Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Visit to SBCU Part 3

A visit to Specialized HQ with the Rad Riders! (Part 3)

A more detailed look at SBCU (Specialized Bicycle Components University)
The Mountain Bike Day

On the second full day, breakfast started with a fun lesson when we noticed the bananas all had their stems cut very short and were tougher to peel. I think it was Kyle who told us "peel them like the monkeys do!" Huh? So after he told us about it, Aaron gave us a demonstration for you to see and learn - 
It was Friday, so the time at SBCU started with Specialized's traditional Donuts and Bagels time in the Feed Zone. Lots of both plus scones. In honor of doughnuts and bagels day, the Friday Lunch Ride Winner's jersey now bears the image of a doughnut with rainbow bands.

Aaron Edge takes some laps around the pump track
After carbs, the agenda was to start with a tour of the test lab, where they test frames and components they build, plus other equipment they acquire (perhaps stuff from the competition?). 
Unfortunately for us, there were too many new items in there to let us in. Instead, we pulled out some P-series bikes and discovered the pump track built right there at the back of the building. This was a new experience for almost all of us. So what do they mean by a pump track? The idea is that after you enter the course with some speed from pedaling to get there, you maintain your speed and motion by "pumping" (shifting) your weight back and forth on the bike - rather like the motion when using a swing on the playground. It's a great comparison, because it's such a fun experience that you feel like a kid on the bike. While most of us tried to get the hang of it, Seth Rand and Rad Rider Chris Trask showed us mad skills and rad lines. 

Back to the regularly scheduled programming and on to the apparel lab we went. Specialized designs their clothing in the apparel lab. However, unlike other companies, they make their own prototypes themselves in the lab as well, including the visual design, using their own sublimation machine. By making their own prototypes, they can have them real-world tested when employees ride and test them in the Win Tunnel for aerodynamic performance. Based on the results and feedback, they will make adjustments and new prototypes until they are perfected and then sent to factories for production. We were able to see one of the now released Evade Skinsuits that was custom made for Vincenzo Nibali. Because it was not a released product yet, we have no photos to share, but it was evident to see that he's small guy!  

The staff of the apparel lab seems very receptive to feedback from cyclists and not just the pro riders and Specialized staff. I was surprised but very happy to hear that the design of ladies bib-shorts had been changed slightly based on an email from Wendy Engelberg in our group, from Girlz Gone Riding. It's great to hear a company that listens to their clientele so well!

I asked about the disparity in clothing sizing between brands and even sometimes within brands that can be frustrating when buying clothing. Many know that there are race-fit and club-fit sizing which differ, but they explained that they have to consider what geographic area they are targeting. In general, southern Europeans, Italians and Spaniards, are usually smaller frame while northern Europeans, Germans & Dutch, are taller/larger. Each manufacturer uses their own sizing mannequins for standard sizing, which causes differences between brands. Most companies use a 2" fit difference between each size, but Specialized uses a 4" increment between sizes in order to fit a larger range of riders. They are expecting to expand their range of sizes for height as well, soon. Because of the expected tightness of skinsuits for aerodynamic performance, there are many more sizes available for skinsuits than other clothing. 

The final learning session acquainted us more with mountain bike technology. Since many in the group are primarily roadies, they started with basics of how the suspension system of a full-suspension bike functions and the functional usage of the different mountain bike models. Seth and Tony explained the geometry of Specialized's mountain bike frames, the chain stays being a little shorter for more nimble handling; the research in the design of the rear suspension on full-suspension bikes including the location of pivot points. While explaining how the dampening and rebound functions work and how the fluid moves, I was surprised to learn that fluid suspension forks should be serviced every 50 hours of use, because of contamination that the oil will absorb.

It time for lunch and to journey into the Soquel Demonstration Forest to put some mountain bikes to test. Everyone was anxious to get there and it was a decent drive there, so everyone grabbed food to go from the Feed Zone. After driving up some quite winding roads into the mountains west of Morgan Hill, the bikes were lined up to get ready to go. We were all riding full suspension bikes. There was at least a couple of new just released 2016 Stumpjumpers and the 6Fattie Fuse.

Despite driving a good amount up into the forest, we rode uphill for about an hour on asphalt roads, then dirt fire roads. Then we started hitting some singletrack. We still went up further but alternated between some fun singletrack and more fire road. We stopped for a gorgeous view on a beautiful day and regathered the group. Now it was time to start going downhill for a good while!

