Tech update – March 21, 2002

Edited by John Stevenson

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Shimano 2003 XTR

By John Stevenson

Nobody from our local Shimano office is talking about this officially "until June" but as often happens at this time of year details have leaked of Shimano's new equipment for the product year 2003. The big news is a completely revamped XTR groupset, as (modest cough) I kinda predicted at the end of last year. (OK you didn't need to be Nostradamus to see that Shimano had to do something with XTR, a group almost unchanged since 1995.)

Pics of the new XTR group and also a cosmetically new LX group appeared a short while ago on this Taiwanese website. These images are almost certainly scanned from Shimano's literature for OEMs (bike manufacturers) and are therefore unlikely to stay put for long. Take a look while you can.

Just as in 1995 when Shimano announced the grey XTR group, every single component has been redesigned. Even the V-brakes, which will still be an option, have been tweaked. The two biggest changes are a completely new shifter that works like the STI road system, with shifting built into the brake lever, and an extremely minimal-looking disk brake.

Shifting involves moving the brake lever up and down and there's a paddle on the lever to assist with this. While it's hard to be sure from the scans, the lever looks longer than previous designs, to accommodate the extra mechanism. The rear derailleurs are clearly reverse-action Rapid Rise, and the front derailleur has been redesigned for easier access to the adjuster screws.

The hydraulic disk brake is a minimalist affair. The opposed-piston caliper will be available in both common mounts (Manitou and International Standard) but that's where adherence to standards ends. The hubs have been redesigned to take a splined, steel and aluminium rotor, saving weight in two areas where current designs squander it: there's no need for a boss on the hub to take rotor bolts, and only the brake track and eight short support arms are steel.

Even the non-disk hubs get a facelift, with clean, minimal lines.

The other area of major redesign is the crank. The axle and right hand crank are one piece, with the left hand crank attaching by a spline and pinch bolt. The whole thing is like a much sleeker aluminium version of Roger Durham's seminal Bullseye cranks of the eighties.

One problem those cranks had was that there was very little space for bearings between a standard bottom bracket shell and an oversized axle. Shimano seems to have gone round this problem by mounting the bearings outboard of the bottom bracket shell, which should make for more durable bearings than the old Bullseye design.

The crank itself is a four-arm design with a 44 tooth big ring and there appear to be three sets of mounting points on the spider, one for each ring.

One thing hasn't changed: it's a nine speed group, which flattens speculation that Shimano might answer Campagnolo's ten-speed road components with a ten-speed MTB design. We wouldn't be surprised if the engineers in Osaka were working on it, but it won't be easy to do without adding undesirable wheel dish or weakening the chain and sprockets.

What also doesn't seem to have changed is the essential philosophy of XTR: start with a clean sheet of paper and do whatever is necessary to make lighter components, throwing away and ignoring standards as necessary. That'll annoy people who believe Shimano invents new standards for marketing purposes, but first impressions are that Shimano has upped the standard in top-end racing MTB parts once again.


Rather over-shadowed by the XTR hoo-ha is a new version of the LX group, which, let's face it, is what far more of us actually have on our bikes.

The main change is cosmetic: the new LX will have satin gold detailing, it's a safe prediction this will be a 'love it or hate it' thing. We can imagine it'd look good on a light-coloured bike, and tacky as a very tacky thing against certain frame colours.

Shimano has also redesigned the popular LX crank. The scan shows a crank with a distinct bulge near the axle, and the 'Octalink' logo is absent. We're guessing that this is a C-shaped design rather like Truvativ's, and a return to square taper, at least as an option.