Shimano is 100 years old this week. 100 years ago a 26 year old called Shozaburo Shimano made a singlespeed freewheel, using one 1.8 metre long lathe in a 40 square metre warehouse.
It wasn’t until 1982 that Shimano made something specifically for mountain biking (XT M700 groupset). Which actually makes them one of the earlier brands to get properly involved with MTB back in the day.
For the past nearly-40 years Shimano have been producing products that make mountain biking better Sure, everyone can pick out a Shimano howler or two (Dual Control flippy shifters, Biopace rings, cup-and-cone hub dogma, Centerlock rotor mount, avoiding Powerlinks, recent wandering bitepoint rear brakes…) but their hit rate is far higher than their misses.
Here are some of crown jewels of Shimano’s back catalogue…
It was Shimano who first properly worked out how specific shaping of cassette sprocket teeth could lead to vastly improved shifting, especially shifting under pedal load. Seriously though, it may get lost amidst all the more glam tech in Shimano’s story but Hyperglide was a game-changer that removed an untold amount of struggle from the act of mountain biking. We’d be nowhere without Hyperglide. Kinda literally.
They didn’t invent clipless pedals (Time did) but the original Shimano XT M737 SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics, acronym fans) was a genuine icon. In no small part, the M737 pretty much set the standard for Shimano from that point onward. It wasn’t light but nor was it fragile or fickle. They were flipping bombproof and lasted millennia.
Imagine a time when brakes didn’t really work. It was real. It happened. It was called ‘mountain biking before V-brakes’. Shimano didn’t invent long-arm brakes (was it Marin and/or White Industries?) but they were the first to mass produce them. If you’re a mountain biker of a certain age you will probably still remember your first go on V-brakes (probably someone else’s bike). They were lethal! They were dangerous! No, they weren’t. They just worked. And worked without having to use more than one finger or squeezing them as hard as you could which lead to instant arm pump and rider rigor mortis.
The square taper bottom bracket to end all square taper bottom brackets. A thing of strange beauty that was all the more mythical because, once installed, you never saw it again for several years. A picture of a UN71 is now in the dictionary illustrating the word ‘durability’.
AKA Shimano HollowTech II. When the world was finally leaving behind the era of square taper, Shimano needed something pretty special. No, Octalink wasn’t it. HTII was the answer. BB standards challengers may come and go (30mm spindles, pressfit anything, even SRAM DUB) but for a large part of the MTB community, they want the HTII bottom bracket standard until they die, thanks. Perfection.
M785 disc brakes
You can include Saint M820 brakes in with these too. The silver-and-black XT M785 disc brake was dependable perfection. You know the main reason so many people over-bemoan the wandering bite-point issues with new Shimano disc brakes? It’s because they remember the M785. Sure, it was a bit large and clunky of reservoir, but who cared about that when you’re into your third season of not-bleeding your brakes?
One for the bike shop mechanics out there. A gert big jar of assembly (anti-seize) grease complete with brush built into the screw cap. An unsung greasy hero of mountain biking. It’s not for use in anything that’s supposed to be able to move (headsets, BB axles etc) but for parts that you want to be able to move every now and then for servicing etc (seatpost, BB cups etc) this iconic jar is very much loved.
The most beautiful mountain bike groupset of all time.