Bike fanatics can spend hours squabbling over the merits of different components, whether it is about which tyres are best, what cranks are the most effective, what pedals work best with which shoes or indeed which gears give you the competitive edge.
Shimano, operating out of Japan since 1921, is one of the biggest bike component manufacturers involved in cycling and held a near monopoly over the market for a considerable period of time by filling the gap in the market caused by the 70s boom in the US.
There practice of bringing in new technologies at all price points and not just the top level to be introduced across the range over time was a major factor in this.
Their products were, and to some extent remain, almost ubiquitous.
SRAM, by contrast, started up in Chicago in the USA back in 1987 and have since grown to a considerable size. The initial major innovation – the Grip Shift (or Twist Grip) gear changer – won rave reviews.
Relations between the two have often been tetchy.
Back in the early 90’s, SRAM sued Shimano for unfair business practices based on what it claimed were unfair discounts based on healthy discounts to OEMs that used Shimano drive-train components throughout. SRAM eventually received an out of court settlement and has been a significant player in the market ever since.
There are a lot of contradictory opinions out there. Some say that Shimano is easier to tune, others assert that SRAM is. Shimano fans argue that their favourite changes more smoothly and quietly, whilst SRAM disciples extol the virtues of the double tap shifting system and the ability to adjust the lever position for those with small hands.
Shimano on the whole tends to develop things in house and expands its range via internal R&D at times buy-in or licensing technology. SRAM has expanded its catalogue by buying out companies to add to its portfolio in areas it doesn’t currently manufacture, adding familiar names such as Rockshox, Truvativ, Sachs, Avid and Zipp as marquee brands.
Both companies now offer shifters, cassettes, drivetrains and all the other components you would require for a bike at a variety of different price points, from bargain basement to high end and are constantly looking to innovate and beat each other on price. But bear in mind that some parts are designed to be compatible with components from other manufacturers and others are not.
It may seem like a cop-out, but the only way for you to know which you prefer is to try both for a lengthy period of time. Speak to your mates and see if you can try their bike for a while, and pick the ear of a mechanic you trust.
One thing we can safely say is that the competition between the two has brought new heights of performance to cyclists across the world and has done so at a more wallet friendly level than may have occurred if only one of them existed.
Long may it continue!
What are your thoughts on these brands?
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