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Japan boasts more than its fair share of century-old businesses—about 40 percent of the world’s total, according to a study by the Tokyo-based Research Institute of Centennial Management. So perhaps it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that the Sakai-based Shimano, maker of some of the most prized bike components available (and rowing and fishing gear, too) joined that select group this past weekend.
Surprising or not, 100 years of business is quite a feat nonetheless, and Shimano is rightly celebrating. The brand has a few plans set for 2021. First, there’s a special centennial website, shimano.com/en/100th, featuring sections explaining the company’s origins and history as well as a curated selection of 100 products that tell Shimano’s story, from the first freewheel that started it all in 1921, to GRX gravel components today, and everything in between, including fishing gear, clothing and even a brief foray into golf clubs.
Limited Edition Photo Book
Second, there is a limited-run 100th anniversary coffee-table photo book, called SHIMANO 100 WORKS, also containing 100 products that tell the brand’s story. Only 2,000 books are being printed, and copies will be divvied out through a lottery system. You can apply now through May 22, 2021 at 11:59 JST for the chance to purchase the commemorative 264-page tome, which measures 333mm × 265mm × 30mm (about 13.1” x 10.4” x 1.2”). Those selected will pay 10,000 Yen—about $92 as of the publication of this article.
Shimano is also running a photo contest throughout the year, featuring different quarterly themes and prize winners for each theme. The current theme, running through the end of March, is called “lively movement” and asks for photos from “when your mind and body was exhilarated while cycling, fishing, or rowing.” The next contest, starting April 1 and running through the end of June, asks for images of people smiling while cycling, fishing or rowing.
It All Started with a Freewheel
Shimano wasn’t always the behemoth it is today, employing 11,000 people across 50 facilities worldwide. Like so many large brands, its origins are humble. As Shimano’s telling of the story goes, founder Shozaburo Shimano, a lathe operator by profession, found himself out of work in the recession following WWI. He decided to start his own company, Shimano Iron Works, out of a 40-square-meter space in Sakai, Japan, with just a single lathe. About a year into that venture, he began producing bicycle freewheels, finding a niche with the technically challenging to produce part.
The freewheels, the first of which was called 3.3.3., were successful, and more innovative products ensued in the following years, including a 3-speed internal hub, indexed shifting, SPD pedals and Di2 electronic shifting. In between, the brand also entered other markets, including two it is still in today: fishing and rowing. Today, the company remains predominantly family owned, under the leadership of president Yozo Shimano.
Here’s to the next 100 years, Shimano. We can’t wait to see what innovative cycling products that we can’t live without come next!