Gritty Take: Why Shimano’s GRX Group Is A Big Deal- by Guitar Ted
Shimano’s news of the GRX group of components released today was all over the internet. However, weights, specs, images, and speculations on the future use and development of GRX are one thing. What I found extraordinary is how Shimano went about this.
I’ve not always been a Shimano fan, especially back in the 1990’s when Shimano represented the “Evil Empire” and was castigated by many mountain bikers especially for their “bullying” of the small cottage industry of MTB parts and components. The “CNC Era” was the heyday of innovations and the height of choice. Shimano represented the crushing force that took all that away. Real or imagined, this image of Shimano was what I came away with circa 1992. Then, of course, hindsight has shown that much of those wacky, under engineered, and at times, unsafe bits and bobs of the 90’s really weren’t “all that”. Shimano had done its homework, What they did back then was just make great, reliable componentry.
In fact, Shimano, while being castigated by many folks to this day, is a company that doesn’t jump on a trend immediately. They take stock of things. They study, they investigate. They prototype ideas, and test extensively. This comes off as being “slow to market” by many. (Think 1X drive trains, as an example). This is an incorrect perspective of the Japanese component giant. Shimano is not interested in being first to market. They are interested in being the best in the market.
That Shimano has come out with a dedicated component group for gravel and adventure cycling first is then a remarkable thing. Shimano did it without short circuiting their own culture though. The press release said it was a component group born out of a “multi-year study” of the genre. As always, Shimano has been busy behind the scenes long before anyone knew that GRX was going to be announced. The parts had been thoroughly tested and approved. As always with Shimano, failure is not an option.
If you were observant, Shimano did give away its hand a bit early. There was the appearance of the “Gravel and Adventure Cycling” group administered by Shimano on Facebook. Shimano also brought over key employees from Japan to ride and observe at several gravel events across the U.S. in 2018. Shimano released the RD RX8000 Ultegra Shadow Plus clutch rear derailleur in 2018. So, one had a clue that something was up. However; I don’t think anyone outside of Shimano and key industry OEM partners would have guessed that it would be a dedicated component range slotted alongside Mountain and Road components. Part of the road group? Sure, as cyclo cross was an extension of the road components, so too would the gravel stuff, but in reality, GRX is a stand alone group and will be different from road components going forward. In fact, it is interesting to note that in the press release, cyclo cross use of GRX is encouraged. So perhaps even those niche components are crossing over from Road as well.
In the end, what does this move by Shimano say to us? I think that it gives us a clue to the future of cycling as Shimano sees it. A future where adventure and drop bar bikes are preeminent forms of cycling and Road and Mountain continue on as separate pursuits. At the very least, Shimano has proven by this effort that it sees gravel/adventure cycling as being worthy of its own, specific to its nature, components, much as it did with MTB in the early 1980’s. Time will tell, obviously, but it is clear that Shimano has placed its bets. Shimano isn’t one to typically lose on these sorts of gambles either. Coming from a culture where failure isn’t an option, this is a significant, and bold, move.
Gritty Take is an occasional feature on Riding Gravel where we allow editorial takes on issues and subjects related to gravel riding. The opinions stated are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of RidingGravel.com, its advertisers, or staff.