A few years ago, in the heat of the bike industry’s shift from XC weight obsession to mid travel, go anywhere all-mountain bikes, Shimano unveiled a new line of components called Hone. The Hone parts were generally viewed as “Saint Lite”, and tended to be cheaper, a little lighter, and weaker than their full-bore Saint counterparts. The Hone parts were good, but their association with the Saint line meant that manufacturers didn’t spec many Hone components on lighter weight all-mountain bikes, and the fact that there were stronger options out there (although at a weight penalty) kept Hone off of burlier freeride bikes as well. The result of all this is that Hone products, despite being an excellent choice for all-mountain riders, didn’t find a home on very many all-mountain bikes.
Fast forward to 2008, and Shimano is firing another salvo into the now massive all-mountain segment, this time in the form of the 2009 SLX line. By introducing SLX, Shimano has split the previous LX line into two separate component groups: Deore LX, which will shift its emphasis to light trail and trekking duties, and SLX, which is aimed at the mid-price all-mountain market. With SLX, Shimano plans to keep the light weight and nice price points of the outgoing LX range, but add the features, stiffness, and strength needed to compete in the all-mountain arena.
The rear derailleur takes the chiselled look from the XT and XTR lines, and mates it to a derailleur which is tougher and lighter (by 45g) than LX. The rear derailleur gains the Shadow profile first seen on XT, which tucks the derailleur tightly inboard, making you less likely to tear it off on rocks and roots.
The best news about the SLX front derailleur is that it will be available in double or triple ring options. The double ring version features tighter dimensions, as it doesn’t need to swing all the way up to a big ring, and Shimano claims that this reduces the chance of dropping the chain on a shift. The two-ring version also gives more clearance for mud, tires, or pivot locations.
The SLX shifters use the same 2-way release mechanism seen on some of Shimano’s other recent trigger shifters, which allows you to upshift with either your thumb or your finger. The shifters also have a top-mounted display, which can be removed for a cleaner look, or to let you run the shifter outboard of the brake levers.
The SLX cranks borrow heavily from the new XTR’s aesthetics, and look awesome for it. Shimano is offering two versions of the crankset: a conventional 22/32/44T triple ring, or a double ring with 22/36T rings giving a wider range of gears than conventional two-ring setups. The double ring crank comes with a honeycomb-style bash guard not unlike what came with the Hone cranks. These bash rings look weak, but in our experience hold up surprisingly well over time. Shimano claims that the SLX cranks offer twice the strength of XT.
The SLX brakes draw their key features from the XT line, which is no bad thing as current XT brakes are real standouts. The SLX levers boast a tool-free reach adjustment, as well as the trick Servo-Wave variable leverage which increases power and modulation. The calipers are straightforward two-piston units, and grip Shimano’s spline mounted rotors of undisclosed diameters.
Look for SLX parts to hit your local shops in July, and expect to see SLX spec’d on plenty of bikes next year.