If you have looked at any of my bikes over the last few years you have probably noticed one thing, I am a SRAM guy. AXS was one of my favorite drivetrains and I found myself using it across all of my bikes. SRAM Code and Force Brakes were my brakes of choice as well. No where on my bike could you find any Shimano bits. However this wasn’t always the case. I actually used to be a huge Shimano fan at one point, even going so far as to only running XT brakes for a solid time period.
It wasn’t until XT 11 speed that I started to really fall out of love with Shimano and then that only spiraled over the last few years. Growing up riding in the USA, I didn’t really know much about Shimano's Japanese roots. I just knew they made reliable XT brakes and pedals and had a very bro-bro consumer approach. From a sponsored side, they seemed to mostly sponsor pro elite racers and had a very “cool kids club” approach to marketing in my eyes. Around the time of XT 11 speed is also when I started to really have issues with the clutch on their derailleurs as well. For whatever reason I found myself going through them very often, and when the clutch would break my shifting would get worse.
Calling their customer service was met, in my experience, with a lackadaisical response telling me that there was nothing wrong and that I should make sure to use Shimano grease in it. Then their 12 speed drivetrain came out, and I realized they created a new driver body just to run a cassette specific to shimano and that decreased my stoke as well. Then inventory shortages began to happen and it became almost impossible to source XT brakes. Not to mention, even before this, their pricing strategy made no sense whatsoever as you could buy Shimano cheaper online then you could at employee cost working in a bike shop. They seemed like an unorganized brand, with an elite level vibe. Around the same time, SRAM started their AXS wireless shifting campaign and with their much more savvy marketing approach, they won me over and I ended up switching for the next few years. Shimano was a thing of the past for me at that point, up until I went to Japan.
Right before our Japan trip I had a chance to start testing out the brand new Sram Transmission, their update to SRAM AXS. Unlike Shimano, Sram tends to make big changes out of the blue and transmission was one of them. They got rid of the derailleur hanger, went UDH and changed the game of drivetrains. And in my opinion, it sucked. I hated the new transmission and I have a review coming out soon on this. But I wouldn't connect a lot of the dots till a little later on, after my Japan trip.
I had always known Shimano was a Japanese brand but had never put much thought into it, especially being in North America and dealing with their North America marketing campaigns as well as customer service. However recently I had a chance to spend a month traveling Japan while riding road bikes. I visited bike shops and got a good view of the cycling scene over there, as well as Japanese culture. If you have ever been to Japan you know one thing is certain, everything has a method and reason. It is one of the most organized societies I have ever visited. There is so much pride in the way they do things and I found almost anything I could have thought of was already thought of in advance and had a method. Hotel rooms were half the size of those in the US but filled with everything you needed and the most efficient usage of space. The subway system was mind blowing, so many people were transported at once at the most time punctual level. Everything in Japan was mind blowing to me and very different coming from California where things are a bit more laid back. But one thing stood out to me clearly and that was the pride Japanese people had in their country as well as everyday life, whether it was their job, business, passions, or hobbies. Visiting the bike shops I also saw the pride in Shimano being a Japanese company. I had never seen so many bikes specced with shimano and the logo was everywhere, they loved the brand and it was awesome to see that.
Then a few months later I found myself in Thailand on a pro level group road ride. There was a big sprint and I missed the front of the group and got dropped. However after a few minutes of trying to catch up I came across the A group disheveled. There was a crash because a dog had jumped in the road and they were getting their bikes in order. Luckily, the damage to the riders wasn’t too bad however the bikes took a beating. One person was running Shimano Di2 and as I was trying to help him with his bike we realized the shifting was stuck. Trying to diagnose it we realized something was up and someone mentioned “it in crash detection mode”. This was my first time hearing about this and after a google search we realized during a crash, Shimano goes into a crash detection mode to make sure there is not too much damage from a bent hanger. So we had to manually push the derailleur to the easy gear and then program each shift one at a time before it would work again. This was to make sure that there wasn't too much damage to where the derailleur would go into the wheel causing a catastrophic failure. Programming each shift independently and the whole crash detection mode was one of the coolest things I have seen in a while and in the moment it hit me. This reminds me of Japan! It's so well thought out and has an exact method and reason for it. I was blown away at how I could see a countries culture in one of its companies invention real time.
I would later spend more time thinking about this and more and more dots started to connect! Things started to make so much more sense! That's why Shimano brakes were so reliable and rarely updated as well as their pedals which stay the same year after year. They work exactly how they need to, a reason for everything. Everything is so well thought out and also replaceable. Their cranks came into my mind, and the simplicity of their cinch system with the little shimano crank tool and 2 bolts. You didn't need to torque it to a ridiculous NM. Simple, well thought out, and efficient. Then I started to think more about SRAM and how ridiculous that out of the blue they would take a very successful drivetrain like AXS and completely change things up for no reason, and also as it seems, without much thought. Getting rid of the derailleur hanger, how would people travel with their bike if they wanted to remove the derailleur? You can't put the axle back into the frame? How about proper torque on the hanger, what if you don't have access while traveling to achieve such a ridiculous torque spec? What about if you want to switch your drive trains between bikes and don't have a phone to access an app to reprogram it? After all you can not adjust Transmission manually it has to be done in an app. Why was none of this thought through? Around the same time they “revamped” their brakes as well putting the cables close to the bar. But in my opinion this doesn’t work and only makes things look worse and cluttered? How could SRAM have my favorite drivetrain and brake combo one year, then all of a sudden revamp everything and all of a sudden I'm not much of a fan?
And then my trip to Japan came back into my mind and I realized, that's what makes Shimano so cool! The Japanese element in the brand is so apparent in its components. The products work, have a reason for everything, and are so well thought out, they don't need a crazy marketing campaign to show how reliable they are. I can't help but think of Japan now when I look at Shimano parts and this is what is bringing my stoke back to the brand. Unlike SRAM who goes big when it comes to marketing and branding, Shimano lets the product do the talking and just like most things in Japan, most things in the drivetrain have a reason and method. And I can't believe it took visiting Japan to find this out, as Shimano North America truly had let me down in showing this. Rather I got a much more elite level bro-bro vibe from the marketing team out here, when in my opinion that is not what makes shimano so special. It's the Japanese roots that do. So who knows, maybe my next build will have Shimano, but I will say one thing for certain, that is no thanks to Shimano North America. That is thanks to a trip to Japan, which I can't recommend enough!
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