Asian miracle Shimano: the story of the legendary manufacturer of cycling equipment

    The names of the major manufacturers of bicycles at the hearing of many. Less often, people remember brands that produce components for these bikes. More rarely, they manage to remember some facts about them, except for the name. To fix this, we decided to tell about one of the largest companies in this niche - Japanese Shimano, which three years ago owned half of the components market and whose equipment brings victory to the best cyclists of the planet.

    We offer to recall how the company developed itself and its technology, which took place almost a century from the production of couplings to the production of complex systems for mountain electric bicycles.

    / Flickr / Glory Cycles / CC

    Shimano equipment evolution

    In 1921, the 26-year-old Shozaburo Shimano (Shozaburo Shimano) rented a 40-square-meter room. m in Japanese Sakai. Here he launched the production of overrunning clutches.

    By that time , large companies had already worked in the country , producing bicycles for the local market and for export. It is difficult to say now which of these companies supplied Shimano Iron Works with their first details and what decisions Shozaburo made as a manager. However, we know for sure that production grew and hired new employees.

    The founder of the company managed the production until his death in 1958. The year before, Shimano launched its first three-speed hub, which launched a series of innovations. His distant descendant of our time can be called the planetary sleeve Nexus Inter-3.

    In 1965, Shimano went beyond Asia and opened an office in New York. This happened shortly before the bicycle boom in the United States. High demand gave a chance to Asian producers in the new market. Shimano also took advantage of this chance.

    At that time, the company and its "compatriots" did not produce their own kits - their parts complemented the equipment of other manufacturers. Agreements with them did not give Asian companies complete control over the product line and did not allow them to update as often as they considered necessary. Some companies, such as SunTour, chose to maintain their narrow niche in those years, and Shimano chose to compete with former partners. The manufacturer has significantly expanded the internal staff of developers and in 1973 introducedits first set - Dura-Ace. Its name simultaneously refers to the alloy of duralumin and the strength of the system (from the English durability).

    Then the leader of the European market of parts for racing bikes was the Italian manufacturer Campagnolo. The first set of Dura-Ace came out in one year with a set of Campagnolo Super Record, which was warmly received due to the brand's past achievements and the characteristics of the new equipment. Despite having a strong competitor, Shimano managed to gain a foothold in the market. Three years later, the company released an updated Dura-Ace. Since then, Shimano has been supporting this series for 40 years.

    In 1984, Shimano introduced the first-ever Shimano Index System on the Dura-Ace 7400. Prior to that, cyclists needed to independently select the handle position in order to control the gear. The index system allows you to do this in one click. In 1990, Shimano introduced an important addition to it - the dual system. In it the shifter is combined with brake handles.

    In 1988, Andy Hampsten won the Giro d'Italia Grand Prix. On his bike was installed kit Dura-Ace. This victory was the first major sporting achievement on Shimano equipment. In 1999, the Tour de France victory on Dura-Ace was added to this list. By the way, now most of the athletes in this cycling race use Shimano, includingwinner Chris Froome (Chris Froome).

    Shimano released the first ever MTB kit - Deore XT - back in 1982. And in 1991, the first XTR series parts appeared on the market - components for mountain bikes. Along with the XTR, Shimano has other mountain kits - for example, the SLX. The brakes and switches of this system are equipped with Twitter MANTIS-E1 .

    Over the next years, the flagship Dura-Ace line-up continued to develop along with the MTB-kits, and with it other groups of road kits. A significant technological breakthrough for all subsequent models occurred in 2009 with the release of the Dura-Ace 7970 kit. It was equipped with an electronic switching system, called Digital Integrated Intelligence (or Di2).

    The criticism immediately fell upon the transmission of the new generation - Di2 was called “a marketing ploy” and a “solution to a problem that does not exist” in the media. Years passed, and now the electronic switching system has become the industry standard for cycling. Despite recognition, Shimano's top-notch kits often come out in the mechanical and electronic versions to choose a cyclist.

    In 2010, the first Shimano set for electric bikes appeared on the market - Steps. It is based on Di2 technology. The launch of the kit coincided with a new wave of interest in electric vehicles in Europe and the USA. Elements of the Steps system, which, along with the “standard” set of components, includes the engine and battery, are mounted on bicycles from such brands as Kenzel, Panther, Superior.

    The Steps kit has a specialized branch - a series of electronic systems for mountain bikes. Switches with different modes of movement can be found on bicycles from Kelly's, Bergamont, Wisper.

    Classification of modern Shimano kits

    Shimano kits are divided into two large groups: road and mountain. Electric drives can be divided into a separate category, however, they are already quite firmly entrenched in both the first and second groups.

