At the beginning of August, I was invited to Colorado Springs, CO. by SRAM for an introduction to the Avid Elixir CR hydraulic braking system. On their short list was a tour of SRAMâ€™s 50,000 square foot product development and test facility, followed by a test ride in the nearby Cheyenne Mountains.
Pedaling from my hotel to SRAMâ€™s test facility brought a smile to my face. I was greeted at the long driveway, which leads to the huge bicycle fork marking the building entrance, by a small and sun bleached RockShox sign. That sign appeared to have been there forever and reminded me of my first mountain bike that came specâ€™d with an early RockShox incarnation. Thirteen years later and Iâ€™m rolling up to their front door. Lifeâ€™s funny.
After brief introductions, coffee and small talk, my bike was taken to be outfitted with a set of Elixir CR brakes. In the mean time, it was time to see the machines that make ideas into prototypes, and meet the people operating them. SRAMâ€™s product development and test facility employs about fifty people and the areas of the building are set up by product. One of the first rooms we passed was full of work stands and tools. I immediately recognized my mountain bike, albeit missing its wheels and some parts. Nearby a set of Elixir CRs were waiting to be installed.
Venturing upstairs, a wall size graffiti-style painting greets visitors with a RockShox image set above a display of suspension forks from years past. Greeting a few people at computers and two dogs resting on the floor we headed to the boardroom, which is really just a circular table. No walls separate SRAMâ€™s thinkers. Itâ€™s great for discussions, generating new ideas, and keeping an open environment.
Above one desk area, was a piece of white paper cut to the shape of a rotor. Written on it were the words â€œPaulâ€™s Ideal Rotorâ€ and it was pinned next to the actual production Avid rotor. The simplicity of communication and the idea made me laugh. On the table sat a component for the Euro-commuting market; a one-piece SRAM hydraulic brake attached to a long 9-speed grip shift. Apparently the Europeans love it. Maybe weâ€™ll see it here someday.
In a huge room once used to manufacture components, are the bicycles of those that commute to work. SRAMâ€™s facility has showers for commuters and employees also keep an extra mountain bike there for the mid-afternoon â€œtestâ€ rides. Shelving units stacked 25â€™ high create rows of assorted parts. Bins of abused forks exiting the test area line the walls marked with white letters and numbers. The old machines that once manufactured components are all pushed to one side. They wait to be transferred to the new manufacturing facility where they will join other machines and be fired up once again.
In a clean, brightly lit room are the cast and die machines, various drills, presses, metal cutting band saws, a ton of tools, and the all important can of WD40. A cast of a lower fork assembly, its mold, and various other prototype samples were neatly arranged. I didnâ€™t pass up the opportunity to finger some of the goods. It was cool to see how the pieces were altered as they were made, approved upon, and remade until the final production piece is reached. From there the manufacturing process moves to SRAMâ€™s Taiwan factory.
After being shown how the components are made, it was time to see how they are torn apart. We entered a room of mad machines that were administering torture to suspension forks, brake levers, seals, and rotors. Through my safety glasses, one machine looked like it was trying to separate the fork crown from the upper tubes by applying fore and aft force on the axle. Turned out to be the axle fatigue test, measuring the strength of the crown/upper tubes interface. Meters that looked straight out of a science fiction realm with oversized buttons and colorful dials measured and recorded the resulting data.
Across the room, a RockShox Recon awaited the deflection test. It was held by the steer tube and positioned horizontally with the dropout area patiently waiting to be clobbered by an impressive stack of weights. The 22.5kg (49.6lbs) worth of weights were suspended above with a cable and a very large magnet. Interrupt the current and POW! We have impact. The RockShox didnâ€™t break. Flip it over and try the other side. SMASH! It still didnâ€™t break. We moved on, passing another bin of spent forks and a row of new forks designated for testing.
The next machine applied side-to-side force on an Avid rotor at the braking surface to measure rotor fatigue. The cycle time and pressure used are top secret, but I can say itâ€™s way faster and more strength than the human hand can apply. Another test compressed Avid brake levers in a more realistic cycle, but with greater force once again. Thereâ€™s no industry standard for the lever test, but SRAMâ€™s exceeds the governmentâ€™s requirements. Other forks were being run through their travel at what seemed to be random compressions and force. Much like the shock would experience on any good trail that involved lots of rocks and a few drops. Seals are tested with coarse dust and spun inside a machine. It wasnâ€™t too exciting.
My favorite test, the performance and thermal test, involved speed and smoldering brake pads, or close to it anyway. A wheel with an Avid rotor spun at a high velocity through a caliper with the pads engaged. I waited as the speed, drag, friction, and heat began to build up. The pads began to fry and smelled well, like burning pads, as smoke dissipated. The rotor began to glow orange and then red. More smoke. Turn down the lights for a real show of a glowing rotor and burn the pads to almost nothing.
We returned to the main room where lunch and my bike were waiting. The new Elixir CR brakes were installed. We ate and were given a lengthy introduction to the Elixir CR line of Avid brakes. Next we headed out to the Cheyenne Mountains for a test ride. How did the brakes perform and whatâ€™s the secret to the internal reservoir? Well so far they are performing pretty sweet, but youâ€™ll have to wait for Dirt Rag issue #139 for a full report. In the meantime, click here to check out the photo gallery from my SRAM press camp visit. â€“Shannon Mominee