Review: Shimano's 12-speed XT Groupset

Kamil 07. June 2019

The Shimano XT has proven itself twelvefold over. Now it is finally available in 12. Check out our review of the new 12-speed groupset...

It’s hard to measure, and it really is just feeling, but professionals (and beginners) swear Shimano has the crispest shifts around. The red giant from Chicago however has been pushing back with their, first 11-speed then 12-speed, 1x drivetrains. But soon after releasing their 12-speed XTR groupset, the Japanese component kings, Shimano, sent the new XT out on the trails with 12 sprockets. That’s a big step because the Shimano XT is the first MTB groupset ever. It’s also to the most successful and most wide spread drivetrain there is. The new XT with a 12-speed cassette will bring this success story into the future...!

Grey Theory

Well, the majority of the new XT components aren’t grey, but matte black. Only the cassette stands out with its black-silver colouring.

The new 12-speed configuration offers two options when it comes to cranks and rear derailleurs and they are dependent on whether you want to ride 1x or 2x in the front. 

Shimano XT 12-speed 1x12

Subtle colors on the brand-new Shimano XT M8100.

Shimano XT Nabe Freehub Micro Spline Newmen Evolution

Shimano's brand new XT Micro Spline freehub

Shimano XT crankset 1x12 2x12

1x or 2x? You decide.

Shimano XT Rear Derailleur 1x12 2x12

The rear derailleur changes depending on 1x or 2x.

Shimano XT Disc Brakes /  Two Pistons, 4 Pistons

New XT brakes to bring you to safe stop.

The new 12-speed configuration offers two options when it comes to cranks and rear derailleurs and they are dependent on whether you want to ride 1x or 2x in the front.

The rear derailleur for the 1x option can handle the new RD-M8100-SGS XT cassette with 10-51 teeth. The version for 2x can take the RD-M8120-SGS 10-45 tooth cassette. For both versions, the derailleur pulleys have 13 teeth and the rubber clutch keeps the chain quiet.

The cassettes - the only two versions offered for the time being - are made with an aluminium spider construction. Also, the two large sprockets are made of aluminium to save weight. Those who prefer smaller gear steps should head straight for the 10-45 t cassette. If you are looking for range, then the 10-51 t cassette is the answer.

Choosing 1x or 2x has its effect on the cranks you can use. For example, the 1x cranks are outfitted with a direct mount system and offer 28, 30, 32, 34 or 36 tooth chainrings. This version is also the lightest option at 608 grams. The cranks are also available in a Boost and non-Boost standard.

Santa Cruz Bronson Shimano XT Groupset

All XT: crankset, rear derailleur, cassette, disc brakes, hubs. Except the Bronson. That's an SC (Santa Cruz).

Shimano XT 1x12 2x12 drivetrain

Trail-oriented mountain bike riders will probably prefer the 1x12 version.

Shimano XT Free Hub

Attractive part of the XT groupset: the brand new XT Micro Spline freehub. Especially...

Newmen Evolution rims

...in combination with Newmen's Evolution rims.

Shimano XT Trigger Rubber Pads

Rubber pads on the triggers are a smart and very useful feature.

Shimano only offers the 2x version with a 36-26 tooth constellation. The variability comes purely from the cassette. Coming in at 654 grams, this option only weighs a little more than the 1x cranks (plus front derailleur), but offers a much larger total range. And don’t forget the smaller gear jumps.

On the trail

Well, we wanted to test out the new XT groupset in 1x. Let’s be real, the double chainring version is unmatched. But how well does XT do flying so close to the eagle’s nest?

It’s hard to say if it’s the new XT HYPERGLIDE+ tech in the cassette and chain or if it’s the DYNAMIC CHAIN ENGAGEMENT + tech on the chainring, but I am blown away at how well the entire groupset works together. Just like I said at the beginning, Shimano’s shifting precision is there. Those eagles better watch out. The shifts are crisp and on point. Every gear change is clean, easy and quiet, but overall they are fast. All of that is enough to convince me that the 12-speed XT groupset is great.

Shimano XT

Taking Shimano's XT 1x12 into the eagle's nest


DYNAMIC CHAIN ENGAGEMENT + keeps the chain in place when the going gets rough.

Shimano XT 1x12 2x12 Drivetrain Perfect Choice Up and Down

Fast and precise gear shifting is a strength of all one-by drivetrains. Especially in terrain with lots of ups and downs.

Shimano XT 1x12 clean cockpit

Most mountain bikers got used to the clean look of a 1x12 cockpit.

Shimano XT 1x12 2-Way-Release

The 2-Way-Release trigger tech is super intuitive

However, what really got me was the new shifter. And it’s not just the rubber contact point either, instead it’s the adjustment offered by the I-SPEC EV mount. This way the lever can be adjusted sideways by over 14 mm and of course it can be rotated too. This is ergonomics at its finest. Thanks to the 2-way release technology the shift lever is intuitive and works for everyone.

New to the game and only offered in the 2x version, the left shift lever features the Rapidfire Plus Mono technology which means it only works one-way. The first press brings the lever to the large chainring. The second down to the small chainring.


1x or 2x is a personal choice and both have their uses. Shimano fans, who might have left for a 12-speed SRAM, can finally get back on the right path. I myself, a lover a Shimano for years, am definitely sticking to the new XT. The freehub body, which is quiet and perfect for my taste, just makes the case stronger for me to continue to enjoy the new XT 12-speed.


Shimano XT Sram Eagle Eye

Watch out eagles, XT is here!

Shimano or SRAM, what 12-speed drivetrain is your favourite?”



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Blog comments are published with first name and first letter of surname.

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