Review: Shimano 1×11 M9000 Drivetrain (2015)

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Shimano jumps on the ship SRAM launched a couple of years ago and releases its 1×11 version of the top XTR groupset. It was a move to be expected, but in the same time we knew the Japanese won’t stick to just imitating, adding their own touch to it. The new thing they brought was actually the 2×11 and 3×11 drivetrains, which offer the widest array of gear ratios currently available. However, we believe more in the single chainring format, and were very curios to see it work.

We’ll focus in this review on the drivetrain itself because it’s by far the greatest novelty. Once pulled out of the box, the XTR components with their unmistakable look manage to get a good grip on your attention. They bear all the traits of exceptional products, starting from the smallest of details, to the feeling of riding on parts you can really rely on that they transmit. Actually we were quite in doubt whether to actually throw them on the muddy trails on which we usually test things, that’s how swell they looked.

Installing the components of the drivetrain is piece of cake, even more so that we used a rear Shimano XTR wheel on which the cassette fitted like expected. You should mind when mounting the chainwheel, because it has to sit at a 70-degree angle rather than a 90-degree one, which also means that you can’t use any other ring than the one coming from Shimano. Just as important, when mounting the bottom bracket you should look for the spacer that you have to remove, otherwise it will push the crankset outwards. We had to remove it ourselves since we used before a Shimano XT 3×10 drivetrain that had that spacer. Remember you’re dealing with an 1×11 drivetrain where everything is calculated with milimetric precision, so even the slightest deviation could spell disaster.

Shimano 1×11 M9000 crankset, sprockets and chain

We received a 36-tooth chainring which made things a bit complicated for us when climbing. Although the lowest sprocket has 40 teeth, when it comes to uphill, it’s not the happiest of combinations, save for the situation when your legs are strong. This may represent a drawback for those of you, that like us, are not in their finest hour of fitness, so you might want to turn to the rings that have 30, 32 or 34 teeth, much more suited for recreational riders.

The aluminum crank arms are very light: 556 grams w/o bottom bracket, a value that would make any carbon crankset envious. As for us, the glossy looks conquered us on the spot, but were also a source of great tension since it’s very easy to scratch, so you should use a protection foil if you have one. And care about the arms.

As expected, the chain sticks to the ring like glue, rendering futile any attempt of the terrain to separate them. For this feat, Shimano noticeably enlarged the teeth, eliminating even the need for a chainguide, but did not bother to give them an ellaborate and fancy shape like SRAM did. Regarding the cassette, you won’t have any options but the one with the 11-40 sprockets (11-13-15-17-19-21-24-27-31-35-40). We consider the sizing options ideal, but in the same time we think that much of this efficiency actually lies in the size of the chainring. No worries about weight, as the cassette tips the scale at 327 grams, just as much as a 10-speed Shimano XT one. Mainly built out of aluminum and titanium, the manufacturer reached this low weight also by using a carbon spider, so this is also a piece that combines the most important materials from the bike industry.

Very light as well, the chain doesn’t rewrite any standard. Weighing 269 grams, it’s narrower than a 10-speed one because it has to fit on the cassette. The links are not cut out, but the pins are hollow, and actually it’s the same chain used for the Dura-Ace 11-speed groupset.

Shimano 1×11 M9000 derailleur and shifter

We were on the point to use the word derailleur in the plural form, but remembered in the nick of time what kind of set this is. However, a single derailleur is more than enough to leave us in awe, as we soon found out. The new XTR rises even over the much-appreciated XT, basically sitting in a class of its own. Shifting runs smoothly and remind us of the Saint derailleur, a first regarding Shimano’s cross-country/all-mountain components. It also provides a sound that strikes you from the start, which turns more in to a symphony which is not interrupted by chain slaps, as they can’t appear thanks to the Shadow Plus system. And given the derailleurs sturdy construction, we don’t even care it weighs 222 grams.

If the sound of the derailleur is music for the ears, then the feel of the shifters is bliss for the hands. They require such little effort that even a 3-year old could play with them. The upper lever downshifts even over 2 sprockets if necessary, an the lower one sends the chain up over even 4 sprockets. Also a delight is the high quality carbon body of the levers, and the sturdy bearings found inside. However, replacing the cable won’t be an easy task, but on the other hand this starts to be the issue for more and more modern shifters. For a better action of the cable, it’s coated with PTFE that makes it slide smoothly inside the housing which in its turn is also lubrified.

Conclusion

Compared to its main rival, SRAM XX1, the new XTR saves you around 100 euros, and probably is more durable. It doesn’t have a 42-tooth lowest sprocket, relying on a 40-tooth one, which can mean some trouble if you’re not a climbing expert, but then again, we reckon XTR M9000 will be chosen by those that have been riding for many years now. As for weight, SRAM tops Shimano by a mere 2 grams, which we consider a tie between the two. So, it’s basically up to likes and dislikes to make the difference, Shimano may having more success amongst those who prefer sturdier components.

However, we expect a greater battle to be fought in the lower echelons of the ranges. Probably, Shimano will trickle down this technology to groupsets like XT or SLX, which will also mark the moment the Shimano 1×11 components will enter the mass-market. But, until then, XTR remains Shimano’s hallmark.

 Weight: 1.492 grams

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