To people who are serious about bicycling, specialized is more than an adjective–it’s a synonym for innovation in bike riding. The Specialized brand of bicycles has been a powerful force for the serious cyclist since the company began in 1974, and it looks poised to continue on into the future.
Mike Sinyard founded Specialized in 1974 after a bicycling trip through Italy. He had just graduated from college and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life other than pursue his obsession of bicycling. While he was riding in Italy, he met someone who introduced him to several Italian manufacturers of high-end bicycle components. Sinyard recognized that cyclists in America would love access to such quality parts, and he bought as much as he could afford to bring back home and sell to bicycle shops. The Specialized brand was born.
After two years, Sinyard decided to grow his business by manufacturing his own bicycle components. The first Specialized-made part to go on sale were touring tires, which hit the market in 1976. They were a success, and Specialized continued to grow.
Specialized became known for high quality, innovative bicycle parts, but the company really made its mark in 1981 with the production of its first bicycle. True to the company’s image, this wasn’t just another bicycle, but a true innovation. The StumpJumper was the first mountain bike available for general sale. Suddenly, thanks to Specialized, cyclists had a new world of bicycling opportunities available to them. The StumpJumper allowed off-road cycling for the first time.
Specialized continued to expand. In 1982 they moved to larger facilities in Morgan Hill, CA. Serious cyclists knew Specialized was the company to trust for quality, high-end bicycles. Specialized’s innovation continued as well. They introduced composite wheels to the cycling world, along with composite frame technology.
But in the early 1990s, things started to go wrong. After Specialized’s introduction of the mountain bike, other companies rushed to copy it, and the market was flooded with cheaper versions. At the same time, fewer people were buying bicycles. In desperation, Sinyard decided to start manufacturing a cheaper line of bicycles under the brand name Full Force. He planned to sell these at larger sporting goods stores instead of specialty bicycle shops, which had previously been the only place to buy Specialized’s products. The experiment failed. Sinyard’s move angered dealers who had been Specialized’s customers, and the Full Force brand faltered. In 1996, just a year after Full Force started, Sinyard discontinued the brand. He also wrote a personal letter of apology to Specialized dealers.
In the late 1990s, Specialized revitalized by getting involved in community programs. Their Friends of Trails program teaches off-road biking to those who want to learn. Specialized also teamed up with BMX racing to create racing bikes and work at building skate parks in disadvantaged areas to introduce kids to the joys of biking. They improved their image by becoming partners with the Mountain Dew brand and promoting extreme sports. This move vaulted the company into the forefront for a new generation of riders.
In 2001, Sinyard sold a minority share of Specialized to a company called Merida, which was the world’s second largest bicycle manufacturer. He claimed this move was to gain money for increasing service, research, development and sales opportunities. It remains to be seen how this will affect the brand as they move into the 21st century.