Shimano Loosens Micro Spline Hub Licensing Restrictions

Sep 13, 2019 at 15:55
by Mike Kazimer  
When Shimano first announced their new Micro Spline driver body design only a select few manufacturers were granted the license to produce compatible hubs. The design has 23 rectangular splines that allows for the use of a multi-part cassette with a 10 tooth cog, which is what Shimano's new 12-speed cassettes use. Shimano never outlined the specifics required to obtain a license for the design, but several smaller aftermarket manufacturers publicly voiced their displeasure about the limited number of licenses that were being doled out.


That changed recently, and Shimano posted the following on their Facebook page:

bigquotesIn 2018 Shimano unveiled its Micro Spline freehub technology to accommodate its ground-breaking XTR M9100 12-speed mountain bike cassette. With the advent of Deore XT M8100 and SLX M7100 groupsets this year, demand for Micro Spline licenses continues to increase. We are now pleased to expand our license criteria to offer more wheel/hub brands the option to use Micro Spline technology. Shimano

What does that mean? According to Nick Murdick, Shimano's MTB Product manager, it's now going to be much easier for companies to obtain the license necessary to produce Micro Spline compatible driver bodies. The selection criteria that was previously in place has gone away, and Shimano will talk with any interested manufacturer about getting a license.

At the moment, DT Swiss, Industry Nine, Newman, and Mavic all have Micro Spline licenses, but this announcement means we should be seeing even more hub options hitting the market from other companies in the near future.


149 Comments

  • 124 10
 Shimano realizes a closed eco system is not the right strategy for regaining long lost drivetrain market share.
  • 19 3
 Yup. Beta Max & Mini Disc should be lessons.
  • 24 1
 @tcmtnbikr: I wouldn't be surprised if this was part of their roll-out plan from the beginning, to go to market with a select group of preferred partners who could expect a good return on the licensing fees due to the exclusivity. If so, they must not have expected the bad press from playing games and constraining companies that customers love
  • 29 2
 @showmethemountains: Exactly - it was definitely in the pipeline. Shimano are hoping the next 30 years will look microsplined so whats 6-12 months of exclusivity going to matter. Arguably in about a year the bad press for the brand will be forgotten just like the way we forget that they are essentially a fishing company.
  • 17 0
 The lion's share of the drivetrain marketshare is owned by Shimano Tourney. High end drivetrains are a tiny slice
  • 16 24
flag OneTrustMan (Sep 13, 2019 at 17:04) (Below Threshold)
 @tkoberle:
True. Shimano doesn't even need the high end market.
They make the most money with cheep junk components.
  • 37 2
 @OneTrustMan: ... that last forever and work well !
  • 11 1
 @browner: the Shimano SLXXT150 fishing reel is a solid piece of equipment, and it matches my brakes!
  • 3 2
 Or it’s been a year since they filed the trademark, which they said would expire after one year. XTR had production delays and the actual release was mostly dragged out, but we also got the “first look” March last year...
  • 3 0
 No it was the production capacity they had to get it where they wanted before opening it up.
  • 2 0
 @vikb: as discussed in the previous article (www.pinkbike.com/news/hope-questions-lack-of-parity-in-micro-spline-licensing.html#cid2283575) those examples are not really relevant to the hub business.

