The story about Specialized’s lawsuit against Volagi Cycles broke a few days ago. Now, the gag order’s up and we had a chance to talk to Robert Choi, cofounder of Volagi about the case. But before we get started:

EDITOR’S NOTE & FULL DISCLOSURE: This is just one side of the story. We’ve reached out to Specialized for comment and will produce a separate article as soon as we are able to talk to them. Zach Overholt, one of our writers, works for Volagi. He is not involved in this court case in any way nor has he contributed to or influenced this article. Only the jury knows all the facts, we are just providing the information available to us. Mercury News, which first broke the story about this case, is scheduled to have a reporter covering the case live if you want the most current story.

BIKERUMOR: You just came out of the first day of court. It was mainly jury selection and normal process stuff, motions to keep or eliminate certain evidence, whether it’s relevant to the case, etc. Anything you can tell us about what’s shaping up?

ROBERT: If you really look at it, this whole thing is irrational. They’re not being rational.

Mike Sinyard claims that this is his bike. In the deposition he mentions the colors black and red, and some other things.

Tomorrow is opening statements, we think this whole thing will go about a week.

BIKERUMOR: Were there prototypes, drawings or renderings of bikes with disc brakes or anything like your Longbow stays when you or Barley (Forsman, the other cofounder of Volagi) worked at Specialized?

ROBERT: No, nothing. They claim that there’s a 2002 Tarmac model that had a split top tube, but you can go back and see a lot of older steel bikes with split top tubes that would meet at the seat tube and become the stays. Those were inspiration for us, but none of them were like the Longbow flex stays that actually use the properties of carbon to improve the ride comfort. Our patent includes mention that the top tube flexes when you sit on it and is independent of any movement at the chainstays.

The design provides comfort usually obtained by stretching the wheelbase and stays, but in a design with tight geometry and sharp handling.

BIKERUMOR: This case has been developing for quite some time, right?

ROBERT: Barley and I gave our notice (at Specialized) on April 12, 2010. We went to Interbike in September of that year and showed two non-rideable models as a concept. One of those model’s primary colors was red, and apparently some Specialized employees saw them and told Mike Sinyard we must have taken their designs.

We never had any access to the trade secrets for any of the high performance bikes. When we came up with the idea for our bike, we thought it was totally unique and new. We didn’t think for a second that Specialized would look at this and think it was anything like one of theirs. During the show, Sinyard came up to us and said that we really put him in an awkward situation, meaning he felt he had to do something because of pressure from his employees.

We got our lawsuit that October 22.

When they filed the lawsuit, we were totally surprised. Disc brakes on a performance road bike were totally new. Our flex seat stays weren’t designed until after we quit, and initially we didn’t even know if it could be patented.

At first, Specialized was accusing us of stealing their design when they filed for a preliminary injunction asking that we halt sales of our bikes. They couldn’t demonstrate that we were harming them in any way, we didn’t even have a bike in the marketplace, so that was defeated. They’ve continued with the lawsuit, and this is the second full revision of the suit. They’ve claimed as many as nine causes in their civil action, now it’s down to three. Now the case isn’t really about us stealing their design, but about us breaching our contract for confidentiality, non-compete and invention assignment. Basically that we took their trade secrets. The suit claims that anything we created or thought of while we were in their employ, whether it was at work or on our own time, that the property was theirs. Because of this, they’re having a hard time coming up with damages. They’re claiming the Longbow seat stay design should be assigned to them and we should pay royalties on it to them.

The case really hinges on when we formulated our ideas. By the time we had really discussed a concept in any detail, we both agreed that we needed to quit and pursue it on our own.

BIKERUMOR: What did you do at Specialized? When did you start there?

ROBERT: We were hired about the same time in February 2008.

I was hired as a product manager and director for hard goods equipment, which included components, water bottles, cages, computers, grips, handlebar tape, tires, etc.

Barley was initially doing a lot of saddle design. I used him a lot in categories for products I was in charge of. He was huge in helping me design the Purist bottle, which I helped formulate. Essentially, he was part of one of the business units I managed. He did do a very small amount of bike design work, but it was in the kids and commuter bike lines. Nothing in the performance line.

BIKERUMOR: Give us some history, what did you do before working for Specialized?

ROBERT: Prior to working for Specialized, both Barley and I worked at Camelbak where we came up with a lot of their patented designs, including the Bite Valve, Big Mouth Reservoir, all the main pack designs and many other parts and pieces. We also launched the Better Bottle and initiated the Podium Bottle just before we left.

