A short history of Shimano Dura Ace & the best bike advert ever
So, I found a vintage Novy road bike for sale on Ebay the other day. Had a look at the pictures. Got a bit more interested and then got totally seduced by the best advert that I have ever read. Not because it was full of jokes, banter and repartee but because it was a story with feeling and passion and knowledge. Here it is, in full & unedited:
Vintage Novy frameset with early Shimano Dura Ace components
Around 1979/80 there was a choice to be made, it was a one of those defining ones that shape your future, Ford or Vauxhall, Elvis or The Beatles, Merckx or Maertens, this one was Campagnolo or Shimano. A few kilometres east of Brussels, Mr. Swiggers of Tildonck in Belgium had already pulled the NOVY frame from the rack for his customer, a spectacular tri-color paint job, Gipemme ends with adjusters, braised cable guides and bottle bosses, elegant pointed lugs with cut-outs and a tidy allen key seat bolt now our erstwhile kermesse rider had to weigh up his options. Campagnolo; stylish Italian icons, tweaking, refining market leaders but bringing nothing radical to the game or Shimano; less well known as a brand but making gears for years under licence from Schwinn for the US market now introducing their own products.
Dura Ace was Shimanosâ€™ first move into a lightweight top end groupset. Some components were there from the outset, others developed and improved as new generations emerged. They slowly gained a foothold in Europe as equipment providerâ€™s suppliers to the “Red Guard”, the all conquering Flandria team, this led to Shimano being taken seriously, by 1979 they had developed a groupset to rival Campagnolo – reliable, serviceable, stylish and brimming with fresh ideas. At a time when the Campagnolo derailleur design struggled to cope with the demands of a six speed block, Shimano developed a new rear mechanism, revolutionary “V” tooth sprockets and a chain to match to improve gear changing. Shimano pioneered the cassette sprocket systems we now take for granted and laid the foundations for a groundbreaking aerodynamic groupset featuring an index gearing system.
Â More than thirty years on and the Novy was discovered languishing in a cellar, the owner never followed cycling into the clipless era, the Dyna Drive pedals with the 1″ axles remain intact. A few of the bolts have oxidised but have been cleaned, polished and greased to bring them back to something like their former glory. The cables, brake and gear, inners and outers have been replaced as have the brake lever hoods with hard to find NOS straight from the packet. The 3TTT model â€˜Competizioneâ€™ handlebars are un-marked, the leather sleeves by MOTOBECANE are like new.
The 3TTT 120mm stem has a few marks and surface scratches but the chrome on the main quill bolt gleams. Mr. Swiggers, a noted Shimano dealer, obviously embraced new Japanese components recommending an SR micro adjusting seat post, now showing surface scratches but no oxidation and topping it with what was the latest in saddle technology at the time an original Concor San Marco Supercorsa saddle. The saddle still has the nubuck matt leather feel to it, the edges are marked but not cut.
The brakeset is something of a mystery, the date stamp on the callipers identifies them as November ’76 but the slotted levers seem to appear with the gear levers in a 1982 groupset launch, a later improvement perhaps? The slotted pattern does appear on earlier “600″ series levers but these have the Dura Ace branding on them.
The rear mechanism is stamped November 1978, it features a cage break device allowing the mechanism to be removed without breaking the chain or removing the cage and pulley. The gear was designed to work with the new Hyper Glide sprockets and chain on a 13-14-15-16-17-20 six speed cassette which show no sign of wear and still ticks like new. The Dura Ace hubs were another innovation, Shimano really did re-invent the wheel in so far as their unique design allowed the rear wheel to be built without unnecessary dishing, the 36 stainless spokes are built onto Mavic Monthlery route rims which show little signs of brake wear and are as true as the day they left the shop.
The chainrings, 42 tooth inner (stamped December 1979), and the unstamped 53 tooth outer show little sign of wear, As I could literally blow the cranks round I decided to leave the bottom bracket and crank assembly intact only removing the rings and bolts to clean.
The Dyna Drive pedals are missing the original chrome toeclips but the black plastic Shimano branded replacements do not look out of place. The pedal back plates are showing signs of wear through contact with a hard slotted shoe plate however the bearings are both sound. The toestraps are looking tired and are thinner than Binda quality straps, but the pedals would have been supplied with synthetic straps to slot through a narrow retainer so perhaps this is all that would fit.
The tubulars fitted still hold air but are perished and cracked and will need to be replaced if the bike is to be ridden. All in all the bike is a snapshot of the era, not concours by any means but sound, improvable and honest.
The policy of continuous improvement was one synonymous with the Japanese, their methods became a model for manufacturing industry throughout the world. Continually evolving ranges would have been a new concept to many retailers and dealers who would have struggled to clear existing stock before introducing new, maybe this explains the wide range of manufacturing dates. This brings us back to the choices made in Mr Swiggers cycle shop all those years ago, Shimanos’ flirtation with aero components, its AX range, in the early 1980′s cost it dear, it was a step too far, too fast, Campagnolo seized the opportunity to re-establish themselves as a force to be reckoned by expanding and their product lines, trading on a solid history but now with more rapid development.
Bringing the choice back to present day it’s one of Jason Bourne or James Bond. For me the answer is Bond/Campagnolo but only because of Bourne/Shimano, this was the turning point in this battle of the giants, the reason Campagnolo was forced to change its ways, in riding the past you are in a sense riding the future.
For me, I would be Bourne/Campagnolo but we’re all a little bit different aren’t we?
Advert reproduced with kind permission from cycling scribe and Dura Ace historian, Brian Churchill. Many thanks.