Shimano are by far the dominant groupset manufacturer out of the ‘Big Three’ (Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM) and their products occupy the widest range of the market, with options catering from the low end to the very pinnacle. Both SRAM and Campagnolo’s lowest offerings start at a higher price point and comparable with Shimano’s mid-range options. Here are seven items where the Japanese manufacturer succeed and seven aspects that the brand are lacking in.
SUCCESS: The Hollowtech Standard
The Hollowtech standard is Shimano’s patented standard where the cranks attach to the frame via two 5mm pinch bolts and a proprietary Hollowtech cap fitting. Shimano have been very stubborn in keeping this standard and haven’t really experimented with using carbon cranks, but the standard is probably the best one of attaching cranks to a bicycle frame. Most other manufacturers cranks attach via single larger bolt which requires a lot more effort to remove as it has a higher torque. With Hollowtech, the age old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ saying comes to mind and no other manufacturer’s system is as straightforward to work on as this.
FAIL: Free Stroke Adjustment
Shimano’s mountain bike brake levers have a free stroke adjustment which adjusts the contact point of when the pads touch the disc rotor. A nice idea but the problem is it doesn’t do anything… or if it does, the difference is imperceptible. Shimano have been stubborn in keeping on to this technology for years and they should just get rid of it if they can’t do it right. Compared to SRAM’s brake contact adjust that actually works, this is something that Shimano need to improve.
SUCCESS: Front Shifting
Yes, the cycling industry keeps setting itself on 1x, but Shimano make a strong argument for 2x with the quality of their front shifting, that far outweigh its rivals. Shifts are light and snappy and their front mechs are far less temporal than SRAM’s Yaw design, which relies on perfect set-up for it to work properly.
FAIL: Road Rear Derailleur Barrel Adjusters
This shouldn’t be a thing. Shimano barrel adjusters have been serviceable but specifically on Ultegra R8000 and Dura-Ace R9100, they have changed to a new design of barrel adjuster. The problem is it isn’t very good! The cheap plastic feel of the adjusters doesn’t feel nice and it is easy for them to round out. The amount of times I’ve resorted to adjusting the gears by manually pulling on the cables. This shouldn’t be a thing.
SUCCESS: Di2 Ecosystem
Di2 is not flawless (the eTube app is rather reminiscent of a Windows XP program) and SRAM AXS boasts some advantages in that it is wireless, but Shimano’s system is far more refined and slick in its operation. The latest generation of Di2 is a very hard system for them to improve on and it is virtually impossible to fool the system.
FAIL: Dura-Ace Cables
There’s no doubt that these top-of-the-line offerings sure feel nice when they’re installed and offer superb shifting and braking feel. Shifting and braking is silky smooth. The ugly side to these cables rears its head when you are trying to remove them to change for new cables. As you remove the inner cable, it likes to leave snakeskin so be prepared for having to pick this out and have fun if you’re going to reuse the outers!
SUCCESS: Di2 Hydraulic Lever Hood Shape
It’s impressive how on Shimano’s current Di2 hydraulic offerings, that they have been able to get the size of the hood to be the same as their mechanical offerings. Both SRAM and Campagnolo’s hood shape for hydraulic shifts feel much larger in the hand and whilst this is good for some qualities, having a nice small sleek hood is excellent.
Shimano chains are noisy and just don’t last very long. Their stubbornness to use a quick link and rely on a joining pin is annoying and whilst they have brought out a quick-link on the latest group sets, it’s still not worth it. Switch to a KMC for a longer lasting and quieter experience.
Shimano’s pedals are bombproof. I have serviced my pedals once in about 7 years and they still feel like new. If you do need to service them, servicing is straightforward and intuitive. Their SPD system is also great and no other off-road cleated system comes close. Other than for bike fit purposes, why would you choose to run anything else?
FAIL: Road Disc Brakes
A whole topic in itself. Shimano’s road disc brakes are just not very good. Where does one even start with their flaws? How about the on-off feel of the brakes and lack of precise modulation? Or the ceramic calliper pistons that are very easy to damage? Or the bleed screw made of chocolate that is easy to round out? Or how about if you take one look at the brake and it will choose to squeak and squeal and make all kinds of noises. I really hope Shimano focus on their disc brakes in their next updates of groupsets as this is the biggest thing holding the brand back.
SUCCESS: Rim Brakes
Conversely, Shimano’s rim brakes are superb stoppers. The feel and modulation is phenomenal and they are easy to set up. If only they could apply this methodology to their disc brake offerings!
There’s nothing wrong with the standard per-say but it is fiddly when you have one hand with the Allen key trying to undo the clamp and another hand trying to push the release pin. I-Spec also does not play nicely with SRAM.
SUCCESS: Adjustable Clutch
Shimano are the only manufacturer to offer an on-off switch on their clutch rear derailleurs. This is a good thing, particularly for gravel riding and makes wheel removal nice and straightforward as it’s far easier to flick a switch than to turn off the cage lock on SRAM.
A bit of an unfair one in the current pandemic situation but let’s face it, even in conventional times, Shimano have always been poor on availability. They will release a product and it just won’t be available for months. Think about XTR for example where they announced it and then had to omit a certain technology before it could be released. SRAM are much better here in that when they release a product, it is pretty much immediately in stock.