While Specialized were busy showing of their 2006 range of equipment to dealers and journos, we found a quite spot away from the all the talk of annual targets and profit margins to get a few words from the founder of Specialized, Mike Sinyard. Load your coffee cup. Get comfortable. And enjoy an interview with one of the most influential people in the MTB industry.
Mike Sinyard: Often quite animated
The first mass-produced MTB – 1981’s Specialized Stumpjumper
Specialized started here: Mike Sinyard’s VW bus (actually not the exact one, but one very like it)
You know, it started from being a cycling enthusiast. I really loved bicycles, and used to fix bikes in college. I couldn’t imagine getting a job, you know, going to some office, so I just started the company from being a bike enthusiast. I took a bike trip through Europe for three months and started to import some products just from a love of bikes, but I always thought there was an opportunity for a better product. One of the first things I imported to the US was a Condor bike, Monty [Young] and Grant [Young] really helped me out when I started.Did you ever think the bike business would take off?
I didn’t really do it thinking there was this grand business thing. I just thought, hey, I’ll do what I wanna do and see what happens. I believed that there was more of an opportunity, particularly in America, where it wasn’t as evolved as Europe. In Europe they always had nicer bikes. At Specialized we’ve had the philosophy that we do things we like, or if we see a need. Our people see people riding bikes and just find out what they need.It must put a smile on your face seeing people riding Specialized bikes out on the trail?
Yeah, I think one of the most important things about being in this business is the people you work with. Having great people and seeing those people grow. And seeing people using the products and getting their feedback – it does make you feel good. It makes you feel great.Do you get involved much in product development?
Yeah, a lot. I’m not the strongest rider but I put a lot of miles in and am pretty sensitive about what works and what doesn’t. There’s a lot of other great athletes, Ned [Overend], Liam [Killeen]…You get a lot of feedback from them?
Oh yeah. And a lot of road riders that are really good. We have a really extensive laboratory for testing – very expensive – but you know, no matter how much you do on the computer, it never simulates the real riding, riding in all weathers, in the rain, the British mud…
“When I’m not working, I’m out on the bike, and it doesn’t have anything to do with business, it’s about what I love to do.”Do you get much mud on your local trails?
[Laughs] Not like you do, I know here you can ride and then suddenly your bike weighs 50lbs. [Laughs]How have you seen the company progress since it started?
I think the general goals are always the same, to make the bike better, to find a way to make the bike lighter, to make the experience better. So whether it was 25 years ago or today, it’s really the same goals. You kinda discover new ways to get things done and the main thing I’ve learned is to work with the best people you can find. That’s really the magic of it because it makes it fun, and you can’t wait to come to work everyday.So, you’re out on your bike everyday?
Yeah, at lunchtimes. We have a couple of groups that go out, maybe for an hour or two. I do that everyday when I’m home. Then on the weekend we’ll go out for a really long one, six or seven hours, that’s really fun.Is most of your riding on the road?
Road and mountain, but recently it’s been more road bikes. We’ll take the road bikes on a real big ride and we’ll go off-road too. Like there are some roads and mountains where you can ride on the dirt and connect back onto the highway. We just do some incredible rides sometimes.What bike do you choose when you get on a road ride?
[Without hesitation] The Roubaix. I like it a lot. I may ride the Tarmac sometimes, but I like the Roubaix. I like bikes that have a lot of utility. Whether it’s the Stumpjumper, Roubaix, or the Tricross, these are bikes I’ve had more influence on.The Tricross is new for 2006 – tell us about it.
I used to be a tourer when I didn’t have the car, I used that kind of bike for everything. I think more people could be served with a bike like that. You can take it off-road if you want, or you can also ride it around the city.
“Seeing people using the products and getting their feedback – it does make you feel good. It makes you feel great.”Specialized have taken a very keen interest in technology to increase comfort while cycling. Do you think others will follow?
I think the old way of thinking was that if a bike was more comfortable then it means it’s more of a slow bike. I think it’s a mindset, but people who ride in an enduro or the Tour de France, they have to have a bike which is ergonomically great for them. So, every contact point, shoes, saddle, gloves, shorts, raising the head tube height – I think these changes can bring more people into cycling. We have a lot of pros riding the Roubaix, Over the years we always made a custom bike for the pro riders, and most of the time the geometry was much more like the Roubaix. And people said it was more of a comfort bike. It’s not – most of the riders would make bikes like that. I think it’s a big opportunity to open the whole thing up till we’ve got more people into cycling.What’s the next step in increasing comfort?
I think to make it more efficient, like what Andy’s [Pruitt] doing with the shoes, really lining up the legs. It’s big. I think that making those fine points, educating the riders, and making the experience better for people. That’s something we want to put a lot of energy into. I think now more than anytime, the sport of cycling is becoming broader and broader, more people are coming in, old people and young people. There’s a big ageing population wanting to ride more. We want to make the bikes better and better, and make people more and more motivated to get out more. Every time you get a new bike you’re so excited to get out and ride, and the more we can get people to do that the better.You must be proud that Specialized has reached 25 years? You’ve released the 25 years of Stumpjumper book to commemorate the landmark.
Well, [US bike journalist] Mark Reidy wrote it. It was part my idea and part his. Iit’s quite a landmark. It’s a long time. A lot of the people in our company were just born about then, so we thought it’d be fun to put it together. It was a fun thing, and a lot of people gave perspective. The pictures at the front show how people didn’t call it MTBing in the early days, but it’s definitely what they were doing.Do you think today’s mountain bikers share the same attitudes as those who were there right at its birth?
I think it’s the same fundamental thing – let’s just get out. You know when you get back from a ride with a bunch of mates, it’s like, “Yeah that was crazy, that time you went over the bars…” I think it’s the same thing. It really is.What about the next 25 years for Specialized? Where now?
Just keep going, keep focusing on making each product better. To keep trying to re-invent ourselves, in everything we do. Hopefully the bike we’re making in five years, you’ll put it next to this year’s carbon Stumpjumper and go “Wow! Remember that old thing!” That’s what we want to do. And on the other hand if somebody had bought this bike 25 years ago, even if they rode it all the time, they could just change the tyres and chain and the thing would keep riding. So the integrity of the product for us is everything, it’s something in the company which we’re talking about all the time. It’s all about the product and experience, it’s how you make it better and make people have more fun.
“…when you get back from a ride with a bunch of mates, it’s like, ‘Yeah that was crazy, that time you went over the bars…’ I think it’s the same thing today as it was 25 years ago. It really is.”Any final thoughts?
Personally, I feel really lucky to be in the business, and doing something that I absolutely love. When I’m not working, I’m out on the bike, and it doesn’t have anything to do with business, it’s about what I love to do. So I feel very lucky to be in the business.