Factory Tour: Rockshox’s Colorado Headquarters
This Summer we visited Rockshox’s Colorado Springs, CO, offices where they dream up, design and test Rockshox and Avid products.
Rockshox product manager Sander Rigney took us around, let us take pictures in some areas (and absolutely, definitely not in others), and here’s what we saw.
Above is the Blackbox hall of fame. For the uninitiated, their Blackbox program is a skunkworks…the place where things get to come to fruition in budget-be-damned, one-off, let’s-see-if-it-can-be-done fashion. The forks above represent the history of Rockshox Blackbox experiements. Jump on past the break to see some closeups and the rest of their facility, including a little S&M video of fork torture testing…
Note the gold sliders on the Boxxer in the middle, top. Rockshox was an early pioneer in coatings, but they’ve mainly stuck with “traditional” low friction anodizations over the years.
Reverse Boxxer, anyone? There weren’t enough measurable benefits of the inverted stanchions versus their traditional design, so after testing Rockshox simply stuck with their current format. Click any photo to enlarge.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a tour of their plant. Officially, the Colorado Springs HQ is where the Rockshox and Avid product development, blackbox testing and sponsorship happens. It’s here because this is where it was ’round ’bout the time SRAM purchased Rockshox, and it makes for some great proving grounds given the breadth and depth of mountain bike trails in and around Colorado.
The cubicle farm is upstairs on the main floor, which is hidden behind a nice little reception area, and it hides the enormous size of their building. Downstairs is where the real magic happens, and in the middle of it all is the “employee parking lot” and basketball court.
The large, wide open doors you see in the background is where prototypes are put together and played with before heading into the testing chamber. This is as close as we could get with the camera. Honestly, when we walked through there wasn’t anything strikingly new down here…by this time we’ve pretty much seen all their new stuff at Sea Otter (here, here and here) and the SRAM Press Camp (here and here) earlier in the year.
This is the machine shop, and you’re seeing about half of the machines that, um, machine parts for them on demand. This lets them fabricate very early stage parts and prototypes to test a concept. Even though they have the capability to fabricate complete working parts in many instances, Rockshox moves ideas on to their production partners very early in the process to ensure parts and methods are feasible on a large scale. There’s no sense developing something so trick that it can’t be mass produced cost effectively.
Once a fork is complete and production ready, Rockshox conducts their own tests in addition to those required by CEN and CPSC, etc. In the video above, a Sektor undergoes a flex test, with the axle being pushed back and forth far further than you’re likely to ever bend it under normal riding. Each fork has to pass a minimum of 100,000 cycles of this test, among others. We were thinking it was mainly a test of the lowers and stanchions, but check out the amount of flex taken up by the steerer tube on both the top and bottom!
Fork testing runs through at least 40 chassis iterations with stress and destructive testing for all versions. That means for the Reba alone, they’re testing 40+ 15mm axle models, 40+ 9mm QR, etc. They go thru a ton of forks, and there were industrial trash bins lining one hallway full of spent forks.
Duplicated testing and machine labs are here and in Asia. The Colorado lab does more prototype and development testing, and Asia does more of the final verification and production testing. Since stuff can be made in either location, it saves on time and cost to develop and test parts where necessary.
From there, we checkout the training room. It’s equal parts classroom and hands-on work stations. Dealers can send their mechanics here for annual multi-day classes to learn everything tech and repair oriented for Rockshox and Avid products (and SRAM, too). What you don’t see in this picture are the kitchenette, sofas and beverage chilling units.
OK, now that you’ve seen what they can do here, let’s get back to the Blackbox examples:
Shown above is an early stage Totem prototype. The lowers for this one were completely machined onsite, then bonded together to create a “one piece” lower for testing. What they can’t fabricate in house, they can usually source locally. Colorado Springs has many remnants of military industry locally, so there are outside suppliers that can help with things like anodizing, polishing or super precise finishing work.
They can also machine a crown, then bond it to the stanchions, drop in some internals and *voila* a prototype fork, ready for Blackbox athletes to punish.
A Blackbox prototype of the 1997 Ruby road suspension fork, complete with machined crown and carbon steerer tube. Designed with Paris-Roubaix in mind, it ended up with some spec on commuter bikes if memory serves, but now there are only mountain bike suspension forks offered.
They also make and test a number of different lockout and adjustment levers, both from metal and plastic.
Jeremiah Boobar’s bike was sitting near his desk and had the latest iteration of DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon) coating on his fork’s sliders. Rockshox has been testing DLC on and off for five years, and cost seems to be the biggest issue with bringing it to market…it’s just too expensive. Surface finishes like this are tested for their ability to carry lubrication as well as just being inherently slick.
Besides getting the DLC fork, a benefit of working in the industry is having the latest parts well before anyone else. This well used Monarch Plus had seen some miles before it was ever available for order.
And that concludes our tour of Rockshox’s offices and proving grounds in Colorado Springs!