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INNOVATE OR DIE
INNOVATE OR DIE
The ‘sandbox’ Stewart is talking about is the Research and Development shop at Specialized HQ in Morgan Hill. It’s a playground for obsessed product teams and driven engineers—state-of-the-art CNC facilities, 3D printing, CT scanning, a full-service composites workshop, and suspension lab—capable of making everything from linkages to cutting-edge carbon frames. It’s here that Innovate or Die actually lives and breathes. No project is a better example of this than the all-new Diverge.
“Gravel bikes give us such opportunity to be creative. We’re not going to make big changes with Tarmac geometry, it’s so good already. But on gravel we were riding more aggressively and really wanted to push it farther,” says Stewart.
A lot of that desire to push the boundaries of gravel geometry came from members of the Road team who had extensive mountain bike experience. They had seen the progression of the Epic’s geometry and knew how much it elevated the ride—how much confidence, speed and control it created on rough trails. They wanted the same for gravel riders.
The team—Stewart Thompson, John Cordoba, Chris D'Aluisio, Stephanie Kaplan and Eric Schuda—imagined a bike with longer reach and a slacker head tube to give it stability over rough terrain at speed, but with trail numbers that kept it nimble and precise at the handlebars. How far could they push this geometry? How far was too far? They needed to make some rideable geometry mules.
Our road product team isn’t known for its patience, so the usual process—create a CAD file with test geometry, have an alloy frame welded up at one of our factories, ship it to California and test ride it—wasn’t good enough. They wanted to shrink that timeline, usually a month-long process, to just days, and they wanted to do it with high-end carbon.
“An alloy test bike is two pounds heavier than a snazzy S-Works, it doesn’t have quite the same ride quality because it’s heavier and you’re not sure if the new geometry is funky. What’s really important is a back-to-back, apples-to-apples comparison of something you really know. So that’s when we decided we had to make these out of carbon,” remembers Stewart.
The team enlisted Chris D’Aluisio and Brenton Haven from the engineering group to make the geometry they envisioned a reality in carbon. Using CAD and previous Diverge donor frames, multiple geometry test mules were built. Thanks to our Research and Development shop, all the carbon work is done in-house and the end result is a carbon test mule that’s lighter, faster, and an all-around more accurate representation of the final bike’s performance. But it’s more than just a better bike.
“In the course of a project, it saves months. In the course of a single iteration, it saves weeks each time. We get super impatient when we have a new idea and just want to try it. I rode something yesterday, had a new idea, and I want to try it out this weekend. We have that capability. It’s amazing to have an idea one week, make it, ride it, then chat about it the next week,” says Stewart.
Beyond the tools and hardware, it’s the close relationship between the product teams and engineers that really make these kind of development bikes possible. The product team presents the engineers with a challenge and they create a solution, which then inspires the product team to dream up new ideas and create new challenges. It’s a feedback loop that drives our Innovate or Die ethos.
The engineering group was up to the challenge, creating another test mule with 47mm tire clearance and the exact geometry the team wanted. The solution? A solid beam of carbon at the chain stay between the tire and the chain rings.
Okay, maybe not so easy as Chris D’Aluisio remembers it, “That was hard, and done as sort of a challenge and a tool for the group. Not only for testing Diverge geometry, but it also showed that with one effort everyone could test their idea of perfect geometry and not have to negotiate down to a single test mule. This was the first one of these.”
In fact, these Diverge development frames had reinvented the way Specialized develops geometry. The team has now used this process pioneered by Diverge for at least a half a dozen projects, and not just to test geometry.
Why does the team go to all this trouble? Why does Specialized invest so heavily in the tools to make it all possible? It’s pretty simple actually.