Whether you’re riding big wheels or small, fat tyres or thin, full squish or full stiff, the name of the game these days is gearing. It’s feeling like the early days in the industry again with everyone jumping on the narrow wide chainring bandwagon as well as bailout cogs. The leader of this movement is without a doubt OneUp Components in Squamish, BC. They were the first to offer the low range of eleven speeds to those still using 10 who didn’t want to fork out on for a new drivetrain. OneUp were clever about it too and paired a 16 tooth cog which made for a seamless cassette range. This opened the floodgates for the likes of Hope, E13, Blackspire and Raceface to follow in OneUp’s wake. OneUp is still the daddy though and little did we know, it was only the beginning…
Nothing quite prepares one for the sheer size of the thing, it’s nearly the same diameter as my head. Like anything from OneUp, it’s beautifully machined, tastefully anodized and despite needing to pull much of the XT derailleur apart to swap in the longer cage, installation is easy peasy. Like the bailout cogs before it, the Shark is intended for those running 11 speeds but want the low range of 12 and like before an 18t cog splits the difference between the 17 and 19 that are removed. The extra eight teeth on the Shark will give you 30% more range over the standard 11-42 cassette and to put that into perspective, it’s a lower ratio than a 22 tooth front chainring and a 36t rear cluster. The Shark cog only works with Shimano XT so I suppose I should also say a few words about the best selling, best value group Shimano sells.
The XT range has always carried with it a feeling that the rider has more sense than money and it’s been Shimano’s workhorse group since its release in 1983. 1983! SRAM was still in nappies sketching bikes with crayons. I personally fell out of love with Shimano during the 9 speed era, the shifter lacked feel compared to the competition and may as well been connected to a piece of cheese rather than a precision transmission component. I became so bored with them I haven’t spec’d anything Shimano on any bike I’ve owned since ’99. Now though, this new 11 speed XT is simply brilliant. The stars really did align when those industrious little boys in blue were designing it. It feels like it was proven by someone who actually rides rather than a simple rehash of the previous generation. The low shift lever has a very positive feel to it and is dimpled like a golf ball. I really dig the textured grip on the up shift side too not to mention being able bang up two cogs at a time for improved acceleration. The clutch mechanism on the rear mech is adjustable via a small port so you can dial in the feel you want through the shifter. From a mechanics standpoint, I still disagree with the decision to not use a quick link for snappy chain removal and from an aesthetic one I still think their cranks are uglier than a boil on a baboon’s backside but on the whole they’ve absolutely nailed it.
In summary, if you’re looking to upgrade to 11 speed and want the ultimate 11 speed range without needing a proprietary cassette body, you have to have the new XT/ Shark combo. Ditch the front mech (if you haven’t already) with the knowledge that even the fattest, middlest age, sausage-fingered rider will be able to climb every mountain. Go on then, be the Fonz and jump the shark.