Shimano at 100 vs Shimano at 80: anniversary books of the world’s largest bicycle component manufacturer in comparison


In the course of 2021, Shimano will be busy celebrating its 100th anniversary. To capitalize on this, this year would be a logical time to announce the highly anticipated new Dura-Ace components; Since the chance of a Tour de France start has now passed, Shimano could now wait until the Eurobike show at the end of August.

> Your complete guide to Shimano road bike groups

Until then, we have a special website that helps us 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 series of special commemorative books.

Since the 50th anniversary, Shimano has actually produced something similar every 10 years, but they are actually only intended for internal use by ‘Team Shimano’ and are rarely made available to the public. I worked for Shimano’s UK distributor in 2001 and have a copy of the 80th anniversary book, Pursuit of Dreams. This gives us a great opportunity to compare what Shimano said then and now: from a time when 9-speed was still trickling in the areas to now when the same process is underway for (what we suspect) 12-speed .

Of course, the website has some overlap with the books. If you’re wondering about the purpose of the short poem, be warned that this is just a taste of the bland corporate banter that Shimano is so good at. There are many more meaningless platitudes in the books.

The books also offer many exciting insights into Shimano’s past. Even though Japanese culture doesn’t usually like to “lose face”, which includes admitting mistakes, there is no attempt to gloss over things that didn’t go according to plan – albeit not quite the same frankness as in “To Make Riders Faster ”by Anna Dopico, for example, which tells the sometimes turbulent story of Cervélo.

It is inevitable that not every new product launch will be successful. If you have an active research and development department that has spent 115.7 billion yen (£ 775 million) over the past decade, expect some failures – but those successes have far outweighed them.

Two other things stand out: Not only did it take Shimano a long time to get to where it is now, but it’s really a really big and complex beast that is among the 60 Most Valuable Japanese Companies – close to Canon and Olympus for example.

Take care of the business

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Let’s take a look at some of the financial metrics. There were a lot more details in 2001, but perhaps it was viewed as too commercially sensitive to show that the derailleur category, for example, accounted for 30.3% of total sales value or brakes 3.8%, so this type of Information is now missing.

Back then, cycling accounted for 72.7% of the total of 131.5 billion yen (around £ 750 million) compared to 79.8% today of 363.2 billion yen (£ 2.4 billion); the fisheries sector has decreased from 25.1% to 20%. That gives cycling a slightly bigger slice of a much bigger cake that has only risen in the last year – and may have surpassed the previous record of 2015.

Shimano is rightly proud of its cold forging skills, a fantastic process that “makes the ideal happen” – and requires a huge amount of capital. Shimano does cold forging for other companies, and at 2.2% this was significant enough to be shown separately in 2001. Nowadays anything that isn’t biking or fishing falls into a category called “other”, at only 0.2% – and that includes golf and rowing income.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Golf? Yes, “Shimano’s carbon rod technology used in fishing tackle translates into shaft making, and the processing technology used to make bicycle components led to the production of metal heads.” That was the original idea, and in 2001 the resulting drivers appeared of the Ultegra brand. They were beautiful and possibly even effective, but might have been hampered by the slogan “more precise, more distant”.

Despite the initial “strong hopes for the future of this new system”, the 100th books show that Shimano ended the business in 2004 – only to restart manufacturing shafts in 2014, “supported by the trend that users are using the combination of head and a shaft. “

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

Share in the success

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Fortunately, the same technology in rowing that Shimano entered in 2008 has had greater success. SRD stands for Shimano Rowing Dynamics: It may seem strange to cyclists, but one of the difficulties they find is that “many rowers” were unwilling to accept the idea of ​​having their own shoes “!

Not only was the fishing business successful in itself, but there was a lot of exchanges between it and the bike side – from technology to production methods.

For example, the idea of ​​the aero-focused bicycle components of the AX series was ahead of its time in 1980 and did not last long – also due to the incompatibility with regular components. The angling department “however, considered that aerodynamic technology could be applied to rods and reels for long casts,” and that continues to this day in models like the Super Aero Titanium.

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When STI levers were introduced in 1990, Shimano was able to draw on previous experience with fishing reels to handle the required precision and complexity: today they boast “a toothing deviation of less than 0.6 microns” in a typical reel of 149 Components. Unfortunately, this also means that STI levers share another attribute with fishing reels; they’re very complicated and usually work incredibly well, but “with a single piece it won’t work. Not a single piece is compromised. “

Or put another way … don’t even think about bringing a part in for repair!

What’s in a name

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Maybe Shimano learned a lesson from 20 years ago and this time scaled back the interviews. Under the heading “Talking about the Dreams of Sport and Technology” there were interviews with various American sports stars in which they seemingly “blow each other’s asses”.

Tried and tested interviews are those with Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher, who made a significant contribution to convincing Shimano to put “the whole company on the idea” of certain mountain bike components – a bet that has paid off.

What perhaps convinced her not to repeat the interviews was 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 history of cycling”. Well, it’s not surprising that it’s not mentioned.

It goes on; It looks like they are trying not to be associated with a specific driver, but instead to focus on the teams. Before that, they mentioned several names on the Flandria team that used the first Dura-Ace components, including “Freddy Maertens second in the overall world rankings”. This time it was found that “the team’s ace won the silver medal at the UCI Road World Championships”. Bitten once and all that.

sign of time

Shimano has produced many gorgeous pictures and videos over the years, and many of them have been made available in the ‘Gifts’ section of the anniversary website instead of being part of the book set.

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Twenty years ago, internet connections wouldn’t have been up to the distribution, so ‘Pursuit of Dreams’ includes a CD-ROM (Windows only) with videos and … other things, probably. I suspect, like most people, I don’t have the resources to play something like this anymore, and I can’t remember what it said.

(For younger readers, CDs preceded downloading and streaming and are now an underutilized means of distributing data; they were once the future, replacing tapes and floppy disks!)

Next time

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

Based on past performance, I think Shimano will highlight the positive aspects of new investments and factory openings that have been regular throughout history covered in all books – rather than the negative aspects of demand that exceeded supply as was the case recently.

> An end to the global shortage of bicycle components? Shimano is investing £ 216 million to expand production

You could expect the plant closings 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 at a Glance” in the Pursuit of Dreams books, but it was an unusual collection of stories that was not repeated this time around.

For example, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the introduction of the euro in 1999 were mentioned in this section; However, it also contained the more local interest rate news that “Japan set its fishing limit at 200 nautical miles off its coasts in 1977” or “City bank bad loans totaled 2.3 trillion yen” in 1992 – so it really was an eclectic mix that felt a little out of place.

We know that Shimano is “continuing to search for a new business area that matches its corporate vision,” so there may be some news in this regard – along with the regular technical developments in existing categories that Shimano always does so well.

Even if Shimano’s core business is often attacked, one does not want to bet against Shimano’s continued success. 10 years from now, Shimano will likely still play a strong role in our cycling lives, and Shimano at 110 will still have a lot going for it – how many new generations of Dura-Ace will be launched in the next decade?

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