To simplify those battles, Betamax was lost on a price/quality ratio.
MiniDisc was not a lost battle per se, it just never the made the dent it should have on US or EU mass markets mainly due to the high cost of units (but was a huuge success in Asia). Still it was produced by dozens of manufacturers for 20 years.
  • 3 2
 @browner: We won't forget
  • 3 0
 @vggg: they are very good, but forever is a stretch. I use xt and xtr drive train components, but changed to magura mt7 brakes because the bite point of my shimano brakes was so unpredictable on long bike park descents.
  • 3 0
 @fneuf: mini disk was awesome couldn’t ever figure out why it didn’t catch on.
  • 2 0
 @loganflores: There were several recording media introduced kind of simultaneously. Philips came with DCC, you got DAT and there was mini disc. I don't think DCC ever caught on, DAT apparently was being used by professionals and out of all those, mini disc was most popular for end consumers. However, soon enough people could also burn their own cd and of course you got mp3 which made everything even more compact. And don't forget we still had cassette tape and for many that was good enough to not make the transition. So mini disc did relatively well, there just were a lot of alternatives at the time.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: most famously in the blair witch project..
  • 1 0
 @vinay: interesting my dad had a really old one that to me was the first form of pirating... I mean file sharing. I got one to replace my tape player because they didn’t skip or scratch and were way easier than a tape player. He had his hooked up to the computer and radio so we could somewhat record what we wanted.
  • 1 0
 @loganflores: A great read if you are interested in educated analysis of this www.minidisc.org/econ113-paper.htm
  • 1 0
 @vinay: DAT was quite older, and a format already coming from Sony. DAT only succeeded on the pro market. The DCC can be seen as Philips' tentative to give the same upgrade to the consumer market, to succeed where DAT failed. But I think Philips failed at their homework, and did not understood why DAT failed to the consumer.

On the other hand, the DCC was quite contemporary of MiniDisc. Infact if I remember it correctly, Sony accelerated the launch of the MD to counter DCC. Doing that Sony released an early version of their codec, which had some audible drawbacks, and received critics for its sound by journalists. Quite a bad intro for a new audio format... DCC kept all "issues" of analog tapes (rewinding, size, etc).

At least both formats made two huge simple mistakes :
1 - They tried to solve a problem that was not really perceived by the consumers. In a way, a non existing problem. Their proposed solution : spend more money... not the biggest argument to win.
2 - Teenagers where heavy users of traditional tape walkmans, and close to none had the money to buy those 300$ portable units...
  • 1 0
 Or maybe, just maybe, they've gotten this license hard first and easy now just to have a bigger free publicity...
  • 1 0
 @fneuf: From what I recall from back then, these were all media supposed to allow the consumer to record digital music. I didn't really understand what digital was all about nor did I care any, but it was hot back then. I recall the whole point behind DCC was that these devices were supposed to replace people's tape decks as these were able to play the old cassette tapes too. After all, the sentiment back then was similar to what we still see now in the bike scene, we don't like changing standards that make our current stuff obsolete. And with that mindset you'll be taking small steps, it is pretty inherent. Sure you need to rewind tapes and all that but it isn't too bad. After all, most tape decks (and DCC probably too) were equipped with AMS which fast forward to the next empty spot so it was easy to skip a song if you wanted. Not sure how expensive these devices were. To me the latest walkmans which were about the size of a cassette tape case (especially when you used the proprietary flat battery) seemed quite expensive. Not by any means close to the phones people (and kids!) carry nowadays, but to me back then having something expensive and vulnerable like that in your pocket seemed ridiculous. Still seems to me, still using a Nokia 108.

Not sure whether Philips made the wrong decision. They just weren't the cool brand back then, which didn't help. They initially developed the cassette tape and introduced it as an open standard. It were employees' kids who started using them for music even though they were initially developed and intended to be used for recording staff meetings etc. Either way, it was music that made them a big success and it probably helped the (underground) music scene a whole lot. People could trade tapes, demos etc. But as it was an open standard, Philips didn't make much money out of this invention.

As for this Microspline, I'm perfectly fine with Shimano initially keeping the licence limited to those who invested in the development thereof. Seems fair to me. And for me personally, I'd probably destroy these 10t sprockets way too quickly. The 11t and 13t of my 10speed 11-36t cassette don't even last all too long, I don't expect the 10t sprocket of a 12speed cassette to be worth the hassle. Plus after the so manyth seized cassette on an aluminium freehweel body (Syntace) I definitely feel the urge to go back to Shimano hubs with a steel body or get the steel splined freewheel from Syntace (which is more expensive than a whole Shimano hub). I know cassettes with an aluminium carrier don't bite into the freewheel but then again you won't be able to replace individual sprockets either.
  • 1 0
 @loganflores: plus one here. I loved my minidiscs. Superior sound quality, great form factor, great build quality. Ahh..... memories.
  • 31 6
 Now if only Shimano would roll back their regional sales agreements.

