14 May 2016

Deore DX: Will It Become Shimano's "Forgotten" Ensemble?

Last year,  I wrote about the Campagnolo Gran Sport gruppo that was made from 1975 until 1985.  It was Campy's "second line", behind the Record.  Gran Sport parts echoed, for the most part, Record's designs, but omitted a few convenience features (such as infinitely-variable quick-release levers on the brake calipers) and weren't as nicely finished.  That Gran Sport gruppo (not to be confused with the GS ensemble of the 1950s and early 1960s) was never terribly popular, at least here in the US, because top-of-the line Sun Tour Superbe and Shimano Dura-Ace components, which were prettier and lighter (and with derailleurs that shifted better) cost about the same as, or less than Gran Sport stuff.  Also, as  Brooks ("Retrogrouch") pointed out, Record components and gruppos could be had, via mail-order catalogues, for about the same amount of money as one would pay for Gran Sport in a shop.

Today, I am going to write about another "lost" gruppo.  This one began production a few years after Gran Sport ended. And, unlike GS and Record, the components I'm about to mention were not intended for road racing. Rather, they were designed for the then-relatively-new sport of mountain biking.

Daniel Rebour drawing of the original Deore touring ensemble, 1981

In 1981, just before mountain biking spread from its original enclaves in northern California and New England, Shimano made its first touring ensemble.  Now--again, I refer to "Retrogrouch"--it wasn't anywhere near as encompassing as Campagnolo's racing gruppos:  It didn't include, for example, brakes or a seatpost.  But it may have been the first attempt, however imperfect, at offering a coordinated set of drivetrain components for bicycle touring. 

That ensemble, though, didn't lead to a Shimano domination of the touring market.  Japanese manufacturers (and Trek) had been making good loaded touring bikes for several years, usually with a mixture of components like Sun Tour derailleurs with Sugino or Sakae Ringyo (SR) cranks, Dia Compe brakes and Sanshin hubs.  Some of those bike manufacturers started to use the new Deore derailleurs, but in companion with the other components I've mentioned.

1982 Shimano Deore XT ensemble.

So, if dominating the touring market was Shimano's intention, they didn't succeed.  However, mountain biking was about to take off, and that is where Deore components would find their niche.  The year after they were introduced, they were tweaked and hubs, brakes and new brake and shift levers were added.  So was the Deore XT, the first mountain bike group, born.

For the next four years, the Deore XT was Shimano's only mountain bike ensemble.  In 1986, other, lower-priced groups and parts were introduced--including the Mountain LX in 1988.  (Shimano had been making a road LX group.)  Then, in 1990, a new set of components that had most of the features of the XT--and an attractive look--first saw the light of day.

If the Deore XT was the Dura Ace or Campagnolo Record of the mountain bike world, then the Deore DX was its Ultegra/600.  It didn't take long for DX to appear on high-end mountain bikes from the likes of Trek, Gary Fisher and Klein, among other makers.  Like the Campy Gran Sport Gruppo, it offered performance that differed imperceptibly, if at all, from the top-of-the line parts--at considerably lower cost.

Deore DX group, from the 1991 Shimano catalogue

If anything, the DX might have been even closer to XT than Gran Sport was to Record.  For one thing, none of the essential or convenience features were sacrificed.  The DX finishing work might not have been, on close inspection, quite up to XT standards, but almost nobody thought DX stuff was ugly.  The chief difference, it seemed, was in weight, which had to do with materials.  For example, the same parallelogram and knuckles were found on XT and DX derailleurs, but the DX had a steel pulley cage, in contrast to the alloy one on the XT. 

Touring bikes were out of favor by the time DX came along in 1990, but the dedicated tourers that were being made (or re-vamped) by that time were often adorned with DX equipment.  So were tandems and cyclo-cross bikes. (The latter is one reason why Shimano made a short-cage version of the DX rear derailleur.)  Those who used DX equipment almost invariably praised it and, in fact, a fair number of  riders are still riding with DX stuff they bought twenty-five years ago. 

So why don't we see more of it today?  Well, Shimano stopped production of Deore DX components in 1993.  By that time, Shimano had upgraded the Deore LX lineup to the point that it was just about as good as DX, for about a third less money.  At that time, both road and mountain bikes were moving from seven- to eight-speed cassettes.  Shimano started to offer the LX with 8 speeds that year, but didn't "upgrade" the DX.  So, people who bought new bikes or components were buying 8 speed--which, of course, meant Deore LX.

