Race Tech: Tour de Suisse, June 26, 2007
While much of its competition has championed the cause of carbon fiber, Shimano has long held to its metallurgical guns, and for good reason. In many instances, the company's highly advanced forged aluminum components have proved lighter and/or more rigid than its composite counterparts. Carbon fiber may be the current fashion, but it's hard to argue with good old engineering.
According to Shimano PR Officer Devin Walton: "With the current materials and technology available for manufacturing, forged aluminum is still the way to go over carbon fiber. That being said, we're always working on stuff and we've also got some pretty talented engineers that know carbon really well, so if we find a way in the future that it makes sense (same or increased performance with lighter weight / same or lighter weight with better performance - either at a cost that could be considered a reasonable value by consumers) then we'd definitely pursue it."
It seems that time has come, or at least is increasingly imminent. Carbon fiber bits have already shown up on Shimano's newest XTR group and the company has used the material for tubular versions of its Dura-Ace race wheelsets for some time. However, Shimano's last bastion of forged aluminum fortitude may finally be showing signs of weakness if our sightings at the Tour de Suisse are any indication.
Gerolsteiner rider Stefan Schumacher's 'spare bike' at the Tour de Suisse was a new Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL2 equipped with a new prototype carbon fiber chainset from Shimano. According to Gerolsteiner team mechanic Jochen Lamade, the German Amstel Gold winner has yet to try out the new bits and pieces in competition, but he'll definitely be using them for the upcoming Tour de France.
"He got this new stuff just before the Tour de Suisse and so decided not to start racing on the bike straight away. He's tried it a couple of times in training and after this race is over, he will become more familiar with it," he said.
Lamade gave a bit of information about the chainset, which right now has no visible branding whatsoever but clearly displays some characteristic Shimano styling cues. "It's a prototype for the Tour. Nowadays everybody wants to use carbon when possible, so Shimano are starting to use it in areas such as chainsets. It looks good, and it should be stiffer and a little bit lighter [than a standard chainset]. Right now it is a prototype and we will give them feedback on what is good and if anything needs to be changed."
We don't have much more information to share with you just yet but will keep our eyes open when we begin our Tour de France tech coverage. Stay tuned!