His brass hammer is like an appendage
Mike McAndrews is a well known name in the bicycle suspension world. One of the original pioneers of a sprung fork... He now works at Specialized Bicycles as the Director of Suspension Technology and has been "kicking" bicycle tires for 25 years now.
So how did you get started in the bicycle world?
I was working in the motorcycle industry and has a lot of experience in shock absorber technology, so when the suspension boom hit the cycling industry, Paul Turner (founder of RockShox) had offered me a position to help him manage his R&D team at RockShox. I was ready for a change and jumped at the opportunity.
Motorcycle industry... what was that about? I was a Race Mechanic for the Kawasaki Factory Team for 10 years, after that I ran my own motorcycle suspension business.
We love research and the internet is amazing, we found your name associated to 7 or so patents specific to cycling and suspension. Tell us about the one related to "Fork Suspension with Variable Hydraulic Damping"... this was during your RockShox days.
Yes, in the early days of MTB suspension, a few of us came over from the Off-Road Motorcycle world and helped drive some of the early designs based on what we knew from motorcycles.
It didn't take too long to figure out that the application for a human powered vehicle has unique challenges. The Variable Damping patent was my first attempt at trying to get a damping system that would provide firm damping for good chases control (pedaling) while having a better curve for bump control, deeper in the travel. Ultimately this design lead me into the inertia valve system we call the Brain today.
So now you work at Specialized overseeing a team of folks focused on suspension. Tell us about some of the daily activities you and your team conduct.
The primary responsibility of the group I manage is to align the ride dynamics of a given bike design with the vision of the product managers. To accomplish this, we'll do whatever it takes... from designing a complete shock (as we do for the Epic) or simply working with the test engineers at a company like Fox to alter the ride dynamics of their design to align with the overall bike performance goals (and everything in between).
A lot of time is spend quantifying the ride performance using data acquisition and experienced rider feedback on a variety of controlled test sections in the field. From there we analyze the data, determine the modifications needed, measure the changes again on the shock absorber dyno... and then re-test in the field. We run this cycle anywhere from 1-2 times to 10 times, it all depends on the scope of a particular project.
Some first hand knowledge and other interview suggest that you've had some rock-star folks work for you over the years. What made these individuals stand out / what made them special?
In my experience, people who excel in a given role are the ones that have followed their passion(s). They love what they do and they love being the best at what they do. When I have people like that in my group, the best thing I can do is give them guidance when needed and get out of their way! As advice, I'd say don't be afraid to follow your passions even as they change...you'll love what you do...and the chances are, you'll be really good at it!
When looking for an employee, what are three characteristics (or qualities) you look for during the hiring process?
Assuming the person has the skills and experience needed for a specific position:
It's a toss-up, between my 3/8" drive Snap-on speed handle and my very old Proto brass hammer. In my race mechanic days, we didn't have the battery power impact guns, so the speed handle was vital to getting the work done quickly between motos and the brass hammer I've been knocking the shit out of stuff for almost 40 years with it... it's like an appendage.
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