First Look: New Shimano Zee Groupset
Hot on the heels of the new Saint is its new cheaper brother Zee...
Shimano did try to release a cheaper version of Saint some time ago under the 'Hone' name, but for whatever reason it didn't stay in the their line up for long. This new Zee groupset on the other hand looks like it should have far more success what with an increasing number of people getting fed up with paying silly money for stuff that they're going to throw down a hillside, and the current (and very welcome) trend for more affordable off-the-peg DH bikes.
Anyway, we'll start with what we're guessing is easily going to be the biggest seller; the rear mech. At £69.99 it's half the price of a Saint equivalent, and yet on paper it doesn't seem a whole lot different. Most importantly the Shadow+ chain stabilisation system is present, and although this mech lacks the little rubber bump stop on the B bracket we still reckon it should be super quiet. The only significant feature difference is that rather than having the mode converter which allows you to switch between close and wide ratio cassette compatibility this mech will be available in two separate versions. We don't really think that's much of an issue though cos most people stick with one type of cassette or the other. Like Saint the whole Zee groupset is 10 speed and designed for single ring use, and if you're after the cheapest short cage mountain bike rear mech that Shimano do then this is it.
Whether or not the Zee shifter will appeal to you will mainly depend on if you'll miss the multi-release which the new Saint shifter offers, because apart from an obviously cheaper build that's really the main difference. I-spec integrated mounting with your brakes is available, and you still get 2-way release. The £34.99 price tag might be enough to convince you that you can live without the multi-release.
In general we reckon the Zee groupset looks far classier than its price tag would have you believe, but if there's one piece that we're not so sure about it's these cranks. With their solid rather than hollow arms they just don't look quite as classy as the rest of the kit. Maybe that's just us? Either way they're bound to be bombproof, if a little heavy, but at £109.99 including a 36t chainring and a bottom bracket we don't think you can ask for much more. 68/73 and 83mm bottom brackets are catered for and you get a choice of 165, 170 or 175mm arms.
Like Shimano's SLX brake this Zee brake lever is essentially just a slightly simplified version of the XTR Trail lever. The only thing that is missing is the bite point adjuster, which in reality a lot of riders are happy to live without. The Servo-Wave action is still there, as is the perfectly shaped dinky lever blade. A fully bled lever and calliper will set you back £144.99, not including a rotor.
At the other end of the brake you will find a calliper that is hard to differentiate from the Saint one. Ok so you don't get IceTech pads as standard but the brake is compatible with both the IceTech pads and rotors so you could always upgrade in the future if you wanted to. You do however still get four dual diameter ceramic pistons and one-way bleeding.
As for the hubs, it's the same story as for the Saint ones. You either hate cup and cone bearings or you don't mind them. We're of the former category. If you're of the later though then you do get a new and improved micro ratchet freehub body on the rear that gives quicker engagement, and pretty much all the axle standards are covered. A 150x12mm rear will set you back 54.99 whilst the 142x12, 135x12 and 135x10 all cost £49.99. The 20mm front is priced at 44.99 and both hubs are available in either 32 or 36h. Disc mount wise it's a case of Center-Lock only.
Overall we reckon the Zee groupset looks like it's going to be a great addition to the Shimano line up, but out of all of it it's undoubtedly going to be the rear mech that gets the most after market sales. The brakes also look to be a great proposition, but because they are so similar to the Saint brakes there's not such a big price difference when compared to the mech. In general though people with thin wallets should probably be rejoicing when this stuff hits the shops in July.