Why shouldn’t I be able to buy Shimano bike parts for ~50% less than CDN Distributors MSRP is?
  • 8 1
 Still can, just have to know where to look online.
  • 2 0
 @downhere67: explain. I think bikecomp followed the embargo
  • 23 3
 Because that's a great way to put every bike shop in North America out of business
  • 33 2
 @masjo: Then dealers should get Shimano to adjust their pricing. My buddy worked at a store. I broke my xt rear d and he told me cost on it was 125 bucks yet I could get it online for 75. Why is Shimano screwing their own dealers? It is a global economy, there is nothing they can do about that.
  • 3 0
 @downhere67: Between manufacturer protection rackets and govt tariffs the global economy ain’t getting much traction down here either. We were sold a pup
  • 11 0
 @masjo: Maybe instead of North American retailers crying about foreign retailers having an advantage, they should be pressuring Shimano North America to lower their prices to actually have some kind of f--king global unison amongst Shimano Europe and Shimano Asia? The problem isn't foreign retailers/dealers, the problem is that Shimano was using their North American component to subsidize sales globally. Once more foreign retailers started widespread and reliable international shipping, Shimano's scheme got exposed.
  • 5 1
 @downhere67: It’s not really Shimano screwing the dealers but rather the Canadian distributor screwing the dealers. Being ripped off by Canadian distributors is not something limited to bikes, but is rather a common occurrence across all sorts of markets.
  • 1 1
 @downhere67: how big a shop? Depending on how much stock they shift, they'll have a rate...sell more and the rate improves for them (and theoretically they can sell cheaper - but they won't often as people will pay). Places like chainreactioncycles must shift 10s of 1000s of Shimano kit a week and have a really low rate (aside from any potential grey products)...that'll be why they can sell so low - big volumes.
  • 1 0
 pretty certain I ordered a XT 10spd 11-36 cassette and XTR chain from CRC for less than the local shop wanted.