A nice long and organized group riding through the forest.

One of the awesome bermed downhill turns on the Demo Flow Trail.
Singletrack with log-overs, drops and rock gardens eventually gave way to the recently completed Demo Flow Trail. 4 miles of sweet, fast, smooth flow! High bermed turns, rollers, small jumps - easy to keep speed up and flow from one feature the next. It was 14 minutes of gleeful, ecstatic feeling of motion that felt like at least twice as long. 

We ran a pair of GoPro cameras, one rear-facing and another forward facing. 
The rear-facing camera worked well on the Flow Trail - the full version:

I also have a video of highlights of the entire mountain bike ride.

At the end of ride, we began re-hydrating with liquids. Some were looking for bottle openers when I told them we each had at least 2 bottle openers - mountain bike pedals make great bottle openers, then proceeded to show them. It turns out there are several ways to use a bike to open a bottle, here's a video of them featured recently on the VeloNews website: 

Aaron getting some trail time
The toughest part of the ride was coming off the unbelievable high of the flow trail and finding out that our new friend and fellow rad ride, Aaron had fallen and was hurt, awaiting medical transport. Aaron ended up leaving in a medevac helicopter and suffered a broken back. I'm pleased to be able to say that he is recovering well and is now taking short spins on his bike at home. I wish Aaron continued healing for a full recovery. 

We ended the evening and trip with a barbecue dinner outside by the pump track at the headquarters. We enjoyed amazing homemade barbecue sauces on several types of meats, made by a couple of Specialized employees. Every level of the staff at Specialized were incredible hosts! The relationships continue too - we are still in touch with these awesome SBCU staffers and others at Specialized. 

Saturday morning we headed to the airport at various times to catch our flights home. With sad goodbyes, we realized just how much this group had gelled together in such a short time. In addition to Rad Riders, we have all become Rad Friends. 

Above: Amy, Wendy, Danny & Darby take a break on the trails

During a break, I snapped some trail photos for Karen K.

John was really digging the 2016 Stumpjumper, having a blast!
DLo is NOT flipping us off - there are 2 fingers
there, but one isn't as visible. He's just showing us
his toughness after finding the rock garden a little too close up.

Brian & Amy plus D-Rock coming off the Flow Trail
Karen W, DLo and me having a few final laughs together as we get ready to head home.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A visit to Specialized HQ with the Rad Riders! (Part 2)

A more detailed look at SBCU (Specialized Bicycle Components University)

In the previous post, I mentioned that we started our time at Specialized with a tour of the museum area and concept bikes with Mike Sinyard, the founder, and Robert Egger, chief creative designer. Following some orientation and signing non-disclosure documents, we went to the helmet lab, where they perform the testing of helmets, including those under development. On occasion, helmets that sacrificed their lives for the safety of those wearing them return home. Here is Alberto Contador's helmet from a crash in the 2014 Tour de France. You can see it's bashed up a bit where his name sticker is and the back of it is completely broken.

Specialized intentionally bashes helmets as part of their testing. In fact, they test helmets from their production runs at a rate well above the required number in order to make certain they meet rigid standards. They test them using different shape anvils to simulate striking the road, curbs and other surfaces and change the angle of impact for all the different ways we can fall off a bike and hit our head. They demonstrated a helmet test for us. 

Aerodynamics is a huge part of helmet development. McLaren assisted with the development of the current S-Works TT helmet. This is chart is a fluid dynamics rendering of the air flow over the helmet and head of the rider. They found that by adding an air intake, called the 'gill', the airflow is smoother over the side and reduced drag. It's a bonus that it increases the cooling of the rider's head. A different chart of the airflow without the gill showed turbulence on the side of the helmet caused by an eddy in the airflow. If you look at their current TT helmet, you will see this gill. There were some new helmets in the room, but remember, we signed nondisclosure agreements, so no photos and that's all we can say about that!

Following lunch in the Feed Zone with Mike Sinyard and other employees that joined us, we heard about Body Geometry from fit guru Dr. Andy Pruitt. He talked to about the origins of Body Geometry concepts and how they were the first to perform detailed, measured bike fits for cyclists for teams in the professional cycling WorldTour to maximize power and comfort. Today all of the teams engage consultants for proper fits of their cyclists on their bikes. He also talked to us about how they developed saddles to reduce pressure in the nether-regions of both men and women, each for their particular anatomy. Men were tested using sensors and let's just say that they didn't use a banana.

