Best Shimano innovations (1/2)

Japanese companies and the Japaneses are incredible inventors.

They have become some of the most innovative industrial bases in existence, being capable at the same time to interpret a design, improve it and then make money out of it quickly.

This might be the case of Shimano, but saying that they only refine but not conceive is really to disregard the truth.


This article is somehow a tribute to my favourite company and also Sheldon Brown contributions. Indeed, it took me some time to review his site to sharpen this entry while I was blurting out these sick lines.


10. Rapidfire Plus®. Rapidfire is one of the coolest inventions in the mountain bike history displacing top mount shifters on flat bar bikes in 1990. Originally, the rider’s thumb triggered the lower lever for upshifting and the smaller upper one for downshifting. Both in the same direction and using just the thumbs. A year after the more ergonomic radipfire + required the index finger to operate the downshifting in the oposite direction. 2-way release Shimano´s trademark is a minor improvement incorporated to operate the downshifting using again the thumb or index finger according to the rider’s preferences. They can be seen integrated with brake levers (EZ-Fire series) and with or without gear display.

XTR SL-M970 Rapidfire Plus shifters incarnation with rareYumeya parts. Its multi-release allows shifting two gears at once in both directions.

XTR SL-M970 Rapidfire Plus shifters incarnation with rare Yumeya parts. Its multi-release allows shifting two gears at once in both directions

9. V-brake®. Recognized to be the best mechanical rim brake system for applications that need tyre clearance. It’s a direct-pull design since there is no intervening mechanism between the cable and the arms and thus very convenient for full suspension bikes where extra fittings on the frame and fork would be required to install cantilevers. It’s a linear pull brake because arm’s movement is the same that cable moves with regard to its housing. First v-brake units date back to 1996. They featured a sloppy linkage that allowed the pads to move in and out in a horizontal line to the rim.

Rebuild kits were soon unveiled

Rebuild kits were soon unveiled

8. Super SLR® (Shimano Linear Response). This is Shimano’s name for dual-pivot brake calipers. Shimano relaunched an old design present in few touring bikes, the dual-pivot & side-pull calipers concept. Still used on most modern road bikes, dual-pivots combine one arm pivots at the centre, like a side-pull, and the other pivots at the side like a centre-pull. The cable attaches the brake like a side pull does. 105 was the debut groupset for these brakes. Some pros decided to take their brakes out of fully Dura-Ace equipped bikes during the year 1990 to fit 105’s.

BR-1055 dual pivot superseded top quality side pull-single pivot BR-7402

105 BR-1055 dual-pivot superseded top quality side-pull Dura-Ace BR-7402

7. Hyperglide®. This is the given name for Shimano drivetrain parts to denote those having common characteristics. The term involves chainsets, cassette hubs and rear derailleurs that came out for the first time in 1989. Sprockets on a Hyperglide cassette or freewheel are created specifically to work with their neighbors. Rather than having teeth just cut down in height (Uniglide), a system of ramps and special-shaped group of teeth operate in concert together to facilitate shifting. As a consequence, cassettes are sold as a block with an option of a spider attaching the sprockets. Teeth profile, along with laterally floating jockey wheels, have improved rear shifting more than any change in derailleur’s design in the last 20 years (Sheldon Brown).

HG logo is hardly seen anymore in packaging to make room and help selling trivial innovations like Dyna-Sys

HG logo is hardly seen anymore in packaging to make room and help selling trivial innovations like Dyna-Sys

6. Compressionless index housings. In the late 80’s new cables were sourced to work with S.I.S. This time with no registered trademarks as everything came up as a constellation of new products under the S.I.S. logo. The advent of index shifting combined with handlebar mounted shifters developed that conventional housing was a source of imprecise shifting. This is because the effective length of the housing changes as it is bent. This is not a problem with brakes but the small variation in length was too much for reliable index shifting. However, Shimano introduced S.I.S. compatible housing, now widely copied by other manufacturers. This type of housing does not consist of a single spiral-wound wire, but instead, it has multi-strand wires running pretty much straight along parallel between the inner lining and outer plastic casing.

Shimano SIS SP41 now come in flavours

Shimano SIS SP41 now come in flavours

5. SPD®. Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, better known as SPD system is a design of clipless bicycle pedals. While not the first, the innovation was its small cleat recessed into the sole of the shoe. The shoe could be also used for walking in the trails whereas previous systems (other than the Cyclebinding system) had a large protruding cleat. SPD had a huge impact in the mountain bike history becoming the most affordable and wise change on a bike towards performance in 1990.


SPD binding on one side provides security and pedaling efficiency. Standard cage on the other side makes it suitable for flats

4. S.T.I.® This acronym is used to refer to combined brake/shift control levers, particularly those designed for drop handlebars. Brakes and gear shifters in the same unit allow shifting gears without having to remove the hands from the bar, unlike previous shifters installed in the downtube. It completely changed road racing cycling competitions. A more ergonomic brake hood to rest the hand, a faster gear action and boosted security in descents and sprinting helped Shimano to take the lead in the cycling manufacturing in the early 90’s.

In 1990 Shimano's Dura-Ace pushed Campagnolo into the background for the first time in 50 years of road racing tradition

In 1990 Shimano’s Dura-Ace STI pushed Campagnolo into the background for the first time in 50 years of road racing tradition. The picture above belongs to the whole groupset offered in 1992

3. Di2®. In 2008, a year before it was available for the general market, three road professional teams tested the first successful electronic gear system. While traditional mechanical levers pull and release Bowden cables and spring-loaded derailleurs, Di2 is controlled by switches that send signals through a wiring harness to a battery pack. The rechargeable and long lasting battery unit supplies power to the derailleur motors, which move the derailleurs via worm gears.


E-tube project will be Shimano´s flagship in the next years providing diagnosis, updating and bespoke system configuration

2. Shimano Index Shifting (SIS®). Index shifting means that the shifter unit has click stops that provide discrete positions corresponding to different gears. Up through the mid 80’s, derailleur equipped bicycles used “friction” shifting. The shifter was a simple lever held in place by friction, and the rider was expected to learn how far he had to move it to switch from gears. If the lever was moved the wrong amount, the rear mech might shift the chain too far, or override between gears so the chain would run balky and noisy.

10 spd XT mech

To accommodate 10 speeds, MTB mechs reduced their actuation ratio to 1:21:1 for the first time in Shimano’s MTB universe

 1. Freehub®. With no doubt one of the top 10 achievements in the history of bicycles. The oldest and most trascendental invention listed in this article. At the beginning of the 80’s Shimano segregated the freewheel mechanism from the sprockets so that all type of bearings would be built inside the hub body. Due to the outboard location of the right bearing, the axle is supported closer to the ends. As a result, bent or broken axles are rarely a problem. At the same time, a new concept came into existence: the cassette. This is why freehubs are also called cassette hubs. Sprockets are now easily removable and cheaper than freewheels.

The Capreo freehub body has a special design to fit smaller 9 and 10 tooth sprockets in small wheeled bicycles

2003 Capreo freehub has a special design to fit 9-10 tooth sprockets for small wheeled bicycles


2 responses to “Best Shimano innovations (1/2)

  1. “segretated”?
    and the parallel linkage on XT and XTR V-brakes is “sloppy”? Only when worn the fuck out.
    Also, some of the groms haven’t witnessed friction thumb and downtube shifters, which make any index shifting (even the clicky thumb levers) seem like pure magic.

  2. V-Brake is *NOT* an invention of Shimano.
    They stole the idea from Florian Wiesmann (
    who called it “wie-brake” and built the first prototype as early as 1990 – just failed to patent it.
    If you don’t believe me, inform yourself.

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