Industry Nine Factory Visit: How Their Hubs Are Made

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Earlier this year, we dropped in on Jeff and the crew at Industry Nine to see what was new, which yielded your first look at their new road hubs and wheels. While there, we toured the factory and Jeff was kind enough to show us exactly how they make their hubs, why they’re special and provided a few lessons on machining and anodization.

Be forewarned, if you didn’t want a set of I9 hubs before, you most likely will after reading this. If you’re one of the folks that has waited patiently in the past for a set of hubs or wheels, you’re about to learn what the bottleneck is (it’s probably not what you think). And if you’ve never heard of Industry Nine, consider this a crash course on one of the few brands that’s 100% made in the U.S.

Welcome to the Industry Nine factory tour in Asheville, NC…

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While this machine is actually one of the last things we saw on the tour, this is where the hubs’ lives begin. 3.75″ diameter billet 7075-T6-51 aluminum rods are sent through this cutter…

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…and trimmed to the width of the hub shell they are to become.

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After they’re cut, the bins of blanks head to the machine room:

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First, the blanks run through a rotary horizontal lathe.

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Industry Nine’s Jeff Baucom shows the first and second stage of the product while sporting a Blue Ridge gentleman’s beard. The process from his right hand to left takes about 90 seconds. No bottleneck there.

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From there, they get milled in all directions by a vertical 5-axis lathe to cut away the material between the ridges for the spokes. A special modification gives I9′s equipment a sixth axis that creates the 8┬║ angle for the spoke beds, which orients them so they aim directly at the rim…no bend that could stress the spoke.

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The result is a hub shell for either road (above) or mountain (below).

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Actually, the photo above shows the rear hub with disc brake rotor drillings, which, along with the spoke holes and threads, don’t get cut until after they take an Easter egg bath in the ano chemicals:

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Anodization is an ugly process. Ugly to look at and ugly to work with and dispose of. Industry Nine brought their ano in house for quality control, but the side benefit is smaller tanks of chemicals being used overall. As for quality control, their ‘wall of shame’ shows why they wanted to bring it in house:

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Shades of orange…

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…green…

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…gold…

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…blue…

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…gray/black/pewter…

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…and pink (although, this color’s various shades could just be because Dicky’s so hard to please).

Jeff said a lot of ano is done overseas, and they would get back batches of hub shells that were so far off the target shade that they were all but useless, with front and rear hubs not matching. Because the vendors were overseas, getting any sort of real recompense was difficult. More importantly, it did nothing to replace the hub shells and the time and energy that went into producing them. After anodization, the shells are drilled and threaded for the spokes and rotors. This is done after the ano to ensure proper tolerances and ensure proper contact between spoke or screw and hub.

INTERNALS:

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If the machining of the hub shells seems impressive, it pales in comparison to the work put into the drive rings and pawls. Shown above, both parts are cut using an EDM (Electrical Discharge Machine) that sends an insane amount of electrical current through a thin wire (that gold stringy thing above, and below with the arrow pointing to it).

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The parts to be cut sit below what you’re seeing here in a di-electric liquid bath. The wire threads down off a giant spool above the machine and is essentially wasted by the time it’s moved through the parts even though it never actually touches the metal it’s cutting. The electricity reacts with and erodes the metal to create the desired shape.

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Seems like Jeff was showing me all the secrets there, so I asked if we could take pictures of everything and share it. The answer, obviously, was yes, and here’s why he’s not concerned about competitors taking this and copying them: The EDM machine used by Industry Nine costs somewhere between half to a full million dollars. The drive rings and pawls are made of incredibly hard A2 Tool Steel, which is a) very expensive and b) the same stuff tractor trailer gears are made from. They’re cut by the EDM to such precise tolerances and the metal is so strong that the wheels could be driven consistently with just one pawl making only partial engagement. Basically, the machines and materials used are so expensive that I9 only turns a profit because the equipment is paid for from the owner’s other company (which, coincidentally, used to make parts for several other cycling companies before launching the Industry Nine brand).

The drive rings are cut in stacks of four at a time, with each stack taking about 1 hour 45 minutes. The stack of four bars of pawls, yielding 88 total pawls, takes about six hours to cut. After being cut, each part is bead blasted and hand polished. It’s worth pointing out that each pawl has three “teeth” that engage with three teeth on the drive ring, not just one big point like on many competitor’s hubs. To be honest, and with Jeff’s admission, this is total overkill, but if they’ve got the equipment, why not make their hubs the best they possibly can, right? Their wait list and enthusiastic customer base seem to endorse that point of view.