Before we started working at Specialized, we had something like 40 patents between us. I started VistaLite and held patents for the world’s first LED blinking safety light. After that, I was a director at Bell Sports and managed the accessory lines, including Blackburn, RhodeGear and VistaLite after they purchased the brand. I also started the Hydrapak line, including coming up with the name.

BIKERUMOR: Anything else worth mentioning?

ROBERT: Innovation is good no matter where it happens. Whether it’s at Specialized or in someone’s garage, it improves the industry for everyone. It helps develop entirely new markets, and that rising tide lifts everyone.


  1. Apparently no. Some Old-Tyme road bike manufacturer is going to go back and sue Specialized for copying their twin tt design. I can feel it.

  2. OK, I admit I was close to starting liking Spesh. Now I am officially an enemy of this company and this brand. I’m not a target customer for Volagi so most probably I won’t ever buy their bike, but I’m completely on their side – and it’s great that journalists speak so loud about this case. This is what I call true journalism!

  3. First off people….Sinyard isn’t the sole owner of the Specialized ship. He’s the public face we’ve come to know and love, but there investors (like Merida) and such that are in this game too. Whether Sinyard likes it or not, he has to answer to these people.

    The world of bikes is getting corporate as any industry will become when it hits that critical mass. Wasn’t long ago after Manitou was sold (the first time) to Answer that they then were pushing Doug Bradbury to sue Rock Shox (then owned by Paul Turner). They were friends, Doug didn’t want to do it, so he left the bike industry for good after a short stint helping Tomac design frames during the Lightspeed days (who successfully ran it into the ground…Tomac that is).

    Do I think this is shitty? Yep. But this isn’t just Sinyard’s call on this sort of thing anymore. Pressure isn’t coming from Joe Blow employees. It’s going to be coming form the people we don’t see that have a nut in the biz. Last i heard Specialized was doing $500 million a year. Started by a guy who had to pedal to pick up his imported bike parts to sell them locally. That’s where Sinyard’s roots are.

    He’s also one of the most hands on presidents of a bike company in the industry. A local shop was the TREK dealer in town. One of the TREK dealers in the state. But they had a chance to go Specialized, they were on the fence though. Know what pushed them over? Mike Sinyard personally calling to get it done. Repeatedly.

    I think what’s too bad here is Specialized’s behind the scenes guys not realizing this isn’t the normal corporate sandbox most consumer industries play in. This is the bike industry. Hopefully one of their PR guys will get a chance to chat at the table on this. Because considering there is really no case here…it’s making a really good brand look really really bad.

    Know what I would do? Drop the case and offer them a chance to buy Specialized components at hard to beat rates. Stuff like the saddles, tires, and cranks. Especially tires….a high end performance disc brake road bike deserves Armadillos stock. Sell them the tires cheaper than they can get tires from anyone else. Hell help them with other stuff too. Mr Sinyard, if you read this…give me a call. BikeRumor has my permission to share my email address.

  4. Enough with all the warm and fuzzys for Mike Sinyard. Specialized is a big corporate business now and Mike Sinyard is a businessman. And the role of big business is to make more and more money (profits). Yes their was a time when Mike started out of his van and grew Specialized from a small start up company to top tier brand. That ship has sailed and the main goal in the life of Specialized is to be the #1 bicycle company in terms of sales in the world.

    Last week when Specialized sent letters to all of their retails telling them not to support brands that sell thru Amazon: Sidi, Cateye, Bell Sports/Giro, etc was because he/they are looking out for the IBD retailers? No it is because Mike Sinyard and Specialized would like you to buy more Specialized products.

    As they get bigger and bigger it is more and more difficult to grow even a few percentage points a year so Specialized like some of the other bigger bike companies want to squash their competition to grow. Ever notice how close Specialized dealers are to each other in many parts of the country? And if they want you to be a Specialized dealer because they like your location and you keep telling them no, they put a concept store in your backyard.

    Now it is not totally Specialized fault. Dealers buy into this by becoming sheep and and selling generic products because it is low hanging fruit and an easy sell. In fact it is less and less a sale anymore. it is more like self service as many dealers want easy sales with customers that have already made up their mind before they have even entered the store.

    The world of cycling will become a very boring place if everything is just the big brands. I applaud Volagi for doing something different. It takes a lot of guts to break out on your own and try to succeed.

