Zee has arrived: finally, a drivetrain for the gravity rider that won’t drain your bank account!
Shimano’s 2012 offerings don’t stop there. With the new Saint group also on display and the new SLX making a showing, there was a lot to see at the Shimano booth. Shimano also introduced soft good offerings at Interbike, with unique hydration systems as well as a line of optics. The mountain bike shoes also had something for everyone as well, with improvements down the line.
You’re probably wondering what Zee really is, and where it fits with the rest of Shimano’s line. The short answer is that it is the SLX version of Saint: a lower cost option without lower quality.
Shimano took great care not to compromise performance when developing Zee. Simple things like choosing not to machine every surface to save every possible gram helps save on cost. Shimano also saves with material substitutions and by dropping a feature or two compared to Saint components. The Zee crank shares the same overall appearance (sans Hollowtech II and duraluminum) of the Saint and is available in 68, 73, or 83mm widths. Three crank arm lengths (165, 170, and 175mm) will drive the single-ring crank, with a choice of 34, 36, or 38 teeth. At the ends of the crank arms are steel inserts for further durability and reduced chances of stripping pedals.
The Zee’s rear derailleur shares the same technology as the Saint, utilizing Shadow technology (lower profile) and chain stabilization. Designed very similarly, the Zee also resists twisting thanks to the wide pivots on the links. With a maximum 28T capacity (36T if you’re using the freeride spec with optional B link), this will handle all your gravity needs.
Zee brakes are a dead ringer for the Saint’s, but again, toned down a bit. With a few upgrades like the optional Ice Technology rotor and metallic pads, you’d be right up to Saint performance. Zee incorporate the same staggered 4-piston caliper design, with an easy-to-adjust banjo (which helps run the hose closer to the frame). A super-stiff 3-layer hose helps prevent expansion and promotes a more consistent feel.
As for texture, the dimpled shorty lever feels great. If you’re anything like me, I tend to use only one finger for braking and grab the lever near the end. With the servo-wave lever pivot, you can adjust the position to your liking without compromising braking force.
Speaking of controls, the Zee uses a single 10-speed shifter. The levers are dimpled for grip and designed for 2-way shifting (push or pull). Shimano went for a 10-speed setup to allow you to choose from a vast array of compatible chains and cassettes (road or mountain).
Shimano presently only has hubs and no wheel sets for Zee, with a 20mm option for the front and 135/10, 135/12, 142/12, and 150/12mm options for the rear. It’s up to you whether you want 32 or 36-hole hubs. The hubs use loose ball bearings (cup and cone), and come with a quick-engagement cassette body.
The new Ice Technology rotor was on hand, with its three-layer construction on the braking surface and aluminum spider. The SM-RT99 comes only in a 203mm diameter. According to Shimano, this rotor is their best to date, running 50°C cooler, with a 20% net increase in stopping power and pad life, and 20% reduction in brake fade. Unfortunately, with numbers like that you’re hoping that these are available in a 6-bolt pattern. They are not. The SM-RT99 is only available for center lock hubs.
This year, Shimano is introducing hydration systems into the market with a slightly different approach from the norm. Using carefully selected materials to help keep drag low and clean up time to a minimum, these packs also boast a unique support system.
In the photo above you can see Greg modeling the new Shimano pack as he is being briefed by Walter Lockhart, Shimano’s go-to guy for soft goods. Notice that there aren’t individual sternum straps and waist straps, but instead an X configuration with only one buckle.
Note the smooth transition from the body to the pack in the photo above. The smooth back also reduces the chances of snags and is somewhat abrasion-proof. The very bottom of the pack has room for tools.
At first blush, Shimano’s rendition of the hydration pack shows some serious promise. This definitely isn’t a pack that you would ever wear for a hike: it is designed specifically for comfort when you are on the bike–and that’s a good thing!
One thing that has annoyed me about hydration packs in the past is how they tend to jump around on me when I take air. I like riding with a hydration pack, and I like riding aggressively, and basically every pack that I have ever used has failed to ride silently–some to lesser degrees than others. It seems like Shimano’s X design might have resolved this issue! Of course, I can’t be sure unless I actually get one loaded with water and gear and out on the trail, but the design is promising.
Add in the fact that is spec’ed with a Hydrapak reservoir (which I am a big fan of), and Shimano’s initial hydration pack offering may be setting itself up to make a real dent in the market!
For those who are looking to carry more or want a side bag, Shimano has your back. (Sorry, couldn’t resist! 🙂 )
Shimano also debuted a new line of cycling sunglasses at the show but somehow none of us thought to take pics. Oops, more on that at a later date…
On display were a few new shoes which caught our attention. For one thing, these shoes fit most everyone and won’t break the bank. With a choice of 3-strap or buckle, the shoes shown below promise to really hit home with everyone as they are a good blend of performance and value.
Lastly, we have this new shoe and pedal combination which may help to convert newer riders over to the benefits of SPD pedals. This super-friendly SPD shoe features a segmented sole that’s easy to walk in without making clipping in difficult. This new pedal functions much like a tried-and-true M520, but with an oversized plastic cage and a spring which helps position the cleat on the pedal for easy engagement.