Speaking of that wait list, it would seem this EDM-ing of the innards could be slowing down production. But no, that’s not the bottle neck either.

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On the hill above their machining factory is the assembly room, where each complete wheelset is hand assembled to order. The wheels hanging above are waiting to be tested and boxed up. Could it be that the love and care these guys are putting into each wheelset is slowing things down? Could they just hire more people to build the wheels faster? The answers are “no” and “yes”, with the latter being irrelevant.

And we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. Before they can build a wheel, they need…

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Spokes! More specifically, Industry Nine’s proprietary, house-made aluminum spokes. I9′s spokes start life as a long, thin rod of alloy, as enthusiastically shown here. They sit inside that trough at left (behind the computer screen) and are fed forward through a 12-axis machining lathe.

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The lathe cuts the threads on the end of the spoke, then machines down the body to 2.54mm. Jeff says the wider aluminum has the same tensile strength as a 1.8mm straight steel spoke, but weighs the same as some triple-butted steel spokes. They use a fat (wide) threaded end to increase the spoke’s strength, eliminating the common points of stress risers. Jeff says they’ve never had a spoke end up with stripped threads in the history of their company.

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Each spoke takes two minutes to make, and while we stood there discussing the manufacturing process, only a handful inched their way out of the machine. That translates to 2 hours 8 minutes per wheelset, or fewer than 12 pairs of wheels per day per machine. I9 has two machines running 24 hours a day, and they’re currently at about a two week lead time.

THE RESULT:

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It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to walk away from Industry Nine’s machine shop and not be impressed. Besides the obvious attention to detail, it’s the pride and enthusiasm that Jeff, Jacob and the rest of the crew there exhibit. The insides are made stronger than they’ll ever need to be. The endcaps are 17-4 stainless, surgical grade steel. Excluding bearings, everything part that makes up their hub is made in their factory in Asheville, NC. And the finished product is downright beautiful.

Do I want a set? Hell yeah.

THINGS TO COME:

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Despite that pesky production bottleneck, Industry Nine is forging ahead with new products. Fortunately for their new road wheels, they’re using Sapim CX-Ray spokes, which eliminates the limited production problem.

For those cross country racers looking to shave even more grams than their already-ridiculously-light 1320g Ultralite Race wheelset, Jeff hinted that they’re prototyping and testing a 24-count, vertically stacked spoke mountain bike hub that would use traditional spokes (in other words, be very similar looking to their new road wheels). Laced to a custom drilled Stan’s Podium MMX rim, you’d be looking at a wheelset at 1200g to 1280g. At that weight with that rim, they’d be a race-only affair, but put a more durable rim on their and you’re still looking at a 1450g wheelset that’s all-mountain ready.

Oh, and see that bike up there? Looks like a cyclocross bike. Has tires like a cyclocross bike. Hmmm…what kind of wheels could it possibly have?

Big thanks to Jeff and the rest of the crew for showing us around!

Comments

j - 06/02/10 - 4:52pm

so where is the wall of shame hubs? just looking at those you have pictured, they look quite shameful. the colors are not even close to uniform. i didn’t want a pair of these before reading this, and now seeing those i would never even consider buying anything that this company anodizes!

Tyler (Editor) - 06/02/10 - 8:40pm

Perhaps I should clarify that those off-color and mismatched ano’s are from batches they were testing or received from their previous vendor…NOT items that they are selling. The stuff you’d order and receive will be matching in color front to rear and as closely matched to previous and future batches as is possible. Ano isn’t an exact science, and anyone that claims perfect color matching always, everywhere, forever is overestimating their abilities.

Bobbles! - 06/02/10 - 9:31pm

These people should realize that machining introduces NOTHING to the strengthening of the grain flow. Their claim of having stronger wheels by using straight pull is bollocks.

Stainless steel will ALWAYS have much better properties in tension than aluminum with a much much better fatigue limit for the given weight AND cross section. The design of the hub where the spoke fasten spoke is also horrible because they are MACHINED.

I’d rather buy something from Taiwan with half the price, with a better manufacturing process and with a better design. Don’t believe the hype.

