The Shimano XT M8120 wheelset is durable, light and well priced. It gives a great ride feel too, but the Microspline freehub on our first wheel suffered issues.
The Deore XT M8120 wheelset is available in both 29” and 650b – we tested the former. Whichever size you choose, they come kitted with 28 double butted J-bend spokes, 34.7mm rims (30mm internal width) and a Microspline freehub.
The 29" weights are 1,061g for the rear and 941g at the front – pretty good, and nothing to be sniffed at.
The rims are offset for balanced spoke tension, and run a zero-dish spoke setup for extra strength.
Shimano says these wheels are optimized for 2.25” to 2.5” tyre widths, but I’ve run 2.6” tyres with absolutely no issues at all.
I’ve been testing the XT M8120s for almost seven months now, and they’ve been through a lot, but regardless of the abuse they’re still spinning true even without fettling the spokes. The bearings are still perfectly fine too.
However, after a while the freehub developed a grinding noise under power. Shimano replaced it and assured me this was down to a faulty sample, and to be fair, the replacement freehub has given no cause for concern since.
While on the subject of freehubs, it's quiet, but not silent – like a hive of bees with the volume turned way down. However, once at speed, I found the pickup a little slow for my liking, which had me clanging my way through sprinty, pedally sections.
The XT's low weight makes acceleration swift, and in the corners their stiffness gives tons of confidence when shralping turns, while they flex enough to boost grip – yet rarely enough to feel vague. It's a great balance.
They feel tough, too, offering the confidence to charge through rock gardens without the worry of wrecking the rim. I've bottomed out the tyres on multiple occasions, with no adverse effects.
Everything has a limit, of course, and I managed to put a sizeable ding in the rear wheel with a very hefty landing on a sharp rock – a killer for any rim. Despite this, the wheel still finished the (rather gnarly) ride, kept the air and sealant in the tyre, and only snapped a spoke by way of protest on the very last climb.
That impact did throw the spoke tension way out, leading to further spoke snaps on subsequent rides, but that's an easy fix and a small price to pay given the XT wheels' low weights.
Dodgy freehub aside, I’ve been pretty impressed with the Shimano Deore XT M8120 wheelset. It's put up with a lot, shrugged off all but the worst of knocks, and got me home every time. It's a light, durable and impressive wheelset.
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