Written along the walls of Specialized Bicycles’ Silicon Valley-based innovation lab are the words “innovate or die.” It makes sense when you see what the company does in that building.
This hub is where the bike manufacturer’s designers and engineers dream up tomorrow’s human-powered vehicles. The team is able to both design and make prototypes in-house. This means they don’t have to send plans out to factories to build test models, which can take weeks. Instead, an engineer draws something up and can test it in the next day or so.
Manufacturing prototypes on premises has its perks. While most designers draw up plans with a computer and then send it out to be built, the Specialized team at the innovation lab gets to play with the raw materials–giving them a more tactile understanding of the composites used to build the bikes. The company encourages its employees to physically touch all the components necessary for the products.
But that’s not all that happens at the innovation lab. Specialized goes to great lengths to ensure it makes state-of-the-art products. It built its own wind tunnel so people could test out models in the elements. Simulated winds can blow up to 70 miles per hour while a cyclist tries to pedal apace. The same room can simulate rainfall, so that Specialized can see how a bike maneuvers–or even how effective a helmet or piece of apparel performs.
And then, Specialized tests products’ durability with intense stress tests. The company pummels each device–for hours, if not days–to ensure that only the best products get released. These stress tests are meant to simulate a bike’s life span, so Specialized uses heavy, somewhat frightening machinery to ensure everything is sturdy enough for the real world. Once a bike is thoroughly stress tested, the company then puts it on the road to test it some more.
It’s better to see this program in action rather than describe. Luckily, Fast Company got the chance to tour this Specialized innovation lab. In it, we saw all of this in action, essentially highlighting the process the company goes through to build its products. If you think designing and building a bike is easy, this tour will set you straight.
Enjoy, and be sure to wear a helmet.