In 2003 Shimano had 90% market share of global road component sales. They were only months away from unveiling 10-speed Dura Ace -- a component line that would further reinforce this position. 2003 was also the year in which SRAM first announced they were embarking on a 3-year plan to manufacture their own road gruppo. Believe it or not, SRAM’s announcement wasn’t met with the sort of wide skepticism you might’ve expected. Rather, the industry as a whole did something worse. It reacted with the taut dismissiveness of a 15-year old girl: Whatever. The announcement was ignored. Blown off. Undiscussed. Whatever.
Let’s back up for a minute. We have a challenge for you: Name 3 innovative companies in the bike business. Quick, quick -- no deep thinking! What are the first three names that come right to mind? Our instant list: SRM, Rocket 7, and Zero Gravity. Powermeters, shoes, and brake calipers. What trait do they share? Each is tiny in comparison to the big players in their respective product segment. Their smallness presents the classic blessing/curse paradox. They have the agility to act on wild dreams when they do product development. But, likewise, they have few resources to announce their accomplishments to the world.
Innovation is punished more than rewarded in the bike industry. SRM, Rocket 7, and Zero Gravity are some of the lucky ones. It’s tough enough to make an innovative product and then successfully convince the consumer public that it’s indeed superior. And beyond that are those nasty lawyer’s letters that accuse you of patent violation or, worse, seeing unmistakable resonances of your own technology in next year’s products from your competitors (over a beer sometime let us tell you about how Specialized kept trying to buy Rocket 7 shoes from us, and how their credit card kept getting declined; and from what our sales records show, someone at Nike is awfully fond of buying Craft base layers.) No single factor is the unique death blow to entrepreneurial manufacturers, but history proves that a combination of factors stacks the deck against them.
History wasn’t on SRAM’s side when they made their announcement back in ’03. Their bloody litigation with Shimano up to that point, plus their product development woes (if you haven’t already repressed your memories of road-specific Grip Shift from the late 80’s, we suggest you do so) served as the undercurrent of their announcement. What industry experts neglected to recognize back then, though, was just how big SRAM had become. By 2003 they were approaching 2,000 employees worldwide and $150 million in sales. Their size gave them all the resources required to see their plan through -- they had the engineers, the finances, and perhaps most critically the patience to do it right.
Three years have passed, and true to their word SRAM is prepared to release their Force and Rival road gruppos in September. Luckily for us, SRAM recently paid us a visit here at Competitive Cyclist to provide us a technical overview of Force and Rival and they gave us the chance to ride Force-equipped bikes (you can see photos by clicking here).
We’ve had our share of sales pitches and well-orchestrated taste-tests of buzzworthy stuff. But we can’t ever recall an experience quite like SRAM’s visit. We’ll be brief here -- you can click on any of the thumbnails at the bottom of this page to read detailed overviews of the components -- but suffice it to say that we’ve never been so collectively swept off our feet. DoubleTap shifting is indeed revolutionary. The levers have the flawless ergonomics of Campy Ergopower, but the soft transitions between gears that you get from Shimano when it’s perfectly dialed. That’s just one of the many, many delights of Force and Rival.
As you might imagine, the volume of email and phone calls we’re getting about SRAM is intensifying every day. The question is always the same: ‘What do you think? What do you think?‘ Well, what we think is this: SRAM road is designed with the sort of courageous thinking and unerring follow-through in execution we’d expect from a tiny entrepreneur. But SRAM has the marketing savvy, the intense quality control, and the manufacturing capacity of an industry behemoth. Run, don’t walk, to your local bike shop or to the Competitive Cyclist shopping cart. A new era has dawned.
Click on a thumbnail below to view product details