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Shimano at 100 vs Shimano at 80: A Comparison of Anniversary Books from the World’s Largest Bicycle Component Manufacturer

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Throughout 2021, Shimano will be busy celebrating its first 100 years of existence. To capitalize on that, this year would be a logical time to announce the highly anticipated new Dura-Ace components; Although the opportunity for a timed launch on the Tour de France has now passed, Shimano could now wait until the Eurobike show at the end of August.

> Your Complete Guide to Shimano Road Groupsets

Until then we have a dedicated website to help have fun. As we reported at the time, this website was running a lottery, where winners had the opportunity to purchase one of 2,000 copies of a set of special commemorative books.


Since the 50th anniversary, Shimano has actually produced something similar every 10 years, but they are really only intended for internal use by “Team Shimano” and are rarely made available to the public. I was working for the UK distributor for Shimano in 2001, and I have a copy of the books produced for the 80th anniversary, “Pursuit of Dreams”. This gives us a great opportunity to compare what Shimano was saying then and today: from a time when 9 gears were still flowing in ranges, to now, with the same process going on for (what we assume to be ) 12 speeds.

Of course, the website has some overlap with the books. If you are wondering about the purpose of the little poem, know that this is just a taste of the corporate silliness that Shimano can do so well. There are many more meaningless platitudes in the books.

However, the books also offer many fascinating ideas. in Shimano’s past. Even though Japanese culture normally doesn’t like to “lose face,” which would involve admitting mistakes, there is no attempt to cover up things that did not go as planned – although there is no ‘There isn’t quite the same’ To Make Riders Faster ‘opening by Anna Dopico, for example, which tells the sometimes eventful story of Cervélo’s story.

It is inevitable that not all new product introductions will be successful. If you have an active R&D department, spending 115.7 billion yen (£ 775 million) over the past decade, you should expect a few failures, but they have been more than made up for by the successes.

Two other things strike you: not only has it taken a long time for Shimano to reach the level it is now, but it really is a very big and complex beast, making it into the top 60 most valued Japanese companies – close to of Canon and Olympus, for example.

Take care of business


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Let’s take a look at some of the financial aspects. There was much more detail in 2001, but it may have been deemed too commercially sensitive to reveal that the derailleur category accounted for 30.3% of sales value for example, or the brakes 3.8. %, so that kind of information is now missing.

Back then, the bicycle industry accounted for 72.7% of the total 131.5 billion yen (around £ 750 million), while it now accounts for 79.8% of the 363.2 billion yen ( £ 2.4 billion); the fishing division fell a little from 25.1% to 20%. This gives cycling a slightly bigger slice of a considerably bigger pie, and it will only have increased in the last year – and it may well have broken the previous record, set in 2015.

Shimano is right proud of its cold forging capabilities, which is a fantastic process that “makes the ideal possible” – and requires a huge capital investment. Shimano undertakes cold forging for other companies, and at 2.2% this was significant enough to be reported separately in 2001. Nowadays, anything other than cycling or fishing is in a category. referred to as “other” at just 0.2% – and that includes golf and rowing income as well.

Just because you can it doesn’t mean you should.

Golf? Yes, “Shimano’s carbon rod technology used in fishing tackle results in the production of shafts, and processing technology for making bicycle components has led to the production of metal heads.” This was the original idea, and the resulting Ultegra branded pilots appeared in 2001. They were beautiful, and perhaps even effective, but could have been crippled by the slogan “More precisely, further”.

Despite “high hopes for the future of this new system,” Book 100 reveals that Shimano ended the business in 2004 – only to start making rods again in 2014, “supported by the trend for users to personalize the combination of a head and a tree.

Just as the golf industry benefited from Shimano’s production capabilities, they tried to use specific technology to enter the snowboard business … SPD. In collaboration with the American ski brand K2, “in 1998, Shimano developed the Shimano HB shoe binding system”, which “immediately caught on”; However, this turned out to be more difficult than they thought, and again we now know that in 2009 Shimano pulled out of the market.

