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.