Back in October, when Chris King opened their doors to the public for their Open House, they also ran tours of their production floor, and for those who weren't able to be there we wanted to take a moment to show some of what goes on.
With all of the attention that the company gets on social media, and all of their beautiful colors, it can be easy think that there's somehow less actual engineering and manufacturing prowess behind the product than there actually is; but take one step into the production facility (which takes up a large portion of Chris King's Portland, Oregon headquarters), and any misgivings about the legitimacy of Chris King's status as one of the most advanced and forward-thinking bike part makers will be gone.
The floor is not only home to a huge number of massive machines, but it's also a marvel of efficiency. Heat generated by the machines and the heat treatment oven is used to help heat the building, and in place of a more toxic, caustic, and short-lived coolant, canola oil is used because it can be reused almost indefinitely. Fun side benefit (or not) is that the whole place smells a bit like french fries. Canola oil doesn't vaporize the way water-based coolants do, and so it's not hard on workers' lungs, and of course it's natural, so there are simply far-fewer environmental considerations with it.
But of course all of the machines make a lot of waste metal, and something has to be done with that. Metals are run through a centrifuge to remove excess coolant (which is then cleaned and fed back into the system to be reused), and then compacted into bricks. Chris King takes their recycling up a few notches by keeping all of the metals separate as much as possible, so high-grade metals stay high grade when they get recycled. This is important because unless the recycling facility know exactly what is in each bin, even the highest quality metals will end up mixed with lowest, and the result will be a lower-quality metal. For that to reach the quality that Chris King needs, it needs to be refined over and over, and that uses a lot of energy. Cutting out a good chunk of that refinement saves a lot of energy, and so it just makes good sense.
Walking past the lines of machines, you'll notice small stations full of measuring tools (like the one above), as well as other, larger measuring tools to check the parts as they make their way through the production process. And as we saw, there are parts that don't make the cut. When Chris King guarantees a bearing for a lifetime, they're actually making a bearing that they expect to last a lifetime, and that means one that's just right.
The machine above is a six-spindle lathe that makes bearing races. Below are the steel bars that get turned into those races, and below them are races at various stages of production.
Below are hubs in various stages of production. Near the end of the line, the parts either get polished (for one of the polished finishes) or sand blasted (for one of the matte finishes.
This level of quality-control extends all the way through the anodizing process. Anodizing is an extremely tough process to get to be consistent, and that means that there are always going to be parts that just don't look right. These are the parts you don't see, but they're one more example of Chris King's commitment to quality.
Next time you see one of Chris King's beautiful products, remember that it is made up of parts that came off of these machines, in this factory, from this group of people who are committed to making parts that will last.