Also, that same year, Shimano introduced its new "super" mountain group:  the XTR. With that addition, Shimano had ten different levels of mountain bike components (XTR, XT, DX, LX, Exage ES and LT and Altus A10, A20, C10 and C20).  I guess the company decided that for 1994, it simply didn't want to make that many lines of parts.  So, out went DX and the Exage and Altus lines.  In their place came two levels of STX and two levels of Alivio at the bottom of Shimano's mountain bike lineup.  The 8-speed Deore LX had, by 1995, firmly established itself as Shimano's "third" mountain bike line, roughly analogous to the 105 road group.

So...while Shimano produced Deore DX components for only three years, and production stopped more than two decades ago, many are still being ridden.  (I ride a short-cage DX rear derailleur on Helene, my later-model Mercian mixte, with a 9-speed cassette.) That, I think, is a testament to how well they were made.  Also, some of us simply prefer the look of them to what's made today.  

Still, aside from those of us who know and ride them, almost nobody mentions Deore DX components anymore.  Will they become Shimano's "forgotten" mountain bike group?


  1. Hi there, thanks for this post! I'm a Swiss biycle enthusiast and my journey brought me to Guatemala (from Canada in one year on the road pedalling), where I'm living now for almost three years (I never left due to many reasons). Yesterday I bought a Diamond Back CroMo rigid fork mountain bike which is almost originally equipped with Shimano Deore DX... I just felt intuitively that this is a good deal, my frame size (I'm not tall, but for Guatemalan standard on the taller side :)). So I know now the story about the components. I'm racing here cross country with an "old" Stevens hardtail which was equipped with Shimano STX RC 8-speed. But I changed it to 9-speed with a Sram X-9 derailleur as the STX doesn't work that well when dusty and muddy. Rock Shox Indy C and nothing to special, but works well for me. I was using it to go to my land to plant, it's nearby, but I just feel the dust and sun doesn't do good to the bike, so I prefer to have something else just for the "campo" I don't have to take to much care and my Stevens will be ready for training and racing. Btw, the passion about cycling is tremendous here in Guatemala!!! Road and especially around here in the highlands around Quetzaltenango is the mountain bike region of the country. Thanks again, keep on posting great articles!

  2. Anon--Thanks for your great story. It's interesting that there's so much mountain biking in Guatemala. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

    I'm happy that you found my post interesting and helpful. Have a great ride!

  3. Thanks for your Shimano history lesson. I just came across a bike with Deore LX , which I'd never heard of before. Yours is one of the few explanations around.



  4. Adrian, I am glad you found this useful. Enjoy the bike, and your rides!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Shimano - Deore - DX, chicka chicka chicka boom, ole!! That what he used to sing when he rode mine!!

  7. Sid--I love it! Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I love this article thank you, memory fades with time. I have a Univega Chromoly MTB I purched new with all Deore DX parts in the late 80's or early 90's. It's the only thing I have ridden since I purchased new off the showroom floor. It still has all the original parts except the left shifter that finally broke that I haven't yet replaced and of course tubes and tires. I wish I could find an exact replacement for the shifter.

  9. Winston--I know Deore DX is good stuff, and your experience is more evidence of that. Good luck finding the shifter: If I come across one, I'll let you know!

  10. Love reading about this. I put many rough miles on my Heavy Tools mountain bike that I purchased in 1990. After hanging in the garage for well over 10 years my kids started riding it. It shifted so much smoother than many of their lower end new bikes. Sadly the front and rear deraileurs have finally given up.

  11. Brent--Someone once told me the best things are meant to be passed on. If you can't find a DX on eBay or someplace, try LX derailleurs from the 8- or 9-speed groups.

    I just happen to have a never-installed short-cage version of the DX in my box. I don't know whether it would handle the gearing on your bike, though!

  12. Super useful and well written - much thanks for the explicit information!

  13. Bought a Nishiki Revolution in 92 with Deore DX. Tough as old boots and shifts beautifully. New cassettes, chains and wotnot. My son loves it more than his Trek. Steel, stiff, upright. Rim deore brakes. Some laugh at it (young bucks at the LBS)but noone mocks it.

  14. Anon--It seems every comment on this post confirms everything I've said about DX. They (including yours) also show what good bikes came with DX!

  15. I have a scott competition mountain bike with deore dx.. Levers are looking a bit worn but the gear train is bomb proof..

  16. I love the underdog Deore DX group! - amazing quality and there are still many opportunities to find NOS parts at good prices. (compared to early XT)
    You forgot to mention the Shimano DX BMX connection...

  17. Anon—I didn’t mention the BMX connection simply because I have no experience with, and hence know little about, BMX. Some day I might write about BMX.