An illustrated history of the world’s biggest cycling brand – the mighty Shimano.
Shimano is the biggest cycling brand in the world. It all started with one man in 1921 – Shozaburo Shimano.
Shimano were something of an anonymous and ignored brand for a few decades. Quietly getting on. Not really pioneering anything major. Nor were they producing little pieces of engineering artwork (like Campagnolo were so famed for).
It wasn’t until the 1970s that Shimano really changed up a gear (ha!) and came out with a few ground-breaking, market-changing items.
This wave of innovation and integration continued over the years, right up to the present day.
Here is Shimano’s story…
Timeline of Shimano
A 26 year old named Shozaburo Shimano opens Shimano Iron Works in Sakai City. The premises were about 40 square metres and contained a single 1.8 metre long lathe. The lathe was borrowed from Sano Iron Works (Shozaburo was friends with the owner there).
Shozaburo’s sole intention at first was to make a better bicycle freewheel – easily the most complex piece of kit on a bicycle at that time.
Shimano Iron Works Co Ltd employs around 300 people. Shozaburo is the company’s first president.
Production of an external gear changer begins.
Production of an internal gear changer begins (3 speed hub).
Inspired by a West German trade fair exhibit, Shimano begin researching into cold forging.
Shozaburo Shimano dies in September. Shozaburo’s eldest son Shozo Shimano becomes the 2nd president.
Shimano’s 3-speed hub makes its debut at the International Toy and Cycle Show in New York.
Shimano release the 333 derailleur and the 10-speed (2 x 5) drivetrain system.
The Shimano Sky Lark derailleur. Known as the derailleur that marked the start of Shimano’s first moves into world domination. Not a particularly nice-looking thing but it sold in shedloads. Unlike the Simplex designs it mimicked, the Sky Lark was made entirely from steel (with no plastic weak points).
A new factory opens in Yamaguchi for making coaster brakes. The bike boom is well under way in America and Shimano supply 50,000 coaster brakes per month to meet the demand.
Shimano Fishing Tackle division is launched. Yep, Shimano make fishing stuff too (that’s the last we’ll mention of it in this timeline though).
Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain is born!
Shimano also sponsor Belgian road racing team Flandria. Dura-Ace victories in a few Tour De France stages and Freddy Maertens’ second place in the World Champs nicely kick things off for Dura-Ace’s racing palmares.
Shimano’s indexed shifting design – Positron – comes to market. Previous gear shifting had to rely on riders feeling for the gears. Positron derailleurs were indexed in a series of fixed positions that correlated to individual rear wheel sprockets.
The track-cycling specific Dura-Ace 10 series drivetrain comes out. It got its name from the new 10mm chain pitch standard.
Shimano Dura-Ace EX 2700 is released. This important groupset saw the debut of the freehub.
Shimano Dura-Ace AX 7300 comes out. It is specifically designed to be more aerodynamic.
The first edition of Shimano’s Deore XT M700 mountain bike groupset is released. Why is it called “Deore” you ask?
Shimano 105 drivetrain comes out.
Shimano tart up their 600 drivetrain and call it the 600EX.
Dura-Ace 7400 drivetrain first features the Shimano Index System (SIS).
SIS makes the move over to the mountain bike world with Shimano Deore XT SIS.
7-speed SIS Shimano 600 Ultegra drivetrain comes out.
Shimano bring out the infamous Santé groupset. Ridiculed in its day for pretentious marketing and its distinctive un-macho aethetic, it is now highly desired by collectors.
Andy Hampsten wins the snow-tastic Giro d’Italia on a Dura-Ace drivetrain. Shimano’s first major tour win. This is arguably the start of Shimano’s gradual domination of the pro racing world.
Shimano make their first road cycling shoe – the SH-R100.
Shimano unveil the concept of STI (Shimano Total Integration) with Rapidfire Remote shifters for mountain bikes. STI allows cyclists to operate gears and brakes without having to let go off the handlebar. To say STI was a game-changer is something of an understatement.
Dura-Ace 7400 features STI Dual Control Levers.
Shimano introduce SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) clipless pedals to the MTB market.
Shimano turn their attention seriously onto the world of mountain bike racing by releasing the XTR drivetrain. Their first mountain bike drivetrain aimed squarely at professional mountain bike racers.
Shozaburo’s middle child – Keizo Shimano – becomes the company’s third president.
Shimano Dura-Ace 7410 is released.
Shozaburio’s youngest son – Yoshizo – takes his turn to be company president.
Dura-Ace 7700 sees the flagship drivetrain getting a considerable overhaul. “Stress free” is the governing idea apparently.
The 25th anniversary of Dura-Ace is marked with the release of a special anniversary edition of the drivetrain.
Shimano’s Flightdeck bike computer comes out. It is operational via a switch on the brake lever bracket so the rider doesn’t have to remove their hand from the handlebar to operate the computer. In this regard the Flightdeck is extension of the STI concept.
In an era still dominated by handbuilt wheels, Shimano bring out a factory wheelset. The WH-7700 wheelset is unveiled.
Shimano WH-M959 mountain bike wheelset comes out.
Shimano continue to keep it in the fmaily; Yozo Shimano becomes the fifth president.
“For 100% Power Transmission Efficiency” – the buzz-phrase for the new Dura-Ace 7800 drivetrain. 10-speed, Hollowtech cranks, ergonomic STI levers and other significant moves.
Dura-Ace 7900 – “The Evolution of Perfection”. Hollow-in-the-middle Hollowglide cranks make their debut.
Shimano go electric! Electronic shifting via Dura-Ace 7970 componentry is released – Di2 (Digital Integrated Intelligence).
Shimano XTR Dyna-sys – 10-speed drivetrains for mountain bikes.
The latest version of Dura-Ace – the 9070 Di2 series – features a wholly re-engineered system. 11-speed. The cranks now have four arms. The new SLR-EV brakes.
Shimano produce hydraulic disc brakes and compatible STI units for road bikes.