Cane Creek Factory Tour – New Colors, New AER Cap and Double Barrel Dyno!

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Taking advantage of the cycling industry in our backyard, we followed up our visit to Industry Nine’s factory with a tour of Cane Creek’s plant near Asheville, NC.

In addition to seeing how their high end headsets are made, we got a sneak peek at some of their new products that’ll be introduced anywhere from later this year to sometime in the next couple years. We saw how their Double Barrel shocks are dyno tested before being packed and shipped and the sad, empty space where their wheels used to be built.

Starting with their best known products, headsets, there’s a new Orange ano color headed your way. The photo above doesn’t do it justice, it’s really great looking in person, and it’s made right here in the U.S. of A!

Jump on past the break to see how they’re made and take a virtual tour of Cane Creek’s factory…

Built in 1974, Cane Creek’s factory was bought out and became DiaCompe USA in 1988. In 1992, they developed the first AheadSet, and in 1996 the Cane Creek brand was born.

Cane Creek is an oddity in that it’s actually bringing more of their production back to the U.S. Most of their design is done here, as is assembly of the Taiwanese made brake levers and parts, and their crown jewels,  the 100, AER, 110 and AngleSet headsets are 100% made here in North Carolina (exclusive of the bearings), and that’s how we started our tour.

But first, some news: By the time Interbike rolls around, the S-series and XX headsets will be merged into a new 40 series that’ll make up the mid level group. below that, there will be the 10 series and above it, the 100 and 110 series.  Jason Grantz, Cane Creek’s marketing manager says they’ve designed more than 60 new headsets over the past six months and that their new offerings will be more system oriented to allow for better mix and match parts.  Givenn the ever increasing number of head tube designs, this (along with some new tools they’ve developed that we’ll show you later) should make shop’s jobs easier when ordering for their customers.

About that orange anodization, it’s being done locally by Industry Nine. the rest of their ano colors are done in nearby Charlotte, and their laser etching is done in Indianapolis. Cane Creek spent a lot of time choosing their vendors to ensure accurate color reproduction from batch to batch.  This becomes important if you ever need to replace a part later on and want it to match, or if uppers and lowers for different sizes that you need are anode at different times.

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Alloy "bars" are just headsets waiting to happen.

OK, on to the tour. Along the lines of ensuring accurate color reproduction, Cane Creek also picks their alloy carefully, then buys the entire batch.  They require their vendors, either Kaiser or Alcoa, to send in sample alloy from each lot. They test it for consistency, machine and anodize it to check color quality, then buy the whole lot if it meets spec. Any impurities inside the metal could negatively affect color reproduction, and those lots are rejected before they ever get shipped.

As an example of why they do this pre testing of the alloy, they once machined 3,000 headset cups and had them anodized, but the colors came back all wrong and they had to reject the entire lot, which wasn’t a cheap mess especially when the time and energy to produce the parts was factored in.

The top of the line 110 headsets use medical grade alloy to help them get their super shiny appearance once polished.

PRODUCTION DETAIL

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With the machines running 20 hours per day, it takes about four weeks to make a batch of 500 of their new AngleSet headsets, which is about two weeks less than it takes to make the same number of their 110 series. Shown above are the raw “bars” of aluminum alloy and the two machines that actually, uh, machine the headsets.

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This is a headset that was stopped early, but shows how the cups are machined down from the solid bars into the thin pieces of steering-enabling metal that let your bike turn smoothly.

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When we were there, the AngleSet cups were being made. When the machine is running, there’s so much water (to cool and lubricate it) spraying against the glass that you can barely see it being milled down, but it is very cool to watch.

ASSEMBLY

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After the parts are milled, they’re sent off to be anodized and laser etched, then make their way back to Fletcher, NC, to be assembled and packaged. Wanda (above) and Diane press in the bearings, stack the finished parts together and pack them into the boxes.

There are lots of photos of the new products to follow, but first let’s finish our stroll through their factory…

SUSPENSION

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Walking through the inventory area, there’s a section of parts and tables set up to assemble their ThudBuster suspension seatposts.

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Cane Creek has been making their Cloud Nine air shock for quite some time. It doesn’t get quite the press or OEM spec that it used to, but it’s set for a major overhaul sometime in the next year. Before that, Jason hinted that there’s a new Double Barrel currently in their skunk works that combines some characteristics of the Cloud Nine with the current Double Barrel, but that’s all he’d say.

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Cloud Nines retail for $250 to $300, but send in your old shock (any brand), and they’ll knock $100 off the price. Above is their current collection of exchanged items.

Finally, we’re into the shock torture chamber and testing center. If you’re not into downhill, chances are you’re unfamiliar with Cane Creek’s Double Barrel shock.  After talking to these guys and seeing the technology that’s poured into it, and the fact that they dyno test and tune every single shock before shipping it out, I’m pretty impressed by it without ever having ridden it. The video above shows the full dyno test (it’s short) with some explanation of what they’re doing. What’s not shown is that after the last test cycle, a graph shows up on the screen that lays out the compression and rebound curves for both low and high speed. Their engineers can tell at a glance if the shock falls within spec. If it doesn’t, they can quickly tell what’s likely to be the culprit and either retune it, swap out a part or do whatever needs to be done to fix it.

