Interview: SRAM’s Top Crank and Chainring Engineer-Anthony Medaglia

Art’s Cyclery’s home in San Luis Obispo, California is a hub for the cycling industry with many companies located here. Chief among these is SRAM. Their San Luis Obispo facility handles the development of all of their cranks, chainrings, bottom brackets, and front derailleurs. The engineer in charge at this office is Anthony Medaglia. Not only is he an accomplished engineer, Anthony really knows how to ride a bike and there is a pretty good chance that he is faster than you. He routinely embarrasses 20 year old Cal Poly students on downhill bikes by blowing past them at our local downhill proving grounds on his Santa Cruz Blur LT!

Anthony is also notorious for his open invitation birthday rides called the Giro d’SLO where nearly every trail in the area is ridden in a single day with no cars involved to shuttle between trail networks. The rides usually end up around 70-80 miles long!

We had a chance to ask Anthony a few questions about his role at SRAM and learn a bit more about the type of work that goes on at the SRAM San Luis Obispo office.

Q: How long have you worked for Truvativ/SRAM?

A: I started as a full time Design Engineer at Truvativ in 2002.  Prior to that I served about two years as an intern while I was attending Cal Poly where I earned my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.  As an intern my duties were designing, building, and operating our testing machines.  The SRAM acquisition occurred in 2004, I maintained my role as a Design Engineer focused mostly on crankarms and bottom bracket components in both the road and mountain bike category.  I have recently migrated into an Engineering Manager role, so now I oversee the Design Engineers in this office.

Q: What role does your office play for SRAM?  How many people work there?

A: Our California Development Center here in San Luis Obispo is where we develop components that we categorize as “external drivetrain”, we specifically focus on the front drivetrain here.  This means crankschainringsbottom brackets, and front derailleurs among other things.  This might be obvious to most as those are the components that were part of the original Truvativ product offering, aside from the front derailleurs.  Development means the engineering, project management, and testing which we do all under our roof here.  We have 23 people in our office, primarily made up of engineers, but also a small testing department, a machinist, some administrative roles and our wonderful Human Resources specialist, Karen.  We are currently expanding our engineering staff so I’m actively seeking out engineers to add to our team.

Q: Walk us through how a product is developed by SRAM.

A: It starts with a market need identified by our product managers, this is based on many things including feedback they receive from many sources including our sales people and directly from our customers.  The Product Manager will propose a concept and begin to identify specifications like performance targets, functionality, weight, cost, projected volume, and a target ship date.  We’ll assemble a global team of individuals from all over SRAM that includes a Project Manager, Design Engineers, Manufacturing Engineers, Quality Engineers, Industrial Designers, etc, to take on the project.

Once the specifications are refined and the feasibility of accomplishing the goals of the project are assessed, we get started.  We’ll perform the design engineering here in this office, depending on the component this might require making prototypes and testing them, then iterating on the design until it meets the targets.  Once a design is proven to be mature enough we work more closely with our colleagues at our factories in Asia to put it into production.  We’ll perform multiple pilot runs to debug the manufacturing and quality processes, along the way we are producing samples for design verification testing which we perform here in our office, assuring production capabilities, and finalizing all the other items on our product development checklist.  Once everything is achieved and all the bugs are ironed out the product is then ready for production.  That’s the short story, I glossed over a lot of stuff.

Anthony brought the pain at this year's Downieville all-mountain race.

Q: Did you work on the latest Red group and the upcoming XX One 11-speed mountain group? Follow up: Which parts did you develop for each?

A: I actually didn’t work on any of the components in the new Red group or XX One directly.  I had already migrated into my managerial role so I got to oversee the work instead.  The Red cranksets and chainrings along with the XX One crankset and rings were developed here.  We also work closely with our other locations developing the complementary components of the drivetrain because all of the components need to work together as a system.  We’ll perform a lot of testing with the product that is designed at other development centers that interacts with our product in order to provide some input into their development, and vice versa.

Q: What projects have come out of your office that you especially proud to have worked on?

A: I’m happy with most of the products I’ve worked on but to be honest the ones I’m most excited about have all been designed by my colleagues.  Our hollow carbon fiber Red crank is quite an impressive component. I’m proud of the fact that we developed the proprietary process here under our roof that delivers a product that is truly best in class in comparison to our competitors’ offerings.

The X-Glide shifting utilized on our 10-speed mountain bike chainrings is another one.  It started as a concept one of our German colleagues had.  When we launched XX, the ring ratios chosen were conducive to the concept so we took the concept and ran with it and ended up with industry leading front shifting performance.

