Shimano XTR Brakes: Final Review- by c_g

Without giving much away, I can already tell you – I am only finishing up this test of the SHIMANO XTR Race brakes reluctantly – together with its „bigger Trail brother“, the BR-M988 (and following closely the XT and SLX siblings) – these are simply this year’s benchmark for disc brakes. Maybe not weight wise – there are several lighter brakes out there) – but for sure when I have to judge by overall performance and consistency. For the intro with all specs and features – click here.

By now I have ridden these brakes for more than 5 months and, having been ridden on a capable 140 mm 29″er (my long term tester CUBE Stereo SHPC), it sure didn’t make it easier for them … but they never even flinched.

The biggest part of the test has been in our sloppy weather in the late winter and all through spring – constantly wet and muddy rotors, lots of mud spraying , and so forth ….there sure have been plenty of challenges and all along I never ever found them lacking in either braking power nor modulation. They even remained perfectly silent throughout (except the initial rubbing and vibrating during break in). On my often slippery trails with lots of roots and slippery soil I never found any reason to complain.

For a final assessment I took the brakes with me on our trip to Sedona and Flagstaff – where it was subject to super dry trails and fairly hot temps (for a change). Riding the often technical but grippy trails of Sedona and the often dusty trails of Flagstaff (with sketchy rock sections and plenty of altitude changes – was another tough challenge for the brakes. If there would have been any hidden deficits, they would have shown here…. and again they came away with flying colors in every aspect. No matter how long or technical the ride was – the XTR Race brakes to me were a very fine example of a perfectly consistent and excellent modulation with absolutely no altering of the lever feel. Even when descending more than 1000 m in altitude at a brisk pace with no stopping they were the same from beginning to end – and I am neither a timid rider nor a light one.

Really remarkable, even by today’s standards. (Keep in mind, that I was riding the Race version of the brakes which do feature ICE-TECH rotors, but not the ICE-TECH finned pads, which likely make them even more consistent.) In my mid-term I had mentioned my tendency to change between one- and two-fingered braking. That has remained the same throughout, but soon became perfectly natural: in difficult or long descents I would use two fingers, and for the shorter downhill pitches I would be on one finger only.

On the last days of my trip, at the MAGURA Press Camp, the fine folks of MAGURA put on a set of their MT-8s on my bike and it was interesting to ride the same trails there that I had done only days before on the XTRs. The first thing I noticed, was that locking up the rear wheel and drifting corners, something that has become very natural to me with the XTRs, took a lot more finger force to do. It may have been that the MT8s were brand new and needed a bit more breaking in, but even after 3 days of riding this comment stands true.

VERDICT: So, with this much trail time I am not shy to say, that the SHIMANO XTR brakes to me are the benchmark in disc brakes. It may not be as perfect in modulation as the MAGURA MT-series (but very close and definitely more powerful) and possibly not as aggressively biting as say a current model FORMULA R1 (but surely better in modulation) – but taking all aspects together, the SHIMANO XTR-Disc brakes are so very balanced, powerful and sensitive, that they sure are a near perfect match for almost every rider and every riding style.


p.s: Do not get me wrong – the above mentioned brakes (and others on the market) are great performers, which I very much like and have had great experiences with, but each of them has a character that may not please every rider 100%. The current line of SHIMANO disc brakes – spearheaded by the XTR line – are the ones that combine all strengths yet have none of the peculiarities. I am deliberately not saying “weaknesses“ simply because that simply would do injustice to them.