Kicker is they just placed their S order the day before so I’d have to wait a week+ to get keystoned. I took my business elsewhere
  • 1 0
 @gonecoastal: what does the mean?
  • 1 0
 @downhere67: details on how to get Shimano now on the cheap?
Deets is shorthand language for details.
  • 15 0
 Hope was the most popular 'left out' with Microspline. Everyone suspected that Shimano was firm with them because Hope actually produces their own cassette. Someone with more insider info will need to confirm this. However, everyone knew this would become their new standard and it would trickle down eventually once XT/SLX picked it up. Their old standard is 30 years + old.
  • 5 0
 Hope reverse engineered a driver I heard, thats why Shimano stone walled them.
  • 8 0
 @Number29: So did White Industry
  • 7 0
 Numerous brands reverse engineered one or found a way around it. Hope forgot about two letters that apply to all the brand who legally have the microspline license, OE. If Hope had their hubs/wheels on a bike as stock equipment, other than their own, they would have had the license.
  • 12 0
 @bman33: If you look closely at White Ind’s Microspline freehub, there’s a tiny middle finger pointing at a blue S.
  • 1 1
 @mountainyj: hope wheels do come on non-hope bikes. example that comes to mind is Airdrop but few others as well
  • 2 11
flag bedampft (Sep 13, 2019 at 23:08) (Below Threshold)
 Almost nobody cares for Hope in Germany. Here they are as "popular" as Tune, Race Face, Trickstuff etc.pp. They are niche. Most Riders havn't even heard of Hope.
Nobody cares for Newman either, but they are with Cube Bikes, so they kind of count under a sales perspective.
  • 8 0
 Onyx were the most clever - design their hub to take DT freehubs.
  • 1 0
 Are there any news on Hope + Microspline?
  • 16 0
 Good news. Once Hope get a freehub out I'll be buying myself some XT goodness
  • 23 7
 SRAM needs to do the same. Their cassettes are stupid expensive. Kudos to Shimano.
  • 12 6
 Yeah but the expensive cassettes hold up really well. Now imagine even more robust 11-50t 10/9speed cassettes
  • 7 5
 ummmm SRAM XD has been open source since it was released. There are other brands using the XD interface to make cassettes as well, not just SRAM. Shimano is just allowing manufacturers to use their freehub specification so that they can use Shimano cassettes.
  • 8 0
 @northofvan: Sram doesn't allow other brands to make cassettes, only drivers. That's why the Ethirteen cassette has it's weird 2 piece construction, so it can get around the patent
  • 4 4
 That's why it's called a SCAM Smile
  • 4 4
 I laughed out loud at this comment. Hey mybaben, why don't you buy a $100,000 mill and start machining monoblock steel cassettes. Since you're so clever, you could undercut SRAM by 50% I'm sure and make a killing!
  • 4 0
 @DIYsandvich: What about Garbaruk? Are they doing it "illegally"?
  • 1 3
 @JohanG: You must be driving a Ferrari then, you know, best car and all that shit. But Ford can beat that red pony, Henry II proved on a race track back in the days... Can you buy Ferrari? Or would you buy 10 Ford Focuses... Mybaben Smile Just point of view it's your money... Sorry you should buy La Ferrary, blue with two white ribbons on it. Smile
  • 1 0
 @HollyBoni: Yes. SRAM will come for them
soon if they get more popular.
  • 1 0
 @HollyBoni: It probably also has something to do with the cassettes needing 2 lock rings to be installed whereas sram cassettes just screw into the driver with a single lockring
  • 14 0
 This opens the door for cheap sun race cassettes that start at 10t
  • 3 0
 That would be really nice.
  • 15 0
 Aren’t XT and SLX 12 cassettes cheap enough and far better?
  • 3 0
 You can already get a SRAM XD compatible SunRace Cassette (12 speed 10-50t, 11 speed 10-42t and 10-46t) I have been racing the 12 speed one for three months now. They also have a 12 speed 11-51t which mimics the Shimano 12 speed cassette gearing jumps but they don't have a Microspline one yet.
  • 1 0
 @Kiwi19: Yes, but you have to use an adapter, its close to 600 grams, and its more expensive than the 11-50
  • 1 1
 @hamncheez: What will microspline change about that?
  • 5 1
 Sun Race is crazy heavy. The one I tried also shifted like crap. Not a fan.
  • 1 0
 Like.
  • 1 0
 @HollyBoni: It allows for the same construction as the 11-50 tooth cassette, where the cogs separate.
  • 1 0
 @hamncheez: I guess, although i'd like to know how much money that would save compared to the current sleeve system that they use. It can't be that much, but i'm no cassette expert. Smile Their current solution with that sleeve is definitely a bit clunky.
  • 1 0
 @HollyBoni: I think its $30? Which is a big difference when the whole cassette is selling for just under $100....
  • 11 0
 Chris King should be on that short list as well
  • 1 0
 Let’s hope so!
  • 2 0
 Chris King will whine about it and make everyone wait for 2 years to get a Microspline Freehub. Its how he is. Love his stuff but you have to wait forever for new spec from these guys. Full disclosure . I have five bikes with all Chris King hubs and Headsets.
  • 1 0
 I suspect you’re right. I too am full CK on my bikes for years and they sure can be slow sometimes, but I would hope that this time is differ t being it’s either XD or microspline going forward and the the old one is going to be toast on any build using high end hubs like kings.
  • 10 0
 Hope hast entered the chat.
  • 4 0
 The new Vespers use a DT driver, so they're already compatible!
  • 2 0
 @dastone: I hear that the classic hubs will be getting a driver as well!
  • 2 0
 @awhite76: i have seen with my own eyes, but they are buying the part from dt swiss and pressing it on the onyx.
  • 5 0
 Bontrager has a micro spline freehub. Just ordered it for my elite 30 wheels. I was totally shocked when I called Trek and the dude said they had one! Was for sure I was going to have to buy new wheels.
  • 12 1
 Aren't most Bontrager high-end hubs DT made?
  • 1 1
 @bman33: The ultra high end XXX wheels use DT hubs, but the other 99% of their wheels use Bontrager's in house rapid drive hubs which do not contain DT internals. You weren't able to get Micro-Spline drivers for those hubs until quite recently.
  • 3 0
 IIRC, Bontrager was one among the first brands since Microsplines launch. Kind of makes sense for OEM suppliers to get first dibs, since they're what makes it onto next year's models. Aftermarket always seems to take second fiddle.
  • 6 0
 Do as White Industries did and make your own freehub that just so happens to let you mount a Shimano cassette.
  • 1 1
 They did that with micro spline? Doesn't that violate patents?
  • 6 0
 It would be interesting to see the specifics that grant Shimano patents for there micro spline. I imagine it would not be difficult to alter the design yet to still allow Shimano cassettes to be used.
  • 4 0
 @hamncheez: White industries reduced the number of splines to avoid any patent infringement.
  • 2 0
 @hamncheez: Google it... Their freehub body is Ti, so they can get away with far fewer splines.
  • 1 0
 @sspiff: and not get all notched up to top that off.
  • 8 0
 Hadley love, anyone?
  • 3 0
 Yes! My 26er needs an update!
  • 1 0
 The problem with Hadley's business is you only need 1 hub every 10 years.
  • 1 0
 YES! Their freehub bodies are Ti so they could take the White Industries approach.
  • 7 0
 Sometimes I think shimano is run by the same guy who ran sega.
  • 1 0
 I work for a Japanese company, unfortunately their business culture is very different.
  • 1 0
 I thought sega were long gone, and then I played a 4d game in a cambodian arcade last week.. it was a 3d boat adventure shooting sharks that chased you.. But then it had the wind, water and tickling on the back of your legs as its fourth dimension. So they're not dead yet, but I'm not sure how long 4d games will give them
  • 3 0
 Yup jdm is stubborn self centered and close minded. Frustrating bc their execution can be very very good.
  • 14 10
 Just imagine if Shimano got rid of crappy angular contact bearings in their hubs and went to radial/sealed.

