On the trail, the XTR felt crisp and had ample power. I definitely noticed the brakes delivering quick, firm engagement that was also capable of subtle modulation. They didn’t show the sometimes-over-the-top power I have experienced from other strong contenders, but I’d say they are more than capable of stopping even a heavy rider on a 30-plus-pound trail or all-mountain bike; they were certainly more than capable of stopping my 165-170 pounds on lift-served downhill runs. For riders up to about 190 pounds, I’d say they’d even do a fine job on a DH bike. Power is ample, but not quite as excessive as some other offerings, such as the Avid Elixirs.
Whatever the XTRs lacked in power, they made up for—in spades—in consistency. With almost all the other brakes I’ve used, I have occasionally experienced complete fade out, usually in a key situation on long descents when heat builds up. When I’m squeezing at a blank lever with an exposed switchback barreling toward me, even the occasional experience is far too frequent. The heat reduction efforts of the XTR, then, were not in vain, as this is the first brake I’ve ever owned where I’ve experienced absolutely no fade whatsoever, either due to heat or any other reason.
The lever feel of the XTR was also great. The short lever coupled with a tool-free adjustment knob allowed me to easily position the lever very close to the bar, which minimized hand and arm pump while allowing for constant contact with the lever. Modulation felt good—every part of the lever throw was effective in adjusting the needed stopping power; the brakes avoided feeling too push-button, but hit full power nicely at the end of the stroke without feeling soft. I did notice a little downward flex at the end of the throw of the lever, which I don’t like, but this is a very minor gripe that I have all but forgotten as I got used to the feel of these brakes.
All in all, I have been very pleased with the new XTR Trail Brakes, and would even go so far as to call them the best brake I’ve used thus far. They do not have power to spare—they have the right amount. And, most importantly, they keep that power long after a bleed and do not fade during long descents.
With the addition of the IceTech Rotor, Shimano seems to have made the ultimate mountain bike brake in terms of heat management, which is the key element that really makes this product stand out. On today’s capable trail or all-mountain bike, this is the perfect brake to save weight without compromising stopping power. (It is worth noting, however, that Shimano’s XT Trail brakes are identical in technology with a minimal weight difference at a lower price.)
Until recently, I have been a SRAM guy. But the Shimano XTR Trail brakes have piqued my interest enough that I’ll be looking into Shimano’s other component offerings, too.