Thursday, March 01, 2012

Is Someone Waking The Sleeping Giant?

SRAM has Rock Shox, Shimano...?
"Let sleeping dogs lie", as the saying goes, and it means that you should leave well enough alone. However; I think it is too late for that. It would appear that the "giant" has been roused.

What am I talking about? Shimano, of course, and I think we're all about to see the component "giant", ( and I mean that literally and figuratively), jump in with a flurry of technology and componentry the likes of which has not been seen since the mid 1990's.

It was back then that the "CNC machine craze" took mountain biking by storm. New components were being cranked out with an almost weekly regularity in the early part of that decade and Shimano's grip on the mountain biking component world was slipping. In fact, some cheeky riders were going so far as to say that an "all American", or at least a "non-Shimano" build was the way to go on your mountain bike. Shimano was "The Man", and that didn't cotton to well with the industry, and with the riders.

Well, with one fell swoop, Shimano dramatically deep-sixed all of that with the introduction of the XTR component group. It was so well designed that even today the group is revered by mountain bikers old enough to remember it. But Shimano didn't stop there. They introduced "linear pull", or "V" brakes, revolutionizing braking for mountain bikes, and then introduced another newer XTR that set the bar so high that they nearly extinguished all competition for mountain bike parts by the year 2000.

However, this little company that wouldn't go away started to amass companies into its fold and became a force to be reckoned with. The name was SRAM, and even Rock Shox, the venerable fork manufacturer, fell into the fold. Now SRAM nearly had a complete build kit avaialable to manufacturers of frames. Everything but wheels, but as you all know, even that they have now.

SRAM Rise wheels
If SRAM made headsets and a few other components for the cockpit, they could have a complete build kit for a bike. Shimano sees the OEM spec going away to SRAM in many areas, so this didn't sit well with the Osaka Japan based company. It seems that the early rumblings of an "XTR-like" revolution are in the works all across the board at Shimano.

According to the latest "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News", Shimano has filed several suspension patents of late for forks and hydraulically adjustable seat posts. Not only that, but they are chasing an electronic component to all of this as well. The patents apparently show plans for an electronically controlled damper for suspension, and a electronically controlled height adjustable seat post. (Can you say "no cables"?)

Then yesterday news broke of a slew of components, including a Di2 Alfine 8 and 11 speed internally geared hub, lighter weight mechanical road brake calipers, and new "29"er specific parts" including a double XT and XTR level 38/24T crank set, and a new XT level UST wheel set.

So Shimano is obviously up to some dramatic things. If they do a suspension fork, it would be an earth shaking move that "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" says could drive some independent fork and suspension manufacturers out of business by squeezing them out of their lucrative OEM business.

Whatever happens, Shimano is sure to shake things up in a big way real soon. Look out! The giant stirs.......


collideous said...

A little correction: CNC component makers introduced direct-pull brakes years before Shimano picked up the design. I ran a set since 1991. Shimano only introduced V-brakes with their BR-M950 in 1996.

Fred Blasdel said...

Shimano's had electronically controlled shifting and suspension components out in public for 10 years now — it's called Nexave Di2, and was on low production highly-integrated hybrids in Japan, Germany, and Benelux for years. Powered by a second dynamo in the rear hub! They've also sold electric cassette joints for their 8-speed hubs to OEMs for about 5 years.

The only attempt they made at introducing this stuff in the US was the whole Shimano Coasting / Trek Lime thing back in 2008 — shades of Positron but it didn't succeed that time.

Guitar Ted said...

@collideous: You maybe are referring to Marinovative Cheap trick brakes, and of course, Keith Bontrager was playing with this idea before that as well. Yes- I am aware that "attempts" at linear pull brakes were done prior to 1996, but only Shimano made it a system that included levers. This revolutionized the braking. Linear pull brakes by Shimano have to be looked at as a system, and not just cantilever brakes with more leverage.

(And for the record, I had Shimano linear pull brakes by late 1995 on my Diamondback :>) )

@Fred Blasdel: I am aware that Shimano has done this as well. (It's in the articles all over the internet about the new Shimano offerings) However; this Alfine stuff is a step up, and I think you'd agree, in terms of profile and how it will be marketed. Ultegra Di2-like lever for drop bars? New Rapid-Fire type triggers for flat bars? E-Tube wiring? 8 and 11 speed options with disc brakes?

While your points are well taken, this announcement is in another league as far as Shimano's technical prowess and points to wider marketing than the traditional Euro commuter market.

Matt said...

Even if they do nothing else, their more aggressive push of new tech into SLX level components will make a big difference.

2013 SLX makes X9 look old and x7 look positively tired. Now they have 2x10 at that level, FOX is supplying great forks to companies that don't go the SRAM route.... Things are looking up. I say "up" because I prefer Shimano and it has been getting harder to find a 29er specced with Shimano recently, even otherwise Shimano equipped bikes have Avid brakes (oh how I love the shimano brake levers!).

Viva, Viva, competition!

Bruce Brown said...

It's pretty exciting as it will all lead to innovation and quality competitive products. So I say - let the sleeping giant wake on up! '-]