The existence of Shimano Saint represents everything that is both good and horrible about the current state of the bike industry. When it comes to performance, it doesn’t get better than Saint. And while that may be a bold statement, consider this: Saint is essentially the XTR of durable, performance gravity riding. Take away the need to optimize components for pedaling up hills, and instead focus on how good something just works and you have the Saint component group. And my favorite part: it uses a 10-speed drive train.
That’s right — 10 speeds. 1×12 has been forced upon us, coming equipped on every new trail bike on the sales floor of your local bikeshop. And yes, it works pretty good most of the time. But if you’ve ever wondered how good 1o speed would have gotten if the bike industry wasn’t always playing this marketing game of ‘how many gears can we squeeze onto a freehub so the weekend warriors and dentists could pedal up a hill’, this would be it.
And yes, downhill bikes don’t need that many gears; I get that. When I acquired my Norco Aurum DH bike, it was equipped with SRAM’s 7-speed X01 DH. While it had even fewer gears, it still used a narrow 11-speed chain. It worked well enough, but I know from past experience, the only derailleur that I’ve owned that survived multiple impacts with stumps, rocks and logs, had the word “Saint” inscribed on it. (though that was a nine-speed iteration) When it comes to durability and long term functionality, I’ll take the option that will still continue to function after seasons of abuse.
The crazy thing is that this iteration of the Saint drivetrain has existed since 2012. This makes me feel a bit silly, to be honest, that I’ve never had the joy of riding it until this year.
Everything about these bike parts make me so happy. The four-piston brakes are just so good that the two-piston models I used to be quite fond of just don’t have the same appeal. (though they still have a place on the non-gravity bikes) Admittedly, its the combination of long descents, bigger, bigger tires and steep trails we’ve been enjoying in the last few seasons influencing my bias. Yes, the free-stroke adjustment screw confuses me as much as anyone, but they perform flawlessly, have amazing power, and I love the modulation as well as the feel of the level. They’re also super easy to bleed and service.
I simply love these brakes.. so much.
Light action trigger shifter
The light action, feel, ergonomics of the shift paddle and the dimpling on the trigger shifter are awesome. Resistance on the thumb paddle of trigger shifters has gotten progressively harder in recent years on both Shimano and SRAM drive trains with stiff clutch springs doing the work of keeping chains taunt, but at a price. With clutch derailleurs, I have to be careful to avoid getting “shifter thumb”, which is basically feels like a spained thumb. The worst part about this happening is that it doesn’t ever go away, and instead just keeps hurting for weeks if not months.
Electronic shifting is a relief for shifter thumb, and has become more common this year with the release of SRAM Axis. While I have yet to try it, I’ve been running Shimano’s Di2 electronic drivetrain on my XC bikes, and while I am hesitant to want to over complicate things on my primary trail bike, it is a nice relief for my thumb, and works great for its intended application. (more on Di2 coming soon) For traveling, I’d prefer a manual cable though, so the light touch is much appreciated.
I love the Saint drive train enough I’m tempted to try it on a trail bike, and not just a gravity specific sled. The downshifts are soo fast. Though it appears to be optimized for use with an 11/23 or 11/28 cassette, according to Shimano product specs with a range of 25T, it could handle a 11-36T cassette, which would be enough for many of the more tame climbs on our local trails.
Back in the day we ran that all the time, and it just made go hills faster.
Sorry 12-speed. I’ll give you another try (while I’ve spent time on SRAM GX and X01 Eagle, I have yet to try the Shimano 12-speed) but I’m pretty stoked on 10.
If you’re looking for more info on the Shimano Saint groupset, Shimano put together a mini-site that goes on about it in detail at RideSaint.com.
Or shop online for Shimano Saint Components at partner site JensonUSA and support the site.