SHIMANO XTR ‘Race’ Disc Brakes – First Impressions: by c_g

Hurray – the winter 12/13 is fading on and our trails are opening up again – that is for Southern Germany! We still have a places where the ground is frozen and we have patches of ice but they are rapidly getting fewer. All in all we are starting to get a better picture of our SHIMANO XTR Race brakes (BR-M985) that we have on test since Mid February.

As I have already mentioned in the intro (here), mounting the brakes went without anything worth noting. If you have SRAM or any other shifters mounted on your bike, you should be aware that the brakes can only be combined with SHIMANO shift levers via I-Spec, so you will have to either get separate shifter mounts or special solutions that are just now becoming available (e.g. PROBLEM SOLVERS „Mismatch“). Oh, and there was one other tiny detail I found very positive – the package contained several little washers that go between the disc bolts and the rotor. These washers are cut with a lip that is bent upward on one side. The provided disc bolts are serrated on the underside and resulting you have a system that keeps the bolts from loosening even after long time. I have only rarely ever had a disc bolt become loose, mostly because I check them regularly, but for people not doing this the system is a real bonus.

Compared to standard steel disc rotors, the two piece alloy spider SHIMANO IceTec rotors definitely feel much stronger and tougher (while being as light as others, often even lighter).

The only thing I had to do after mounting was to set the lever position closer to the bar, which is how I like them – a 2 minute job with a 3 mm Allen key. Overall the lever adjustment range is rather big – it should accommodate very small to very big hands alike.

One thing immediately noticeable is how the pressure point is really well defined – something many brakes have when ridden, but few already while standing.

Out on the trail, I was not very happy with the brakes at first. Even after my usual breaking in routine (10 times stopping from 20 mph to a full Stop) the maximum braking power was still rather low. It took several multi hour rides to finally get it to the high level of performance I had expected. One question asked in a comment was on how big the rotor/pad distance is. I have no device to give a precise measurement, but even in the worst of efforts I have never managed to get the rotor to rub the pads. On the standard FORMULA R1 brake, I had the issue more or less permanently.

Initially I was struggling with severe vibrations on the rear brake which only showed when I grabbed the lever really hard … regardless of how I readjusted the caliper. Somehow these simply went away during the prolonged break in period. Why? No idea. Ever since the XTR brakes have been perfectly silent – dry or wet.

After this rough start for two rides the SHIMANO brakes have been simply great. Braking power was top notch. Even though the nominal braking power is said to be about 15% lower than its Trail sibling, the only way I could tell the difference was in the fact that I used two fingers more often. But overall I cannot say it was ever lacking power. Which brings me to another thing I noticed – I used up every millimeter on those short, but otherwise very ergonomically shaped levers when going for 2-finger action – seems apt SHIMANO calls them „1.5 finger levers“. Only an observation for now. It also is too early for any comments on heat built up or fading – something the IceTec rotors should be good at . With winter all around and no long down hills on them so far, but this should change anytime soon.

So far with the very good modulation, great stopping power the XTR Race brakes are running strong. We will keep on running them a lot longer … and report back then. Stay tuned.