For the past 50 years, the SRAM Portugal factory has crafted one of the most important components of any bike, the chain. The Coimbra facility began its life constructing bicycle and moped chains for the French manufacturer Peugeot until it was acquired by German bicycle manufacturer Sachs. Then, in 1997, SRAM bought Sachs bicycle division forming SRAM Portugal as we know it today.
From the outside, the Coimbra facility appears to be your typical office style building filled with desks, chairs, and computers. This newly constructed office space houses the business and engineering staff as well as a basement level test lab for new product development. And while this building is impressive, it pales in comparison to the original factory that looms behind it.
As you enter, large rolls of steel immediately catch your eye. The raw material is then fed into the stamping machines, creating the inner or outer plate for one of SRAM’s many chain variants. Following the ribbon of metal being drawn in for stamping, you start to realize just how massive of an operation this really is. The factory goes through a total of 50,000 kilograms of raw material per week, resulting in a grand total of over 3,400 miles of chain per year! A seriously impressive number especially considering how long the factory has been around.
Once the raw material has been converted to chain components, it undergoes multiple rounds of treatment designed to make it stronger and more durable. This includes both chemical and heat treatments with varying temperatures. Many of the machines used in this process date back to the early days of the factory and have been updated throughout the years to keep them running smoothly. Seeing the chain pieces being poured from furnaces into collection bins as the clanking machines echo in the background almost has a hypnotic vibe to it and gives you a real appreciation for how well it all comes together.
After the pieces are stamped and treated, they are placed into large bins and carted off to another room for final assembly. There, they are fed through multiple machines and scanners to test for anything that could compromise the chain. Quality is of the utmost importance here and no detail is overlooked. Piles of chains collect on the tables one after another. All while simultaneously being lubed, tested, and packaged for sale. Every little piece of the chain must be perfect and uniform in order to pass inspection and make its way onto retail shelves.
Although chains look simple, when you actually see the entire process in person you start to realize that is not the case. Chains these days are lighter, require more advanced manufacturing, and deal with more stress from riding. The amount of time, effort, and detail that SRAM puts into the development of their chains is truly mind-blowing. While there are tons of factories that have been operating for 40,50,60 years, not many have remained relevant like the Coimbra factory. Much of this is due to the strong connection between the people of Portugal and SRAM. A connection that is most definitely noticeable when walking around the facility. This place is truly special and filled with passionate workers that care deeply about making the best bike components possible.
Experiencing this process first hand gives you a true appreciation for the art of chain making. You are really able to see the detail and precision that goes into creating each individual component and are left with a sense of awe for the entire operation.
More recently, with the launch of the Zipp 3Zero Moto wheelset, the Coimbra facility has taken on the responsibility of assembling and shipping wheels out to the European market. Employees work diligently adding the final touches to the beautifully constructed carbon rims, ensuring that no detail is overlooked. Considering I was there about a week before the launch of the new wheelset, it was all hands on deck as they prepared for game day.
They say that the sign of a great factory is its ability to take something simple and improve on it every single day. For the past 50 years, all SRAM bicycle chains have been engineered and manufactured in Coimbra. A testament to the men and women that operate the facility, as well as the overall quality of the product.