  5. This isn’t the first case of Specialized being irrational and acting like a bully in the bike industry. Not long ago they flexed their corporate legal muscle in the direction of Epic Designs (now Revelate Designs) out of Alaska. This is a one man shop that makes innovative and high quality frame packs for bike packing. Simply because of the use of ‘Epic’ in the company’s name Specialized claimed infringement on their line of bikes. I’m not up to speed on the full details of how the case was settled but ultimately the little guy had to concede and change their name to Revelate Designs. Poor form, Specialized.

    Regarding Sinyard and his ‘pedal’ to go to the Orient to produce bikes and components. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that he actually had Ritchey make him a bike which he promptly used as the template to develop his line of bikes made overseas. Sure, he’s one of the founding fathers but that’s a low rent move and the culture seems to have continued as the company grew. I’ve made a point of not buying any Specialized product since the Epic Designs stunt and after I get a new helmet I’ll be proudly ‘Evil S’ free. Its a shame because some of their product is really well thought out but I just can’t justify giving those kind of people my hard earned money. I know they won’t care or notice but if we all vote with our wallets on principal there would be less of this behavior in the marketplace.

  6. Well said, and I too, help both parties work this out together outside of court………….both have valid points; I will do a longer ride tomorrow to escape having to choose sides.

  7. @Sevo:

    Nice try, but last time I checked, Merida owns only 20% of Specialized, and majority owner with with way over 50% shares and CEO was still Mike Sinyard and still making all decisions by himself.

  8. Reminds me of when SRAM sued Microshift. It seems when ever a company gets really big they missuse their position to stifle competion. BTW SRAM lost…

  9. I bought a Volagi to use as an off season bike (added fenders). It’s a great bike. Tried a Specialized, liked it but it did not have discs and I liked the Volagi more. The bikes felt similar in that they were compact framed road bikes that were designed a bit more for comfort than racing, beyond that there was no similarities to the two bikes at all. Discs aside (not a small issue for me) the Volagi was a better bike so I bought it, maybe that is what has caused the lawsuit people are preferring the Volagi over the Specialized.

  10. Something tells me that Volagi bikes will come out the big winner here. Specialized has everything to loose. Their image will be tarnished more than any harm that Volagi could have done on their own.

    I would have never considered a Volagi before this case, now I am seriously interested.

    Hopefully Specialized will learn that just like on the playground, no one likes a bully.

  11. “The case really hinges on when we formulated our ideas. By the time we had really discussed a concept in any detail, we both agreed that we needed to quit and pursue it on our own.”

    Did he just admit they came up with the concept while at Specialized??

  12. dgaddis- you could say that, but is having an idea while employed enough to result in a lawsuit, claiming design rights to something that wasn’t on paper or a Thinkpad during the time of employment? Would you want your former employer litigating you for having a thought while at work? Thankfully, noncompete clauses are notoriously difficult to enforce in most all states as it stifles creativity and personal freedom. Unless Sinyard’s attornies can come up with documents from the company’s network that these cats were designing and making contacts on the co’s time, he can take a flying one at the moon. Anything that happens while off co property and done on personal equipment and time is their own.

  13. Devils Advocate:

    Yes, Specialized is a huge company with many lawsuits under their belt. With that said, Robert and Barley are seasoned enough in this industry to know what they can/can’t or should/shouldn’t be doing.

    It isn’t a ‘Specialized thing’ that prohibits employees from designing like products for other use while being employed. It’s standard business practice when you’re in the roles they have been in for many years now. They should have known that they shouldn’t have been designing bikes for their own use while working for a bike company….and they likely DID in fact know this, but continued to design their own product anyway.

    If the court sees evidence that the bikes were designed while they were working for Specialized, then they very well may give ownership over to Spec. And it wouldn’t be wrong of them to do so (if this is the case). Companies have these rules in place so that they aren’t undermined by their own employees, paying someone to develop a competitive product. Robert and Barley would have been paid pretty darn well by Spec given their stature and positions, and took that paycheck to the bank while (allegedly) all the while designing their own bikes.

    And given their connections within the manufacturing industry (because of their previous work as well as their work at Specialized), who’s to say that they didn’t use some of the same connections Spec uses to get their prototypes done? Or production manufacturing?

    The Big Red S is being painted out to be quite the villain here, but there seems to be evidence that Robert and Barley acted inappropriately and now have a lawsuit on their hands because of it.


    With all that said, I think the Volagi bikes look great and I hope that Robert and Barley are successful in defending their company in court and continue to grow their cool niche brand of bikes.

  14. @dgaddis: Yes, I thought the same thing. I’m neither for nor against litigation when litigation is needed, but it sounds to me the idea was hatched at Specialized and these two realized they might have something with that idea, and left.

