A Visit to Chris King Precision Components

On the opening day of MADE the assembled builders, journalists and other assembled bike fans were invited to visit Chris King Precision Components. With so many friends from far-flung places in one spot, you could be forgiven for focusing on conversations, or the food—the company cafeteria was in full swing turning out tacos with pork and pickled cabbage. But the man himself, Chris King, gave us a tour of the facility.

I’ve been taken on enough factory tours over the years to have bored of the superficial nature of most of them. Generally, just as they get interesting, there’s someone standing behind me running his index finger across his neck to tell the excited engineer to shut up because he was saying too much.

This tour was different.

King walked us through the factory, beginning with where the raw aluminum stock enters the factory. They work with several different alloys.

One of the things King stressed was how they constantly strive for the greenest processes possible. All of the aluminum scrap from machining is collected. First, it’s allowed to sit in a drum where the cutting oil drains from the scrap, then it goes into these bins.

From the bins the scrap goes into what is essentially an industrial-grade trash compactor and they are pressed into what look like giant hockey pucks. Of course, each alloy has to be pressed separately.

Material moves through the factory in a roughly C-shaped path, and after making the right turn from the first few processes, this is the view of the factory floor. CNC machines are to Chris King what the laptop is to a journalist.

This stock, we were told, was destined to become new hub shells.

I’ll always be a bike mechanic at heart and the workspace of a technician is something that never fails to fascinate me. I love to see what tools stay ready at hand, how they are organized, laid out. What are the most-used tools, the ones that are most critical to the job?

In a departure from most executives (the pony tail might be a giveaway), King is a terrific storyteller and didn’t shy from telling juicy stories of their tribulations. From heat treating they were told wouldn’t work to spotted anodizing, he told stories that revealed what would arguably be termed trade secrets.

Bearing races go into heat treating on these trays and then are machined a second time after they cool. King’s willingness to tell detail upon detail of their processes is what I’ve learned is the mark of a true expert.

A legend for the different types of stock.

The inside of one of the machines.

He never discussed this particular instrument, but based on my brief inspection it appears to be part of quality control.

Parts go through a burnishing process before moving onto anodizing.

Some parts receive an extra sand blasting. Judging from the casting on the window, this machine is older than I am.

Once parts are anodized they end up in these egg crates, ready for assembly.

Headset cups are matched very early in the manufacturing process.

Our tour group numbered at least 40 when we started. King took his time and did spare details. As a result, we spent more than three hours with him and by the time we reached the end of the tour, we numbered just a half dozen and the rest of the building was empty. Those who didn’t make it to the end missed more than seeing the rest of a fascinating manufacturing facility.

Often, these tours don’t amount to anything beyond seeing most of the machines used to make a product. Usually, companies guard parts of what they do out of a fear that a journalist will report on their processes with enough accuracy that their competitors will learn what goes into the secret sauce. And while there is a chance a competitor might learn something from a photograph, even the most technically savvy journalist can rarely record enough detail to be of use to anyone else, which makes that fear a kind of joke.

What I have learned from visiting places like Assos, Allied Cycle Works and Chris King Precision Components is the truest story there is behind excellence: The best creations, be they a bicycle part, a novel or a technique for brain surgery, all result from the same thing: Hard work is no secret.

Join the conversation
  1. lorenbourassa says

    That mystery tool suspected of being a part of quality control is an optical comparator. It is a quality control tool that casts the shadow of a part onto a grid of known graduations to check its dimensions. I’ve never been for a tour of Chris King but I have seen the guy walking around my local Safeway. I should have gone and asked him why my resume wasn’t considered, lol.

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