High up in the Colorado Rockies lies Crested Butte, Colo., a beautiful location chosen by Shimano for me and a group of mountain bike journalist to test out the new Shimano XTR M9100 enduro and cross country groupset. We started out on the XC group, and began climbing out of the ski resort. We needed to shift into the larger cogs as we were climbing at 3,000 m above sea level. The truly standout feature for me of the new XTR is the ability to shift gears under pedalling load. With almost every shifting system on the market, if you dare shift gears in the middle of a hard effort, you will be met with nothing but the loud noises of grinding metal and pinging that would make any bike mechanic cringe. XTR and its new Hyperglide+ shift system, however, handle shifts under power very well. As we weaved up switchbacks, I was recklessly (on purpose) shifting gears and never missed a shift. While climbing through technical sections, I didn’t need to ramp up my cadence before shifting into an easier gear. This feature also meant that I was climbing faster and taking better lines, since I didn’t need to worry about adjusting my cadence to accommodate a shift. It was also great to shift gears while out of the saddle sprinting: in case you need that extra gear in a sprint to take the win.
Riding with the Sylence rear hub was a very interesting experience. It makes almost no noise when coasting. Gone are the days of chains slapping against frames and the loud buzzing of hubs. Shimano has eliminated all the noise thanks to the new derailleur and freehub, which gives you an increased level of connection with the bike. With no audible noise coming from the machine, you can hear your tires and gauge traction better than if you have a noisy hub screaming in your ear. The silent treatment might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly offers a new experience while quietly coasting through the trail.
After a few hours of pedalling through the Crested Butte trails, it was time to test out the enduro-focused group in the bike park and on a backcountry ride. Compared with the XC group, the big difference lies in the brakes. The XTR enduro brakes come with a four-piston caliper instead of two, and as a result, have loads of power. I was never a big fan of Shimano brake feel previously. I felt they had a little bit of an on/off feel rather than consistent modulating power. This behaviour was not there with new brakes. When you squeeze the new, larger lever blade, the power comes on smooth. It’s easy to control thanks to the increase in modulation. There is no lack of stopping power: no need to white knuckle on even the steepest trails. Also, thanks to the light action of the levers, your arms don’t feel worked over after a long descent, which I appreciated during our backcountry odyssey.
Overall, the new XTR group feels worthy of the top-end Shimano moniker. Shifting and braking are both smooth and precise. The silent freehub offers a cool experience when paired with a silent drivetrain. It will be interesting to see how the new group holds up over the long term, and being battered with mud, dust and grime for a few hundred kilometres.