BikeRadar was recently part of a European press pack invited out for a look inside Shimano’s factories in Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.
We’ll be reporting on the insides of these tech temples in due course but, with the plant visits done, we had the chance to sit down and grill some of the component king’s road and mountain bike product managers.
Their technique under questioning indicates that, should they ever get the boot from their day jobs, they may have promising second careers as politicians. Here’s what we managed to chisel out of them.
1. Wireless shifting? Hold your horses…
Shimano says it's impressed with its rival’s offering, but so far the line is that there are no “solid plans” to emulate it. Why? Because pro-level groupsets should be "more about the simplicity and efficiency that they already offer", say Shimano.
2. Power meter possibilities
On the subject of power meters, and their integration into the Shimano universe, brand reps are a little more forthcoming, yet still not ready to confirm the existence of such a thing. Even though we’ve seen more than one unbranded unit doing the rounds in early season events, mated to Shimano products.
3. The Di2 trickle down to 105. It’s slow-moving
Shimano’s policy is to trickle down technology. But the challenge with bringing Di2 to 105 is that the cheaper groupset isn’t made in the same facility as Ultegra and Dura-Ace; therefore the costs of creating a second production facility for electronic assembly are potentially prohibitive.
What to make of this is left open to interpretation – does that mean no 105 Di2, or a lower-spec non-series Di2 underneath Ultegra, with maybe a resurrection of one of Shimano’s old suffixes? Ultegra EX anyone? Answers on a postcard, please…
4. No immediate plans for 12spd
On the subject of adding another gear to create a 12-speed drivetrain, Shimano reps wouldn’t deny that is something they’re looking at – but said there are no firm plans to introduce 12 speed in the immediate future.
As our man at the Tour Down Under discussed a few weeks ago, many people predict that Dura-Ace will get updated in time for the 2017 racing season, though it's widely expected to remain wired and 11-speed.
5. The future is rider-shaped
Takao Harada, road product manager at Shimano Japan, says that he sees the future of components being much more rider-tuned. Just as we are all becoming more familiar with getting a proper bike fitting, Shimano would like to see more optimisation for riders. So shift speed, brake force and feel and even lever shape could be part and parcel of component choice.
6. Women-specific components are ‘a dream’
Harada adds that one of his dreams would be to have a women’s line of components, taking into account physiological differences. This could be a potential trip hazard: the last thing most serious female riders would want is to have a ‘softer’ group with lighter gears.
However, we could see advantages with the possibility of smaller disc rotors saving weight for lighter riders, shorter reach and hood diameter for smaller hands – though we’d say that’s less of a gender issue and more a physical size one.
7. Enduro groupset ‘under investigation’
With the seemingly endless growth in popularity of enduro, Shimano is investigating the need for a discipline-specific group to sit alongside Saint (DH) and XTR (XC).
MTB product manager Kichinosuke Kubo admits it’s a very complicated question, as there's such a wide variety of riders – some needing the light weight of XTR, while others benefit from the strength and braking grunt of Saint.
At the moment, he adds, Shimano is waiting to see how enduro develops as a sport before committing to specific component needs or designs.
8. ‘Four major launches’ for 2016
By its conclusion, our ‘open’ discussion – as you may have gathered – brought up nothing confirmed on the new product front, though it did give an insight into how Shimano approaches product development. A focus on simplicity and efficiency, on trickle-down technology, and on discipline-specific components.
We did get confirmation that 2016 will see four significant launches across road, MTB, and commuting (including e-bike) in 2016. No amount of cajoling could get any more than that though. Rest assured we’ll get that info to you as soon as we know, and are allowed to say…
What do you think Shimano's big launches of 2016 will be? Let us know in the comments below.