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The group, all assembled on Jeffj’s personal Trek Stache 8.

Following our roll out of the Shimano triple crankset Deore group test, life delivered some rocky trails to JeffJ’s riding schedule, so we are a bit overdue here.  However, we wanted to really get a good feel for what was what rather than rush to a conclusion.  So that said, he we are (finally) with his thoughts on how this has worked out so far.

JeffJ’s update:

Back when we were mostly on 26” wheels, the standard MTB triple crankset was generally a 22/32/42 or 22/32/44, and we had the 11/34 cassette to mate with it, so climbing was pretty good for the masses, and even the ‘massives’. Even so, I found myself cobbling a 20t onto my cranksets to keep my overstuffed carcass pedaling up the steepest grades, rather than walking.

I would hear, “You can walk faster than you can ride” until I was ready to pop.

Didn’t care.

I wanted to ride up the hill, not push my bike.

Eventually, when I went to 29” wheels, I also had to transition to four arm cranks, and steel 20t chainrings were not available (at that time) for them. I tried titanium, and burned through three of them in a year, which made them unfeasible for me. After some time, I got strong enough to be good with a 22t chainring and could usually keep moving well enough.

In the meantime, I saw 2×10 with 24/38 appearing to be the heir to the standard mountain biking crankset throne. And all the while, my quads and I. . . . hoping. . . . against hope. . . . that either Shimano or SRAM would find a way to give us our granny (gear) back. And, just to clarify, the granny gear that I speak of refers to the lowest of gear choices on our mountain bikes, rather than ‘Grannygear’, our benevolent editor.

For the data driven among us, and because I’m geeky like that, I’ll quantify all of this using my gear calculating spreadsheet:

Low gear on my 26” wheeled bikes back than (26” wheels, 22/32/42 crankset, and an 11-34 cassette) yielded 17.21 gear inches.

On 29” wheels, with 24/38 crankset, and an 11-36 cassette, it figures out to be 18.87 gear inches.

Deore_29_SS_223040 Deore_SS_26_223242 Deore_SS_29_2434

When everything is all tallied up, that is getting close to a full gear that rode away into the sunset. In spite of this dramatic development, it is true that the free world was still relatively safe for democracy. And eventually, with much assistance from a cadre of therapists, I made my peace with the issue and did the best I could with what I had.

I experimented with 22/36, and found it to be lacking too much on the top end for our regular ‘back-to-the-barn’ sprints. If I got a jump on the group, and nobody had a chance to latch onto my wheel, I could hold off the baying hounds for a while. But they finally began to realize that there was a good chance that I would spin myself into a sort of anaerobic ‘Chernobyl’ if they pursued long enough.

I finally settled on 24/38 for the local rides, and just hung in there on those long climbs. The 38 did just well enough on the sprints that I could hold my own on the sprints enough to make me happy.

When I first caught wind of the new Deore triple crankset with a 22/30/40 chainring set, I remember Grannygear and I discussing it on the way to Sea Otter, and I was hoping (to myself) that somehow, some way, we would get a shot at testing the group. I thought the best shot at that happening would be that we’d get a test bike that had the group on it. What were the chances we’d get a groupset to mount to our own test sled? Pretty slim I figured. Then, last summer, there were rumors at HQ that a Deore group was indeed headed our way. Woohoo!

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In order to get the gearing back down to a range that the mere mortals among us felt more comfortable using, Shimano paired the now familiar 11-36 10 speed cassette with a chainring combo of 22-30-40. By my calculations, they got as close as possible. On a 26er with a 22/32/42 crankset and an 11-34 cassette, I stated earlier that this gave us 17.21 gear inches on the low end of the range, and it yields 101.53 gear inches at the high end. This new groupset, on 29” wheels, yields 17.30 gear inches and 102.61 gear inches respectively.

Nailed it.

So, aside from the short term ‘nerd-tastic’ joy of seeing those numbers appear in my spreadsheet, what does it all mean on the trail?

