By FERGUS SHAW
As the leading manufacturer of bicycle componentry, Shimano relies on innovation, scale and distribution to maintain its competitive advantage.
Acquisitions are rare so when they occur it is typically a sign of industry development.
In early 2020, Shimano acquired the cycle sport business of Pioneer Electronics. The important business line for Shimano is Pioneer’s range of pedalling monitors, which are more commonly referred to as Power Meters alongside web interfaces. Pioneer’s meters were designed to interface with Shimano equipment and therefore represented an obvious target should Shimano wish to develop an inhouse range of Power Meters.
The measurement of power output has become an important tool in the pursuit of excellence for competitive cyclists. A cyclist delivering 400 watts per hour at the pedals will dominate a cyclist of equivalent weight who is maxed out at 375 watts per hour. The fact that cycling involves the interface of human physiology and mechanical engineering provides scope for improvement through measurement and accuracy. In the specific case of power output, sensors are placed on the cranks, pedals or rear wheel to measure the force being applied by the cyclist. Armed with this information, the cyclist can observe improvement due to training and evolve methods to gain maximal efficiency. The data flows through to analysis of equipment and clothing choices.
Data measurement is endemic to elite sport and crosses over to many hundreds of thousands of cycling enthusiasts. Speedometers and cadence monitors have been in use for decades. However, it was the Heart Rate Monitor which revolutionised sports training and competitive cyclists were early adopters of the cumbersome devices which incorporated straps around the chest, clips on other body parts, wires and a bulky monitor worn on the wrist. Heart rate is an indicator of fitness which is easily understandable and provides some degree of entertainment.
Today, Heart Rate is a function on most smart watches which shows its ubiquity.
Elite sports technology has trickled down to the mass market.
This trickle down of technology from high end equipment to lower price points is where Shimano excels – no other bicycle equipment maker markets product at all price points. To-date, power meters have been specialist items with a niche target market. They are typically after-market items however, there is a small but growing market for top-of-the-range bicycles with power meters already installed. The acquisition of power meter technology puts Shimano in a position to incorporate power output measurement across its range of components and to supply bike manufacturers with inbuilt power measurement at all price points. Shimano has already released its top end crank set with power meter built in – a sleeker, more integrated solution than the Pioneer retro-fit item. This will undoubtedly be followed by releases at lower price points.
Measurement is key to human development and we can observe industry change in response to adoption of new measurement technologies. If power measurement is to become ubiquitous for all cyclists, then Shimano’s acquisition of technology from Pioneer puts it in pole position to lead the roll-out of equipment and strengthen its grip on the bicycle equipment market.