They would clean up.
  • 4 1
 Absolutely. They are supposed to be simple to service but I usually end up searching for a bearing and never getting the preload right after taking them apart for the first time.
  • 4 0
 Agreed, angular contact might have some benefits, but sealed bearings win for ease of replacement. And if you let things go to far, sealed bearings win hands down.
  • 6 2
 "sealed" cartridge bearings have inferior seals to the Shimano labyrinth seals and smaller bearings which means shorter bearing life. I've never had a problem servicing my Shimano bearings - it was the internal ratchet freehub that was a bad design.
  • 4 0
 @JohanG: The loads on a hub bearing are predominantly radial. Which is why Shimano bearing surfaces usually end up pitted after a couple years. I’ve got a pair of three year old DT hubs here, zero play and spin smooth with zero maintenance (apart from ratchet regrease).

I know they’re a stubborn bunch but an economist wants to go and have a chat with them. As I say, they would take a massive chunk out of the SRAM OEM market. Not because of SRAM hub sales, but because all the product managers would be even more likely to spec their amazing new 12spd groups. Their hubs are beautiful but nobody wants to faff with cone wrench’s anymore. Well apart from you Johan????
  • 1 0
 @JohanG: I've done quite a few, no issues. But an xtr set, m950 I think had an axle with separate screwed on pieces holding the cone. Issue I ran into was when tightening one side, the axle would rotate into the other. Ended up stripping one side because only a few threads were engaged. Ruined the wheel. Now I'm gun shy on any newer Shimano. Old stuff is a cake walk.
  • 4 0
 And you guys are mechanically minded. Now think about the average guy who rides his/her bike until the chain has 2mm of wear and the pads are down to the metal. When they take their wrecked bike to the shop and the mechanic tells them the hubs are indexed and rather than a bearing change they’ve gotta buy new wheels...
  • 1 0
 @jclnv: Exactly!
  • 5 0
 gimme some that microspline onyx action!!
  • 4 0
 New Vesper hub has you covered fam
  • 4 0
 Can anyone tell me, does microspline do anything that xd did not? Are they both ways to solve the same problem?
  • 6 35
flag johannensc (Sep 13, 2019 at 16:38) (Below Threshold)
 It’s actually worse than XD because the splines still get chewed up by the cassette. Thanks shitmano!!
  • 14 1
 You can easily mount a multi piece cassette that has loose spockets onto a microspline, where as XD you cant (check out how convoluted a e13 XD cassette is)

Manufacturing a multi piece cassette would be far cheaper than a making a one piece one.