Sing it with me:

“I got my granny back, granny back, granny back”

“I got my granny back, granny back, granny back”

Oh, but wait, it turns out that there’s more to it than that. By going through the myriad of drivetrain combinations that the transition to bigger wheels has subjected us to, I have to quote that old maxim that there is no such thing as a free lunch. There is no getting around the fact that a triple chainring crankset is more complicated to tune than a double, and that whole chainline issue while in the inner and outer chainrings is still relevant to some degree. And, for some, that alone may be enough to steer them away from ever going back to a triple.

Heck, now that we have 1x and 10-42 cassettes, many have sworn off front derailleurs altogether. Personally, I’m not in total harmony with 1x, but I absolutely defend it’s right to exist and like that it is thriving. It has it’s rightful place in this world of very specialized whips that are being designed to excel in specific conditions/riders, and they do that well.

2x cranksets have given us the ability to use almost all, or even all of the cogs of a cassette with either chainring with little negative consequence. A 2x is also a little less complicated to tune the front derailleur. With that said, I believe that there is a sizable segment that has no qualms with using a triple chainring crankset, and appreciate the overall range it can provide.

Of course there are cranksets with traditional 22/32/42 chainrings, but they are generally more of an entry level offering. This is the only one I am aware of that has 22/30/40. And, the 22t inner chainring is not the only trick up this crankset’s proverbial sleeve.  The 30t middle ring, and the 40t outer chainring were not mere afterthoughts. The 30t middle ring allowed me to use that range more often during moderate climbs on our local trails that previously had me in the small ring. I especially liked the 30t on rolling terrain where I could use less upshifts/downshifts to get to the gear I wanted when the trail went from up to down, and back again.

We have one trail that, although the flow is downhill, it has one particularly nasty steep climb that is only 75 feet long at most. Many riders can’t clean it because it is so steep, and a little loose at times near the top. I had forgotten that I was in the middle ring, and when I arrived at the top, I noted that it felt extra difficult this time. As I finished my statement, I looked down to find I was in the middle chainring. That was a first. I found that I would middle ring other climbs that I would previously have not. Obviously, there are many trails where this would not have made that difference, but for the trails I ride, there were a few.

IMG_3663aJust looking at the chainrings, you can see that this is not entry level gear. The Deore triple crankset middle and outer chainrings are milled, rather than stamped. Chainrings have been in a state of evolution the past several years at the upper end of the range, and that technology is now finding it’s way down to the mid-range offerings, and this Deore crankset is evidence of that trend.

As for the 40t outer chainring, it has plenty of top end. I can get all the way to the smallest cog on a false flat, or maybe for a little bit on a flat. I have not had an occasion on dirt where I ran out of gearing, and I do occasionally use the tallest gear. Exactly what I need, and nothing that I don’t really want or use.

Hmmm. . . . That actually sums up my feeling about the entire gear range of this crankset. Exactly what I need, and nothing that I don’t really want or use.

IMG_3667aShadow + has now trickled down to this Deore rear derailleur, and that is, of course, good news for fans of quieter descending (of which I am one).

The shifters we have on test are not the i-Spec version. I specifically requested that I not test the i-Spec version because the Deore level i-Spec does not have the adjustable mounting capability that would allow me to slide the trigger assembly inward from the brake lever. On the Deore i-Spec, it is a fixed mounting position, and my size 11 meathooks (hands) prefer to have about 5/8” in between the shifter clamp and the brake lever clamp so that the shifter paddles make contact out toward the end of my prodigious pollices (thumbs) rather than near the knuckle.

IMG_3662aThis iteration of Rapidfire Plus shifters features an optical gear display on both front and rear pods, convertible to either 2 or 3 chainring systems, as well as 2-way release for upshifts (shifting to a smaller cog) on the rear derailleur and downshifts on the front derailleur. However, the multi-release feature (upshifting two gears at a time) has not yet trickled down to SLX. That capability is still reserved for XT level and above.

Ice Tech has now made it’s way into this Deore level brakeset, at least as far as having the capability of using the Ice Tech brake pads in these Deore calipers, and that can only be a good thing. For the record, the calipers we are testing do not have the Ice Tech pads in them. Maybe I will pick up a set to see if I can detect any differences.

