Interview: Kozo Shimano

Third generation family member, now advocate

Kozo Shimano is dedicated to our sport, not just because he has a famous last name. Until December 2006, he was Shimano American's president, a role he relinquished to Dave Pfeiffer to focus on advocacy and public relations for the Irvine, California division of the Japanese company started by his grandfather.

We asked Kozo how he was doing with his transition, and the state of affairs at Shimano.

BR: What bicycle category has the most potential for growth, in your opinion?

Kozo Shimano: By our estimates, there are approximately 160 million Americans that currently do not ride a bike – that have at one point in their lives enjoyed bike riding. If only 10% of these people were to purchase a bike in the next year, that could almost double the number of bikes sold (annually). That is the largest potential for the entire sport.  That is why we have embarked on this ‘Coasting project’. The cycling population in the US is gradually aging. Soon, they will be too old to ride. By that time, I hope that there are enough ‘younger people’ that are riding.

BR: Shimano has placed quite a foothold in the European peloton now. What are your thoughts on companies like SRAM and FSA entering your territory?

I actually welcome the competition. Our journey was not easy – as our products were known as “Japanese toys” for many years. For example, it took Shimano 27 years to equip a Tour victor with Shimano components. The ProTour peloton is the ultimate challenge to test bicycle components.

Bicycle races were where Shimano tested parts in the early years. In fact, my grandfather (Shozaburo) was involved in the development of Keirin. Not the event at the Worlds, the actual model of betting on bicycle racers. The funds generated were used to re-build Japan after World War II.  My grandfather was even decorated with the Order of the Rising Sun for this achievement.

BR: Tell us about Shimano's advocacy involvement and long-term objectives. Also, which organizations are you personally affiliated with?

It’s difficult to simplify what we have done in a few sentences.  The initial projects centered around our fishing tackle business. The Shimano Sport Fishing Initiative focused on increasing the fish population. Obviously, the more fish there are, the higher probability that someone will catch a fish.  If there are no fish to catch, no one buys fishing tackle. The original Shimano Cycling Initiative, both projects were with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), focused on making federal land managers aware of the increasing number of mountain bike riders on federal lands. We conducted events on their lands and also conducted a seminar for land managers.

With my personal, direct involvement, I would include the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) California Leadership Council, and the Bikes Belong Coalition. In the beginning of my career at Shimano American, I was involved with Trails-4-All – a member organization that tried to bridge the gap and bring together many of the trail user groups (mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrians). They didn't have a large enough room for their quarterly meetings (at the time, they used the local pizza joint). So, Shimano American Corporation donated their conference room (after work hours) for these meetings. And, they’ve been meeting here ever since.

BR: What's a typical day for you in your new role with the company?

That’s the ‘fun’ part of this job.  Every day is different. It’s kind of like that Forrest Gump statement about the box of chocolates. The driving force behind everything I do, here at Shimano, is how to get more people to fish and bike.  And, how to get them to use Shimano products when fishing and biking. I think that’s the real reason for relinquishing the job of president (of Shimano American). I felt I was getting into a rut – I needed to take on a challenge.

BR: What's more fulfilling for you personally:  a long road ride or trail ride?

Lately, I’ve been doing mostly road riding. And “long” is a relative term. My fitness level is getting better – but with the hilly terrain (and busy family life), a one to two hour ride is the most that I do. I also play (recreational) ice hockey, so that takes up some time, too.  

I got a new new mountain bike frame in late 2007; I think it’s my first one in almost 15 years. So, I’m really looking forward to hitting the trails – especially with the new components (XTR and Deore XT) that we’ve just introduced in late 2007. I love riding the trails, because it is similar to my other ‘winter passion’ – skiing.

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