We tested the current Shimano XT for around a year, covering about 2000 miles with some enduro and XC racing , as well as time in the alps. RRP is £124.99 per end. They were paired up with Ice Tech rotors and OEM sintered pads.
Both the lever and caliper are svelte and look great in our opinion. Whilst the caliper doesn't look quite as impressive as the Hope E4 we reviewed everything looks and feels well made and solid. The lever sits nicely in the hand, and the drilled holes add a bit of extra grip in the wet.
Installing the XTs is the same as for any other brake, with no special hoops to jump through. The lever has a handy catch release meaning they can be installed without the need for taking grips or shifters off the bars. Caliper alignment was also straighforward.
The M8000's have a reach adjust dial, and a 'freestroke' adjustment screw. The reach adjust is easy to use and allows for tool free positioning of the lever relative to the bar. We found this can be wound out nice and far great for people with big hands, as well as very close to the bar. The freestroke screw is often derided online as being useless, and initially we found the same. However, making sure that during the initial bleed its wound all the way out and the bleed is good, screwing it in does make a perceptible , but very minor difference to the amount of throw the lever has before the pads touch. Even then we didn't have an issue getting the levers setup how we like them.
Shimano brakes are often cited as being very 'on/off' but we still found there to be a good deal of modulation, before a very defined crisp bite point, that many other brakes lack. When coming into a corner, it's easy to start slowing down in control, before giving the extra pull if needed at the last minute to really scrub off speed. The lever requires very little force to unlock the full power of the brakes, which for big long alpine descents really helped reduce arm pump and hand fatigue. We only managed to get them to fade once, after a 30 minute high speed firetrack descent a the end of the day in the alps, and even then only the rear suffered.
Purely from a performance point of view, these are the best brakes we have used, whilst not as powerful as their Zee/Saint bigger brothers, the XTs do offer better modulation, which is especially noticeable on slower, tighter descents. Compared to SRAM and Hope brakes, the well defined bite point makes it easy to hover on the edge of locking up but still get good stopping power. When switching to other brakes, it feels as if you need to brake earlier than with the XTs, and rolling into a steep descent you have full confidence that the brakes are going to slow you down.
Bleeding the M8000s is the same as for other Shimano brakes. We used the Epic Bleed Solutions Kit which gives you everything you need in one package. In general we found a good bleed could be done in around 10 minutes, with little to no mess.
One big complaint is that neither the caliper or lever have any user serviceable parts. This really isn't acceptable, and shortens the usable life span of the brakes unnecessarily as well as producing lots of avoidable waste.
Many people have complained about recent Shimano brakes 'pumping up' , having a 'wandering bite point' or generally not being consistent in lever feel. Interestingly this seems to occur mostly in the rear brake. After around 3 months, we too had the pumping up issue on the rear. Squeezing the lever a few times in quick succession meant that the bite point moved further and further out, very disconcerting whilst on a fast descent. We noticed the issue got worse immediately after the bike had come of an uplift trailer. Thinking that it may be some trapped air we removed the lever from the bars, stood the bike upright to mimic the position on the trailer and hung the lever above the bike. After leaving the bike like this for an hour or so, we performed a mini bleed on the brakes, multiple bubbles came out, and we never experienced the pump up issue again.
However, shortly after this, we noticed a spongy feeling from the lever. Peforming mini bleeds again meant bubble came out into the syringe, and then the lever felt good. After a few rides, the spongy feeling returned. On inspection we noticed that the lever was leaking from somewhere near the reach adjust screw. The lever was sent back to Shimano under warranty and a replacement turn up around a week later.
After another couple of months, whilst the bike was in the stand we noticed a small amount of fluid around the rear caliper after cleaning the fluid off, and then pulling the lever, we heard a small pop sound, and more fluid began to leak from the caliper. Again, the part was sent back to Shimano and a warranty replacement arrive d shortly after.
Another few months passed, and yet again we suffered from the leaky lever issue. This is all under a year, so yet again, was replaced under warranty. However, at this point we lost our patience with the XTs and decided to sell them for something else.
Our experience with the M8000 XTs was a bit of a love/hate affair. We loved the performance of the brakes, especially for the money, but the insanely bad reliability really put us off. The lack of any user serviceable parts is also really disappointing, we wish more companies would think about the waste produced from disposing of items that could easily be repaired. If Shimano can sort the wandering bite point, leaking calipers and levers, then these would easily be the best brakes we've used, at a very competitive price. Until then however, they are best avoided.