A benchmark among current disc brakes for consistency and modulation

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 9


  • Dependable
  • Well-built
  • One-finger power
  • Good heat management
  • Easy to bleed


  • Servowave cam won't be to everyone's taste
  • Some people may want like the short, one-finger, lever


Shimano XT M785 brake review


Price as reviewed:



Shimano’s compact XT lever and parallel ‘double-barrelled’ reservoir is derived from the well-regarded XTR brake, and comes with an adjustable cam system. This Servo Wave design pushes more fluid at the start of the stroke (affording the pads more clearance) before smoothing out the force on the rotor when you apply the brakes more firmly.

The stubby, hooked lever assembly comes with a free stroke screw (we ran this fully in) and a tool-free reach adjuster. A hinged clamp allows easy fitment, and an integrated I-Spec clamping option enables perfect integration with Shimano shifters.

Oversized 22mm ceramic pistons inside the two-piece XT caliper help prevent heat transfer into the mineral oil, with Ice Tech finned pads designed to dissipate further heat build up. There isn’t an option to change hose orientation.


We’ve already tried the mega-powerful XT brakes with the metal pads and found them slightly too grabby, so we opted for the resin (F01A) finned pads. With these in place, control and modulation is excellent at low speeds and on sketchy, steep sections in both the wet or dry, but still equally capable of scorching to a rapid halt on high-speed fireroads and downhill tracks.

The short lever blade fits your digit perfectly, there’s no slop and, although it’s initially a little reluctant to get moving, the action is then light and smooth, which helps keep your fingers relaxed if you ride covering the brakes.

Shimano claims its aluminium/steel layered rotors reduce temperatures by 100% over a standard all steel disc and we noticed massively superior performance over the standard Deore rotors we’ve tried. In fact, a fast 20min Lakeland descent couldn’t get the Ice Tech rotors to flinch.

We’ve already used XT brakes to cover hundreds of wet miles with only one set of new pads, so durability is excellent. Since the brakes aren’t the lightest, but the power is so great and consistent, we’d have no qualms dropping to a 160mm rotor on the front to save rotating weight.


The latest Shimano XT brakes are hard to fault, with true one-finger operation whatever the conditions. Awesome, manageable power is combined with rotors and pads that kept on performing consistently. Our only small gripe is that running the levers very close to the grip exceeds the optimum leverage position of the cam – a XT lever without the cam, as found on the XTR Race brake, would be a 10/10 for us.