Specialized is an American manufacturer of bicycles and components. It is also a key player in the history of mountain biking. Based in Morgan Hill, California, its primary production line is still mountain bikes.
Specialized does its product testing at its Californian headquarters and makes gloves, clothing, helmets, tires, parts, and water bottles, in addition to over 35 bike lines. These include more affordable models like the Hardrock, P series and the children’s Hotrock, to women’s bikes and expensive S-works models for road and off road biking. The Demo is for freeride and downhill mountain biking. Specialized places its own parts on its bikes as stock, something not commonly practiced by other companies.
Specialized takes the hono[u]r for the longest-established production mountain bike, the Stumpjumper, an original of which is enthroned in the Smithsonian Institute of American History in Washington, DC.
The origin of Specialized is a tale worth telling and somewhat indicative of the 1970s era in which it happened. Founder Mike Sinyard fell in love with bicycles while working on them with his dad. Later he did up bikes to sell or ride to attend San Jose State University. On graduation he sold his Volkswagen to fund a bike tour of Europe – it was to be the last car he owned for awhile. While in Europe, Sinyard bought bike parts home to sell on the Westcoast as he realized Italian components were hard to come by. It was tough initially, cycling to stores with the gear and trying to convince dealers to stock the products. In 1976 he began his first break through production, the Specialized Touring Tire that was designed to handle the roads better. Cyclists loved it and Specialized was in motion.
The next break came in 1981 during the early days of mountain biking. Sinyard had noticed guys building bikes designed to handle northern California’s rugged trails and knew it would be the next big thing, “a product of a West Coast culture not unlike surfing”. And so Specialized introduced the Stumpjumper, the first mass-produced mountain bike in the world. It was the first mountain bike available for sale in stores and cost half the price of the purpose-built mountain bikes. This later saw Sinyard inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
The key to Sinyard’s success seemed to be innovation and industry firsts. By the 1990s he had 115 employees and sold to 1,500 stores nationwide. It was then that Specialized introduced Globe, a line of urban bikes (now its own brand). However at this point Sinyard decided to hire three full-time executives who helped spin off a cheaper mountain bike brand in 1995 known as Full Force. It was a disaster. By 1996 they had lost 30 percent of store business and were within a few hundred dollars of bankruptcy. The executives left and Sinyard was left to withdraw the line and apologize.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s the company got back on track and Sinyard now keeps a close eye on standards to keep the brand quality high. In 2001 Merida Bikes of Taiwan bought 19 per cent of Specialized shares, however Sinyard is still the majority owner and CEO. Today Specialized products are sold in 1,200 high-end bike stores in the USA and the company earns $500 million a year.
Professional teams that have used Specialized bicycles include Team Saxo Bank, Team Astana (featuring Alberto Contador), Quick Step, Team Festina, Team Gerolsteiner and the University of Georgia Collegiate Cycling Team.