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.
"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."
"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."
"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."