The Church Mouse: Shimano Deore XT Wheels

Before the rains came, I was descending a fire road and began to see two friends ahead. I curtailed my use of brakes and caught them just as they were entering a trail. Several turns later the friend I was following made a surprised exclamation.

“Where did you come from?”

It’s a reasonable question, because he never heard me coming.

Such is the silence of the Microspline freehub in Shimano’s Deore XT wheels. They make no noise other than the sound of the tires rolling on the surface of the road or trail. Their silence isn’t exactly a selling point per se, but it’s indicative of one. I don’t need my wheels to be silent, though I will say that in a mountain bike race, the ability to sneak up on someone with a silent freehub, giving me a chance to coast and recover just as I’m reaching them, well that would be worth something.

The silent freehub points to just how smooth these wheels roll and reminds us drag comes in more forms than just aerodynamic. Bearing drag is a real thing, and I’ve encountered wheels with seals so snug they made me ride slower.

Even when a wheelset employs nearly frictionless hubs, freehubs have always introduced a certain amount of drag. In fact, in every road wheelset in my garage currently, the freehub introduces more drag to the wheel than the bearings do.

What I’m saying is these wheels are wicked pissah fast.

They come in four versions: 27.5-inch and 29-inch sizes, and in a 24mm width for cross country riding and a 30mm width for enduro pounding. All the wheels feature 28 butted (2.0-1.5-2.0mm) spokes and take center-lock rotors, because Shimano.

Center lock will always concern me a bit because if I have a problem with a rotor on a ride, I won’t be able to do a thing, but installation and removal of a center lock rotor takes less than a minute rather than the cooking time of a frozen pizza, as with 6-bolt. Talk about a mixed bag.

The aluminum rims are asymmetric to allow for a dishless wheel build for front and rear, making for a stronger wheel. You really can’t do better than dishless.

When I first pulled them from the box I put them on the truing stand and they were as true as any wheel I’ve ever encountered. I popped them back on the truing stand after my first few rides, reasoning that if there was any defect in the build, it would show up in just a few rides. As I hadn’t put another wheel on the truing stand since I first put the rear of this set, had it been out of true even a millimeter, the stand would have detected it; the rim never rubbed against one of the indicators.

The not-so-great
Installing a cassette on the Microspline freehub takes a good deal more care than with Shimano’s previous freehub; it’s harder to see how the cassette and freehub line up, but once installed it’s problem-free. That it took me the better part of five minutes to get the cogs onto the freehub surprised (and frustrated) me. But let’s be honest: most people won’t ever mess with this; it’ll be the bike shop’s headache.

Engagement for the freewheel is 7 degrees. That’s a lot when you have I9 hubs with 3-degree engagement, and Onyx, Tairin and True making hubs with clutches that offer practically instantaneous engagement.

The catch
But here’s the thing: an Onyx hub, amazing as it is, will run you nearly $500. This wheelset goes for just $429. The wheelset. Both wheels. When I found that out I went online to check and make sure I hadn’t gotten erroneous information. I expected something in the $800 range.

So I asked myself, can I live with 7-degree engagement? For a set of wheels this good at that price? You betcha. Besides, if you’re a badass and just stay on the gas, you never notice the engagement.

Final thought: I would dare you to find a better value in mountain bike wheels, but it would be mean to waste your time.


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