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Shimano XTR MTB Brakes: Race or Trail Model?

Last updated 2011-12-05 - Send Feedback
Related: gear, Moots, mountain biking, Shimano

Shimano offers XTR brakes for mountain bikes in a 'Race' or 'Trail' model.

  • The Shimano XTR Race brake is a little lighter and has ample brake leverage, and ships with the resin pads without heat sinks.
  • The Shimano XTR Trail brake is a little heavier and offers more brake leverage (more braking power), and ships with the heat-sink version of the metallic pads.

Search for Shimano XTR brakes at Amazon.

My experience

I have the XTR Trail brakes on my Moots MootoX YBB 29er, and XTR Race brakes on my Moots MootoX RSL 29er and Moots YBB 26, so I have ample experience between them all to comment with some authority.

My Moots bikes all have 160mm front and rear XTR brake rotors (2011 Shimano parts).


My observations, based on about 1800 miles of mountain biking as this was written, body weight about 175 pounds, almost aways dry conditions.

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Braking power

The XTR 'Race' brakes offer ample braking power and excellent modulation. The nice thing about the race model is that one cannot (as easily) grab the brakes with too much force and cause a sudden stability problem; they have a more progressive action.

The XTR 'Trail' brakes are more powerful (more leverage) BUT more care is needed when grabbing the brakes quickly, as it is easier to get more braking than intended.

In short, the Trail brakes are helpfuls for a lot of steep descending (less demanding on the hands for sustained use), but are not better for all-around trail riding, contrary to the suggestive name. For rolling singletrack and modest grades, go with the 'Race' brakes.

Resin or metallic pads

The resin pads offer far superior modulation to the metallic pads for nuanced feathering of the brakes to help position the bike’s attitude, make subtle adjustments to speed, etc.

I loathe metallic pads because they offer no brake modulation, so the first thing I did with my 'Trail' brakes was to replace the pads with resin pads.

Using the resin pads without heat sinks, I have never run into heat problems. Larger rotors than 160mm and/or heat sinks are just not necessary. Well, perhaps for riders 200 pounds on up doing very long and steep descents that force continuous braking. Or very wet and muddy conditions (wear). Otherwise, the resin pads offer far superior brake modulation. The heat sinks just add weight with no benefit unless the conditions are truly extreme.

Search for Shimano XTR brake pads at Amazon.

Shimano SM-SL78 I-Spec kit

Whichever model you choose, the ISpec mounting is the way to go, because it frees up handlebar real estate.

Click for a larger image.

Shimano SM-SL78 I-Spec kit allows tight grouping of the fork lockout and brake/shifters

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