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At the heart of the Double Barrel is, well, the double barrel setup that provides for totally separate compression and rebound circuits that each contain separate high and low speed adjustments for each. With most shocks, especially XC and Trail oriented ones, you’re lucky to get much more than a bit of platform (compression) and low-speed rebound adjustment. With the Double Barrel, you can fine tune everything to your heart’s content. Besides letting you totally dial your ride, the benefit is that the factory tune on this shock will work with any bike. Assuming the eye-to-eye length is the same, you can take the shock and swap it between bikes and it’ll feel exactly the same regardless of the differences in suspension design.  I spoke with several riders that were not affiliated with Cane Creek after our visit and they mirrored those comments and praised the shock.  On the finished shock (top) there are inner and outer adjustment bolts, allowing for separate high and low speed adjustments.

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The main piston has the factory set compression and rebound shims to setup the shock’s baseline performance. From there, oil is pushed through the twin chambers that let you fine tune the damping and feel of the shock.

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As the oil flows through the secondary, user-adjustable compression circuit on the bottom, it goes into the piggy back chamber and compresses against a nitrogen charged chamber. The pressure exerted by the nitrogen pushes oil back through the rebound circuit. Not all parts are shown here.

WHEELS

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When Cane Creek introduced their wheelsets, they were unique with their spokes being adjusted at the hub and very sexy. But sales weren’t all peaches and cream, so in January they decided to pull out of the wheel market. What you see here is the space where the wheelbuilding tables and stands used to sit. *sniff*

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Other than a few rims and some spare parts laying around their warehouse, here’s what’s left of their wheel inventory: Stickers!

NEW HEADSET PRODUCTS

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AngleSet
The first run pumped out 500 of the new AngleSet in its straight 1.5″ head tube form, other sizes are on the machines as we post this. Here’s a juicy rumor we overheard while there: OOPS! We weren’t supposed to reveal it, if you’ve already read it, keep it on the DL.

Above is a finished product, below the parts that make it up:

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Top section (left) and bottom section. Click any pic to enlarge. For the full run down on how the AngleSet works, check out this post.

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In a nutshell, the AngleSet works by resetting the center of the headtube by using an eccentric top or bottom cup with essentially a ball joint that holds the fork in it. In the piece shown above, you can see that the inner circle is not centered in the cup.

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You can imagine the tolerances necessary to keep the “ball joint” bit fitting tightly into the cup.  Jason wouldn’t elaborate, but he said you’ll be seeing a lot of bicycle manufacturers spec’ing this as stock on downhill and freeride bikes in the coming year.

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AER Headset

The AER headset, which uses a Norglide bushing-type “bearing” in place of actual bearings in the top cap was introduced at Sea Otter in 2009.  Now, it’s getting a new top cap that’s getting spec’d on the 2011 Trek Madones and Cervelo’s Project California, and it’ll also be available for aftermarket later this year.

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Why make a tall headcap? Well, as if their AER didn’t already take lightness to the extreme, this new top cap saves four precious grams over the shorter cap and a carbon spacer. Plus it looks totally trick.

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There will also be more options for those wanting to upgrade to the AER, with different size lower bearings and this new recessed integrated bearing seat for integrated headset designs. The Norglide “bearing” that “rolls” on the seat i s good for up to 2,000 miles and is easily replaceable.

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AheadSet Small Parts Kit
All the other stuff we saw was gorgeous and drool worthy, but what’s most likely to have bike shops salivating is the new AheadSet Small Parts Kit. It combines numerous parts to fit all sorts of generic and low- to mid-level headsets and bicycles allowing shops to keep repair parts for headsets on hand and quickly referenced.  The value in time saved and repairs made will offset the cheap $60 IBD cost many times over. Consumers, this is good news for you, too, since your repairs will be made quicker and your local bike shop can improve profits without raising rates in these here troubling economic times.

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The basic AheadSet also gets updated packaging with better size and type call out.

OTHER THINGS WE SAW

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This headset press tool is made for pressing the 110′s headset cups into your frame without crushing the pressed in bearings.  Given how little you’re likely to use it yourself, it’s really aimed at bike shops.

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Remember the limited edition World Bicycle Relief headset? Only 500 were made, machined from stainless steel right here in their factory, and this is all that’s left.  Want one? Get on it. When dey gone, dey gone.

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The Gary Gauge is a new, simple tool to help mechanics quickly identify the size and type of a bike’s headtube, headset and steerer tube. With the growing number of standards and designs, it’ll make an easier job of determining the right parts to order when upgrading or repairing a customer’s bicycle.

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