- Shimano WH-M776 XT wheels
When Shimano launched the 2008 incarnation of its legendary Deore XT groupset, much was made of its all-mountain slant. Rather than just being a cut-price XTR, the new XT was pitched as the all-rounder. That position was bolstered with the introduction of the beefy M776 wheelset alongside the lightweight M775 hoops. With wide-ish rims and a 20mm through-axle front hub, the M776 wheelset looks built to take a pounding.
At a hair over 2kg for the pair, Shimano has clearly prioritised meatiness with these wheels. Compared to wheels targetted at a vaguely similar sector that we’ve looked at recently – Bontrager’s Rhythm Elite and Specialized’s Roval Traversée – Shimano’s offering certainly packs a bit more heft. A lot more heft in the case of the Roval wheels, which are a whole pound lighter, but of course also considerably more expensive.
Front and rear wheels both use 24 spokes, although strangely they’re not butted – it’s 2.0mm all the way. This is a bit of an odd decision, as plain-guage spokes don’t make for a stronger wheel but do add weight. On the other hand, with only 48 spokes in the whole wheelset a switch to 2.0/1.8/2.0mm spokes would only save about 50g.
The spokes are straight-pull, so the hubs have no conventional flanges. Both wheels are laced in what’s described as a two-cross pattern, but because of the way the spokes attach to the hub the actual spoke angles are more like a conventional three-cross. This being a Shimano product, the hubs are of course good old adjustable cup-and-cone types. Preference for these or cartridge bearings is pretty much a religious issue, but we certainly like being able to adjust out any looseness and restore hubs to full smoothness with nothing more than a couple of spanners and a tub of grease.
Shimano’s Centerlock brake rotor interface is used, which again finds favour with us – it’s simple and secure. The requirement for the front hub to accommodate a 20mm axle means that the rotor lockring is different from the regular Centerlock type (and red to remind you that it’s different), requiring a different tool. The actual splines are the same, though. At the back there’s a regular steel freehub body – not light, but also pretty much immune to gouging from cassette sprockets.
At the other end of the spokes are deep-section (21mm) and middling-wide (26.4mm) rims that give a pleasingly rounded profile to bigger tyres. They’re UST-compatible, too – suitable valves come in the box – but perfectly happy to run with conventional tyres and tubes. There’s a bit of potentially-annoying proprietariness in the shape of the hexagonal alloy spoke nipples, but at least a suitable spoke key is supplied.
The rims are decorated with highly-distinctive white graphics that some may find a little OTT. We think they look pretty cool when you’re riding along, though. And of course it’s the riding that we’re most interested in. Performance-wise, the XT wheels certainly deliver – they feel utterly solid despite the low spoke count, and having given them a pretty good pasting (and grounded the rims out more than a few times) they’re holding up perfectly well.
Ups and downs
Positives: Bombproof feel, serviceable bearings, distinctive looks
Negatives: A little on the heavy side, front hub 20mm only
We like the XT wheels a lot, although as is generally the way with factory wheelsets you could put something at least as good (and quite probably lighter) for less money. If you don’t want to fiddle with getting wheels built (or building them yourself) and want something with great performance and distinctive looks, these won’t disappoint.