Specialized Bicycles

The technology of success

Mike Sinyard is the Silicon Valley innovator you probably haven’t heard of. However, like the founders of Apple, Cisco, and Google, he changed something significant: bicycles and the technology of bicycling.

Sinyard is the founder and chairman of Specialized Bicycle Components, a privately held American manufacturer of bicycles and their parts and accessories. He was among the first to mass-produce bicycles that fit and functioned like custom-built bikes. He made better mountain and road bikes, and he made them more affordable. His radically improved rims and tires and Allez and Sequoia bicycles brought high quality within the reach of modest budgets.

In 1988, Sinyard was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, and in 1994, his Stumpjumper mountain bike was added to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s collection, joining President Lincoln’s top hat and the first Apple computers.

Headquartered now in Morgan Hill in massive and gleaming modern buildings, with some 1,600 employees and approximately $1.2 billion in annual sales worldwide, Specialized is worlds away from its 1974 beginnings in a trailer that Sinyard’s grandmother lent him—parked at a blighted corner at Monterey Road and Curtner in the Paradise Trailer Park, near General Electric’s nuclear plant, the Oak Hill cemetery, and Accent, a toxic MSG-based spice factory.

But the road to that trailer was itself strewn with bicycles all the way. As a student, Sinyard bicycled to San Jose State, where he worked his way through the School of Business by buying beater bikes at the Berryessa Flea Market and selling them through the PennySaver, the Valley’s print version of today’s Craigslist. In 1972, after graduation, Sinyard worked for Wilson Gomes, a wholesale distributor of bicycles and parts, and he was part of the Valley’s road bike scene, riding alone or with friends to Santa Cruz, the Los Gatos hills, and events like the annual Mount Hamilton Challenge. In 1974, he sold his VW Bus to tour Europe by bike. In Italy, by a stroke of good fortune, he met Cino Cinelli, whose bicycles and components were among the world’s best. And so Sinyard became Cinelli’s California distributor. Following the bike tour, he returned to his trailer, where he peddled European components and Blackburn pannier racks to Bay Area bike shops on his makeshift cargo bike. Seeing demand for better quality tires and rims led him to manufacture and improve them, which led him to custom components and eventually to the manufacturing of complete bicycles.

Now one of the world’s largest bicycle companies, Specialized has its own bicycle-specific wind tunnel that’s paired with computational fluid dynamics, enabling Specialized to develop aerodynamically sound bicycles, and the company has filed hundreds more patent applications than its competitors.

 

Written by Diane Solomon
Photography by Daniel Garcia

This article originally appeared in Issue 9.0 “Celebrate”
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