Review: Shimano Saint RD-M820 rear derailleur (2014)

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Same situation, over and over again: each time I come upon a Shimano Saint component my mind thinks of the Transformers movie series. From derailleur to brake caliper, the design announces that something is going to mechanically mutate into a machinery that comes to life and takes control of the situation. And that’s about true, save for the fact they don’t come to life, since Saint has dominated the downhill component market in such a manner that competitors didn’t manage to knock them off the first place.

Maybe the derailleur isn’t the top component in the downhill equation, but there are or will be situations where you require a solid product. Since not all of us are pros, we’ll have to occasionally pedal our way towards the next descent, and most likely we’ll need lower gears after missing a jump, not to mention that sturdy parts are a must in this business where hits are all in a day’s work. I’ve seen one too many damaged derailleurs after a failed drop or after a brisk encounter with a stub, and I have to hand it to the Saint – it knows how to take blows.

On paper, the Saint rear derailleur doesn’t do anything more than any other derailleur would, but when riding, the difference speaks for itself. Shifting becomes hugely accurate and fast thanks to a stronger coil, while the sound of the chain being sent over the sprockets is music to any rider’s ears. Also, you suddenly realise why you had to pay the demanding amount when buying this set.

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The shifter’s lever was modified and now enables a lighter shifting action and features better finger grip. The upper lever downshifts, regardless of the direction it’s acutated

The derailleur’s cage is short, as it should be in the case of any downhill derailleur, it’s built out of alloy for a greater durability, and both pulleys are based on bearings. As expected, Shimano’s Shadow Plus clutch found place amoung the features and really comes in hand during the bumpy and tensed downhill ride, because it practically eliminates chain slap.

Weighing 277 grams isn’t a drag for this derailleur since the average weight of a downhill bike is somewhere around 18 kilograms, and actually the first value is exactly one gram lighter than a SLX’s. Shimano Saint proved yet again that it’s a very capable derailleur, not only in terms of performance, but also in taking abuse, and I wouldn’t mind enjoying the same characteristics in the case of cross-country derailleurs, although I know this would come at a weight penalty.

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