There has been a ton of new product news from Sea Otter, but, to me at least, one of the more interesting bits has been about the new Shimano XT and SLX components.
If you've been around mountain bicycles for any length of time, you'll likely recall drive trains moving from 8 to 9 cogs in the rear cassette, or even from 7 to 8. The move from 7 to 8 wasn't very controversial since the space between the cogs didn't change, but going from 8 to 9 sparked quite a bit of conversation among mountain bikers.
The main points of contention were that the narrow chains would be more prone to wear and it was generally thought that chains and cassettes wouldn't last as long. Additionally, there was less slop built into the system, so derailleur adjustment had be more precise.
In general, these initial concerns did, in fact, bear out in practice. The chains don't last as long, are more expensive, generally, are the rear derailleur has to be kept in adjustment. This didn't stop it's wide adoption--thanks mostly to the use of 9-speed on new bikes--and today you'll be hard pressed to find an 8-speed bike in good running order.
And now it's all happening again.
The new XT and SLX groups are going to be 10-speed. Unlike SRAM, though, the new Shimano groups will still run a triple up front. Depending on which cassette you choose to run, the range will be wider than any existing 9-speed set up--this is with the 11-36 cassette. Or you could end up with smaller jumps between gears.
All this is fine and dandy, but all of the old arguments are being made now. Why do we need 10-speed? The chains are narrower, less durable and will likely need to be replaced more often. The space between cogs is narrower so the adjustment on the rear derailleur will have to be more precise to maintain shifting quality. Finally, there is cost. The current SLX cassette costs $55, the new will supposedly cost around $77*. If the new one wears out faster--it might not--then that increased price will be felt more often, too.
More than likely, like the 8 to 9-speed jump before it, 10-speed will become the norm, whether we like it or not.
However, in one way, this represents a major shift for Shimano. Up until now, 9-speed was 9-speed, whether road or mountain. Any 9-speed shifter worked with any 9-speed derailleur/cogset. The new XT and SLX are not compatible with 10-speed road. This a big deal for some 'cross and touring bikes, which have at times mated road shifters with mountain derailleurs and cassettes.
What's your take? Is this a good thing, or not?
The only pricing I could find online was on BikeRadar.com and it was listed in British Pounds, so take the price with a big ol' grain of salt.