Heralded by many as the best on the market, I’ve been able to ride the Shimano XT brakes on multiple test bikes over the past year. They have a lot going for them and have been relatively fuss-free overall.

Shimano XT BR-M785 Disc Brake Features:

  • Short stroke Servo-Wave mechanism for quick pad engagement and more power
  • Forged alloy brake lever for optimum strength and reliability
  • Lightweight, forged caliper
  • Oversized 22mm twin ceramic pistons for optimum heat insulation
  • Mineral oil brake fluid is non-corrosive
  • Ice-Tech alloy caliper fins enhance heat radiation
  • Adjustable reach and free stroke
  • Available rotors: 160, 180, 203mm in 6-bolt and CenterLock
  • MSRP: $380 complete with 160mm rotors

Shimano XT Disc Brakes Review

The Venerable Shimano XT Disc Brakes

For the past few seasons, riders have been flocking to Shimano’s latest brakesets. Racers have heralded their serviceability and regular Joe’s have loved their fuss-free performance. On top of that, nearly everyone loves that they run on mineral oil as opposed to highly-corrosive brake fluid.

While I do typically prefer carbon lever blades, neither the XTR or XT versions have them and opt for alloy levers instead. This improves durability, but does increase weight. That said, nearly every racer I’ve talked to prefers alloy levers because they don’t break — they may bend, but won’t shatter on a burly crash. So, no carbon here (which is a common thread across Shimano’s drivetrain as well).

Installation is straightforward and simple, but you might find the bar clamp to be a tad bulky, in comparison to SRAM/Avid levers. And, I found the unnecessary safety latch to be more annoying than otherwise. I always had to scramble to find a paper clip when I wanted to remove them from the bars. I do like the hinged design as it makes for easy, one-bolt adjustments, but the safety button is a nuisance. The width also makes for a wide cockpit layout as well.

Shimano XT Disc Brake Lever Has a Wide Clamp

I’ve now had two sets of XT brakes in the past year on the following bikes: The trail-friendly Ibis Ripley and the cross-country Niner Jet 9 Al. I also spent a few laps with them aboard the 2015 Scott Scale 910 at ScottWeek. While none of these bikes were DH rigs, I have put both of them through some steep, technical and long descents and the XT brakes were always up to the task. These latest versions feature ICE Tech fins and rotors that are built to better disperse heat. Shimano claims that heat dissipation is improved with both the fins and the rotors and my testing confirms that is the case as fade was minimal (if at all). Every pull resulted in predictable stopping power and modulation.

I like the easy reach adjustments via the outboard dial that allowed me to get just the right reach or adjust on-the-fly.

Most of the miles of testing were excellent with the brakes largely-invisible (a good thing), but near the end of my 5 months with the Niner Jet 9, the rear brake started to squeal and squeal something fierce. I don’t know if the pads somehow got contaminated, but every squeeze of the lever was met with a squeal so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think. Was that an anomaly or are other riders experiencing this? Please chime in below either way.

Niner Jet 9 Al - Shimano XT Brakes

I didn’t experience any bubbles in the hydraulic line or any need for bleeding during the course of testing. I appreciated that very much since bleeding brakes is a tedious task and not something I want to have to do every time I store the bike on the wall for a few weeks.

Largely, I’ve come away with positive impressions of Shimano’s XT brakes. I’ve now got a set of SRAM Guide RSC’s in for review and initial tests peg them as better (so far) than the XT stoppers, but time will tell.

The Good

  • Mineral oil instead of corrosive brake fluid — love this
  • Easy one or two-finger pulls
  • No need to bleed them in course of testing — refreshing
  • Excellent, predictable stopping power
  • Improved heat disbursement with ICE Tech
  • Available in 6-bolt or CenterLock flavors
  • Easy reach adjustments

The Bad

  • Lever clamp is bulky and secondary button seems unnecessary
  • Rear brake developed a hideous squeal (chalking it up to contamination though)

The Bottom Line

Shimano’s XT BR-M785 disc brakes are certainly some of the best brakes on the market. They offer excellent power and a great feel — all with fuss-free performance.

Buy Now: Available at JensonUSA

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. Hi Jason, I also have shimano xt brakes. They also started to squeal really hard. I changed my pads, sanded my rotors and it seemed to do the trick. But two weeks later they started to do it again. Maybe the piston is leaking or something like that.

    • Hmmm… I thought it was an anomaly, but perhaps it happens a little more often? People are pretty adamant about these being the gold-standard in fuss-free braking. Shops recommend them and you’ll see them spec’d on most bikes — even if they feature an otherwise SRAM spec.

      I’ve liked them… they are great brakes, but perhaps the squeal happens more often than people realize?

      • Yes maybe. But now I don’t know what to do. Should I try to repair or even change the caliper at the risk of having the same problem next year or should I change to another brand, like sram?

        • Tough call… are they out of warranty? Did they come on your bike or did you buy them separately? Is it the front or rear caliper?

          The new SRAM Guide brakes have been solid so far, but I’ve only got about 50 miles on them. Stay tuned there.

  2. I have Tektro Auriga brakes and ran into the exact same problem. I finally fixed the problem when I swapped over to Nukeproof Trail pads (Resin/organic). The old OEM pads were ceramic and were getting glazed. The new resin/organic pads are super quiet and seat-in quicker. Supposedly they wear down a bit quicker because they are a slightly softer material compared to the old pads, but I will take that slight compromise any day.

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