“When you find the girl you love, has gone
You ask yourself why life, must go on
You beg your lord above, to send someone your way
But deep inside you pray, oh he'll bring her back someday”
Most of you will be familiar with Shimano. You’ve probably had a bike equipped with it. Or a fishing rod of theirs. Or some rowing equipment, golf clubs, snowboard bindings–look, they’re huge. Like 12,000 employees and 3+ billion in revenue huge. They’ve been in the game for over 100 years now and at one point some 80 percent of bicycle components by market share came from them. They’re also notably absent from bike shop sales floors right now. They’ve arguably been hit the hardest of any component manufacturer during the pandemic, with facility closures and inclement weather pushing product ETAs back month by month until they stopped posting them altogether. If you’re shopping for a bike right now after some time off, it might feel as though you're headed back to school for the semester and your long-time partner has ghosted you. Breakups can be difficult at first but don’t worry about it. Chin up. There are plenty of other fish in the sea, and if you give them a chance you might just find that they suit you even better.
Take SRAM for instance. SRAM is like the edgy new kid with dyed hair and a nose ring. They defy convention and command attention. You just can’t help but look. Whether you find them progressive or disruptive you almost certainly have an opinion on them. Not up for debate, however, is the fact that they are a sharp student and the other kids are copying their notes. They were early and ardent pioneers of technology like 1x drivetrains, clutch derailleurs and 12-speed transmissions, all of which have since been adopted by the other major component makers. They don't apologize or kowtow, and they never look back. And why should they? Despite early outcry everyone eventually comes around. It's like when your parents told you you'd never get a job if you got a tattoo; they probably have one now, and if they don't your hiring manager certainly does. Their latest innovation is wireless electronic shifting, to which Shimano has already released their initial answer–an acknowledgment that affirms this technology is no flash in the pan.
Why you want it:
● They have their finger on the pulse of the industry and can read trends like tarot cards.
● The widest range of gearing options on offer, and the best accommodation of big climbing gears.
● Smaller chainrings and smaller gaps between them for smoother shifts and less compensation at the cassette.
● Arguably the easiest system to live with. Removable and easily replaceable batteries. Easy to carry spares. AXS app allows the rider to personalize their drivetrain function to suit their preference.
● You’ll be riding their tech one way or another, you might just have to wait for someone else to start offering it.
Maybe you feel like this new kid is just too outside the box, or too much all at once. New shift pattern, new gearing logic, you have to remember to charge your drivetrain. They’re too irreverent. Sure they have a lot going for them, but are they who you want to settle down with? Isn’t cycling supposed to be about tradition? Enter Campagnolo, the hot foreign exchange student. You can’t quite put your finger on it, there’s just something different about them. More stylish. More mature. More cultured. Certainly not one to roll their eyes at tradition. But also, like, back home they eat dinner at 9pm and can drink when they’re teenagers. Contemporary, yet classic. And just so cool. Not exactly novel, just a bit mysterious. Everyone has heard about Campy, but you never see them out. Every bit the standout that SRAM is, just quieter about it. Campagnolo was actually the first to market with a 12 speed groupset for road, and are the only component manufacturer with a 12-speed mechanical road groupset on offer. Their Ekar gravel groupset turns it up to 13, again leading the pack in innovation. On the other hand, they have the most classic styling of the bunch with curvature at the hoods and levers that pay homage to the days of polished alloy and drillium, and their shift pattern has remained unchanged for decades as has their calling-card thumb paddle for downshifts.
Why you want it:
● Gorgeous, high-polish components, distinctive styling and ergonomics, marbled carbon bits that just ooze Italian style.
● Top end options for mechanical shifting and rim brakes.
● Firm, positive, near instantaneous shift engagement will make you feel like Michael Schumacher piloting an F1 Ferrari.
● Unparalleled durability, holds a tune nicely.
● Cult-classic components stand out without ruffling feathers. Everyone at the group ride will want to put their hands on your hoods.
● You’re one of the only creatures on earth with opposable thumbs and you finally get to use them on your bike.
And listen, we still think Shimano is great. The friend group doesn't have to choose sides, no love lost. We’ve had their new 12 speed drivetrain in the shop and the light action, precise shifts and refined finish are all still there. But there’s no reason to skip the dance when there are so many eligible partners available. At the end of the day, comparison is the thief of joy and we’d rather be out having a good time with Campy or SRAM than home journaling about how much we wish Shimano were here.