08 December 2007

bikefix Exclusive Review: 2008 Shimano XT RF+ Shifters

For 2008 (which came in mid-2007, apparently), Shimano have introduced a thoroughly warmed-over 25th anniversary XT group of mountain bike parts. While the group takes some cues from last year's revamped XTR group, it also has a number of innovations of it own. We picked up most of the 08 XT kit as part of an Ibis Mojo build kit and have been running it since August.

Since their introduction, oh 15 years ago, Shimano's RapidFire Plus (RF+) shifters have had their fans and their detractors. The early integration of brake levers and shifters not only helped to kill off much of the small aftermarket parts industry, but the resulting backlash also gave GripShift (now SRAM) an opportunity that, by rights, no maker of fluorescent plastic triathlon shifters should have had. Now they're a huge presence in the market, having swallowed up RockShox, Truvativ, Avid and Zipp. Ultimately, though, the competition has pushed Shimano's product development forward, and some SRAM cues have shown up in Shimano parts.

Like SRAM's trigger shifters, Shimano's latest generation of RF+ shifters use a thumb paddle (to pull cable into the shifter) and an index finger trigger to release cable. Also like SRAM's shifters, Shimano's (and these XT's) triggers work in both directions. This feature, introduced in last year's version, is for us the single biggest reason to consider the XTs. Options are a good thing. Depending on the situation, we use both our thumb and index fingers for shifts. This versatility, combined with the levers' near-ideal placement encourage frequent shifts which translate to more speed and less fatigue. Adding to the shifte
rs' versatility, the gear indicator is removable (with a nice little cover included for when it has been) and a dual position mounting clamp. Essentially, Shimano have done as much as can be expected to help the shifter work with your setup- we'd be surprised if anyone couldn't find a comfy position.

We used these shifters with an 06 XTR low-normal (or Rapid Rise) rear derailleur and both 08 XT (on the Ibis) and Shimano flat bar triple (on the Maverick Durance) front derailleur. Before people start groaning about Shimano's low-normal system: once you've rewired your brain, it provides for very smooth shifts, increased drivetrain life, and the ability to pre-shift to an easier gear. Say you're dropping into a drainage or arroyo. Pull the trigger a couple of times and as soon as you start pedaling again, you'll be in that gear. No more forcing the chain up the cassette in panic situations, and Shimano reckon less stress on your drivetrain. Not for everyone, but Marc has even changed his road bike over to a short cage XTR and greatly prefers it.

In use, there have been no real complaints. Compared to the XTR shifters we've used, the bushings used in the XTs seem to bind a little bit if you hit the thumb lever funny, but that's a rare occurrence. We like that the gear display is far enough off the bar to clear a bell and that the either side is easily removable to accommodate a remote lockout, for example. The at $150, the XTs are $100 cheaper than the XTRs and about the same weight. As an added bonus, they come with the gear display not offered at the XTR level but with probably only 80% of XTR's durability. LX have most of XT's quality and a (just) slightly less precision feel at just over half the price. These shifters may not set the world alight, but as we've (largely) come to expect from Shimano, they are a very high quality, well thought-out part for a very reasonable price.


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