|The PRO Discovery Series "Jumbo Flare" Bar|
Taking that into mind along with the fact that Shimano has their own component/accessory brand dubbed "PRO", this new introduction of handlebars and bike packing bags announced over the weekend is very interesting.
It says to me that Shimano feels that the future, (or at least one of the plausible futures) of cycling is in the adventure/all-road category. It has not taken all of this stuff going on with gravel cycling here lightly. For instance, their press release says, "A coupling of the latest technology from its range of high-performance road and mountain bike components and rider and category research, PRO introduces its first performance product range for gravel and adventure riding, including flared handlebars, bags,and dropper seat posts."
It's probably going to be seen as "marketing BS" by many of you, but I have had some limited contact with actual Shimano employees based both here and in Japan, and let me tell you, they are serious about what they do. I've no doubt this gravel thing they are embarking on is serious. Shimano brought over several employees from Japan recently to participate and observe at the Almanzo 100. Shimano even has a gravel road riding segment on their website now. It isn't there just to "hop on the bandwagon" either. These handle bars and the shoes I just got, and the Ultegra clutch style derailleur are all part of something bigger here. I think we're just seeing the beginnings of what Shimano has in mind.
|The PRO Discovery Medium Flare|
There was no prices or ETA on availability given in the press release I got.
The mind immediately goes to Salsa Cycle's offerings in this category when you look at these bars. Obviously the Medium Flare most closely aligns with the Cowbell and the Jumbo Flare with the Cowchipper. These could be good alternatives to Salsa's offerings if they are easier to get than Salsa's products are at times.
Okay, so there are bags and a dropper seat post. Those do not impress me, in terms of the bigger picture, as much as the handle bars do. Handle bars require tooling and a lot of investment. Shimano PRO already makes a dropper post. Bags are not that big a deal to have made. But making a handle bar, that's an investment that shows a certain level of commitment to gravel/all-road bikes that isn't easy to ignore.
Of course, the bars themselves are not all that innovative, but it shows that Shimano has made a choice to be a player in this niche. As a first effort, they look to be quite serviceable, although derivative, and uninspired. But I don't think that is the point we should be making note of here.