Thursday, April 21, 2011

Competition and The Lack Thereof

By the mid 1990s, Shimano ruled the world of OEM bicycle equipment manufacturing.  SunTour had suffered a slow, lingering death in the U.S. market, and the European makes, such as Campy and Mavic, were simply too expensive for the mass market.  Virtually every bicycle that we sold at the shop was equipped with Shimano components.

Oh, sure, there were a smattering of models which used the SRAM GripShift shifters, or DiaComp brakes, but the balance of the components on those bikes were Shimano, without fail.  I got really tired of seeing Shimano, everywhere I looked.  So, when my new Specialized S-Works M2 frame came in, I set about building a "Nomano" bike; a bike with absolutely no Shimano components. 

What's more, I wanted to make it as nearly All-American as possible.  Even if the parts weren't actually manufactured in the U.S., I wanted to buy from American companies.

That doesn't sound like such a big deal, nowadays.  SRAM offers numerous lines of bike gruppos that compete with the Big S in every way.  Numerous affordable cranksets are on the market, now.  And, it's hard to keep up with the wheel companies popping out mountain bike wheelsets.

But, in 1995, it was darn near impossible to find some non-Shimano parts.  At least, it was darn near impossible to find those non-Shimano parts which were affordable to the average Joe and which were also usable in actual off-road situations.  Add in the "American" angle, and it became even harder.

Brakes were easy.  I was pals with Joe Glader, at the time.  He owned Prototype Engineering, and produced a line of cnc'd brakes and brake levers.  I told him what I was up to, and he set me up to be a tet-rider on the Joe's Derailleur, which he was developing.  He was having a heck of time coming up with a workable design which didn't infringe on anyone's patents, so he would put prototypes on local riders' bikes, in exchange for feedback.

For a front derailleur, I went to Germany.  Well, not literally.  But, I went with a Sachs New Success front changer.  There was no American product on the market .  (Eventually, SRAM bought Sachs, and started branding these derailleurs as their own, so I got my American product by default.)

For wheels, I used AC hubs and Sun rims.  The spokes were DT.

I also went with AC for cranks.  They were a cool-looking webbed I-beam design.

GripShift shifters, Sachs chain, Gore cables, Profile handlebars, Specialized ti stem, and an Aheadset brand threadless headset rounded out the moving bits.  The seatpost came from England (U.S.E, suspension post), and the seat from Italy (Selle Italia Flite).

The hardest non-Shimano part to come up with, at that time, proved to be the cogset.  There was really no high-quality, mass produced cogset ,which would compete with the Shimano product, available.

So, I threw affordability to the wind and got some SRP ti cogs.

Tires were Gernman.  The tubes were from Taiwan (all of them are, it seems).

So, while I could not put together an All-American, I did manage to build the only new, high-performance non-Shimano mountain bike in town, in 1995.

A few people told me, in no uncertain terms, how foolish it was to spend all that money just to spite a huge corporation which would never even know about it, anyway.  But, they missed the point.  I wasn't trying to spite anyone.  I simply wanted to prove that there was a choice to be made, if one wished to make it.

Fifteen years later, most of the mountain bikes in the shops still come equipped with Shimano components.  But, many do not.  And, if you don't wish to go with Shimano, there are plenty of alternatives available.  But, I am not such an egomaniac to think that it is somehow because of what I did:  What I did was not a cause of any change in the market, it was symptom of the forces which brought about that change.

Mountain bikers like to convince themselves that they are the mavericks of the cycling world.  That's hard to do if you are forced to ride a bike with exactly the same components as every other bike on the trail.

Funny thing is:  Now that there is an easily-available range of choices in equipment, I find myself using more and more Shimano parts.  The competition with the other companies has forced Shimano to trickle-down it's high-end technology a lot more quickly than in the past.  And that makes it easier to build a high-quality, high-performance, yet affordable, bike than ever before.

Here's to fair competition in the Free Market!

x

4 comments:

  1. Hi Joe. Is Joe Glader still around? Ever hear of 'Rocket Science' components? He was also in Denver back then. Any idea how to reach those guys?

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  2. I run into Joe, every now and again. Unfortunately, I don't have any contact info.

    You might try contacting Darryl, over at Funk Bicycles. He and Joe work together, a bit.

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  3. I really LIKE SRAM road components.

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  4. Yeah, so do I. If I ever get another road bike, I might buy the SRAM stuff to go on it.

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As always, sorry about the word verification. It's a necessary evil, unfortunately.