Friday, January 22, 2010

The Big 'S' Part one: Come Up and See Us Sometime

A while back I got an email from Specialized inviting me up to take a tour of the Corp HQ, meet some of the staff and test ride a bike for the day. Being a jaded bike journalist (hah), that was not quite enough to get me there, but the mention of Sushi tossed in to the deal capped it off and I was in.

The day rolled around and as we got toward D-Day, the weather turned to complete junk. California was seeing more rain in one week then it had seen in 5 years...nearly 10 inches in 5 days...tornados were touching down and mudslides threatened. Perfect bike testing weather? I asked Nic @ Specialized if this changed things. His reply: "We ride in the rain here." OK. I think I am among the hard core. Cool.

Flying out of Burbank I landed in San Jose with the weather looking just like I had left it in So Cal. Wet, windy, thundery. I was supposed to be met at the airport, I figured by a company grommet who got tasked with driving down through a monsoon to get this silly media guy picked up. I was told to look for someone with a sign. Cool, just like Justin Timberlake gets...his own sign.

But I saw no sign. A few phone calls and I was told that Al was there to meet me. Look for the sign. OK...outside, nothing but Middle Eastern cab drivers smoking cigs in the rain. Back to the baggage counter and this silver haired guy walks up and says, "are you so and so?". Yep. I had seen this guy at least three times in the baggage area during my sign. I ask him where his sign is. How am I supposed to feel like Justin T. without my sign? He steps back, looks at me, blinks once or twice and then points to the jacket he is wearing, emblazoned with big letters across the chest: SPECIALIZED. "I am the sign" says Al.

Oh...right. Sorry.

Ushered into the Lincoln Conti in much greater style than I expected (and typically warrant), we head off into the storm. Al is a great guy and we hit it off. Both of us have backgrounds in Martial Arts, so we talked about that. We also talked about his experience working for Specialized as a contract service, ferrying folks to and fro. He begins to speak about Mike Sinyard, owner of the company. It is unscripted and initiated by Al, and it is apparent that he not only respects Mike, but genuinely likes him. According to Al, the head of one of the most successful bike/component/accessory makers on the planet is a down to earth guy that is a bike nut at heart, often choosing to ride to work from an airport rather than take the Limo.

It is an interesting sideways look at someone's character. I have heard an adage that rings true more often than not. If you want to get an insight into a person, see how they treat people that are serving them: waiters, counter sales persons, customer service...and guys like Al. Mike does not need to invite Al on bike rides and encourage him to begin cycling. He could just sit in the car and be taken care of. But bike nuts tend to spread the passion they feel about bikes to others cuz they want everyone to know the fun and joy of it for themselves.

I have had the opportunity to hang a bit with Gary Fisher and he is that way. I never saw a sign of being jaded or uppity. he seemed to love bikes, bike people and the journey that two wheels has provided him through life and continues to provide.

Passion at the top of the corp ladder seems to be what is going on here at the Big S. It is going to be an interesting day.

Pulling up in front of the office building, the wind and rain is cranking. I reach into my pocket to grab a bit of legal tender for Al and the wind grabs my wad of cash (ok...wad is maybe the wrong word here) and flings it back in the direction of the airport. As I scramble around the parking lot looking under cars for that 20 dollar bill that remains missing,I hope that the guys I am meeting here are not watching out the window. I consider telling Al that I have good news and bad news....the good news is I was going to give him a 20 buck tip and the bad news is the missing bill is his!

I think Al would have laughed at that.

Part two coming up: In the Belly of the Beast - Putting Faces to the Faceless Capitalistic Juggernaut?

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