Seth and Tony taught us a good amount about the construction of carbon frames. They showed us different orientations of the carbon fibers offer different types of strength. For example fibers that run straight give in-line strength and can't be bent easily length-wise. However they don't have a lot of torsional (twisting) stiffness. Fibers bonded and applied at an angle, like 45°, offer much more torsional stiffness. Many layers are used to build a frame and are layered differently depending on the area applied. The bottom bracket area is subject to more torsional stress from the pedaling action and are layered differently than the down tube. If you're really into some of the technical aspects of this, you can read more on Specialized's website in a whitepaper from a few years ago.

There are lots of counterfeit frames on the market, some look very convincing while others are more obvious. There's no way to know the quality level of these counterfeit frames. Our SBCU instructors explained that they occasionally test counterfeit frames that they get their hands on and found considerable flaws - like head tubes that snap off in a test equivalent to hitting a pothole in the road while riding. Carbon components require heating to cure and some counterfeit components are simply being "cooked" in a residential oven to cure. Doesn't that sound like an item you want to risk your body riding?

We didn't get to visit the Win Tunnel, but we did learn about how they use it. In addition to testing whole bikes, they can also test riders drafting as a group. Because they have their own wind tunnel, they have made lots of comparison tests. Most know that carbon aero wheels offer less resistance compared to other wheels and the aero helmets are used in time trials. Here's some examples of time savings for certain changes that any cyclist can make (depending on your budget). The numbers here represent the number of seconds saved over a 40 km (25 mile) course. Each item was changed one at a time for incremental differences based on each item.

  • 45 seconds - Clothing: changing from looser, club-fit style jersey to tighter, race-cut jersey will no flapping. 
  • 59 seconds - Aero Frame: Changing from Tarmac frame to Venge aero frame - 59 seconds
  • 42 seconds -  Helmet: Changing from Specialized Prevail helmet to Evade road helmet. A TT helmet would be even faster
  • 33 seconds - Wheels: changing from regular training wheels to deep section Roval aero wheels. This is based on straight-ahead wind at no angle. Because the shape of the wheels offer a "sail effect" in angled winds, the time savings is usually larger. 
  • 17 seconds - Bars: aero bars: changing from regular round handle bars to aerodynamic drop bars (not TT bars). 
Some of these changes are much cheaper to accomplish than others, like just improving the jersey fit or buying a more aero helmet. Watch the video about these time savings, plus they have lots of others - some of which are just plain fun to contemplate and test. 

Lucy August-Perna told us about the Specialized Foundation. They are working with schools to study the effects of cycling to offset Attention Deficit Disorder in children. They have had very promising initial results and are looking to increase the number of schools that have bike programs for therapeutic purposes. 

At the same time that we were on site, there were also some journalists there, including some from Germany and Japan. They were at Specialized for a separate, secret event. Something big was going on, which was what kept us from seeing the Win Tunnel. Andy Pruitt teased us by telling us a new shoe was involved that has new technology built into it, but would say no more. He did offer that perhaps we should look at Alberto Contador's feet at the Giro d'italia. We figured it was a new bike being shown off, but the media folks were sworn to secrecy and no one at Specialized was talking either, aside from obvious anxiety that they wanted to say more because of how long they've been working on it, but weren't letting out even a tiny thread of information.

Now we know it's the new Venge ViAS, plus the Evade skinsuit, and new S-Works 6 shoe. We've also since learned that Peter Sagan's new Venge that went on to help him win a stage in Tour de Suisse was in the building while we were there!

Following the all the learning of the day, it was time to get out and ride! The ride of the day was a road bike ride into the hills around Morgan Hill. After changing, we went to the "cage" that contains the demo fleet of bikes - all kinds of Specialized bikes - racks 3 levels high (see above). A very poignant image was captured by Aaron Edge on our group road ride that showed the tremendous community of cyclists, as one rider lent a hand of support as another worked hard to go up a tougher hill early in the ride.

I captured some video on the road using a GoPro camera and have edited it to about 5 minutes of some of the more interesting section of the ride, including some drafting right on the bumper of a pickup truck while they filmed us.

