Like it or loathe it
The Arabesque or 600 EX is always deemed a bit of an oddball, a strange foray into the exotic by Shimano at the end of the 1970’s. There is little information out there as to why they chose to create such an elaborate design to an edition of components not even the top of the range. One thing is sure, these pretty parts have become very collectible and can sell for more than the higher quality competition of the day, like the Campagnolo Record and Simplex LJ.
Competing with Europe
I’ve always thought that Shimano felt they were being out styled and out performed at that time by brands like Huret, Campagnolo and Simplex, so one solution was to design something fancy to compete with the beautiful components on offer by their European competitors. It could be seen as a brazen attempt to steal some kudos for themselves, because at that time their reputation was not on a par with the more traditional European brands. Unlike today, Shimano had a smaller share of the market back then and Campagnolo was undoubtedly the king of groupsets, while Spidel, Simplex and Huret were established brands creating great components. The Arabesque could be interpreted as a cynical move to impress the club cyclist with an artistic set of parts that were cheaper than the rival they wanted to imitate most: the Campagnolo Super Record groupset. I can imagine that, besides the recently released Dura Ace group in the mid 1970’s, Shimano’s mid range models of components were seen as being bland and forgettable at the time the Arabesque was released.
Before the flood
There was also a clever marketing strategy behind the release of the Arabesque: Shimano could sell complete groupsets to bike companies like Bertin, which made a deal with Shimano in the late ’70s, making the Japanese firm their main parts supplier. This could benefit both parties: Shimano would sell complete groupsets while bike builders would offer the attractive and affordable Arabesque on their mid range models. It may not have been made by Campagnolo or Stronglight, but it was good quality and unusual. Surely a way of breaking the hold of the long standing French and Italian parts manufacturers. Not to forget that were making mechanical strides with this new groupset that would eventually see them dominate the industry. A look ahead, no doubt, to the breakthrough technology of the their later generation of groupsets.
Model: RD-6200 ( short cage )
Type: Friction; originally for 6 speed freewheels
Max Rear Cog: 28t ( short cage )
Material: light alloy