A Trip to the Chris King Factory..

I was lucky enough to be able to tag along on a factory visit to Chris King yesterday.  Andy Newlands drove us to the Portland site, along with Eric Estlund of Winter Bicycles and Rob Tsunehiro of Tsunehiro Cycles.

Dave Levy of Ti Cycles was also in attendance, and were also treated to a tour of his workshop later on..

Here are some pictures from the Chris King tour:

Outside the Chris King factory. The building was previously a coffee-roasting warehouse. It's much bigger than what you can see here, 70,000 sq ft in total. The whole operation was moved here fairly recently from their Reading premises, where they were located for 3 years. Only the anodizing department is still to be set up at this site.

There are 14,000 parts in stock at this site.  I wasn’t allowed to photograph the production floor, but it was a little like this:

All bearings are made by hand.

Chris King try to make their bearings fit all applications, ie. the headsets, hubs and bottom brackets are all essentially the same bearing design, available in 5 different sizes.  The headset bearing is basically their BB bearing turned vertically.

The Chris King cafeteria, complete with dancefloor.

A colourful display of anodized components in the cafeteria.

We learned about how cycling to work is incentivized in credit which can be spent in the canteen,  depending on the amount of miles commuted.  Other perks include raffles and paid days off.  The company sees value in the health of its employees.   Lockers, ventilated changing rooms and showers are provided to make cycling to work easier.

Chris King currently employs about 90 people.  When we looked down onto the R & D area of the shop floor, we were told that one guy, operating a manual lathe, had been with the company for 23 years.  Everything from trade show fixtures to bearing prototypes was made in this area.

We also saw a wheel-building department, but this was presently only used to build wheels ordered with the in-house Cielo brand of bikes.

A promotional T-shirt framed on the wall.

We were shown into the marketing department offices, where we saw lots of memorabilia being prepared for a stand at an exhibition, and we learned how in years gone by Chris King built frames for many other people including some Raleigh USA team bikes.

Assembled components in the sub-assembly department.

Headset bearings in the sub-assembly department. Lots of money's worth..

When we were shown the main production floor, we were told how some lathes and grinders had cast beds that were up to 100 years old, but have been adapted to cnc.

There was one robot working in the factory, used to polish just one type of rear mountain bike hub.  It was bright yellow and worked inside a perspex “cage”, so was nicknamed “the canary”.

Chris King always buy used machines (there were lots of lathes and several 4/5-axis cnc milling machines) as the castings and ways are usually superior, and machines bought on Ebay that often look to be in terrible condition are reconditioned quickly as the company have an extensive store of spares.

Soy-based cutting oils are used, and the oil fumes given off by the machines is recaptured and recycled via a large ventilation system.  A 55 gallon drum of cutting oil is recouped every month.

Oils are squeezed out of swarf with a piston machine, similar to those used for extracting juice from grapes in the wine industry.  The oils are then put through a centrifuge to separate out smaller metal particles.

Bar stock is cut to 4ft lengths to make handling easier and reduce the risk of accidents.

I was given free-rein to photograph the frame building area, where the Cielo brand of frames were being built:

Cielo frame shop area

Columbus tubing is used for the Cielo frames.

In-house cnc machines are used to make dropouts and fork crowns:

Cielo dropout

This fork crown is milled in-house from a chunk of steel, not cast like most are made. Although the crown bears the King logo, when I asked what badge the bike frame would bear, our guide looked at me like I was crazy. It will be a Cielo. Go figure.

Frame jig modelled on Chris King's own design.

Anvil fork blade bender. The pin can be positioned in any hole to stop the bending at a given point.

Tube mitring fixture

A used paintbooth is assembled in the frame building area.

So that was our trip to Chris King.  Hope you learned something.

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