Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) is competing with a new Shimano Saint Shadow Plus rear derailleur prototype, complete with a friction band-controlled pulley cage for reduced chain slap and better chain retention (James Huang/Future Publishing)

Shimano isn’t set to launch
its revamped Saint gravity group until later this year but Trek World Racing
downhill sensation Aaron Gwin’s Session 9.9 offered an early glimpse at what’s
to come: a new Shadow Plus rear derailleur, new levers, and new brakes.

As expected, Shimano will bring the excellent Shadow Plus pulley cage
control from XTR over to Saint using what appears to be the same friction band
mechanism neatly hidden inside a removable molded plastic cover. While downhill
bikes already have good chain control with their short pulley cages and full
front chain guides, we expect the new Saint Shadow Plus rear derailleur to
offer even better control and security along with quieter operation.

Gwin’s machined aluminum prototype was admittedly a little rough in
appearance but you can still imagine what the final, forged aluminum version
will look like. As on the current Saint, we expect well-armored parallelogram
plates and a beefy knuckles top and bottom for impact resistance. Just as on
XTR, there’s still an on-off toggle switch for the cage control mechanism, too,
for easier rear wheel changes. It’s more hidden away on the prototype version
and finished in black instead of gold, however, so it’s difficult to see unless
you look up close.

The differential piston diameters on Shimano’s revamped Saint four-piston caliper is expected to be both quiet and powerful

Also new on Gwin’s machine are new four-piston Saint calipers. The new
model is still a two-piece design but uses two bolts to hold the halves
together instead of four and the backs are far more open for better airflow.
Differential piston diameters are carried over from the previous version for
both quiet and controllable power.

Gwin’s brake levers weren’t marked but it appears that he’s running
either a modified set of XTR Trails or a next-generation set of Saints that
will borrow much of their design architecture from Shimano’s flagship
cross-country and trail group. Key features include the lower-profile layout
with an inline instead of radial master cylinder, adjustable pad contact,
adjustable reach, hinged clamps, and textured aluminum lever blades for a bit
of extra grip.

Even the shift lever is custom made for Gwin. The main body is borrowed
from a standard Shimano Deore XT shifter but the aluminum pull lever is
slightly shorter than usual. According to team mechanic ‘Monkey’ Vasquez, Gwin
prefers the shorter length for easier access to the custom cable release
paddle, which is aggressively textured front and rear
for surer operation.

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