    Curious to see how this plays out. I hope it doesn’t boil down to which side has the more creative legal team, rather, who is right.

  15. I’m not ready to take up the torch and pitchfork against Specialized just yet. Forming a conclusion before you’ve seen actual evidence is foolish, and we haven’t seen actual evidence yet.

  16. Why get all of the facts and have an informed opinion when you can draw conclusions based on an interview with a defendant who probably won’t incriminate himself by spilling the very details that form the foundation for the lawsuit. Get the other side, then you can rail on Specialized. We have less than half of the story at this point.

  17. I usually hate jury duty… But I think I’d actually get in line to be a juror for this one.
    Plus, imagine all the cool swag post-trial…

  18. bullying? welcome to earth. get over it and learn to fight or you’re over. sure some fights aren’t fair but sometimes cuz you’re bigger and you fight doesn’t mean you’re a bully if your squaring up with a runt who clearly has done something wrong….not enough facts AT ALL to decide bully beatdown or squash a little punk-ass..

  19. I’m not anti-Specialized now because of this lawsuit. Lawsuits are the way American business functions. Specialized is a business, it exists to maximize profits. It only wants to please customers to the extent that it helps it achieve the most for the least. If you are given a tool to best the competition, not using it would almost be a breach of your duty as company president (or more likely board of directors). This lawsuit is that tool.

    That being said, I honestly think that this lawsuit has only made me interested in Volagi. If it is a viable enough design idea to be worth suing, then maybe the bike is worth me trying.

  20. Paul-You are simplifying things a bit much. And yes…..sure Specialized was looking to gain more orders of their product over their competition that consistently blows out stuff online (which hurts dealers), but it is for the dealers best interests in the end. What little Specialized gains compared to the gain shops can make by not supporting companies that don’t support the shops is a smart move no matter what. Nuff said. I’ve worked in shops and I help shops now find solutions that save a dollar where we can. Many shops won’t carry some of the brands Sinyard mentions in his letter for the very reasons he suggest…and they aren’t Speciaized dealers.

    Don-Revelate case is nothing new and a case of showing how naive small businesses are when they start. It’s going to happen. There is a reason Fisher changed to Gary Fisher bikes…..pressure from Fischer skis. It’s too bad for Revelate, but I think they ended up with a better name. So be it. Hate the game, not the player.

    As far as the Ritchey incident. What patent was infringed on? What copyright? Exactly. Zip. That’s just the sucky part about intellectual property laws and doing business. But that’s nothing. He didn’t steal anything from Ritchey. Hell they spec’d Ritchey parts across the board for a few years in the 90s. Tom Ritchey is swimming in money, he doesn’t need more. He does it so he can contribute to causes he believes in from Africa to his church. He hardly got screwed, and actually back in that day if it wasn’t for places like Specialized bringing mountain biking to the masses Ritchey (and many others) wouldn’t see a growing demand for their custom product or a growing need for their components. Hardly a sob story.

    I also know the guy who owns the rights to the name “Gravity”….and FSA pays him out on it. It’s just part of business. A trade name search will run you $1400. Best money you can spend.

    Castor-If you don’t think having a 20% stake doesn’t give you some pull think again. And keep in mind it’s a company that also makes a lot of your competitors bikes too. Just got out of a meeting about this very thing. Investors are more than just shares of ownership, you pick investors for influence not just money. So think again. But can understand if you are not in this space you don’t know that. Few due. Just cause you have the bigger stick doesn’t mean you can always use it.

    Omar-Dead on. 100%.

    Volagi does have a cool product that will definitely have value as Magura unveils it’s road discs this Feb/March, and as others do too. More wheel sets will come. I’m really kinda excited to try a disc brake road bike because for me a road bike is a training tool. My indoor stuff at CTS to rainy days to a fast paced hammer fest with friends. I don’t race road. I’m not doing TT’s. Not a tri geek. I just like a road bike to commute, train, and bash around with friends on.

  21. As much as I like Specialized and ride their bikes, they make me want to puke.
    Free completions is the name of the game, not arm bending.
    I think they the gave Volagi so much publicity with this lawsuit that it does more damage to Specialized than if they just said nothing.

  22. I wonder how many people pissing on the Big Red S for stepping on the little guy own Apple products, another company that grew big and sends police after people who find their products in a bar.

  23. Let the jury decide- I hope the reporting on the facts and subsequent blow by blow of the verdict in the case are just as exhaustive as the past few days speculation have been.

    My hope is the Volagi side of the story does hold hold up though.

