This U.S. Bike Parts Maker Came Out Of Nowhere To Take On The Industry Giants
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
Sometimes my personal interests lead me to learning about some really great companies. I’ve been a serious bicyclist since age 13 (that’s a long time), and I worked as a bike mechanic ages ago, and I’m a mechanical engineer – so I know a good bit about all the different manufacturers that have come and gone in that business.
As we headed into this year’s cycling season a few months back, I got wondering about SRAM LLC. Today they’re a strong second place in the high-end bicycle components marketplace, behind industry leader Shimano. The bicycle components market is a tough one to nail down, what with the complexities of parts versus complete bike sales, and OEM versus aftermarket sales, but my analysis indicates that the total is roughly $4 billion annually, of which Shimano is half and SRAM is just shy of 20%. Nobody else is anywhere close.
SRAM was founded in 1987 based on a single product, the Grip Shift, first released the following year. And I’m here to tell you, back then you just didn’t use American parts on your bike if you were at all serious. You went with either the old Italian parts-as-art masters, Campagnolo, or the aforementioned newer and more technologically advanced Japanese powerhouse, Shimano. (If you were impecunious like me, though, you might be stuck with Shimano’s poorer Japanese cousin, Suntour.)
How on earth did an upstart group of American cycling enthusiasts get the idea to challenge those incumbents? It all started with a combination of challenge, genius, disobedience, and luck. “Lots of people told Stan and the team not to,” laughed SRAM’s CEO Ken Lousberg.