At Specialized, they think that cycling is the solution to life’s problems. Stressed out? Get on your bike. Need to come up with the next frame prototype? Get on your bike. Unhappy with the new president? You guessed it. On our visit in January 2017, days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, one employee quips: “Let’s put him on a bike and not close the quick release.”
Their home of Morgan Hill, an hour south of San Francisco, has more burger joints than cycle lanes, but Specialized’s own enclave does not disappoint. Americans do confidence and self-presentation well. Their metallic main building includes a museum, showing off winning bikes and memorabilia from their heritage. Over two days there, we see that even the small things are tailored to two wheels.
Meeting rooms are named after stars of cycle sport that have raced Specialized bikes – Overend, Cipollini, Schleck, downhiller Sam Hill; a wall print of ProTour racers answering nature’s call by the side of the road adorns the mens’ toilets; a copy of Rouleur is magically on the reception table when we walk in…
Most Specialized bikes are made in Taiwan, but all are conceived here. Designer sketches of early prototypes or CADs are quickly transformed into scale models. Meanwhile, R&D teams and engineers beaver away behind the scenes.
Equipment prototypes can be tailored and 3D printed ready for the next morning. Then, they have sewing machines for on-site apparel adapting, their own cycling-specific wind tunnel to finesse products, a laboratory for simulations and stress testing, marketers to thoughtfully drive the public to the cash register – and willing staff to test everything on the local North California roads.
Then there’s Specialized Bicycle Components University (SBCU), their education system for dealers. The scale of the operation is mind-boggling.
The company culture is a fusion of Silicon Valley quirks and the finest traits of cycling culture. At the heart of the ground floor, there are pool, air hockey and tennis tables for recreation and a barista comes in every Monday morning.
We also sample Beigel Fridays for ourselves, a morning meet where the workforce descends on the cafeteria’s diner-style red seats to chow down and chill out.
The morning gluten binge is fuel for the most keenly-fought lunchtime ride of the week: the Friday Worlds, finishing with a sprint where the winner takes a Specialized rainbow jersey. Marcel Kittel is on the roll of honour.
The full version of this article originally appeared in Rouleur 17.5