Bike tourers may be the most “nostalgic” group amongst other bikers. They usually stick to their Brooks saddles, Ortlieb Classics, Ryde (formerly Rigida) rims, and of course, Schwalbe Marathon’s. And one other mysterious thing: Deore LX groupset. Yes. This groupset may not be that prominent as other items in the list, but amongst bike tourers, Deore LX is very highly regarded.
There is a cloud of mystery around Deore LX. Most people love their hubs, and swore they are better than enything else. Some people say the rear derailleurs are unmatched. And most people love their cranksets, including me.
Was Deore LX is really that legendary? Are Deore LX parts manufactured with better materials, or workmanship? Why Shimano stopped making a legendary groupset? I’ll try to answer all those questions. After reading, I know many people will hate me, too 🙂
Deore LX history
Deore LX started its life as M550 in 1990, when Shimano decided to venture into “All Terrain bikes” market. LX designed to be a more plush item then the other workhorse items; hence LX meaning “Luxury”. M550 looks like a vintage randonneur bike groupset, which actually it is, though marketed as something else.
M560 released 2 years later, which looks uglier without any remarkable changes – still, hubs looks weak for an MTB, chainrings too big for wide tyres and uphills.
However, 6 years later in 1998, Shimano came up with something that is unrelated with previous Deore LX versions, the M570, which created the legend: this looks like a proper MTB groupset of the times: hefty hubs, chunky crankset with lower gearing, modern looking derailleurs, and obviously, this is a 9 speed (3×9), which is the top dog at the time.
In 2004 came the M580, with hydraulic disc brakes and dual control levers. Still a 9 speed groupset, but cranks are now Hollowtech II. This is the most popular revision of Deore LX, I know some biketourers still hunting them sometimes for ridiculously high prices.
Then starts a downfall, 2008 with T660, and 2012 with T670 – Shimano decided to mark these for touring or trekking, hence the “T” before them. Unfortunately, these were overpriced Deore’s.
T670 was the last Deore LX, before Shimano pulled the plug. In its short lifetime, Deore LX excelled in some areas – we’ ll look to it why…
What made Deore LX so popular ?
Deore LX loved by many, because it was a “test mule”, for a lower price.
This groupset offered what XTR had at the time, for even cheaper then the Deore XT, at the expense of being a bit heavier. This was also build the reputation of “being stronger”, but we’ll come to that later.
For example, what I think was, RD-M581 is the first Shadow rear derailleur without a “Shadow” marking: at the time, Shimano was trying to convince people to use rapid rise derailleurs, and RD-M580 was rapid-rise, while RD-M581 was top-normal.* If you have a RD-M581 derailleur handy, you may find out that it’s “stiffer” than non-Shadow rear derailleurs. I think this is a basis for testing Shadow rear derailleurs on a larger scale; as it’s no surprise Deore XT or XTR are not the best sellers. And riders having Deore LX RD-M581 rear derailleurs quickly realised they shift almost as fast as, if not better, than the big boys like Deore XT or XTR.
* At that era, almost all higher end rear derailleurs were released with numbers, ending with 0, 1 or 2, like RD-M770 being rapid rise, RD-M771 top normal, and RD-M772, top normal, Shadow.
Honing for downhill
Do you remember the short-lived “downhill” groupset from earlier 2000’s? The short-lived “Hone” ? Hone groupset disappeared, but gave birth to Zee and Saint, which are meant to be used in downhill bikes. The disappearance of Hone groupset was no surprise: time to time, Shimano builds more robust groupsets, and the ever-changing standards helping them – like Boost hubs -, “downhill-specific” groupsets like Hone becomes futile. With the introduction of Boost, we may expect to see Zee and Saint disappearing for some time.
However, Hone groupset actually helped boost Deore LX’s reputation, due to chunkier cranksets. Like, FC-M580, which looks identical to Hone cranksets at the time. It was just ~50 grams heavier than the Deore XT counterpart, albeit looking better, and having a steel, small chainring – guess what? This made them very popular amongst biketourers.
The case against Deore LX hubs
I know a lot of bike tourers who love their Deore LX hubs. They like saying they’re much better than Deore XT hubs, even XTR. Is that true?
I owned lots of Deore XT hubs, and SLX for lower end bikes. Deore XT and XTR hubs at the time, until like mid-2010’s I guess, are internally the same. This makes Deore XT and XTR internally different from the other Shimano hubs, which is internally almost the same. The difference is in materials.
Deore XT and XTR had thicker, aluminium axles. Unlike many Shimano hub axles like bending too much, I’ve never seen those axles bent. But on one occasion, I had a problem with these axles, maybe I was not experienced enough at the time, or really the case with them. After that time, I understood why some people don’t like Deore XT or XTR hubs that much:
About 6 years ago, I was living in a city where temperature extremes can go up to 50 degrees Celcius or even more. I took apart the hub outside in a winter day, it was like 1-2 degrees outside. Then in summer, in a summer day like 40 degrees, I noticed an excess play in the wheel. When I checked the hubs, cones were loose.
My theory is that aluminium axles are tend to shrink or lengthen with temperature differences, causing either loose or tight cones, depending on temperature. This causes either play, or excess friction.
Deore LX hubs are the same internally with SLX hubs, which are quite ordinary. In fact, I also had Acera hubs, which is not any worse then SLX ones. When adjusted and serviced well, all Shimano hubs are bombproof.
The downfall of Deore LX
With the release of T660 in 2008, Deore LX became a Deore replica for trekking bikes. Probably, Shimano was aware of the fact the tourers like Deore LX, so instead of naming them “Deore”, they used “Deore LX” instead – but it’s not Deore LX as we know of.
When we look at Shimano’s current strategy for touring bikes, they offer you Deore or Deore XT, which are actually older versions of MTB groupset counterparts.
What I generally think is, both SRAM and Shimano have too much groupsets, which makes it confusing for most users to buy parts. But sometimes they lack some really needed components. For example, I’d like to see a 3×10 Alivio, instead of Altus, Acera, Alivio which are all 9 speed now. A 2×10, or 3×10 Alivio would fill the gap for robust but cheap groupset, like Deore LX did at the time – and ditch older Deore for trekking line, but give us a proper Deore XT for touring.