March 10, 2020 6 min read
Here at AVT, we strive to maintain a close connection with our suppliers, so that we can give you the most up-to-date products and product knowledge. In keeping with that, we recently stopped in at White Industries’ Petaluma, California headquarters and manufacturing facility to take a closer look at where these parts are made, and to talk a bit with the people who make them.
Walking through the company’s building physically takes you through the various stages of each part’s life, from the office, where finished parts are displayed, into the assembly area, where bins full of hub shells, bottom bracket parts, freehub pawls, and just about every other piece that goes into the wide array of parts live, and then onto the production floor, which hums with machines busy cutting raw stock into recognizable parts.
Above: Bins of partially assembled CLD hubs, external bearing bottom bracket cups awaiting their bearings, VBC chainrings, and T11 hub shells awaiting assembly
In among the giant forms of the machines are the people who load the raw materials, who check that the parts are made to spec at every stage, and move bins of increasingly finished metal from one machine to another as each part moves through the various stages of its production. Watching the folks who run these machines was one of the most interesting parts of the visit because they’re always busy–removing a part from a machine here, before blowing the workholding surfaces off and starting another part, then checking and measuring the part that just came out before heading off to check on another machine–yet their movements are organized, and feel like just another part of the workings of the facility.
Various stages of Freewheel production: from left to right, steel bars are loaded into a machine that then turns many aspects of the inner piece of the freewheel which is then dropped into a basket (along with some chips and coolant), and then the pieces are cleaned and measured before being moved to the next operation.
For a company that is strictly focused on making precision parts out of metal, it might come a bit of a surprise to many to find out that White Industries' first product was Peggers: an elastic band for holding your pant leg out of the way of a bike’s chain.
For 10 years, this was the only product Doug White’s company produced. But by the late 1980’s Doug had expanded the company and was using his background as a machinist at United Airlines to build the business into a working machine shop. Having done jobs for others in and out of the bike industry for a few years, he began to move toward being mainly a bike component manufacturer in 1988, when he started making titanium bottom brackets. But maybe the biggest step toward where the company is now happened in 1992, because that was when White introduced the Tracker front and Ti Cassette rear hubs that are the direct ancestors of the current crop of White Industries hubs.
Not only were these hubs super-light, they solved real problems. The Tracker front hub, for instance, used an oversized axle that helped stiffen the flexy suspension forks of the day. These hubs form the basis for the hubs that are made today, and the fact that the designs have been refined–but not completely overhauled–speaks to the quality of the initial design. Over the years, White has shown a desire to push the boundaries further in other ways as well, such as with the LMDS 2x10 derailleur system (at a time when 8 speed derailleurs were the norm).
LMDS derailleur and shifter along with their Interbike announcement from 1998
The company continues to use it’s size, and completely in house production, to keep up with evolving standards, as well as to continue to redefine what a small company should be capable of producing by consistently developing new products. Cranks, chainrings, headsets, bottom brackets, and a wide range of hubs is a lot for a small company to do, and the fact that White Industries not only makes these items, but makes them extremely well, all while continuing to support its older products is a testament to the company’s tenacity and foresight in a constantly evolving industry.
Small-scale production done right
In an industry where ‘standards’ seem to last little more than a season, being adaptable is a boon, and this is one of the many places where White Industries excels. Because White has complete control over every step in the process of making each of their parts, they don’t have to wait for the long back-and-forth that happens with distant (usually overseas) production. They can catch issues where they begin, and keep waste and downtime to a minimum. They can also catch-up with the latest standards as they happen.
White Industries offers a complete line of current freehub standards, all of which are compatible with all recent hubs (and adaptable to older ones too)
A perfect example of this is their Shimano Microspline-compatible freehub body, which they launched long before most other companies (including Shimano), had good availability of the drivers. But this isn’t to say that the company wastes its time following every trend. A great example of making use of the best aspects of new and old is the company's 30mm-spindle crankset. When White made an oversized spindle crankset, they did so in a way that allowed it to be as adaptable as possible. Swappable arms and spindles with direct mount chainrings allow the cranks to adapt to everything from fat bikes to road race machines, with single or double chainrings, making them both backward and forward-compatible across a shifting bike landscape.
This same philosophy of durable-manufacturing is visible throughout company’s line: that microspline freehub driver mentioned earlier, for instance, is compatible across all of the company’s line of hubs, and that includes all recent models (if you have a much older hub, you can upgrade to the latest freehub design too, you just need a couple of extra parts). On top of the wide-ranging compatibility, White uses titanium for all of their freehub drivers, which means you don’t have to worry about cassette cogs gouging the body, or any of the other durability-issues related to aluminum freehub bodies (such as wallowed-out pawl pockets), but you also don’t get the extra weight that comes with steel drivers. This material choice seems obvious from a purely functional standpoint, but it's one that few companies make because of its cost and the difficulty in machining titanium.
Three of the stages in the making of a White Industries freehub body
Our main goal in visiting White Industries was just to get a better picture of what they do. We all know that the company makes a wide range of parts in the USA, but what does that really mean? The fact that a ‘Made in USA’ sticker can find its way onto parts that are just finished here, can make all of us a little wary when we hear the term.
But at White Industries, when we talk about the parts being made in the USA, we’re talking about 16 people who all have a part in the process of transforming large blocks and bars of metal into the beautiful and functional parts we know–parts that are machined, polished, and assembled under one roof in Petaluma, California. When you consider what goes into making that happen, it’s hard not to be impressed.
Here are a few more photos of the process:
CNC engraving being cut into a hub shell
CLD rear hubs on their way to polishing before getting drilled and finished
Finished Mountain Spindles for M30 cranks
Hub parts at various stages: pawls and springs on the left, drive rings in the center, assembled axles with freehubs on the right
Crankarms drying after leaving the ultrasonic cleaner
The robotic arm that polishes parts is really quite something to see
Each step of the process is carefully thought-out, from the robotic arm that polishes parts, to the ways work is held in the machines in order to allow for more efficient production, and seeing these processes at work was a real treat. Thanks to everyone at White Industries for letting us come by to have a look!
We hope you enjoy the photos, but as always, let us know if you have questions, and stay tuned for more!
September 11, 2023 13 min read