Specialized’s Body Geometry department was first convened in the late 90s to deal with a uniquely pressing problem. “Bicycling Magazine had picked up a study showing that if you spend a lot of time on the bike, you likely have some degree of erectile dysfunction,” explains current team lead, Garrett Getter. Promoted as an unimpeachably healthy activity, it was a jarring instance of something negative becoming associated with riding a bike.
Motivated by what he’d read, ergonomics expert Roger Minkow started chopping up saddles in his Californian garage. One found its way across the state and into the hands of Specialized founder Mike Sinyard. Impressed, the two started working on a cut-away saddle to reduce the unwanted pressure. Turns out, Minkow had also devised a validation protocol. “You know what a pulse oximeter is? One of those things you put on the end of your finger to measure blood oxygen content?” asks Getter. You can probably guess what part of the anatomy they clipped the device to...
Unlikely to be a no
This unabashed approach to designing and testing, formed the beginning of Specialized’s Body Geometry programme. It’s a method now applied to everything from handlebars and saddles to shoes and gloves. Yet despite its prolific output, the core Body Geometry team comprises just three staff. With backgrounds in biomechanics and industrial design, from within the Morgan Hill-based bikemaker, they benefit from a freewheeling remit that allows them to pick high impact projects, or follow up on problems and hunches fired at them from the rest of Specialized’s staff.
“The entire point is to go after new and crazy ideas,” says Getter. “Despite having almost a thousand staff, Specialized feels like a start-up. Mike is still of the opinion that the craziest ideas can become the most prolific. Nobody is going to tell you ‘no’ and your idea will always get a shot.”
Email in your complaints
With an open inbox policy, the aching feet of a human resources manager are as likely to inspire a new shoe as feedback from a pro racer: “Everyone here rides. And if one person has an issue, there’s a good chance other people will be experiencing the same thing.”
Yet if qualitative insights spark ideas, the Body Geometry team also has a sizeable dataset to play with. Having acquired Retül in 2012, fitting data from sponsored WorldTour riders, alongside people getting measured up at their local bike shop, the team have a wealth of numbers to influence their next innovations. This has helped them spot trends in how people are using their bikes, and one result has been Specialized’s recent Beyond Gender approach. Claiming to now only design for where they find pronounced differences, it’s led to unisex frames and seen resources instead focussed on areas like saddles and gloves where men and women can be proved to benefit from different specifications.
Making issues history
“Our aim is to identify the problem, solve it through design, then validate it through science,” says Getter. Circling back to the problem that first inspired the Body Geometry programme, it’s one unfamiliar to people taking up cycling today.
“There’s now a generation for which erectile dysfunction was never an issue,” says Getter. Ironing out these uncomfortable problems so people can concentrate on riding or enjoying the scenery, the Body Geometry team’s brief is one almost anybody can get behind.