Fuji Touring 64cm, Peugeot Canada PB-18 61cm and winter beaters
From my point of view, you just can't go wrong with plain ol' Deore, LX or XT, each level being a small improvement over the last. XTR is another matter entirely, as I feel it pushes the lightweight aspect so far as to compromise durability.
Plain old Deore should serve the needs of every serious cyclist - LX or XT are incremental improvements at a great cost, but if somebody can afford it, they certainly can't go wrong with either.
The thing is about Shimano, practically every product they make is good. From the lowly $10 shifter sets like the SL-TX30 or the whole Tourney range, to the Tiagra hubs that Sheldon brown said were better than any hub from any other mfg other than Phil Wood, to the ugly, inexpensive, but strong and reliable Deore rear derailleur, to the low-end riveted cranksets to the inexpensive and expensive replacement chainrings, to the $5 UG-51 chain and the reasonably affordable 9-speed HG-53 chain, to the odd but light and precise Sora Brifters still available in 8 and 9 speed, Shimano makes great products at any price point.
So if you want the best non-racing MTB components Shimano has to offer, go XT. It's a little pricy, but it's very well made, long-lasting and very nice looking. But Deore won't let you down - and as a matter of fact, neither will Alivio, Acera, Altus, Sora, 2200 and yes, even the TX and the 050 series if you're not too hard on them.
2003 Specialized Hardrock, 2004 LOOK KG386i, 2005 Iron Horse Warrior Expert, 2009 Pedal Force CX1
Originally Posted by mzeffex
But back on topic, does XT = snob appeal?
Possibly but only to those who give a crap (most people don't know a MTB from a road bike let alone XT from Tourney) and don't own XT or above. XTR owners will still look down on you as a penny pincher.
An XT rear derailer has bearings in the pulleys instead of bushings. That adds functionality but doesn't earn snob appeal compared to LX or below, right? (I don't know...I'm oblivious to snob appeal. I like things that work well and are beautiful.)
Also, XT components don't have the flashy bling look. I wouldn't be able to spot them from further than I can read the stamp. Now Phil Wood, Chris King, Nitto...there's unmistakeable snob appeal. (And extraordinary functionality, too.)
Now an XT front derailer...maybe that's snob appeal. Even quite cheap front derailers work very well.
I also have XT on my Giant and it's been pretty good stuff...but, I only have about 15,000 miles on components and bike, and the last 5,000 miles has been on a trainer. But the shifters tend to go out of adjustment frequently so I'm always having to do something to get them to work again. This is an older generation so maybe those had bugs. Odd bike, the thing came with all XT stuff except the wheels and hubs which were cheap and on the heavy side from China!
The older rapid rise XT rear derailers had problems with constantly going out of adjustment. The new ones are fine. If you have a rapid rise derailer you might consider replacing it.
I think they are rapid risers, but I don't ride the bike frequently enough to warrant replacing them till they break altogether. But since you brought that up, your right, I will replace them when necessary.