Colorado Springs. You might be pressing to conjure images of what you know about this small city nestled at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains. Well, it sits an impressive 6,010 feet above sea level, which attracts many elite athletes to come and train in the sparse amounts of oxygen it offers. Being based at the foot of the Rockies it also provides an abundance of outdoor activities to indulge in from shootin’ guns to riding bikes. It’s the home of the United States Olympic Committee and its original Training Center, as well as five different military installations including Cheyenne Mountain Complex, a command center that was built deep within a granite mountain during the Cold War to monitor the global airways for ballistic missile attacks headed towards North America. Enough about that though, what you might not know is that Colorado Springs is also home to a large development part of SRAM Corporation. The mountain biker's dream factory.So why Colorado Springs?
Back in 2000, looking to reduce its production costs by moving out of the expensive Bay Area the American born and bred suspension company RockShox moved their operation and 50 staff from San Jose and Santa Cruz to the unassuming city of Colorado Springs. With terrain that was appropriate for a suspension company to test their product on, plus lucrative tax breaks that ushered in big name companies that were bustling from the dot com boom such as Intel, Colorado Springs was experiencing vast growth not seen since the days of the gold rush in the late 1800’s. A year and a half after RockShox settled in to their new locale SRAM came onto the scene. The bicycle component company was looking to expand its brand and with financial struggles still at RockShox, SRAM took over ownership of the iconic brand. Over the next year and a half production was sent to SRAM’s Taiwan factory and RockShox was scaled back to around 25 development employees. However, over the next ten years with the success of SRAM and RockShox product, plus further acquisitions of AVID, Truvativ, Zipp and Quarq, coupled with the introduction of new product development groups such as MTB Wheels it didn’t take long for the SRAM umbrella to grow into the vast behemoth that it is today. Now with around 80 people on staff, the SRAM Colorado Springs office started to burst the seams of their original RockShox location and so in 2012 a task force was assembled to source an appropriate space to operate and grow into over the next five years. After six months of canvassing different options around town a nearby call center was chosen to be turned into the sleek facility that now houses the ever growing company.The Space
The 9000 square foot space was gutted of its call center set-up and re-fitted to house several groups from within the SRAM family. These groups include the development teams for RockShox, AVID and SRAM MTB Wheels as well as SRAM Techinical Universtiy, the Technical Communications Department, SRAM Race Team, a machine shop, a test lab and a document control department. With so many different groups to cater to the task force was challenged to keep all parties involved happy, and after the struggles associated with moving were overcome Building Manager Mark Winter believes that the new location has been well received.
When we visited it was a blue sky week, warm and sunny and from the outside there is no clear giveaway that the ordinary brown industrial park building houses a veritable feast of bike development activity. Only when we entered into the hushed and almost sterile lobby were the first SRAM markings seen, with a World Bicycle Relief Bike propped against one wall and a SRAM pART piece along with a few photographs of SRAM athletes along another. Once you’ve made it through the guest entrance the buzz of office life can be heard and the real SRAM distinction that has come to be expected of the brand hits you. The open concept space is highlighted with red feature walls and branding logo’s emblazoned across others.
Culturally SRAM doesn’t separate management from the rest so everyone has the same desk set-up as the next person. Private conversations and phone calls take place in one of the nine meeting room spaces.
Being a bicycle parts manufacturer means that extra thought has gone into the building to provide for the fact that well, there are a lot of bikes and riders to be catered to. Most of the long hallways in the building are lined with vinyl flooring so that bikes can be ridden and moved around on them. Any carpeted zones mean strictly no bikes allowed. There are a few Razor scooters scattered about the place that some injured employees use to commute from one hallway to the next and others use just to amuse themselves. A special galvanized tin has been applied to the lower half of the walls so that handlebars don’t cause dings and scratches in the paint. No tin, no bike leaning. The Commuter Room
SRAM weren’t messing around when they turned this old utility room into the commuter room. With bikes that go out for testing and people riding to and from work it’s pretty important for things to stay clean. A special slab of concrete was laid for the bike wash zone and a drainage system was installed that includes a sump to separate any oil and debris from going into the sewer system. In the old building bike washing was done in the car park, so during winter months a virtual ice skating rink would form. Now there is hot and cold water which can be accessed out of the retractable hose system attached to the ceiling, an air drying system and plenty of space on the racks for almost 50 bikes. With all this riding and testing going on, SRAM needs to keep its staff clean too. The facility is equipped with a locker room, showers and a towel service for the employees. The Machine Shop
This room is where the design teams dreams become reality. The engineers from each of the product teams will send their designs to the machine shop to be made into small runs of prototypes. The machinists will then program the parameters into their software and send it to the lathes and mills to be made. It might take several versions of product to be made to smooth out any kinks in the design but once good results are received from the test lab and field testing the final designs can then be sent to the manufacturing team for production.
