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Shimano vs Microsoft. When you’re sitting at the top, the only way is down…

Shimano vs Microsoft.

In the bicycle industry, there’s a common analogy often drawn between shimano and another well-known business monopoly, Microsoft. Both have (or had) a majority market share. Both employ ruthless business tactics. Both arguably produce products with “planned obsolescence” in mind. Both excel at introducing new products that are not backwards compatible. Of course none of it is ever compatible with anything else either…

While both Shimano and Microsoft have seemed to have settled down in the last 5 years or so, it’s claimed that they generally do whatever they please, inventing their own standards along the way, and the market has no where else to go but to follow. For one thing they put Suntour out of business over a decade ago. Today, however, there is more competition than ever, with bicycle drivetrain components by campagnolo, SRAM, and to a lesser extent Token, Miche and Modolo. Full Speed Ahead (FSA) is also now working on a complete gruppo.

Shimano is the leading manufacturer of bicycle parts. Shimano has come to dominate the industry, and to have a near monopoly on many parts categories. This gets them a lot of bad press, because they are perceived as the Goliath of the industry. 

 -Sheldon Brown.

For example, in the world of MTB components:

  • In the early nineties, shimano introduced the “hyperdrive-c” concept with new 94/58 chainring bolt patterns.
  • More recently, shimano retained the tried-and-true 110/74mm bolt circle diameter (BCD) but changed their entire line of MTB cranksets from a 5 bolt spider to 4 bolt spiders.
  • Shimano brought out their own centrelock disc mount standard, forcing people to either use their replacement brake discs or else buy a new wheelset (there are now adapters currently available, obviously not made by shimano though)
  • Shimano invent oddities such as inverted “rapid-rise” rear deralleurs & “dual control levers” in the name of advancement. The latter arguably prevents people from choosing their own brake/shifter combinations.

Shimano has also taken a bad rap lately with their official online authorized dealer program. Some vendors say that they are promoting illegal price fixing.

On the other hand, look at campagnolo. For years they hadn’t changed their BB design, the trusty old JIS square taper spindle. It meant that cranksets were interchangeable throughout all their years of manufacture. When they did finally catch up, the change was actually welcomed by many people! Naturally, a few diehard fans of the square taper BB still remain, arguing that the new ultra torque system is design flawed. I personally own two bikes with those legendary Phil Wood square taper BBs and I don’t see any need to change.

Campagnolo has also stuck with the 135mm BB BCD. Although I give them a virtual pat on the back for adopting the 110/74 compact standard BCD, they too invented their own silly narrow chaninring bolts, forcing people to buy their own brand of replacement chainrings.

I should probably mention that I own 14 shimano-equipped bikes and only 1 campagnolo road bike which comprise my bicycle rental fleet. For the most part, it’s because they’re more practical (availability of parts here in Tenerife is better and it is also cheaper). As far as my own personal bikes go, I own two campagnolo-equipped road bikes and a MTB with SRAM X7. I still prefer to ride campagnolo for the road and SRAM for MTB use.

One Response to “Shimano vs Microsoft. When you’re sitting at the top, the only way is down…”

  1. Ah yes, shimano v Campy….and IT metaphors.

    Didn’t know about FSA stepping up to do a full gruppo. This will be one to watch.
    I think I need to work on a tenerife visit for next year. those videos on youtube look fabulous.

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