Monday, August 25, 2014

Shimano: Then and Now

Shimano has certainly come a long way since the Bike Boom in the 70's. When the largely European dominated market could not keep up with the demand for parts, Shimano and SunTour stepped in and wrecked it for everyone. The unfortunate thing for SunTour however, was that they continued to try to improve upon existing technologies rather than focusing on what the future was going to bring. Once Shimano (who was also manufacturing fishing equipment at the time) developed and perfected the art of index shifting, it was Sunset for SunTour.

Index shifting changed the game and made gear changes a mindless task by simply clicking to the next gear. This was done in the before times via a friction based lever that had to be adjusted slightly every time you shifted. The time it takes to make that adjustment is time wasted when you are being dropped by the Peleton. Index was widely welcomed in the racing community as the rider could be sure they were in  the right gear before launching an attack. That was bad news for the likes of Campagnolo, and others who lost much of the market share to this new innovation. 

The first real attempt at index shifting was kind of a flop and was designed around the derailleur having indents in the body that would click into place with each shift. It was a clumsy design and proved to be consistently inconsistent. It was given a second chance with the introduction of Positron II, and was put to bed almost immediately. 
It was not until about 1984 when S.I.S (Shimano Index Shifting) took off because the design had become more functional. By moving the index device in to the shifter itself, they could control the cable pull better. Meaning, the shifters would momentarily over-shift the derailleur (to be sure it went to the next cog), and then allow it to settle back into the correct position (to be sure it was in gear). This function is still a feature in even their newest technology. 

Only the high-end line of parts (Dura Ace) were endorsed by the pros, though Shimano would, and still does, trickle down the technology once it is proven to have worked (or was rendered obsolete by newer stuff). During that time, bikes intended for the masses included parts like Shimano 600 and 105 to make it as similar to what the racers have, but for the everyman budget. I maintain that the shifting from that generation of DA, 600, and 105 are all very similar with the biggest difference being looks and weight (plus the amount of gears it could handle). The functionality was there, and now it was time to make them all look the part.

Shimano Sante - ca. 1989

There is still some debate as to whether or not this is re-branded 105 or 600 but again, I think the mentality was "new look, same great taste." Regardless, no one but me liked the new white derailleurs, brakes and cranks and they stopped making just as soon as they had begun. 
Though there still remain some die-hards out there described best by Michael Sweatman:
"Santé was dismissed at the time as a groupset for dilettanté poseurs, but I have noticed that nearly every Santé derailleur that I have ever seen has had heavy use and a thorough dose of road rash. Ebay is hooching with mint examples of Dura-Ace 7400 and Record C, but, strangely, Santé seems to be out there putting in the miles. Beauty must suffer"
Hell, I still have a crankest...

Bio-Pace: the worst best idea ever!

But the past is the past and the future is NOW. From shifters on the down tube, to this:

Shimano, always innovating, developed and successfully executed an electronic shifting system that not only improves upon the S.I.S platform with a computer controlled "cable pull" allowing the same derailleur motions of its predecessors with out fail. That is to say, as long as it is adjusted correctly, the phenomenon known as "cable slack" becomes a thing of the past, and with the push of a button it will perform the same way, every time.

From shifting, to stopping... Shimano has been involved in making bikes, better.

The Shimano disc brake, Ca. 1977-ish

There is not a lot of info about these. Truly far ahead of their time they were an early example of what Shimano was capable of. They sold them on department store bikes at J.C. Penny (you remember... that place that your parents shopped at before Walmart?) marketed toward kids who liked to go fast, claiming that adequate stopping power was the only thing keeping you from going faster

Once again, Shimano was not the type of organization to sit back and pat themselves on the back for developing ground-breaking bicycle tech. So they of course set out to make it better than ever and have since done so with new disc brake technology that is so state of the art, even I don't understand it*

* I totally understand. 

They use non-corrosive mineral oil as hydraulic fluid and new brake rotors and pads that are lighter, and shed heat faster. Quite the departure from the original, certainly. Indeed, Shimano has come along way. From shifting to braking, to developing pedal technology that cannot be beat. Shimano has bettered the way we ride bikes.

Well... except for Walmart bikes:

 Light action POWER PIS
I kid because I care.

So before I close, a couple of notes in the name of full Disclosure:*

I am a Shimano "S-T.E.C" certified mechanic. Meaning, I do have working knowledge of current products and hold the certifications that reflect that.

Most people who know me know that I am a SRAM fan. When it comes to shifting under load, their 1:1 pull ratio is so much more reliable than Shimano's 2:1. 

That said, I use Shimano brakes because they stop better with very little (if any) noise, and Shimano pedals on both my road and mountain bikes. 

*I don't want anyone to think that I jumped the Shimano shark here, but I felt like it would be fun to share some fun stuff like that hilarious disc brake.
When ever I find it hard to find fault with them, I look at their $80 can of grease and laugh at their horrible translation skills:


Perhaps they should stop using Google to translate: least they have my SAFTY in mind.