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For 2009, though, it's all change. Deore LX is now pitched at "trekking"/leisure/urban bikes, while mountain bikes get the all-new Shimano SLX group. It's designed to bring a bit of high-end function and style to the mid market, letting Shimano grab back some market share and, more importantly, getting riders some good stuff at economical prices. Does it deliver? We've had a couple of months on the Shimano SLX, here's the lowdown...

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Transmissions are where Shimano has always shined, and SLX is no exception. The RapidFire+ shifters share the ergonomics of the pricier XT and XTR units, including the handy-when-you-get-used-to-it two-way release that lets you upshift with either finger or thumb. You don't get XTR's Multi-Release, so it's one click per upshift. Like XT, though, the gear displays are removeable and you can mount the shifters either inboard or outboard of the brake levers to best accommodate your ergonomic whims.

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Then we have the chainset. This is one of the parts of a bike to which buyers tend to pay more attention to looks, simply because it's such a prominent presence. To our eyes, SLX delivers on that score - we think it looks better than XT, with the part-polished finish not only being a tiny bit XTRish but also likely to stay looking good for longer. The whole lot (including the bottom bracket) only weighs about 50g more than XT, too.

There's really no getting away from outboard-bearing BBs these days (unless you're really dedicated). The SLX setup follows the usual Shimano configuration, with a preload nut and a pair of pinch bolts to secure the left-hand crank. Arguments will continue to rage about outboard bearing setups, but they're undeniably easy to work on - we're certainly not missing faffing around with crank extractors and big spanners. No problems here with the bearings, either, although if you've got "history" with HTII then we can't see anything that's different with SLX that may give you better luck.

Chainring life is something that Shimano has often been criticised for, but SLX addresses that with a composite middle chainring - steel teeth, some chunks of fibre-reinforced nylon stuff to stiffen it up. The inner ring is all steel, while the outer ring is aluminium. If you go for the double option with a 36t ring, that's aluminium too, and you get a honeycomb-designed bash guard to ward off impacts.

Oh, and there are hubs too - nothing particularly innovative here, but then Shimano hubs are most definitely not broken, so why change them? Centrelock rotor mounts are found throughout, and there's a 20mm through-axle front hub for the larger-forked among us.

Stopping

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As well as the similar appearance, the SLX brakes also share a somewhat finicky bleed procedure with their more expensive brethren. The current generation of Shimano brakes seem to be a little prone to getting pockets of air trapped in the calipers - follow the instructions and all will be well. It's a minor niggle, really, but we've got used to just pushing fluid through the system and then doing everything up. You can, of course, sidestep this initially by going for the fully-assembled option - don't forget to order rotors and caliper adaptors, though.

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SLX rotors are available in 160, 180 or 203mm sizes, all Centrelock - if you need six-bolters then just pick suitable ones from elsewhere in the Shimano range.

Pricing

Cassette (11-32, 11-34) £39.99
Chainset & BB (triple, twin+bash) £99.99
Fully-bled brake (no rotor) £69.99
Brake caliper £34.99
Brake levers with hoses and oil £69.99
Front mech for triple £24.99
Front mech for double £25.00
Direct-mount front mech for triple £22.99
20mm front hub £29.99
QR front hub £19.99
QR rear hub £29.99
Shadow rear mech (medium or long cage) £39.99
Rapidfire Shifters (pair) £49.99
160mm Centrelock Rotor £16.99
180mm Centrelock Rotor £19.99
203mm Centrelock Rotor £22.99

Verdict

SLX is pretty impressive stuff. It reminds us a bit of 1993's LX group, in as much as it has most of the desirable features of Shimano's flagship kit at a considerably lower price. More recently, LX has become a bit of a "lost" group that really hasn't seen a lot of spec on bikes, so Shimano definitely had to do something with it. And reassuringly, SLX isn't just a funky-looking cosmetic upgrade - it's all good stuff. From the saddle you'd struggle to tell it from XT from new - ergonomically it's identical. The brakes have a little less bite and it's all a bit heavier, but for the money (and you'll definitely be able to get SLX kit for somewhat less than the RRPs if you shop around) it's hard to go wrong...