    The road kits include the already mentioned Dura-Ace - the most expensive in the group, - Ultegra, 105, Tiagra, Sora, Claris, 2300. Claris is a budget Shimano line. This equipment is usually installed on the most affordable bikes. In transmission Claris 8 stars. Sora and Tiagra are close in class to Claris. Tiagra has a lot in common with 105 sets, but still they remain a more budget option. Tiagra, as a rule, equip urban bicycles.

    The 105th kits open up the next class of Shimano equipment. In 2018, the R7000 lineup received a major update, which brought it closer to Ultegra in terms of design features. The 105s still do not have Di2, but disc brakes appeared. This kit is positioned as an affordable offer, the quality is not much inferior to high-end equipment.

    105 is followed by Ultegra. In a sense, it is the "younger brother" Dura-Ace. As with the Dura-Ace, electronic switches and hydraulic brakes are available on the Ultegra. In 2017, the update of the R8000 kit from this line brought it even closer to the flagship road product. Ultegra is a versatile product that is also suitable for driving on uneven surfaces thanks to a rear derailleur that helps keep the circuit under extreme conditions. Ultegra comes with mechanical switches.

    Dura-Ace is a premium highway kit that has been improving for almost half a century. It is used by professional athletes who appreciate the light weight and comfort of smooth switching on both mechanics and Di2 in equipment. Recently, a version with an electronic switch received a new feature - Synchronized Shift. In fact, it allows you to “drive up” the ride - set the simultaneous switching of the rear stars on the click of the shifter. The cyclist can abandon this mode and switch in the usual way.

    This technology is borrowed from the company's MTB line. In general, the flagship highway kit and Shimano mountain-drive equipment are becoming more common, for example, Shadow technology. Shadow switches have a smaller profile compared to other models — this protects against damage — and provides a straight cable position — so it doesn’t get any extra bends. Such switches are found in the SLX mountain range, including the Twitter AM26-E1 17 electric bike .


    In the mountain rangeOver the past 35 years, Shimano has released even more complete groups than on the highway — XTR, Saint, Deore XT, SLX, Zee, Hone, Deore LX, Deore, Alivio, Acera, Altus, Tourney. Like road kits, mountain kits are divided into classes - from premium (XTR) to the most affordable. Along with the classes there is a division in application.

    The most expensive equipment - XTR - is preferred by professional athletes. Saint, Zee and Hone are suitable for extreme driving and freeride, SLX and all the rest are for amateur mountain walks.

    From the production of some kits Shimano refused. This is about the Hone family. Other company launched quite recently - for example, Tourney. All active series receive regular updates. Mountain kits also take over the design features of racing - new generations of 9-speed Alivio, Acera and Altus transmissions have recently adopted the design of their high-speed counterparts, as well as MEGA9 LITE technology, which provides improved maneuverability while driving.

    Among the basic models stands out Alivio kit. By analogy with the 105th highway it belongs to the "transitional form." The set is close in performance to its more expensive counterparts, and for the price - to the "neighbors" in the class. Due to price and reliability, 9-speed transmission is considered a universal solution - it is used not only for mountain climbing. Trek recently released an updated model of its classic hiking bike, which combines elements of Alivio with the details of the Sora highway. Alivio mountain bikes with switches include Twitter VS7.0-EM 17 .


    The new 11-speed SLX features all of Shimano’s latest developments from recent years, including Shadow Plus rear derailleur and disc brakes. In this case, the kit is simply customized to suit your preferences in driving. The SLX system is installed on mountain electric bicycles as Yamaha YDX Torc and Twitter AM26-E1 17 .

    And among the mountain sets there are models that support the technology Di2. These are the professional components of the Deore XT (XT M8050) and XTR family.

    / Flickr / Floris Oosterveld / CC

    "Raisin" Shimano

    A variety of modern kits Shimano demonstrates the company's comprehensive approach to the bicycle market. This is the characteristic style of the manufacturer, which appeared in the 1960s, when Shimano ceased to be a supplier of individual components.

    Interestingly, the company for many years of evolution has not lost interest in narrow niches. An example of this approach is the Coasting project for the American market. In the 2000s, Shimano, along with several bicycle manufacturers, studied the preferences of US residents — which bikes most consumers need.

    It turned out that these should be simple models, reminiscent of children's impressions of classic bicycles. While Shimano was already producing innovative kits for leading athletes and was close to releasing the first Di2 systems, the company's designers and involved consultants developed a series of the simplest components for the mass market. Coasting kits were equipped with a 3-speed automatic shift transmission and a “classic” foot brake system instead of a handbrake.

    Although the project existednot for long, at one time he won awards and recognition. Shimano followed its principle of continuous development and went on to develop kits for various groups of consumers. Perhaps the key to the company's success has always been precisely this desire - to please not only professional athletes, but also ordinary cycling enthusiasts.

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