The second generation GXP bottom bracket is another one, it’s been in the market a few years now but it improved upon all of the shortcomings of the original design.  Sealing is drastically improved yet bearing drag was drastically reduced.  The BB spins smooth as silk and maintains that feel for quite a long time even after being put through adverse conditions, to top it off we pulled about ten grams of weight out of it too.  It took care of all of the complaints of the original.

Q: Does your office work directly with any of the sponsored athletes?

A: We have individuals in our company who manage the relationship with the athletes, as you may know we do incorporate select athletes into product development via our BlackBox program.  Through this I’ve had some opportunities in the past to discuss products with athletes to get their feedback. Most of the feedback is provided through the directors of those programs though, at least with the product we work on here.  Suspension Design Engineers, for example, typically have a much more direct interaction with the athletes due to the nature of the product they work on.  We have had some pros setup camp here in San Luis Obispo when the weather isn’t so good elsewhere since it’s a nice place to train year-round, in that case we sometimes have the opportunity to work directly with them.

Q: Is your office involved in any of SRAM’s wheel design efforts? Zipp has road wheels covered; do you think we’ll see some more wheels from the RISE mountain line in the near future?

A: Not directly, but wheels are part of the drivetrain and we do develop the front drivetrain here so through a few degrees of separation we have some influence in the design, and vice versa.  Wheels are mostly developed in our Indianapolis and Colorado facilities.  I can tell you that we do get to ride test the wheels, we’ve got a lot of people in the office who put in a lot of miles so they like to get us on wheels to test.  I especially enjoy bashing our mountain bike wheels around on the rocky trails we have here.

Q: Any exciting projects on the horizon?
A: Yes, we are always working on products for the future but unfortunately I can’t go into any details, I hope you can understand.

Q: I hear you guys are hiring? Tell our readers what you are looking for.

A: Yes, we are hiring for engineering and other product development positions.  Not just here in SLO but also our other development centers throughout the world. I’m specifically looking for Design Engineers who will be working on chainrings, front derailleurs, and existing product support.  We also have a need for a CAD Technician here in this office.  More details including job descriptions are available on our website.

Q: What is the best part about working for SRAM?

A: You get to work in a fun, fast paced and healthy environment where people are enthusiastic about and enjoy their job.  If you’re a cyclist you get to work on product that you can actually go out and ride and appreciate.  As an engineer the job constantly presents challenges that will keep you sharp.  If you’re excited about seeing new places, we are a global company so we travel often to Asia, Europe and also domestically.  The atmosphere is work hard-play hard, many of us go for bike rides at lunch, long rides or races on the weekends.

On the humanitarian front, SRAM founded World Bicycle Relief which provides bicycles that enable access to independence for individuals far less fortunate than us in other countries.  Every employee at SRAM has the opportunity and is encouraged to take part in supporting WBR, in whatever manner possible. It’s good to know that you’re working for a company that makes things like this a priority.

Q: What is the best part about living in SLO?

A: San Luis Obispo offers a lot of amenities, it’s a comfortable, smaller town but with a lot of energy due to the presence of the university students.  The mild weather year-round makes it a great place to live if you’re into the outdoors, the ocean is just a few miles away, the mountains are out the back door.  The beautiful Big Sur coastline is just an hour’s drive away up Highway 1 and makes a great overnight camping trip.  There are a multitude of trails for mountain biking and hundreds of miles of backroads if you’re a roadie.  There’s always a group to ride with due to the strong cycling culture here.  The town is very bike friendly, as an example it’s easy to ride downtown on a bike, park at the bike valet provided by the local bike coalition, and visit the farmer’s market every Thursday evening. Many people come here to attend Cal Poly and wish they never have to leave after they graduate and move on to start their career.  Some people get lucky enough to find a permanent job here after graduation, in fact I’m one of them.

Q: Here’s the great debate, SRAM vs. Shimano, Rockshox vs. Fox.  Anything you would like to say to our customers who haven’t made up their minds yet?

A: In general I’m not one of those obsessive brand loyal and gung-ho Chevy vs. Ford kind of guys.  However, my incredibly biased recommendation is SRAM, Rockshox, Avid, Truvativ, Zipp, and Quarq over anything else! Seriously though, I think we offer top performing product that certainly beats our competitors whether it be performance, value, or both.  Most everybody in our company rides, whether we compete at a local race or the lunch time world championships, commuting, or we’re picking up groceries down the street, this experience shows itself in the product.  The product has proven itself time and time again in the professional arena winning all the grand tours, countless world cups and world championships, in short it’s capable of taking you to wherever you want to go.