There are some places you can save money without giving up too much in the way of shifting quality. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

There are some places you can save money without giving up too much in the way of shifting quality. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery​

Editors Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art's Cyclery. The original post can be found here.

Planning to upgrade your 10-speed Shimano drivetrain components, and wondering if you really need a full XTR groupset? There's no absolute right answer. It all depends on your budget and needs. (Some will surely opt for 11-speed and the new XTR Di2.) But you can mix and match 10-speed parts to bring costs down - and not lose too much performance. Here's how.

There is no doubting the performance of Shimano's top of the line mountain group. The Dyna-Sys 10-speed XTR M980 group is tremendous, but there are some places you can save money without giving up too much in the way of shifting quality.

The rear derailleur is where most of the action happens so the best one is recommended.

Don't overspend on the rear derailleur.​

When it comes to shifting performance, rear derailleurs are highly overrated and front derailleurs are highly underrated. The rear derailleur can only be as precise as the shifter attached to the other end of the cable. Because the indexes are so small in a rear shifter a little bit of imprecision in the mechanism makes a big difference at the derailleur. Mating an XT rear derailleur or even an SLX model to an XTR rear shifter will work far better than doing the reverse as bikes are often spec'd from the factory. The reason product managers spec high-end rear derailleurs and cheap shifters on new bikes is because the rear derailleur is much more visible than the shifter and therefore more enticing to customers making a purchase.

Spend your money on an XTR rear shifter rather than an XTR rear derailleur. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

Spend your money on an XTR rear shifter rather than an XTR rear derailleur. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery​

With respect to front shifting, Shimano doesn't make a front shifter that doesn't work well. Sure some low-end offerings don't feel that smooth or precise but they all work reliably and rarely if ever miss a shift. Your money is better spent on an XTR front derailleur. XTR derailleurs come with stiffer springs and a thicker steel cage that does not flex as much as its XT and SLX counterparts when pressed against the chain during a shift.

Go with an XT cassette over XTR - the steel cogs are more durable than the titanium XTR teeth. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery

Go with an XT cassette over XTR - the steel cogs are more durable than the titanium XTR teeth. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery​

As for the cassette, the recommendation would be to go for an XT block because it shifts almost identically to an XTR cassette but lasts longer because each of the cogs are made of steel rather than titanium.

Continue to page 2 for more recommendations »



For cranks you can't beat XTR, but it is the most expensive component in the group. And the XT and SLX chainrings also shift great. The performance of XT and SLX rings is almost exactly the same and the weight difference between the two is negligible. The budget pick for a crank is SLX.

The SLX crank is plenty good if weight is not a huge concern.

The SLX crank is plenty good if weight is not a huge concern.​

When it comes to bottom brackets, the XTR unit features lower friction seals and higher quality bearings than XT and SLX. The price difference between the all three isn't much, so pick the XTR BB93 for threaded bottom brackets and XTR BB94 for press fit bottom brackets.

For the chain go whole hog and get XTR. The finish is better, which results in smoother shifts. Plus XTR chains have more stainless steel parts to resist rust better than the budget chains.

When it comes time to stop, there is no difference in braking power available from XTR Trail, XT, and SLX disc brakes. So the primary difference is weight and features. XT has all the same adjustment features that XTR has, including tool free reach adjust and free stroke adjustment. The SLX brake is the same brake as XT, but doesn't have the free stroke adjustment screw. For many riders the free stroke adjustment screw is not necessary, so unless you really like to fiddle pick SLX. However, the price difference between the two is small, you might as well get XT if you can spare an extra 20 bucks.

If you use a front derailleur, the XTR is the stiffest available for the snappiest shifts.

If you use a front derailleur, the XTR is the stiffest available for the snappiest shifts.​

For brake rotors, you want to get rotors equipped with Shimano's Ice Tech. This type of rotor uses a thin sheet of aluminum sandwiched in the center to help dissipate heat faster than full stainless steel rotors. While the XTR RT99 rotors are certainly the best in the lineup, they are pricy and only compatible with centerlock hubs. Instead go with SLX RT68 Ice Tech rotors if you have centerlock compatible hubs; and for folks with 6-bolt hubs, you'll need to go with the slightly more expensive XT RT86 Ice Tech rotor.

To sum it all up the best bang-for-the-buck 10-speed XTR build would be:

While this combination will not produce the most cohesive looking build, performance will be top end. Moreover your significant other will love that the thickness of your wallet hasn't been reduced to that of a business card by your purchase.

If you want to keep it simple and go for the ultimate group, go for the Shimano Di2 XTR reviewed HERE. For the best best value/performance group, the 11-speed 2016 Shimano XT is previewed HERE.

Also be sure to check out our best bang for buck guide to SRAM 1x11 drivetrain components.