Also Sram patented the way their cassette mount to the open standard XD body, again this is why the e13 cassette is so convoluted.
  • 8 0
 Can also run SS
  • 1 0
 @y0eddy: what you said!
  • 3 0
 @y0eddy: which would explain why there are no Sunrace equivalents for SRAM
  • 2 0
 @headshot: There are: bikerumor.com/2018/11/06/sunrace-adds-affordable-lightweight-10-52-cassettes-complete-1x12-groups

Should be available in SA in the next couple of weeks. Not quite as light as SRAM's XD ones but way cheaper.
  • 2 1
 @johannensc: it’s true though and then the cassette’s out of alignment and won’t shift as well as it should do. There’s a lot of punters on this site that don’t think about things properly.
  • 4 1
 Sounds like micro managing...this was a media stunt for attention, and it worked. tell people they cant have something, and all the sheep come running!
  • 1 0
 I've been waiting almost 4 weeks for a microspline driver to come in to stock at a retailer - specifically i'm waiting on a DTSwiss driver for an XT 12 speed cassette. The distributors don't have them either. Anyone having the same issue?
  • 5 2
 I never use the 11. What would I do with the 10?
  • 5 3
 i wish they had cassettes that ran 14-50, or something like that for the people who just climb mountains all day!
  • 4 0
 So you can run a smaller front ring and have the same top gear. I’d rather have a 10-32 vs a 11-34. Also makes it so my frame will fit a elliptical chainring without getting spun out
  • 1 1
 Get fitter?
  • 4 1
 @TylerG96: errr its called an 11-40 and a smaller front ring
  • 1 0
 @Civicowner: you can only go so small
  • 2 1
 @TylerG96: what do you mean? 14-50 would be pointless, youre just shifting the range lower down... (aka what a smaller front ring does...)
  • 1 0
 @Civicowner: if you climb all day and dont need to race down the mountain then id rather have 12spd with smaller jumps between the climbing teeth than having a 10 tooth cog that i never use
  • 2 1
 @TylerG96: if you had a smaller front ring and a narrower range cassette....that would acheive the exact same thing.
  • 1 0
 @Civicowner: Not a very good way of doing things if you care about rear suspension action though, fine for hardtails for sure.
  • 2 1
 Its bad enough having shimano and XD drivers.
I won’t be investing in a microspline system as it doesn’t give me anything I can’t have with existing freehubs
  • 5 2
 Hyperglide+ with crisp shifting under load are strong arguments för microspline..
  • 1 0
 FTFY...
What does that mean? Shimano didn’t get as much 12sp OEN spec straight outta the gate as they’d hoped due to no-one wanting their cup-and-come hubs.
  • 4 1
 There's hope for Hope!
  • 1 0
 Proprietary parts are not good for sales when better options are available.
  • 1 1
 Great news. I really love my Hunt wheels, and really want Shimano XT M8100. Fingers crossed Novatec (the hubs used by Hunt) will have a freehub that will fit my wheels soon!
  • 1 0
 It's just a shape. Why does this require any license for anyone to make cylinders with that profile and dimensions?
  • 1 0
 RideFast racing has great hubs that fit the new shimano drivetrain built in house
  • 1 1
 I was told by a Shimano rep that we should be hearing news about Hope and Microspline soon. That was at Crankworx Whistler.
  • 2 1
 I was told by the Shimano tent at crankworx whistler that it had already been licensed to everyone. When I chatted with the hope guys the were surprised to hear that but said they might not be in the loop
  • 16 0
 @jj12jj: Looks like your chatting game is on point bro
  • 1 0
 Why wouldn't they? This was inevitable.
  • 1 0
 OooOH I like it when restrictions are loosened
  • 1 0
 Any info on when sun ringle will have micro-spline options?
  • 1 0
 Can Shimano do the same for making compatible cassettes, as well?
  • 1 0
 Obvious
  • 1 0
 Project 321 please
  • 1 1
 Now this makes sense! About time shitmano !!!!!!!
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