Birth of Flagship Series Leading the Mountain Bike Racing Scene

Birth of Flagship Series Leading the Mountain Bike Racing Scene

In the 1980s, the mountain bike boom began, and various races came to be held particularly in the United States. Shimano had released a dedicated mountain bike components series SHIMANO DEORE XT; however, as far as use in mountain bike “races”, which were in the process of developing, was concerned, it was not good enough. Under such circumstances, Shimano began developing components dedicated to mountain bike racing and released XTR in 1991. The “R” in XTR stands for Racing. XTR continues to evolve as the flagship mountain bike components series under the concept of Shimano Total Integration (STI), which is the concept of systematically integrating technologies of individual functional components and thereby offering further value as a system.


Shimano Releases Unprecedented Top-end Components Series Dedicated to Mountain Bikes

In the late 1980s, the momentum of mountain bikes spread from all over the U.S. to Europe, and then all over the world, winning the hearts and minds of more people. Under these circumstances, some riders who started competing in mountain bike races began various attempts to win races, using components for road bikes such as DURA-ACE and drop handlebars. This move made Shimano aware of the need for mountain bike components dedicated to competition that had the strength and quality to withstand harsh riding and were capable of intuitive operation, and it put its energies into the development of such components. Shimano introduced prototypes into real races from an unprecedented early development stage, and analyzed the data collected at a race immediately after the race and used it for improvements. In this way, XTR was completed. It was said that at races across the world, many professional riders had been impressed by lightness of XTR beyond imagination and surprised at its simple and highly accurate operability.

Furthermore, for the first-generation XTR, Shimano developed the RAPIDFIRE PLUS shifter by improving the RAPIDFIRE shifter under the concept of STI, which was born in the development of SHIMANO DEORE XT in 1989. It achieved a light touch and quick and accurate operability. Weight reduction was also achieved by developing new mechanisms, including a spider arm-type cassette sprocket. XTR even defied the conventional common understanding that high-grade components meant road bike components.

XTR Evolving with Races

The mountain bike market in the United States, home to mountain bikes, tremendously evolved in the 1990s, and garage companies were established in various locations and developed components using new materials, such as titanium and carbon, one after another. Simultaneously with this, a suspension function appeared. Shimano also began to move toward a model change aiming to take the next leap forward. Then, in 1996, the M950 series was introduced as the second XTR. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, cross-country (XC) mountain bike events were added to the official bicycle events, and a racer who rode a mountain bike equipped with the M950 series won the gold medal. This turned much of the spotlight on this series.

The M950 series, which repeatedly underwent minor changes after that, became a long-selling series that lasted until the M960 series was introduced in 2002. The M960 series achieved further significant weight reduction through use of cold forging technology and computer-aided design. Furthermore, it adopted the HOLLOWTECH II crankset that integrated the bottom bracket axle with the right crankarm. Disc brakes and other technologies that later became standards were also incorporated.

In 2006, the totally redesigned M970 series was introduced. A middle chainring made of a titanium-carbon composite was adopted, and the weight of various components, including the rear derailleur, was reduced. The M980 series, released in 2010, adopted a chain stabilizer in the rear derailleur to minimize chain drops and other problems due to harsh terrain. Also, Shimano launched the DYNA-SYS drivetrain concept, offering optimized gear ratios for mountain bike riding.

In 2014, the M9000 series was released. In keeping with the trend of the times, Shimano newly added a single crankset and press-fit bottom bracket to the series, and at the same time it introduced the M9050 series with an electric shifting system, the first DI2 version for mountain bikes. Returning to the starting point of the development of XTR over the 27 years, Shimano introduced the M9100 series in 2018, offering functions and components that meet individual riders’ demands. XTR continues to offer the best performance components representing the pinnacle of Shimano’s technologies.


SHIMANO XTR M900 series
The first XTR met the demands of mountain bike races, which were rapidly expanding, by integrating technologies of individual components, including the RAPIDFIRE PLUS shifter, HYPERGLIDE (HG) gears, SG-X chainrings and SLR PLUS brake system, under the concept of STI. The RAPIDFIRE PLUS shifter assigns the thumb and the index finger to the roles for downshift and upshift levers, respectively so that the rider can shift gears more easily while maintaining a grip on the handlebar, achieving user-friendly and quick shifting. SG-X chainrings have improved the basic performance of front shifting dramatically.
SHIMANO XTR M960 series
As mountain bike racing was becoming mature, XTR was also becoming sophisticated. Distinctive components were added to the lineup, including the Dual Control Lever system, which enables the rider to access the shifting lever quickly even during intense off-road riding; the HOLLOWTECH II crankset, which has improved rigidity while thoroughly pursuing weight reduction; and disc brakes that have been further improved with a center-lock system. After that, while the mountain bike riding styles were becoming more extreme, SAINT was introduced, and the position of XTR would become more focused on cross country races.
SHIMANO XTR M970 series
The M970 series was introduced under the concept of “Engineered for the way you ride.” Responding to demands of individual riders in mountain bike scene where the way of enjoying cycling expanded, it made a leap forward to the new stage far beyond the conventional concept of XTR. The front and rear derailleurs with the symbolic “X” design and the four-arm HOLLOWTECH II crankset became symbols of this series. Later, this series would further evolve as new components, including SHIMANO SHADOW RD and E-THRU hubs, were added.
SHIMANO XTR M980 series
The M980 series, which was developed under the concept of ”Rider Tuned,” offered the function of tuning components according to the individual bikers’ riding styles, more actively responding to diversifying ways of enjoying cycling. XTR’s first 10-speed drivetrain system has enabled more detailed gear selection based on the DYNA-SYS technology, expanding the possibilities of off-road riding. Furthermore, a disc brake system incorporating ICE-TECHNOLOGIES was created to meet two conflicting demands that are required for mountain bike braking—powerful braking force and weight reduction. The ICE-TECHNOLOGIES rotor adopting a three-layer structure in which aluminum is sandwiched between stainless steel achieves excellent radiation performance and rigidity, laying the foundations for Shimano’s disc brakes to further evolve.
SHIMANO XTR M9000/9070 series
Mountain bike races, which are typified by cross country races, became further diverse and new categories such as Enduro and Marathon appeared. To provide the optimum solutions for each category, XTR has continued to evolve while following the concept of Rider Tuned. With the 11-speed DYNA-SYS 11 drivetrain system, a wide range of gear combinations from single to triple chainring types was provided. The DI2 system was introduced in the M9070 series for the first time as a mountain bike components series. Through digital platforms, including SYNCHRONIZED SHIFT, which optimally controls the front and rear derailleurs, the M9070 series enabled the rider to customize his or her mountain bike in a completely new way to control it according to his or her preferences.
XTR M9100 series
The new HG+ system has achieved quicker shifting and reduced shifting shocks significantly by optimizing the shifting system including gears and the rear derailleur. The new RAPIDFIRE PLUS shifter has achieved quicker lever access and lighter operation. The SCYLENCE silent hub technology has raised the bar for riding concentration with silent coasting, quicker engagement and higher rigidity. The evolution of XTR shows no sign of slowing down.