I promise these are the great Shimano parts that I’m ever gonna need! Here’s just a suggestion for the best mix.
The beauty of the Shimano 12 speed components, all released at this point, is that you can mix and match something like Deore with SLX, XT, or XTR, and as long as you use a Shimano 12 speed chain, the full features of this groupset should be available to you. Shimano marketing will tell you that in the past they looked at smooth shifting up the cassette, or downshifts. However, with this newly introduced Hyperglide Plus that does require the 12-speed chain, you would get smoother shifts towards the smaller cogs, or up-shifts.
But even though a Deore M6100 chain would give you the Hyperglide Plus, the big difference is going to be in the materials and most importantly the coating that’s on the components. The special coating reduces friction and makes the chain last longer, so I would recommend getting the most expensive one you can afford. In my case, most probably it’s going to be either XTR M9100 or XT M8100. So can you use an SRAM or KMC 12-speed chain with the Shimano cassettes? The answer is definitely yes, however, if you care about the Hyperglide Plus, that needs the chain and cassette combo from Shimano.
And that takes us to the Shimano 12 speed cranksets and the new design of their chainrings. Shimano calls their new tooth design DCE or Dynamic Chain Engagement Plus and it matches perfectly with the elongated plates of the new chain. That tooth profile is provided by all the 12-speed cranksets however I would choose the ones that give you a direct mount chainring. I think it’s more elegant and down the road might give you more options on the OEM side. The SLX M7100 series gives you the best combination of features, weight, and price. This is within 10 grams of the XT crankset and is designed exactly like the XT and XTR. And just like Shimano designed it, if a budget was a big constraint, I would go for the Deore crankset. Always remember when ordering these cranks that the spindle length is dependent on the spacing of your frame, so order accordingly.
But despite all the changes, Shimano kept the 24 mm diameter of their spindle, meaning that the good old BB52 threaded bottom bracket can still be used today. If you need the press-fit version of this Deore, that’s called MT500 but I would highly recommend going for something like this, the MT800. It can be had in all these versions depending on your frame needs and is usually my preferred XT or SLX Shimano bottom bracket.
And that brings us to the cassette. But did you guys know that I already have an in-depth comparison between the various Shimano cassettes? Make sure you check that out! One thing that’s common for all of them, is the use of their new freehub body, the Micro Spline. You already know that you need their chain for the Hyperglide Plus, but otherwise, these cassettes are built identically, the only difference being in the materials being used, and that’s reflected in the weight. If you don’t mind the almost 600 grams, the Deore gives you an all-steel cassette that’s going to perform very well. However for me, I have a bit of a mental block on that weight, so I would probably choose an XT at 470 grams or SLX at 530 grams, but with the same street price as the Deore. And the same question again: can I use a third-party 12-speed chain with these cassettes? And the answer is definitely yes, but you will lose the Hyperglide Plus which could be one of the reasons why you chose Shimano in the first place.
However HG+ or not, I think many people pick Shimano versus SRAM because of the Shimano shifter’s ability to up-shift two gears at once. That is rather unique and offered by the XT and the XTR shifter is not offered by the SLX and Deore. I have both XTR and XT and the lever feel is the same, so this is the much better value given the price delta between the two. SLX and Deore work as well, however, they are missing a couple of important features for me, but I know all the differences between the shifters. So the shifter of choice for me would be XT M8100.
The shifter comes with the SP41 housing, but when it’s time to replace or if you don’t have that housing, try to use the same, the Shimano SP41 and at least the Optislick inner cable and the associated end caps that are very good.
And you need that cable set because that’s what ultimately controls your rear derailleur. And when it comes to budget I would probably skip the SLX altogether, and today I would pick the Deore 12-speed derailleur. But if you want the XT badge, or the ability to adjust the clutch externally, or the bearings on the jockey wheels, XT becomes a pretty interesting proposition. This is quite a bit cheaper than the XTR and it’s about 40 grams lighter than the Deore. And when ordering these remember that you have a 1×12 and a 2×12 option, make sure you order the one that you actually need.
And I know we’re talking drivetrain here, but I have to mention the new Shimano brakes. They do come in 2-piston or 4-piston variants, but the new Shimano lever will affect the way you order your parts. But if you look at the I-Spec EV design, this is not compatible with the previous I-Spec II or I-Spec B, so when you’re ordering the shifter, if you want it to be integrated, make sure you order the I-Spec EV variant. They do have both the I-Spec EV and the bar clamp version of these.
Their nomenclature for it is using an “I” at the end of the ordering string. And by the way, did you know that Shimano now has seat post levers? Think about your dropper post and these are Shimano universal remotes for it. This is the Deore version, they have an XTR M800 version. And since I mentioned brakes, if I have the money, I always go for the Deore XT rotors, the Ice Technologies, otherwise I go for the SLX RT66, these are rock solid and they cost quite a bit less money than the XTs. What I ended up with is a mix of XT, SLX, and Deore, picking XT mostly for extra functionality, and SLX and Deore based purely on price, as otherwise, they’re quite similar.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with picking an entire XTR for your next bike, but in case you want to mix and match or save costs here and there, I hope I gave you guys a few ideas of what I think is worth it. What do you think is the best value for you? Would you go for the most expensive XTR, XT, or the cheaper Deore?