Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Say What You Want About Them

Count 'em! Yep! There are 14 cogs there.
If you cruise the innergoogles you may have come across this story about how Shimano has had a patent on 14 speed drive train parts for a bicycle since 1999. Yep, it isn't #fakenews either. In fact, I've known about this for six or seven years now myself. That 14 speed exists is only a tiny bit of the story too.

So, first off, I have to give you a bit of background here. I was a former member of the "He-man's Shimano Haters Club". It was quite fashionable back in the 90's to hate on Shimano. "The Big Bad Guy" of the component world was quashing the hopes and dreams of would be cycling companies with thier CNC operators who were churning out anodized bits and baubles by the thousands. Many of which were of questionable quality. But that didn't matter. Shimano was evil and you had to hate them. It just was how things were back then.

But over the years as I became more attuned to what worked and what did not work, I realized that Shimano was a quite clever company with some solid products. Yes, they had their hiccups, (Bio-Pace, Octalink v1, original "push-push" Rapid Fire- to name a few), but by and large whatever Shimano laid their hands to worked really well. Take any XTR group, or XT group, and it can be considered "the best" of its day. Road stuff is someone else's beat, so I won't go there.

So,about six or seven years ago, Shimano did an unprecedented "tour". They invited several shop owners and mechanics to join them in certain metropolitan areas to meet with factory representatives and Shimano "Skunk Works" riders, who were the "secret" product testing team of riders who worked for Shimano. My visit was in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The XT DynaSys 10 speed group
 Shimano made a big deal out of this "opening up". They admitted to being distant and not very good at marketing since they were very focused on research and development instead. Nice story, but yeah.......whatever. Sing me a song, ya know? But then later on during the meeting I was availed the opportunity to speak with Skunk Works rider, Paul Thomasburg.

I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Paul. He was immediately engaging and enthusiastic to have a willing listener. Throughout our 40-45 minute conversation Paul laced his tales with so many new bits of information it was mind boggling. I learned about completely handmade, $15,000.00 chains that he tested, I learned about which Shimano Dual Control levers were actually the best, (hint: not XTR), and that there was a top secret "warehouse" that held secrets so incredible that Thomasburg was literally shaking with excitement just thinking about it. Of course, he couldn't reveal much about it, but he did tell me that Shimano had working prototypes of every speed group through 14 speeds. 

So, think about it: when you heard about SRAM's 12 speed Eagle group, you were shocked that SRAM had pulled off a fast one on Shimano. Well, no- not so much. That is old news to Shimano, who have working 12 speed, 13 speed and 14 speed groups in "the warehouse". And of course, they are all patented.

So, when you hear people bagging on Shimano, keep in mind that they have stuff that you've never seen that would blow your mind. They are waaay ahead of the game, and when they do pull the covers off what will sure to be their 12 speed groups soon, you can bet that they have tested the bejeezus out of it years ahead of SRAM or anyone else. That counts for something to me. It makes sense when you realize that Shimano stuff seems to work pretty darn well most of the time.

Oh.......and they make some pretty good brakes too.


Rydn9ers said...

I love my SRAM/AVID brakes, it saves me from needing to buy one of those bells to stick on my handlebars. The fact that geese think you trying to mate with them is a tad annoying at first but over time you learn to love the little feathered friends.

Nooge said...

All major companies have products in development far ahead of when they talk about them publicly. In fact there's usually several iterations of product in development at a time. So SRAM has also probably had 12, 13, 14 speed groups in the works for years as well. But as Kick Starter projects have demonstrated many times, having a functional prototype is far from having a product that can meet customer expectations, in large quantities and at competitive cost. If you don't have those things, you don't have a saleable product and development isn't done. Or maybe it's fully baked and they just want to slowly introduce 12 and 13 speed before 14 to maximize profits. Either way, if they won't sell it to me I don't care what they have in their lab.

BluesDawg said...

If only Shimano (or SRAM) would mass produce road double cranks with the ability to run smaller inner rings (26-33t).

Smithhammer said...

Agreed on Shimano brakes. I just can't get used to the mushy feel of SRAMs.

But I have no complaints on their 1x drivetrains at all, and I've used them on many bikes.