There's one more installment left - Details of Day 2 at Specialized including a mountain bike ride in the redwood mountains around Morgan Hill.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A visit to Specialized HQ with the Rad Riders! (Part 1)

Welcome to the new blog for Gray Goat Bicycle Co! We will be using the blog for more in-depth information about cycling topics and products and particularly to feature the stories of our cycling community and customers. We're starting it off with entries from Jim Jensen, who just returned from a trip to Specialized's headquarters in California. A first-time program that Specialized set up for "Rad Riders" that are ardent supporters of the cycling lifestyle in their communities. 

In early Spring, Brian Gootee surprised me with the announcement that I was headed to a new program at Specialized Bicycle's headquarters in Morgan Hill, CA. I would be spending 2 days in their Specialized Bicycle Components University (SBCU) and going on a couple of rides in the area. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect and it turned out to be far beyond what I imagined. Thanks to the recognizable Specialized "S", I met up with 7 others in Chicago on their way to SBCU too. The excitement was building! We were a large enough group that Specialized sent 2 Town Car SUVs to whisk us to our accommodations in Morgan Hill.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, before we could even get to our rooms, the hotel staff came out smiling and handing us each a bag of stuff left for us by Specialized. We knew we'd get our detailed schedule upon arrival, but this was way more than expected! I think every single person did exactly the same thing - go to our room, lay out the contents of our SWAG bag on the nice white bed and send a photo back to our respective bike shops. I think about 17 very similar photos appeared on social media all about the same time (one of our group arrived later in the evening)!
tube spool photo
 One of the items included was simple, but really caught my attention as part of Specialized's SWAT (Storage, Water, Air, Tools) collection - the Tube Spool. It holds CO2, a tire lever and a tube a convenient package the fits in a pocket or a seat bag. 

We met the west coast contingent at the hotel, who arrived ahead of us. The electricity was really buzzing now, but we had no bikes and nothing scheduled for the rest of the day. A few of us were too antsy to sit around the pool and wanted to do something. We split into random small groups and found ways to explore, some near, some farther. Some decided the pool was an oasis. 

Thursday morning we gathered for breakfast in the hotel and started getting to know more in the group. We met 2 from guys from Germany and another from Japan that were also there for Specialized. As it turned out, they were there for a separate event, which intrigued us all the more. 

We spent much of Thursday learning more about the history of Specialized by touring the museum area of the building, including a personal discussion of their bikes and development by the founder and president, Mike Sinyard himself, followed by explanations of the incredible and fun concept bikes by lead creative designer Robert Egger. 
Our SBCU instructors, Seth Rand and Tony Baumann helped us understand more about the construction of road bike frames plus the suspension systems of mountain bikes over the two days. In addition, we we visited the helmet test lab and the apparel lab, which was much more interesting than it sounds. In both of these areas, we were requested to limit photographs and we were able to see items that are still considered corporate intellectual property, although some of the details were withheld, of course. 

Each day also provided us the opportunity of  riding top-end bikes; road bikes on Thursday and mountain bikes on Friday. It's unusual that a group of cyclists that had never met gelled together not only as colleagues and new friends but also trusted each other very highly on the road, helping each other, encouraging each other and riding very close together - especially when the video truck was right in front of us and we rode right on the bumper and lined up wheel to wheel. The "cage" that contains the demo fleet of bikes is quite an impressive sight. 
All employees of Specialized ride bikes, which seems obvious, but it's not really an assumption that can be made about any company using their own products on a regular basis. As a result, they can directly evaluate the products they are developing. Riding the new saddles, riding in the prototype clothing - all to the end of knowing their products and designing them from the perspective of the user, not a 2-D or 3-D image. It shows quite well, as does their enthusiasm. We were joined on each ride by product managers and others from the road and mountain bike departments, including Don Langley of the "Langster" single speed bike - quite a treat! There's so much to share, that it will spread over more than one entry. In upcoming entries, I'll include more detail about the topics we discussed and learned about. Sorry,  but no company secrets we may or may not have seen will be able to be discussed here. In the mean time - some additional photos. 
Lots of milestone bikes in the museum area

Settling into town, getting to know each other at a local wine cellar.

Lunch with Mike Sinyard, president and founder of Specialized.

The group was riding together as a tight group right away, despite not riding together before.