It may be hard to believe, but SRAM hasn’t always been the industry juggernaut they are today. Like many bicycle companies before them, SRAM started with an idea. It was an idea for a product that at the time seemed so crazy that it took an outsider to the industry to think it up. After working his way up through the fledgling personal computer industry, the gears had started turning for Stan Day Jr.
In 1986 Stan had an idea for a new type of shifter after being frustrated by the need to reach to the downtube on his bike while training for a triathlon. After leaving his job to work with his father for another job that didn’t end up panning out, Stan met engineer and designer Sam Harwell Patterson on a ski trip in 1987. The two discussed his idea for a shifter, and Sam thought he could make it work. Just a few months later Sam had developed a functional prototype that was a rotating barrel that mounted to a special handlebar – the first GripShift.
Near the end of 1987 the “original six” decided to launch their new shifter at the next big trade show in 1988. Sam would be the head of engineering, Scott King the director of finance and administration, Jeff Shupe would be the head of manufacturing, Michael D. Mercuri the head of OE sales, Stan’s brother Frederick King Day or F.K. joined Stan in managing operations. The team headed to the trade show with a product, but without a company name. After a number of rejected possibilities, SRAM was chosen based on the S from Scott King, R from Stan’s middle name Ray, and AM from Sam Patterson.
While the original GripShift opened the door for the company to try and take even a little market share from the gigantic Shimano, the original design left customers wanting more. So Sam went back to work which led to the adoption of a shovel cam instead of the original helical cam. The design allowed for a much smaller shifter that functioned better and was able to be dialed in for shifting index feel. Called the SRT-100, the shifter would lead to their big break as it was finally picked up as original equipment.
Originally planning to manufacture the shifters in Chicago, a visit to Taiwan where the bikes were to be produced resulted in a change of plans. As we experienced for ourselves, Taiwan is very close knit in their manufacturing and it results in very short lead times. So, on the very same trip Stan set off on establishing a factory in Taiwan. Eventually, they were able to lease a tiny building for SRAM to build their shifters. Little more than a guard hut, the space served its purpose as SRAM was simultaneously building shifters back in Chicago for bikes that were made in the U.S. and the aftermarket.
Having established themselves in Taiwan, the rest of the story is probably more widely known. In 1994, SRAM took a stab at their first product other than a shifter, the ESP 900 plastic derailleur. After a rocky start, SRAM went on to find derailleur success with their X0 product line after acquiring Sachs’ bicycle division in 1997. The first of many acquisitions, SRAM continued with the purchase of Rockshox in 2002, Avid and then Truvativ in 2004, Zipp in 2007, and finally Quarq in 2011.
That may be a long back story, but it’s important to paint a picture of SRAM’s manufacturing today. Truly a global company, SRAM currently has around 3,000 employees in 18-20 locations around the world with the Headquarters still in Chicago and most of the manufacturing (except chains which are made in Portugal) carried out in Taiwan and China. Focusing mostly on SRAM and RockShox’ high end product, their largest Taiwanese facility is the 42,000 m² factory in the Shen Kang district, just outside Taichung. As the first full sized SRAM factory, the facility was built in 1989 and began life as a giant warehouse. Now a sprawling development of different buildings, the Shen Kang factory even has a new clean room for assembling high precision parts like the RockShox Reverb seat post.
As birthplace to many of our favorite SRAM and RockShox products like XX1 and the Pike, there is a lot to see after the break…