    Excellent job on the Overholt disclosure above.

  24. This is the best PR Volagi could ever get.

    If you don’t defend your marks, brands, and patents, it’s the same as giving permission. A lot of the commenters clearly don’t work in anything more than transactional jobs. This is business, not making FaceFriends.

  25. Why nobody remember when Fox ddesigned he Brain Shock for the Epic?. Specialized teamed with Fox to design a shock and when it was done and the bike a success, Specialized took the Fox engineer because they would go into suspensions market. It wasn´t very ethic. Stealing engineers from one partner doesn´t look good neither. I lefft the “Big S” likes when I started to read some chapters which happen inside and with other. Remember that the Repack days are gone, it were replaced by the stock days and millions of parts done in East Countries, sad but true.

  26. Is it me, or in hindsight, they maybe should have used some other colors schemes for the Volagi…
    It’s a minor thing, but it would have distanced them from a branding stand point.
    Surprising Specialized hasn’t tried to patent the color red.

  27. Funny, thinking back to interbike, Specialized and Volagi were literally at opposite ends of the convention center. Makes sense now…

  28. I’m still waiting for any real evidence that they stole trade secrets from Specialized. So far I haven’t heard a single coherent idea for what it is that they took from the Big S. There are a gazillion carbon road bikes out there and many of them are red. Big deal.

    I really wanted a Volagi frameset when I first heard about it, but they made one crucial design error – 130mm rear hub. That’s way too limiting given that there are almost no choices for hubs in that configuration. I hope that if the rumored road disc bikes coming in the future choose the 135mm standard instead.

  29. I also read this story with interest. It reminds me of what occured in Australia and New Zealand when Specialized took over the distribtuion of their bicycles from a local distributor in Oceania, Avanti. Avanti then sourced a dual suspension bike from another provider and Specialized then took them to court for patent infringement on the suspension design. The suspension design had been invented 10 – 15 years ago. I too own Specialized bikes as well as parts and accessories but will not be buying them in the future. I agree with the comment re: Langster, watch out Big S as Bianchi may sue.

  30. Um, they took a customer list. That is a no-no. So it is not true to say there hasn’t been any real evidence they stole anything.

    Now to agree with you, 130mm spacing was dumb.

  31. If 1 of the claims is non compete then – “Non-compete agreements are automatically void as a matter of law in California, except for a small set of specific situations expressly authorized by statute.[10] They were outlawed by the original California Civil Code in 1872.[11”

    I have many product designer friends that work in Ca and all their lawyers say a non-compete in Ca is worthless.

  32. company is small and cool. . . company becomes large and sucks. . . company tries to squash the life out of all others. . . and in the USA we help through unparalleled litigation and unlimited campaign contributions from corporations.

    no wonder smart kids end up apathetic so often. . . they see the writing on the wall.

  33. Both 130mm and 135mm are dumb. The good modern standard is 142×12. Road bikes can use it with some very light axles. Yeah, and 15mm front.

    So we are talking about a rigid 29r mountain bike with drop bars and skinny tires. I can already buy one. 😉

  34. It seems weird for him to say “we didn’t even know it could be patented”. While this may hold true for someone who is new to the industry, I don’t believe it coming from two guys who collectively have over 40 patents. They would have to have some idea what can and can’t be patented. Sure, they might need to. Idiot the patent lawyers to confirm the odd idea, but they should have known.

  35. @ WannaBeSTi. Ha ha. I have an old school specd helmet nearly 20 years old that has the letters “iz” missing with age and it gets quite a few laughs as it reads Special ed. Makes me kinda look like him too when I wear it.

  36. Is it possible I can sue Specialized for punitive damages this story has given me? I’ll bring all my shoes and my patents…so I have them.

  37. Man some of these comments crack me up. Anyone who says Specialized is a big huge corporation has a pretty limited understanding of the business world. They’re hardly a multinational Fortune 500 and have only a few hundred employees globally.

    As for who invented what, that really doesn’t matter. It’s who patented what and when that matters. Also seems pretty hypocritical when people scream about “big” companies like Specialized “stealing” ideas from the little guys but it’s perfectly OK when the little guys steal from Specialized.

  38. psh, I just bought a spankin new specialized bike, showes, and helmet. gonna order some matching bottle cages to boot. best stuff out there, no care evah. all y’all haterz just slooooooow

  39. This article is one side of a story so it is 100% biased in the direction of Volagi.

    Look how easy it is for the idiots to grab there pitch forks and start running.

What do you think?