“Shimano introduces Zee, a new line of gravity components that are an ideal starting point for aggressive riders and racers. Zee is the gateway gravity component line that allows riders to get on board with Shimano’s gravity program and experience premium new component technologies at a price they can afford.”
We’re big fans of ‘affordable’ components here at Wideopenmag. Sure, we like the super-fancy-best-that-money-can-buy stuff but it’s not always that realistic for your average rider to own now is it? On that thought – we were stoked to have a first ride on the new Shimano ‘Zee’ group set today at our favourite downhill trails.
Zee is the little brother to the mighty Saint. That means it’s a slightly less posh but most importantly less pricey component range that’s aimed at riders that can’t afford to (or choose not to) pay for top end components. Whilst Shimano are selling Zee as an entry level group set we’re hoping that it’s going to be more than capable of performing for young guns and seasoned veterans alike.
The new Zee Hollowtech II crankset and chain ring stood out first of all. At £109 this one shouts out as a great value, heavy duty crank set. The crank arms are a made of thick-wall aluminium and paired up with a hollow, steel axle that Shimano claim is 30% stronger than the competition. Total weight is around 950g which clocks in around 100grams(ish) more than the SLX version and a wee bit lighter than a similar Saint setup. They’re available in 165mm/170mm/175mm and in 34/36/38 tooth. On the trail they felt stiff, solid and really didn’t feel any different to ride than the Saint crankset on our other test bike,if the Saint really is stiffer and stronger, we didn’t feel it. The only gripe would be – as with all Shimano cranks – that the Zee graphics are well on their way to be rubbed off after only 10 runs.
Zee’s four piston servo-wave brakes didn’t feel that hot out of the box and the car park test revealed a bit of initial sponginess and an annoying need to dig out an allen key to set lever reach. Initial grumbles aside though, they felt great on the trail and from the very first run they offered heaps of stopping power and a very comfortable and well designed lever that even sports tiny dimples to help with grip.
At the end of the day’s riding the levers do still feel a bit spongy but thankfully that doesn’t translate to any poor performance on the hill and without delay I was hitting steep, loose, rooty trails without worry that I’d have any stopping problems. Despite the moans I really enjoyed using these brakes today, the levers felt great and they worked faultlessly. Zee brakes will cost you about £144.99 and whilst they don’t have the same adjustment as the Saints they do share identical internals. (Saint is about £185 per brake).
Tucked neatly away at the rear of our test-ride was the Zee short-cage 10-speed rear mech. ‘Shadow Plus’ technology means that the mech sits tightly in to the frame and away from harm and also sports a switch that you can flick to take out chain slack and reduce noise/frame damage. Good news is that you can buy Zee mechs in ‘wide ratio’ and ‘close ratio’ options making it suitable for DH and trail bikes alike. The Zee mech felt great all day with zero distracting noise, zero damage from rocks, roots and uplifts and crisp, sharp shifting all the way through the block. Sure, it’s not as sturdy as a Saint and the design means that on paper shifting shouldn’t be as crisp but it’s lighter and costs about £80 less at £69.99.
Last but not least, our test ride was rolling on Zee hubs with a 20mm bolt through up front and a 150mm at the rear. It’s hard to rate a hub after a day’s riding but the angular contact bearings rolled smooth all day with no rattles after more than a few harsh landings. Front Zee hubs are around 230g and rears are between 250g and 260g. Rear costs around £50 and front around £45.
First impressions then? Zee offers great value for money and super impressive performance regardless of the price. We’re looking forward to putting some serious miles through our Zee equipped test bike to see how the kit holds up to long term abuse. Our trip to Spain in November will be the big test of performance – particularly for the brakes and the hubs. Stay tuned…
Thanks to Madison/Saracen for the loan of their Saracen Myst Pro – with Shimano Zee components.