Tour of Specialized Headquarters



We are fortunate to have the world corporate headquarters of Specialized Bicycle Components here in Morgan Hill. They have a really nice museum you can drop in and see anytime, but it’s even better to arrange a formal tour with them. We were guided by Bob Friedrich, one of their product managers, who was gracious, funny, and knowledgeable. My “old goat” riding buddies went for a shorter version of our Tuesday ride for about an hour, to leave time for the tour, which took about 90 minutes. The tour was a bike nut and enginerd’s dream. We started out in the museum, learning a bit about the history of the company. I was familiar with it overall, but learned some more tidbits.

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 1
A replica of Mike Sinyard’s hippy-mobile which he sold to get his business going.

Mike Sinyard, the founder of Specialized Bicycle Imports, graduated from San Jose State. Upon graduation, he wasn’t sure what to do with himself, but since he as a bike fanatic, he hoped it would have something to do with bicycles. He went to visit Italy in 1974 after graduation, selling his VW bus to fund the trip. There he met  Cino Cinelli. a famous Italian maker of high-quality components, Mike became Cinelli’s sole US importer, and founded “Specialized Bicycle Imports” to sell parts to bicycle aficionados. He did not have a motor vehicle, so made his first deliveries, in a territory ranging from San Francisco to Monterey, using a trailer attached to his bike.

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 2
The First Specialized delivery van

By 1976 the company was importing other high-quality brands as well, and began having its own parts manufactured. In 1981 the company started selling its first two bikes, the Sequoia, a touring bike, and the Allez, a road bike. But the big breakthrough was when they introduced the Stumpjumper later that year, the first mass-produced mountain bike. All three are still in the company’s product line, and the original versions are shown in the museum:

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 3
Left to right Stumpjumper, Sequioia, and Allez

Surprisingly, the Stumpjumper’s success was not immediate. Mike had to tour all over the state convincing dealers, who were all road-bike oriented at the time. The initial production run of 700 was sold out before they arrived from Japan, and no further convincing was needed. It took the company several years to catch up on the backlog of demand. As an aside: In 1977, my wife bought a bike, because she wanted to have fun rides around the neighborhood and do errands. The bike shop sold her a bike with drop bars, which she hated (they also caused her some shoulder pain). Bike shops did that to everyone back them. I swapped them out for flat bars and then she was comfortable.Although some of success of the early mountain bikes was due to people wanting to ride off road, I think a lot of people just wanted a more comfortable riding position.

There were other fun aspects to the museum I’ll cover below. Before we saw them, we took a trip over to Specialized’s wind tunnel, which they let you stand in while it is turned on. They ramped it up to 67 mph while we were in there.

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 4
The inlet to the wind tunnel is the far wall, which is honeycombed to produce smoother airflow.
Tour of Specialized Headquarters 5
The honeycomb inlet
Tour of Specialized Headquarters 6
The fans on the opposite wall

The airflow sucked one of our members glasses off his head and flung them towards the fans, which are protected by netting. It took a few minutes to find them afterwards, fortunately intact.

Now it was back to the museum My favorite was the actual bikes on display that were ridden to success by Specialized’s sponsored riders.

The great time trial rider Fabian Cancellara, aka Spartacus, got one of his four stage wins at the Tour de France on this bike:

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 7

Legendary mountain bike Ned Overend won the first ever “fat bike” championship (on snow) on this bike. He won overall, at age 59:

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 8

There were several other notable bikes, including one that Peter Sagan used in his unprecedented three-peat at the world Championships, plus the one he used to win Paris-Roubaix. Peter, from Slovakia, is well known in cycling circles for being quite a character. There was a great quote on the wall from him: “They laugh at me because I am different. I laugh at them because they are all the same”. There was also the bike Tom Boonen used to win Paris-Roubaix, and the one Gwen Jorgensen used to win the gold medal in triathlon in Rio.

The other fun aspect of the museum was the display of concept bikes from over the years by their brilliant designer Robert Egger. Here is a small selection of many:

The Morgan Hill PD asked for a special police bike. They liked it when it was unveiled, until they noticed it had a donut holder instead of a bottle cage. Apparently they were less amused than Robert about that:

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 9

A racing tandem from more than 20 years ago. It has some innovative features still in use, such as an handlebar stem assembly reminiscent of Specialized’s modern “Shiv” design:

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 10

Ned Overend still works at Specialized as a product tester. Out of respect for his age, Robert made a replica of his first bike:

Tour of Specialized Headquarters 11

If you ever visit Morgan Hill, the Specialized museum is a must-see, which you can do on a drop-in basis. If you want the full-blown tour you just have to give them a little advanced warning, like maybe call the day before.

After the tour we had lunch. I took the long way riding home, inspired by all the photos of world class riders and seeing their bikes in person.