Greg - 06/02/10 - 9:49pm

Great factory tour and write up. I-9′s are hands down some of the sexiest wheels out there(sorry Chris King, my current wheel set) . I can totally see myself rocking a 29″ SS wheel set in the near future. Handmade in one of the best cities around and tested on some of the most awesome trails on earth, gotta love them.

Jerrylikesbikes - 06/02/10 - 10:27pm

Yeah duder, those hubs pictured ARE the wall of shame..

john - 06/03/10 - 8:39am

shows how much of the article he actually read! what a dumbass! Please don’t buy anything from them! you will be just another person that I PASS on the trails!!!

Bill - 06/03/10 - 10:18am

My opinion of I-9 hubs was/is formed on the trail. Not on the internet. Best wheel’s I’ve ever ridden and now own a set.

Bobbles! - 06/04/10 - 5:39am

Machined spokes? These people are stuck in the industrial revolution.

Drawn and forged components are stronger, with a much much better mechanical properties AND cheaper to manufacture.

A cursory look into ANY engineering book will tell you this. No wonder the US bicycling manufacturing has gone down the shitter. How am I supposed to support made in America product when they can’t even parts using common sense when the Taiwanese are smarter than them?

Made in America my arse!

Overpriced, CNC overmachined poorly designed over piece of shite.

Doug - 06/04/10 - 10:05pm

bobbles, calm down bro! internet got your panties in a wad?
that guy machines them because he OWNS A MACHINE SHOP… im sure if he owned a foundary he would forge the damn things.

im sure you arent wrong in what you are saying, but you cant just out right say they are poorly designed… many many people own and love these wheels., i have three sets, many miles and 4 years on these things and the only broken spokes i have had were from accidently shifting into my spokes.

but suit your self, ride what you want

Jimbo - 06/05/10 - 4:31am

Heh, does anybody really break the spokes near the elbows all the time?

You’d think that with the billions of traditional steel spokes used everywhere in the world for decades there would be already somekind of a statistic out there that relates with the number of bicycle use and mortality rate?

Shit if they were all that inferior to straight pull spokes you’d think every frikkin’ bicycle in the world would have their spokes snapping left and right and up and down from putting them together…

LOve it how they say they have and I quote, from a advertising-gospel-parroting-I9-spokesperson “removed all the weak points (known as stress risers) inherent in the design of a traditional hooked steel spoke.” but failed to mention the threaded ends that goes into the hubs is a stress riser as well, well not ‘a stress risers’ but dozens of stress risers, and I might also add: sttress risers to the hub as well. They hubs that receive the spoke sticks are thereaded, yup, I didn’t notice it too. Silly me.

Oh also the bends in steel spokes that they speak of have the structural grains going ALONG the bends which makes the argument against them less noteworthy. Yep, I have an genius idea: just throw away the bends on seatstays, chainstays and handlebars in every bicycle out there and just bang on fasten them together with threads because you’d be snapping them in a second as a direct result of ‘stress risers’, and because, you know, I failed the first semester of my mechanical engineering diploma…

Also this is what they said: “By starting with a 20-25% larger cross-sectional area, our machined 7075-T651 aluminum is equal in tensile strength to any 14-gauge or 14/15 DB spoke available.” oh, equal. Not stronger by any measurable amount? Or does that ‘any spoke available’ means shitty China made ones are included? How about fatigue strength? Resistence to abrasion induced fracture and fatigue? So that makes them ludicrously expensive AND idiotic at the same time?

Drew - 06/08/10 - 6:19pm

jimbo, wow you have a LOT of angry internet time on your hands.
no one is saying that traditional spoked wheels are bad man… I9 makes j-bend hubs too!

as for stress risers… I9 makes the root diameter of the thread LARGER than the actual diameter of the spoke to avoid a weaker cross section at the thread, and with as many different spoke lengths as there are it makes more sense to machine these with a swiss mill than to have them forged from an inventory standpoint for one, and because I9 already owns a gang of these machines to do so with. I9 does not own forging equipment, and sample forged spokes did not match the quality I9 can currently manufacture in house, both in structure and finish. the seams, burrs and extra polishing would have added to the cost and taken in house control and QC away from manufacturing.

