Shimano XTR Brakes: Out Of The Box- by c_g

As you have read, we at TNI Europe have suffered from a premature failure of the MAGURA MT8 testing samples (here). Luckily we were already preparing for the next brakes to be tested which we recently received from Germany´s SHIMANO´s distributor Paul Lange & Co – the SHIMANO XTR Race disc brakes (the official name being BR-M985).

The informed reader may recall that we have had the „Trail“ version of the XTR brakes (BR-M 988) on several test bikes last year (lately on the BMC Fourstroke FS01 here) and it always has left us really impressed. Now we are really curious on how the Race version will fare in terms of braking force and modulation. SHIMANO claims an increased braking power of 10% over its predecessor – opposed to 25% with the Trail version, due to the Servo Wave lever.

Like the Trail-Version the Race also features the industry’s first full ceramic caliper pistons, which reduce the weight, help dissipate heat, and keep it from overheating. Other features to optimize heat management are the alloy core Ice-Tec rotors and the alloy backed resin pads, that can easily be swapped into the radiator pads (the one with the heat fins) if you need more cooling action.

As always with SHIMANO the brakes use mineral oil as hydraulic fluid. Interestingly the brakes are not built as a separate units but on a modular basis, that is cross-compatible to other SHIMANO parts so you could cross mount other levers or calipers should you prefer. Here comes the tech features by parts.

Lever Unit (BL-M 985)
• Very compact alloy unit (lever reach adjustable via Allen key) with an integrated reservoir (side specific, no Flip-Flop design)
• 13mm wide, 1.5 finger-lever with an ergonomically placed pivot point and anti- slip surface
• Split clamp design with security clamp, that won´t open even with a loose screw (compatible only to Shimano levers via I-Spec, other shifters need individual clamp)

Caliper (BR-M 985)
• Mono-body caliper with post mount standard
• One-Way bleeding system
• Rotatable hose mount to suit various frame designs
• Standard with Resin-pads on alloy carrier plate, G01A (optionally metal-sintered pads G03Ti or corresponding Ice-Tec versions with radiator cooling fins)

Rotors (SM-RT 98 or RT 86)
• Ice-Tec Sandwich construction (steel surfaces for maximum braking power and modulation with an alloy core for better heat dissipation and weight saving)
• 180mm rotors in test (alternative sizes 140, 160 and 203mm)
• 2-piece construction with alloy spider (in Centerlock SM-RT 98 or 6-hole SM-RT 86 versions)

The standard hose lengths are 100cm for the front and 170cm for the rear. We keep them as they are for starters (though especially the front is a bit too long) and may cut if need be later on.

Weights SHIMANO XTR „Race“ disc brakes :
The Race version is aimed squarely at XC and Marathon and so can do without some features the Trail version has, like the tool free reach adjustment, Sevo-Wave lever ratio or the Ice-Tec radiator pads, but shaves about 35 g per brake in return. Visually the lack of the reach adjustment screw and Servo Wave lever help make it look very sleek. I like it!! The calipers, discs and hose are identical between both.

XTR Race Disc (I-M985, ready to ride, 100 cm hose length, front) 218g

XTR Race Disc (I-M985, ready to ride, 170cm hose length, rear) 238g

6-hole Disc (SM-RT86, Ice-Tec, alloy spider, 180mm) 132g

Centerlock Disc (SM-RT98, Ice-Tec, alloy spider, 180mm) 121g (+7g for the lock ring)

As you can see by the weights, the XTR Race do not quite reach the heights currently occupied by the like of MAGURA MT8 or FORMULA R1– which come at 180g for a front set … but as you know weight is only one part of the story – the true value shows on the trail and only if braking power, modulation, heat stability and durability all need to work
in sync.

By our first inspection these brakes are top notch. The highly polished silver finish, dynamic looks, play free lever pivots … you know immediately you are dealing with a top end component.

Pricing also is top end at an MSRP of € 539,90 for the set (plus € 69,95 per CL-rotor, or € 54,95 per 6-hole rotor), but street pricing vary greatly, so with a bit of searching you are likely to get them for much less. Alternatively if you can cope with the increase in weight you may as well go for the XT or SLX, save some money and get the Servo-Wave technology on top. We just received the set of extra clamps to mount our SRAM trigger shifters next to the brakes and are now looking forward to our time with the SHIMANO XTR Race disc brakes on board our CUBE Stereo SHPC.

We will soon report here with first impressions.