How to Break Into the Cycling Industry – Santa Cruz Bikes Engineer Joe Graney
At Santa Cruz’s launch of the Superlight 29 and Tallboy LT earlier this year, I had quite a bit of time to chat up Joe Graney, one of their engineers. Despite his laid back appearance and demeanor, he’s generally regarded as one of the smarter dudes in the industry when it comes to bike and suspension design. He also has a lot of funny stories to tell should you ever find yourself saddled up next to him for a beverage après ride.
BIKERUMOR: Who are you and what are you doing here?
I’m Joe Graney and I’m the director of engineering and quality for Santa Cruz Bicycles. I’m responsible for all the product development and making sure all the quality checks are done. I also set the quality standards now that most of our QC is done in Taiwan at the factory by our staff. We check every single front triangle and swing arm before its boxed to come to Santa Cruz. It keeps the factories honest.
BIKERUMOR: What was your first job or experience in the cycling industry? How did you “break” in?
I worked at International Bicycle Center in Boston for about two years part time while I was in engineering school. I was an intern at Trek in their engineering department in ’96 or ’97 while still in school. Our program let us work for up to half a year, but I only worked there for about two and a half months.
BIKERUMOR: What did you do there?
Very little. At the time, they didn’t have anybody in their machine shop that could build frames during the prototype stage to help the engineers. So I started making them and taking parts to the appropriate people there that could make things or put things together. Basically I had to find something to do there since they didn’t really have an internship opening. I think I called Brad Wagner, their engineering manager at the time, about 40 times and harassed him until they let me in.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your educational background?
I grew up working in my dad’s machine shop. I used to machine my own stems. Ridiculous stuff, every single one of them broke. I’m lucky I’m still alive. That’s when I decided I better go to engineering school.
I have a BS of Mechanical Engineering. I actually went to school at Northeastern in Boston to design bikes. Before that I dropped out of college several times for accounting and other stuff, and stayed away for a couple years.
BIKERUMOR: After that first experience/job, what was the path to your current position?
After school, I worked as an engineer at a product design consultancy called Design Continuum. They’re like hired guns for design and they come out with bitchin’ stuff. That’s why people pay them so much money!
I spent two years there working on door knobs for Schlage. Some of the guys there were super smart. Door knobs are a complicated mechanism that no one thinks about. I learned so much there. Schlage makes like 70,000 door knobs a day!
One of my bosses there knew one of the engineers at Santa Cruz, but he never told me until they closed their San Francisco office and we all got laid off. Then he introduced me to Rob Roskopp, the owner of Santa Cruz. I came down and rode with everyone there, met them all, then just kept calling back every week to see if there was an opportunity.
For the first seven months I worked for them as an independent contractor. I became a full time employee on January 1, 2002.
BIKERUMOR: What’s a normal day for you?
I deal with vendor stuff first for Taiwan issues because their daytime is our night. Then I deal with in-house stuff like graphics, soft goods and input on other ideas we have. I’ll go over to the machine shop -we have full time machinist and shop guy- and see how those projects are going and communicate the progress with Nick Anderson, our senior design engineer. He focuses 100% full time on design, I worry about making sure his designs work once we build a test mule and translate that into a manufacturing process, getting quotes and scheduling.
Most afternoons we’ll go for a ride on test bikes, then in the evenings we might be on conference calls with foreign vendors.
We used to do it differently. One engineer would work on a bike, then work it through production and deal with all the issues. But once they had a few bikes under their belts all of their time was spent dealing with the issues and they had no time left to design bikes.
When I started I was just doing design, but when Nick started we kind of reorganized the way things work and I took over managing the process.
We also started spending more time developing a pivot or other key part of the bike to make it effin’ rad, then we can reuse that part on a number of other bikes so we’re not recreating the whole thing with each new model.
BIKERUMOR: What are the highlights of your job?
Things like our press camps and trips where we get to go ride with killer people. We just rode in Arizona with you (ie: Tyler) and a bunch of other journalists to launch our new 29ers. A month before that I was in Italy riding with Steve Peat. All that’s on the clock. It’s hard to complain.
BIKERUMOR: What could you do without?
Internet comments. Um, I don’t know. In a job sense? Nothing really. I do get a lot of the Internet comments back and I’m supposed to do something about it or look into them. People just really like to complain. About what? These are toys, but they get so worked up.
You know what I could really f–kin’ do without? 650B. What a pain in the ass that’s going to be.
BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give to someone looking to follow your path today?
There’s a lot of kids that send in resumes and I tell them to just go make a bike. Take pictures of it, document it, build a portfolio. Just go do it. No one’s going to hire you to teach you how to do it.
- In Whistler transit bus photo: Jordan Manley
- JG on the tanks photo: Brian Vernor
- Downhilling in Lousa, Portugal: Gary Perkin
- Supermoto tour in Thailand: self-portrait
- Sausage hot tub: Scott Turner