When Pinkbike visited, Caesar was making a run of eight pistons. This work took 30 hours to complete from programming to production. Caesar says that after putting in long hours perfecting his product it’s a tough pill to swallow when the prototypes get sent to the Test Lab just to be tortured to death. Partly as a vigil but also as reference Caesar keeps a drawer full of every part he has ever made. The Test Lab
Unfortunately there are just too many secrets in the SRAM test lab to show you, but what we can tell you is this: The machines in the test lab combined can perform over 150 different tests. These tests are designed to give performance and life span characteristics for all of the parts that are built in the machine shop, in the factories and of course by the competition. Each machine can tell you how hard it pushed, how far it pushed, how fast it pushed and how many times it pushed. All of that data is recorded and then given back to the engineers for analysis who will then give a pass or fail criteria output for that particular test. Often, a machine does not exist to run the tests the engineers desire, so SRAM custom builds its own machines. In fact, there is a team of four engineers attached specifically to the test lab to work with each of the product groups to design machines and tests to assess the product. The Race Room
This 3000ft space has the look and feel of your buddy’s awesome pimped out garage, but better. It’s the type of place that you’d just love spend the afternoon in, dorking out on random bike parts and drinking beer whilst listening to metal. In fact that kind of activity often goes down in here on a Friday afternoon as the folks unwind from the week amongst the old school athlete jerseys and kitschy event posters in the lounge. Yeah that’s right, the Race Room has its own lounge.
This new room is about twice the size of the old warehouse with higher ceilings as well. With rows and rows of shelving that almost reach the roof the amount of product in here is somewhat overwhelming. The Race Program has a ton of stuff stored here which ends up on your favourite rider's bikes and on the truck for event support, so the need for space and organisation is vastly important. At the time of the move into the new building the race team were actually on the road, so it’s taken some time for them to get settled into their new digs after a busy summer of travel.
The Race Truck is where the team spends most of their time when they’re on the road. The big rig gets emptied, cleaned and flipped of product after each event. Then she’s re-stocked and re-loaded to head out on to the next gig. The Engineering Shop
Another dream boat scenario to the lay person - this room was tailored so that each member of the product development groups would have their own workstation. This ensures that every team member is hands on during the entire development process. Each product group has their own area and throughout the day there will usually be a few people in the room tinkering, testing and tapping away at work. SRAM Technical University
SRAM Technical University or STU as it’s commonly referred to is the group that is in charge of dealer training and demonstration fleets. A full workshop is set up for on-site training sessions as well as a fully equipped classroom for hitting the books. The Loading Dock
The loading dock is a shared space and therefore is run pretty strictly with each product group having a designated area to store their goods. Stuff comes in and out so often that there is a full time employee to manage the shipping and receiving and the orderliness of the place. The Lunch Room
After a hard morning of work there’s the killer lunch room to take a break in. Fancy some foosball? No problem, play a round while your lunch warms up. There were so many different flavours of creamers in the kitchen that it was necessary to have more than several coffees to try them all. The Culture
So we know that SRAM has a really cool new building. But what about the people that populate it? Who are these mythical folk that design SRAM product and what are they like?
The lunch time ride not only exists but thrives. One of the requirements for the new office was for the location to be close by to good rideable terrain not only for lunch rides but for easy access to testing. The nearby Ute Park was full of SRAM employees when we went for our midday spin.
On our visit there were two knee re-constructions, a broken neck and a broken ankle. Jed actually broke his neck testing product. It’s safe to say he stuck his neck out for you, what a guy.
With SRAM's strength in marketing and branding it's easy to wonder if it's more than skin deep. From visiting from the Colorado Springs location it’s easy to see that the culture and pride is rooted deeply within the staff's passion for the company and the sport. SRAM has a very low employee turn over rate and in Colorado Springs alone there is a large group with tenures of 13 years or more. We guess they must be doing something right.Select images provided by SRAM, Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau and Jesse Parker.www.sram.comwww.visitcos.com