Shimano, arguably, has become the popular MTB brake standard bearer for their consistently good performance, reliability, smoothness, and the inability to wake the dead with a noise that is somewhere between an obnoxious turkey warble, and a full on banshee scream.

I find that the ergonomic design of the levers encourages one-finger braking, and that one finger braking works well with the responsiveness of Shimano brakes. What I mean by that is that if you two-finger brake with this level of Shimano brake, you will need to modulate a little more precisely, just like you would with SLX and XT. That said, Shimano touts these levers as being of a ‘two-finger’ design.  I don’t personally have trouble using them with two fingers, but if I can keep an extra digit wrapped around the grip in technical terrain, so much the better.

As for the question all disc brakes must answer, “are they noisy. . . . . at all? The most I could get from these was an almost imperceptible ‘pre-squeal’ that just caught my attention enough to make me wonder if they were actually going to squeal. They didn’t.

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The typical foothills and mountains of So Cal call for a wide range of gearing for the Average Joe.

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SO, let’s move on to a different plane of consciousness. Why does this Deore triple crankset group exist? Whose needs does this meet? And will it survive among the march forward in MTB technology?

The way I see it:

Q: Why does this group exist?

A: This group exists because the move to bigger wheels has left a significantly large group of riders underserved. Shimano have trickled down some of their more recent proven technology to a group that is more affordable. They have also restored a wider, lower range that was very popular before the big wheel ballyhoo made 26” wheels all but irrelevant(with a few exceptions of course).

Hardtail frames evolved from having level top tubes, to what is known as ‘modern geometry’ where the top tubes were sloped. One of the reasons proffered was that a given frame size could fit a wider variety of riders. This could translate to a bike fitting a wider variety of riders, and possibly leading to more sales. I think this drivetrain combo merits existence for similar reasons.

Q: Whose need does this meet?

A: This group meets the needs of the rider that wants to have a wider range of gearing choices, and still wants the benefits of newer technology. A 24/38 crankset with an 11-36 cassette comes close, but lops a bit off both ends. Admittedly, there are many for whom this makes little to no difference, and their reasons are varied.

I have read numerous discussions where riders that don’t feel the need for such a drivetrain, seem to actually resent the existence of such a thing. Out comes the “HTFU” mantra, and then things devolve further from there.

If your terrain or level of fitness doesn’t require it, then you have an abundance of choices out there for you. For those that would appreciate the extra range to be available when we would like it, then there are few choices aside from entry level, or custom drivetrains that fill the bill.

I will be interested to see if (or how often) this group finds it’s way into the OEM arena rather than similar 2×10 drivetrains.

IMG_3671aQ: Will it survive the march forward in MTB technology?

A: This is a good question. On one hand, we have been told that 2x (or 1x) is the way forward, and that is mostly what we see on all but entry level mountain bikes on showroom floors these days. 1x and 2x definitely have their place, and deservedly so.  But, how do we go back to buying triples when we have been told so often in recent years that they are obsolete for ‘real mountain bikers’?

For now, short of going ‘rogue’ and taking shots in the dark and cobbling together parts that may, or may not work so great together, there are meager pickings to sort through. No front derailleurs I am aware of are spec’d to have a difference between chainrings of more than 14 teeth. A 22/38 chainring set would barely make it into my realm of being something I could be fairly happy with and not feel too compromised.

Remember that Shimano did come out with a 12-36 nine speed cassette (HG-61), and a couple of rear hubs (the FH-M529 and FH-M629), around five years ago, that were a response to the increase in popularity of 29” wheels, their impact of gearing needs, as well as the need to withstand more torque.

It appears to me that Shimano have taken another shot at a segment whose needs are not currently being met as well as they could be. Personally, I think the Deore level was the right component level to set their sights on, and it delivers realistically to that segment in scope, bang for the buck, and performance.

 

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Note: Shimano sent over the Deore Group  for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.