BL-M987 (lever) and the BR-M987 (caliper). Thanks to the use of Magnesium and a carbon fiber lever, Shimano have dropped 40 grams off the M985 version. New improved sealing and a refined piston has allowed Shimanos engineers to rework the lever feel for improved modulation. The idea was to create a World Cup level XC race brake that is suited to those kind of conditions, and of course, be lightweight.

BR-M987

The caliper at the other end receives a new casting that although aesthetically a little bulkier with its 2-piece construction, is actually lighter. Many of the same features carry over however, like the one way bleeding caliper with the funnel-bleeding system and the Ice-Tech brake pads. The current XTR brakes are highly regarded, so we will be very interested to see how the new brakes feel in comparison.

BR-M987_with_SM-RT99

Without doubt the ‘coolest’ (see what we did there!) part of the new XTR line is the addition of the “Freeza” brake rotors that build on the existing Ice Tech construction of the current models. The ‘Freeza’ rotors were first debuted on least years Saint DH groupset, and simply extend the internal alloy part of the rotor inside the braking track to create a solid fin for the rotor. This essentially takes the design of the finned brake pads, and applies it to the rotors in order to better dissipate heat generated from braking, so it doesn’t heat up the mineral oil and create brake fade. The Stainless Steel braking surface remains so power and modulation are unaffected, but according to Shimano, they’ve managed to drop another 40-degrees C out of the operating temperature over the already cool RT98 rotors.

CN-M981_UP

Whilst not as sexy as the new brakes, other parts of the Shimano XTR groupset have received weight reductions, including the 10-speed chain. The CN-M981 chain (along with the other DynaSys 10-speed chains) also has a new surface treatment to reduce noise and friction for better shifting. We don’t have much information on the new “Sil-Tec” treatment, but if it improves on Shimanos shifting, we can only assume drivetrain performance will be slicker and quieter.
Even the XTR bottom bracket has gone on a diet (not pictured), with losses of around 10-20% along with improved bearing sealing and reduced friction performance. Good to see that Shimano are sweating the finer details on components that might not be as glamorous as others.

WH-M980-R12-29

One of the biggest pieces of news with the new XTR additions is the development of a carbon fiber 29er wheel. Yup, you read correctly – Shimano is embracing carbon fiber rims! And not just any rims, these bad boys are Tubular wheels. And while we can hear a collective sigh amongst all of you, we can assume that Shimano would not have produced these new hoops were there not enough demand. XTR is always about racing at the very top level, and many of those at the pointy end of the field are employing tubular wheels and tyres for lighter weight and lower rolling resistance. Will we see a wider embracing of Tubular technology for the average mountain biker? Probably not, but what’s promising is that we can almost guarantee you’ll see a clincher version of these wheels soon…

WH-M980-F15-29

Built upon an offset 280 gram carbon rim, the new 29er XTR wheels features 28 straight-pull spokes front & rear, fast 36pt engagement courtesy of their Titanium freehub body, and dedicated thru-axle hubs (142x12mm rear, QR15 front). Shimanos classic cub ‘n’ cone bearing system remains, complete with Labyrinth sealing and adjustable angular contact bearings that handle side loads better than a radial cartridge bearing. The new wheels have us smacking our lips at the possibility of a UST Tubeless version with the same specs.

In addition to the XTR upgrades, Shimano have also launched new 650B/27.5″ versions of the Deore XT and MT15 wheelsets – a huge move for the Japanese brand given that they’re traditionally a conservative brand when it comes to new standards. We see those wheels being hugely popular at an OEM level for bike brands who have had limited choice with big-name component companies up until now.

Stay tuned for more information as it comes…