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By Matt Pacocha
When it comes to downhill and freeride components, there is a real need to make them tougher. Manufacturers want parts to last longer and stand up to greater abuse, but the riders using them often take durability for granted and strive for something else — light weight.
Stories of riders only using three out of six brake rotor bolts are not just for gram counting cross-country racers anymore, the fever has spread to downhill too. Shimano weighed the wish lists carefully when designing its new 2009 Saint group and it shows. Its tagline for the new Saint group is ‘Finding Your Flow,’ but it can be more appropriately described as Shimano finding its flow.
Saint was originally introduced in 2004, and was well accepted among freeriders, but it always seemed that serious downhill racers would mix and match pieces of Saint with parts from XTR to maximize strength and cut weight. The new Saint may put an end to that practice by offering noticeable advantages without major weight penalties.
Last summer Shimano breathed fresh air into its drivetrain and brake systems with the introduction of its 2008 XT group. The group built represents and adoption of – and some improvement upon – the 2007 redesign of XTR.
The Shadow rear derailleur design marks a significant improvement over the previous design Shimano used. Shadow is narrower, which keeps it out of harms way. Its springs are more robust, which produce firmer shifts. Its B-Adjustment is unsprung which quiets the system, by preventing it from banging on the chainstay. Cable routing is more intuitive and, above all, the design is significantly lighter than the previous.
Shimano also introduced the new Instant and Two-Way Release shifter technologies with its 2007 XTR group. The first eliminated mechanical lag within the system for quicker shifting and the latter allows the cable release trigger to be used by both pushing it like a lever and pulling it like a trigger.
Shimano recently reintroduced the mechanical Servo-Wave cam in the brake lever on the XT group. Servo-Wave increases mechanical advantage through the stroke, so the pads first move quickly to the rotor then the advantage increases for more comfortable modulation in the end stroke. You can adjust the reach without a tool.
Saint is as tough as it’s ever been according to Shimano, yet better in a number of ways.
Saint’s brake system is a real story. It boasts a 50-percent increase in braking power, according to Shimano, through the use of a four-piston brake caliper. The levers, with radial master cylinders, are outfitted with Shimano’s Servo-Wave features including reach and pad-contact adjustments. The larger caliper has a larger oil capacity to resist heat more effectively. The brakes continue to use mineral oil. Among the four pistons there are two diameters for a better balance of power and modulation.
The Saint Shadow rear derailleur has a “super-wide” link design with an external skid plate. This is for durability but also shift performance, as the wide link adds stiffness to the system. The derailleur’s geometry accommodates both mountain and road-style cassette ratios. Over all the derailleur looses 100-grams over the heaviest axle mounted M800 Saint derailleur.
The rear derailleur is mated to a new short-cage double ring specific front derailleur that is designed to work with Shimano’s wide range double crank with 36/22-tooth rings. The short-cage allows clearance for wide tires and the steep chainstay angles associated with some suspension designs. This derailleur will also be a huge hit among the 29-inch wheel crowd, because of its extra clearance and double-ring capabilities.
Shimano reports the new Saint crank to be 150-grams lighter than its immediate predecessor, which puts its weight around 1000-grams for a 175mm double and just under that with a single ring. While that’s still roughly 150-grams more than an XT crank, Shimano reports the Saint crank to be 200-percent stiffer than XT.
Saint’s front and rear hubs are said to be lighter and stiffer because of a wider bearing stance. The freehub is 100-grams lighter and incorporates Shimano’s Micro-Ratchet engagement technology enabling faster engagement. Both front and rear hubs offer what Shimano says is a 400-percent improvement in seal performance, relying on improved labyrinth seals, both also feature a standard sized center lock mount, which also trims weight.