fatigue life has been outstanding thus far! 90% of all broken spokes on I9 wheels come from mal adjusted drive trains and shifting into the drive side spokes, so yeah there might be an abrasion resistance point to be made, but these are high performance light weight wheels! WITH higher spoke count than Mavic’s aluminum spoked wheels and I9 can build a set lighter or heavier to taste (full custom) and bar none the fastest engaging STIFFEST wheels on the market which has gained I9 a lot of fans in the 29er world.

world cup podiums and national championships have been won over and again on I9 wheels.

i am sure there are better methods and maybe better wheels for certain applications out there but I9 does the best they can with what they have available, emphasis on keeping things in house and USA made as possible… if that and all those podiums are idiotic than i guess it isnt worth the expense?

"CHIEF" - 06/12/10 - 9:04pm

Best three sets of wheels I own. Engagement contributes positively to my riding style. Wheel color contributes to my sense of style. Support local. Pisgah stinks. It’s over-rated. Official Pisgah Beard Society member since ’09 Wanna-be I9 factory rider since day one.

Cari - 08/23/10 - 12:06pm

I9 vs King….Sorry i9 but Kings win…. Still ordered an i9 lefty wheel for my rz 140 but did it 3 months ago….STILL NO WHEEL! OUCH! PICK UP YOUR PACE!

[...] The hubs are made the same way their mountain bike hubs are made, which is amazing and fully covered in this post of our factory tour of I9′s grounds. [...]

GMB - 12/12/10 - 6:29pm

Come on guys….this is an American owned company, these guys all love bikes, and make a really great product. It is just as good, if not better, than most anything on the market. There are a lot of people who are very fast on these wheels, and some who aren’t fast, but having trouble free riding on a stiff, light, and great looking wheel. I have beat the holy snot out of my wheels in the Pisgah Forrest for over a year, no problems, I am very happy. Even more so because these guys all ride bikes, feels good to buy local. Keep things in perspective, don’t turn everything into a pissing match just because you took some class in college. This is MTB’ing for crying out loud. I digress. I am saving my pennies for another set.

MissedThePoint - 04/23/12 - 3:47pm

I’m more impressed by their machinery than their designs, from an engineering standpoint. They’re producing great performing wheelsets mainly since their machinery is so capable. While I’m not fan of CNC machined and anodized parts that are subject to repeated loads, i9 basically defies the preconceptions of the group that share Jimbo’s and Bobbles’s opinions, which I admit is a feat.

Seems to follow my impression of manufacturing habits of various countries: China competes by making things cheaper. Japan competes by making things higher quality. USA competes by making things that they can better support/service with warranties. On the same topic, I guess I can add that Germany seems to compete with refined innovations in engineering, Switzerland seems to compete with precision and attention to detail.

Mike B - 11/16/12 - 4:15pm

Try not to take advice from some idiot named “Boobies”. He has no idea about engineering at all. I have used 2 sets on 2 different Ibis bikes, and these wheels are awesome. Strong and stiff. I think “Boobies” is pissed because he has never seen a pair….of boobies.

Mike B - 11/16/12 - 4:20pm

Jimbo gives out links to forging company’s. And? Jimbo’s point is??? He’s an angry idiot I guess is his point. How about links that are relevant to the task at hand, not general properties that do not apply? Moron!

Ashley - 09/09/13 - 11:29pm

Nice article about the sexiest wheels on the market. The color are cool but the 3 degrees of engagement are what made me had to have some. Once you mtn bike on a set of these there are no other wheels. And bullet proof after the initial break in period.

Grumpy comments are caused by subconscious wheel envy. I’ve seen it in people’s eyes as I ride around them.

CuriousSteve - 03/31/14 - 9:41pm

I like the aluminum spoke idea, but the $6+ per spoke price gave me hesitation at the Sea Otter Classic last year. Can’t those be made overseas cheaper to obtain greater quantities and lower prices? It appears the anodization is done after the spoke threads are cut, so you could fab them over there in greater numbers and add the proper color finish here in-house, which I assume anodizing is cheaper to scale up than the machining process.

It’s not the thickness of the narrowest portion of the thread diameter versus the main shaft that is the issue. Cutting threads instead of “forging” or rolling them in does cut across grain lines created when the billet material was forged, and creates stress points. That’s the main reason steel spoke threads are rolled in instead of die-cut, isn’t it?

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