Inside Look: Bike Visits the SRAM California Development Center

By: Kevin Rouse

Secreted away in an undisclosed Golden State location lies the epicenter of SRAM’s research and development efforts for cranks, bottom brackets, stems and handlebars. Recently, Bike had the opportunity to visit this secret location to get a sneak peek into the R&D process, most notably the rigorous testing protocols each and every SRAM product developed at the facility is subjected to.

SRAM’s ‘California Development Center’ occupies an unassuming storefront in a cookie-cutter shopping center located in a quaint town on California’s central coast. Except for a small no solicitors placard on the doors, a few decals reading simply: SRAM, Chicago USA were the only indication that some of the most cutting edge R&D work in the industry was being conducted behind them.

SRAM Engineering Manager Garrett Smith was kind enough to allow us behind closed doors and give us an overview of the facility. SRAM largely operates on a one-year product development cycle, with R&D goals largely focused going through as many prototyping, testing and revision cycles as possible within that timeframe. At the California Development Center, the focus is on both long and short-term development, with engineers working on the next incremental upgrade to XX, alongside the next generation of drivetrain technology (which, of course, was hidden away before our visit). Both however, are subjected to the same rigorous testing procedures. We captured some video of SRAM Engineering Technician Sterling McBride as he ran us through several of the most important tests conducted during the R&D process. Enjoy.





The three tests seen in the video account for the majority of the testing conducted at the facility, so we asked Smith to describe each of them in a little more detail. It’s also worth noting that every testing machine employed in the R&D process is engineered and constructed in-house, adding an additional, if often overlooked, aspect to the R&D process.

Fatigue Test:
“The fatigue cells [featured in the opening seconds of the video] help us determine the reliability of cranks and bottom brackets. These machines measure how many load cycles parts can withstand before they fail. The number of load cycles is directly related to the predicted life of the part.”

Static Test:
“This is the do-all machine. It allows us to measure stiffness, yield point, maximum load, and static “energy” for any part we make under a multitude of loading conditions. We also use this machine to simulate load induced deflection on the crank, chainring and chain subsystems to better understand the interaction dynamics of front shifting systems.”

Impact Test:
“This machine is used to apply impact loads to bars, stem, and cranks. It allows us to quantify how much energy it takes to break any of these parts. With this information we can predict how the parts will perform in the field under rapid loading conditions, such as landings, impacts with immovable objects and crashes.”

Shimano? What? No, SRAM isn’t engaging in a game of high-stakes corporate espionage, they simply aim to test their products (a chain in this case) under all possible scenarios. This test rig also allows engineers to tweak nearly every aspect of a bike’s geometry that could possibly affect drivetrain performance…yup, singlespeeders, close your eyes, they’ve tested some pretty horrible chainlines.

Shimano? What? No, SRAM isn’t engaging in a game of high-stakes corporate espionage, the company simply aims to test its products (a chain in this case) under all possible scenarios. This test rig also allows engineers to tweak nearly every aspect of a bike’s geometry that could possibly affect drivetrain performance…yup, singlespeeders, close your eyes, they’ve tested some pretty horrible chainlines.

The metrology lab. There are no weather reports to be found here, only a wide array of sophisticated measuring devices. Don’t even ask how accurate some of them are, you’ve probably never heard of units of measurement that small, we hadn’t. Micrometers (one-millionth of a meter) if you really must know.

The metrology lab. There are no weather reports to be found here, only a wide array of sophisticated measuring devices. Don’t even ask how accurate some of them are, you’ve probably never heard of units of measurement that small, we hadn’t. Micrometers (one-millionth of a meter) if you really must know.

The autoshift machine, powered by Rock Shox. According to Engineering Manager Garrett Smith, ''This machine allows us to measure the performance of our chainrings and chains under varying conditions of frame geometry. It is critical for us to design shifting systems that perform well over the range of different frames and frame tolerances that exist in the world.''

The autoshift machine, powered by Rock Shox. According to Engineering Manager Garrett Smith, ''This machine allows us to measure the performance of our chainrings and chains under varying conditions of frame geometry. It is critical for us to design shifting systems that perform well over the range of different frames and frame tolerances that exist in the world.''

R&D efforts aren’t strictly limited to cranks and the like; the engineers at the California Development Center are highly trained hydration technicians as well. They sagaciously spec’d the Hussefelt DH crank arm for tapping duties, knowing full well the repeated abuse it would take.

R&D efforts aren’t strictly limited to cranks and the like; the engineers at the California Development Center are highly trained hydration technicians as well. They sagaciously spec’d the Hussefelt DH crank arm for tapping duties, knowing full well the repeated abuse it would take.

Rust never sleeps, and no bottom bracket escapes this test rig unscathed. The contamination chamber mimics the worst trail conditions imaginable via an open bath system that would make any mechanic cringe.

Rust never sleeps, and no bottom bracket escapes this test rig unscathed. The contamination chamber mimics the worst trail conditions imaginable via an open bath system that would make any mechanic cringe.

SRAM’s test fleet. SRAM utilizes a wide range of both stock and custom frames to test their components on, with the goal of testing products over a wide range of frame geometries and tolerances in real-world conditions.

SRAM’s test fleet. SRAM utilizes a wide range of both stock and custom frames to test their components on, with the goal of testing products over a wide range of frame geometries and tolerances in real-world conditions.

The CNC lathe. Virtually all prototypes developed at the California Development Center are machined in-house.  You can bet these machines don’t see too much downtime.

The CNC lathe. Virtually all prototypes developed at the California Development Center are machined in-house. You can bet these machines don’t see too much downtime.

No cubicles here, the majority of testing occurs in this quadrant of the facility. The static test station alone (center-left) sees literally thousands of tests conducted per year.

No cubicles here, the majority of testing occurs in this quadrant of the facility. The static test station alone (center-left) sees literally thousands of tests conducted per year.

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