Shimano has released details of a bunch of new parts for the 2006 model year. Actually most of what we’re looking at here is scheduled to show up in July this year, so it’s kind of 2005.5 in a way. The Big S is, as ever, keeping a lid on some of its future products, but even though there’s no staggering innovations in this selection there’s some good stuff.
Most of it is additional components for existing groups, and it’s probably celebration time for the Dual Control/Low Normal doubters. While Shimano did release a new XT-level Rapidfire Plus unit for 2005, it was clear that DC was where its focus lay. That’s still the case, but there’s a bunch of new brake levers and RF pods in the pipeline. Whether it’s answering the needs of grumbly end-users or pick’n’mixing OEM product managers we’re not sure (and from Shimano’s point of view they’re pretty much the same thing anyway) but it’s good to have a choice.
You’ll have to wait until September for new RF+ shifters at Deore LX (SL-M571) and Deore (SL-M511) levels, with new brake levers (XT hydraulic, XT cable and Deore LX cable) arriving in July. The levers have been restyled to match the design and colours of the rest of the groupsets. The news lots of people have been waiting for, though, is the arrival of new, “Top-Normal” rear derailleurs for Deore, LX and XT. While conventionally-sprung mechs have continued to be available, they’ve been from earlier incarnations of the groupsets so haven’t really matched in terms of colour, design or graphics. The new ones have been restyled for a more coherent look. You won’t get the oversized, wide-link design of the Low Normal equivalents, but if you can’t (or won’t) reprogram your shifting brain that won’t bother you in the slightest. The LX and XT mechs will be available in long or mid-cage lengths.
July will also see a couple of new additions to the Saint freeride and Hone “all-mountain” groups. Hone will get a 22-32-bashring variant of its existing Hollowtech II outboard bearing BB cranks. The new version will also have updated arms featuring a steel insert for the pedal threads.
Saint gets another new shifter. It was launched without shifters, got DC units for 2005 and will shortly have an all-new Rapidfire pod. Rather than restyle an existing unit, Shimano has come up with a shifter specifically for DH and the end of the freeride spectrum that only uses one chainring – the Saint RF pod is a right-hand only deal. The difference between the Saint shifter and all the others is that the shifter clamp is designed to go outboard of the brake lever, putting the shift and brake levers closer together.
Also announced (although not available until January) is a new mid-range MTB wheelset. The WH-M565 wheels use the nipples-at-the-hub design seen on Shimano’s other wheels, with 24 spokes. Hubs are Centerlock compatible for the current range of Shimano disc brakes, but the rims feature machined braking surfaces too so you can use Vs on them. Claimed weights are 961g front and 1,142g rear, which isn’t super-light but the all-black wheels look pretty tidy.
The last MTB thing to be announced is the all-new Alivio groupset. Alivio stuff puts in an appearance on some surprisingly expensive bikes, and the latest incarnation looks pretty good. A lot of Shimano’s more recent developments haven’t trickled down to this level. In fact, even some not-so-recent ones haven’t – the bottom bracket and chainsets are still square-taper designs. It’s eight-speed at the back and 22-32-42 (with Hyperdrive ramps and pins for smooth shifting) at the front, with a choice of Rapidfire+ pods or combined shifter/brake lever units.V-brakes have extended arms, which will give more power but are primarily for better mudguard clearance on trekking bikes – two versions will be available, one with cartridge-style brake pads and one with moulded pads. All the Alivio parts will be available in a choice of silver or black finish and there’ll be a number of crank options to keep the OEMs happy.
Glimpse of the future?
That’s about it for MTB stuff for now, although there’s an interesting development on the road side that’s got us thinking. The SL-R770 shifters are Rapidfire Plus units for Shimano’s 10-speed road groups. They’re intended for these flat-bar road bikes that keep threatening to take over the world, but it looks to us like a great opportunity to see if 10-speed can cut it off-road before Shimano actually makes a 10-speed MTB group. It does 10-speed 12-27 cassettes, which from an MTB perspective are an intriguing mix of old-school and new technology. Just need to find some sensibly-sized chainrings…