Share success


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Fortunately, this same technology is more successful in the sport of rowing, which Shimano entered in 2008. SRD stands for Shimano Rowing Dynamics: this may seem strange to cyclists, but apparently one of the difficulties they find is that “many rowers were not ready to accept the idea of ​​having their own shoes”!

Not only was the fishing company successful on its own, there was a good deal of sharing between it and the cycling side – from technology to production methods.

As an example, the idea of ​​the AX series aero cycle components was ahead of its time in 1980 and did not last long – in part due to the incompatibility with regular components. However, the fishing division “considered that aerodynamic technology could be applied to rods and reels for long-distance casting,” and this continues today in models like the Super Aero Titanium.


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Back when STI levers were introduced in 1990, Shimano was able to build on previous experience with fishing reels to handle the precision and complexity required: today they boast a ” less than 0.6 micron deflection in gear teeth ‘inside a typical reel, with 149 components. Unfortunately, this also means that STI levers share another attribute with fishing reels; they are very complicated and normally work incredibly well, but “with one part it won’t work.” Not a single part is compromised.

Or to put it another way … don’t even think about trying to get a part repaired!

What’s in a name?


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Perhaps learning a lesson from 20 years ago, Shimano cut back on interviews this time around. Under the headline “Talking About Sports and Tech Dreams”, there were at the time interviews with various American sports stars in which they all seemed to “fuck their asses”.

Interviews that stand the test of time are those with Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher, which helped persuade Shimano to “bet the whole company on the idea” of specific components for mountain biking – a bet which has largely borne fruit.

Maybe what convinced them not to repeat the interviews was the one with Lance Armstrong. After being “the first Shimano-equipped rider to win the Tour” in 1999 and then successfully defending his title, he “made everyone at Shimano very happy” because it was “a brilliant achievement in the race. history of cycling ”. Now, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t get any mention.

It goes further; it looks like they’re trying not to be associated with a particular rider, but rather to focus on the teams. Previously, they had mentioned several names of the Flandria team which used the first Dura-Ace components, notably “Freddy Maertens finishing second in the world ranking”. This time it was noted that “the team’s ace rider won the silver medal at the UCI Road World Championships”. Once bitten, and all that.

Sign of the times

Shimano has produced many gorgeous photos and videos over the years, and many of them have been available in the ‘gift’ section of the anniversary website, rather than being part of the set of books.


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Twenty years ago Internet connections wouldn’t have matched the distribution, so ‘Pursuit of Dreams’ includes a CD-ROM (for Windows only) of videos and… other stuff, probably. I suspect that like most people, I can’t afford to play such a thing anymore, and I don’t remember what was on it.

(For younger players, CDs predated downloads and streaming, and are now a little used means of distributing data; they were once the future, replacing tapes and floppy disks!)

The next time


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What will Shimano report on in 10 years and will Covid-19 be mentioned?

Based on past performance, I think Shimano will highlight the benefits of any new investment and factory opening, which have featured consistently throughout history covered in all the books – rather than the downsides of a demand exceeds supply, as has happened recently.

> The end of the global shortage of bicycle components? Shimano invests £ 216million in production expansion

You might expect factory closures imposed on the company due to Covid-19 regulations to be covered, but what else? There was an appropriate category for various newsworthy events called “The World in General” in the “Pursuit of Dreams” books, but it was an unusual collection of stories and it was not repeated this time. this.

This section has discussed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 for example, and the introduction of the euro in 1999; however, it also included news of more local interest that “Japan set its fishing limit 200 nautical miles from its coast” in 1977, or “bad loans held by city banks total $ 2.3 trillion. yen “in 1992 – so it really was an eclectic mix that seemed a bit out of place.

We know that Shimano is ‘continuing to search for a new area of ​​business that would be in line with its corporate vision’, so there might be some news on that – as well as the steady stream of technical developments in existing categories. that Shimano always does so well.

Even though Shimano’s core business is often attacked, you wouldn’t want to bet against the continued success of Shimano. 10 years from now, Shimano is still likely to feature prominently in our cycling lives, and “Shimano at 110” will still have a lot to cover – how many new generations of Dura-Aces will be released in the next decade?


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