SRAM was founded on a single product in 1987 and introduced the Grip Shift (or twist shift) shifter to the road bike market in 1988. In 1991 that technology was adapted for mountain bikes, and SRAM quickly grew.
SRAM's story begins In early 1987 with founder Stan Day training for and racing in triathlons. Stan was convinced there was a better way to shift and found that reaching for the downtube to shift gears was awkward and inefficient. "Why couldn't you put the shifter on the handlebar?" he asked. "You rotate a grip, and the gear changes."
While on a ski trip in Colorado, Stan made his handlebar twist shifting presentation to a friend, and brilliant engineer, Sam Patterson. Sam went back to his garage in San Diego, tinkered around for a few months, and came up with a prototype for a twist shifter by late spring. Grip Shift was born.
Stan enlisted a group of like-minded entrepreneurs and cyclists to bring the product to market, and they went to work. They rented a slice of a 100-year-old brick warehouse on Chicago's west side. The masonry was so porous that snow piled up inside, and tea leaves periodically rained down from the rafters, courtesy of a previous tenant. But it was home-sweet-home as they raced to debut at the Long Beach bike show in January 1988.
Pressed to develop a company name as the Long Beach show approached, they combined several of the founders' initials and came up with SRAM. Upon arriving at the show, they opened the catalog to find that the organizers had mistakenly inserted an extra letter; they were welcomed to the industry as SCRAM.
As mentioned, Grip Shift put SRAM on the cycling industry map. But it was only when SRAM developed its first derailleur and adapted Grip Shift for MTB use that SRAM's presence was solidified.
Initially manufactured just down the street from SRAM's current Fulton Market global headquarters, Grip Shift was originally designed for road applications and eventually modified for triathlon and MTB, which began the company's transition into one of the largest bike component suppliers in the world.