By now, many of you (I am sure) have seen the first spy shots of the prototype SRAM road shifters. Word is that the new road group is going to be ready for release in "calendar year 2006". This group is to include shifters (very, very similar in appearance to Shimano STI... hmmm...) , front and rear derailleurs, a 10 speed cassette and chain, brake set, bottom bracket and crankset (TruVativ?). This is supposed to be a pro level component group for high end use.
Now, this is big news to me. Why, well, as a Product Manager for a bike brand, it gives me another option for road parts, which is always good. Also, it creates more "pressure" for Shimano to keep up the efforts in development that they have made over the years. More competition is good for all of us and could even result in better pricing as well as better products. Don't get me wrong, I love Shimano. I love Campagnolo too (and keep waiting for that box of Record parts to just show up on my desk after a lunch ride). However, I really like a lot of the SRAM family of parts and think they could do some cool things in the road market. I haven't personally seen any of these new prototype parts (though if they want to send me some I will gladly test them... if you're reading this SRAM guys), but I have a feeling they are doing some pretty cool stuff. The shifter issue was the biggest hurdle, I am sure, and then brakes. Now they will allegedly have both.
To me, this is really exciting news. I am really looking forward to seeing and touching these new parts. From what I saw, the shifters look very similar to the Shimano shifters and not as pretty as the Campy shifters (but really, what is that pretty). The proof is going to be in how well they work. So far, I have not heard anything about how they work, though they were ridden at the USPro criterium championships. I haven't heard of anything not working. I've never had a SRAM component that I didn't like over the years, so this could be a really good thing.
Shimano is likely very, very aware of these developments (well, I know they are) and probably has some concerns about what this will all mean- ie; patent infringement issues. Campagnolo probably isn't too worried, just because their products (here in the US at least) tend to appeal to a different consumer than Shimano products. I think these SRAM components would pose the biggest threat to Shimano.
Maybe it is just me, but this could prove to be some of the biggest news in road componentry of the past few years. I eagerly await the chance to see, touch, use these new parts and find out if the long wait has been worthwhile (hey SRAM, I'm talking to you). People have been saying for years and years that somebody was going to come along and develop a complete road group. Is this going to be it or are we looking at another Mavic Zap/ Tektronic component group that fades into obscurity?
I am very curious.