Friday, March 24, 2006

A Component Makers Reformation?

The leaks about Shimano's new designs for the XTR group are getting bigger. It would appear that the component giant has turned a new leaf philosophically when it comes to choice. It's a bit ironic that Shimano also used XTR back in the nineties to make a statement, albeit a totally different one.

Back then, the cottage industry CNC parts manufacturers were busy replicating every part of the drivetrain imaginable in brilliant annodized colors. This was in contrast to the then top of the line XT parts group which in comparison, looked like a Quaker at a Grateful Dead concert. Sturdy and durable, but not much fun. Lots of business was being lost to the proprietors of these billet aluminium companies. Even though the parts often were no where near as functional as Shimano's mid level groups and were being sold for often times twice the price of XT stuff. In steps Shimano with the elegant, light, durable, and high functioning XTR group. (In my opinion, still the best looking crankset Shimano has ever executed!) Well, the end was near for the CNC parts slingers!

Fast forward to today. Several parts manufacturers again have stepped up to challenge the supremacy of the component giant. The difference being that this time the engineering, research and developement, and manufacturing techniques used are on par with, and in some cases better than Shimanos. This time original equipment spec is being lost by the bucketload to these challengers. Shimano tried to re-invent the shift lever, and other component pieces to a very lukewarm reception by the public. The other companies parts also allowed freedom of choice, where Shimano required a set of parts be used in concert with each other, disregarding rider preferences. Other companies were using the wonder material of the day- carbon fiber- quite liberally. Shimano once again looked boring in comparison.

Now they are promising more options, more choices. Now they are playing catch-up instead of upping the ante, like they did in the nineties. The competition of today is not inept, as it was once. Shimano is making a statement with this new XTR. I'm thinking it's not going to be seen as a very authoritative staement, like the first generation of XTR, but rather more like a conciliatory one. Is this a more humble, more consumer friendly Shimano? Time will tell.

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