2013 Shimano SLX Groupset
Okay, so I’m the editor here and I get to decide who reviews what. When it came time to check out the 2013 SLX groupset, I had to find a contributor who was able put some time on all of the new bits. At the time everyone was busy with test bikes, so it came down to me. My hardtail is SRAM equipped and I was testing their new Type 2 derailleur, so the SLX was destined for my XTR equipped dually. Now I don’t want to sound snobbish, but I like XTR and the thought of stripping my bike down to rebuild it with the mid-range SLX parts didn’t fill me with excitement!
While I run a 2x10 drivetrain on my hardtail, I like having a triple chainring set-up on the dually—I find it better for the more technically demanding trails where I’m likely to be riding that particular bike. Still, I’ve been curious about running a lower geared, more trail oriented 2x10 set-up for some time. As it happens, 2x10 and a broad choice in chainring sizes is one of the drawcards for 2013 SLX. Using the opportunity to try some lower geared 2x10 as my bait, I peeled the shiny XTR off and got the test underway…
The current generation of XTR was launched in 2010/11 and since then the features have filtered down to the more affordable XT and SLX groups. As of 2013, SLX has gained just about every option and feature from XTR, just with a lower quality finish, more affordable materials and some less-involved manufacturing techniques.
As of 2012, SLX had already gained the new-style XTR inspired brakes. For 2013 all of the remaining parts cop a visual rework to signal the update. With the new parts mounted to my bike I was far from disappointed. The contrasting black and polished silver ‘X’ in the cranks and rear derailleur echoes XTR styling and at a glance, I’d say that it looks sharper than XT in its appearance. The only aesthetic let-down in my mind is the pressed alloy big chainring, which clearly signals its more cost-sensitive construction. My initial reluctance had turned around and I really liked the look of my SLX equipped ride.
The double chainring option is one of the big-news items for 2013 SLX. In addition to the 24/32/42 triple (which also gets the updated styling), the double-specific crank will come in 28/40, 26/38 and an all-new 24/38 option. Some may remember that Shimano used to offer SLX in a trail oriented 22/36/bashguard double but it didn’t carry over when they made the move to 10-speed.
Lower ratio double chainrings are appealing to 29er riders as well as 26-inch trail bike riders who want gearing to get up steep hills—pop me into the latter category thanks! Like the current XT double crank, the 2x spider runs a common four-arm 104/64 bolt circle. While this sizing is the same as the triple cranks, the profile is double-specific with no room for a bashguard. Go with the triple ring cranks if you want to run a two-ring with bashguard set-up.
On the scales our 24/38 cranks weighed 837g including the bottom bracket. The older triple ring SLX cranks came in at 887g so don’t expect massive weight savings with a double—it’s more about choosing the gear format that suits your trails. Compared to a 28/40 XT crankset, SLX version only adds 10g. Aesthetically I prefer the SLX arms and spider, so XT really only wins out with its better quality chainrings with their machined teeth and shift ramps.
SLX front derailleurs now come in either double or triple specific versions with the cage profiles tailored to suit. Further to that, each type will now cater for all of the new current frame mounting systems; E-type and direct mount as well as the traditional high and low clamp versions. The cage profile has been tweaked to shift better on suspension bikes (where the chain position varies throughout the travel) and the cable mounting point has been modified to provide better tyre clearance for 29ers.
‘Shadow Plus’ now features on the rear derailleur to better control chain bounce over rough terrain. First released on XTR, this system will be offered as an option on XT and SLX for 2013. It applies friction when the cage is pulled forward but not when it springs back. It has a small switch that disables the internal friction band. Like the XTR version, there’s a small switch that disengages the clutch—when switched off, wheel removal is no different to a standard Shimano derailleur. Shadow Plus incurs a 30g weight penalty and adds $30 to the price (around $140 versus $110 in the case of SLX).
Internally there are differences between the SLX and XTR Shadow Plus variants. Both have a friction adjustment that lets you compensate for wear and alter the shifting feel. With XTR the tool required to adjust the tiny bolt is integrated into the derailleur. This is not the case with SLX and you’ll need to buy the Shimano tool or improvise, but be warned, the head of the bolt is extremely small and a little hard to get to. When you consider that an SLX derailleur is about one-third of the price of XTR, this minor inconvenience is very easy to live with!
The 2013 rear derailleurs (SLX, XT and XTR) are all compatible with the new ‘direct mount’ frame fitting that some manufacturers will be offering. Where replaceable derailleur hangers are used, frame makers may even offer direct mount upgrades for their older frames. In any case, direct mount is an optional mounting system and the SLX derailleur comes ready to bolt straight to any standard frame. Direct mount simply eliminates the short upper link, to create a stiffer derailleur while simultaneously forming a wider opening for the rear axle to make wheel mounting easier. It sounds like a good idea to me and I’ll definitely check it out once a direct mount hanger is available for my frame.
Rapid Fire Triggers
SLX triggers now have a mode switch on the left side that allows you to swap between double and triple chainring formats. The switch itself varies from the XT and XTR type and I found the newer SLX version easier to use (take note that you need to have the lever in the middle or large ring position when swapping modes). You can choose to run them with the supplied gear display or remove them for a tidier look. For 2013 you can get an even cleaner look by using the optional i-Spec mounts, which fit directly to the new generation Shimano brake levers.
The brakes were updated in 2012 and remain predominantly unchanged—a good thing as they are just as powerful as XT and XTR Trail. The only real difference is in the spec options for the bike brands. When buying aftermarket, you used to be able to choose the finned pads and three-layer steel/alloy/steel Ice Tech rotors but OEM buyers were limited to the standard version. For 2013 the bike companies will be offered the Ice Tech option from the outset, so you’ll be more likely to see the distinctive finned pads on new bikes.
While the new aesthetics had me feeling pretty content, the on-trail performance left me in no doubt; in today’s market, the mid-priced bike buyer is an out-and-out winner! I didn’t miss the performance of my XTR parts—not for a minute. Sure, XTR is lighter but the difference isn’t all that big and a nice riding frame and/or good suspension will make a far bigger difference to your ride experience. XTR looks pretty bling with its highly polished finish, but that soon becomes insignificant once you’re covered in mud. The higher quality materials used in the more upmarket parts will improve durability but I don’t think this argument holds water when you consider that many XTR parts cost more than twice as much. XTR won’t last two to three times longer and you are just as likely to rip a derailleur off with a stick in either case ($140 is far easier to swallow than $389 when that happens). So what’s XTR got going for it? Well unless you’re a real weight weenie or an elite level racer XTR only buys you ‘trail cred’.