Just prior to PressCamp, Reynolds invited us to tour their US headquarters, where all of their wheels are designed and developed. It’s also where a fair number of complete wheels are hand built and tested, prototypes and production pieces are tortured and all of their top-end RZR wheels are made.
Reynolds Cycling is owned by McLean Fogg, a large manufacturing company that makes automotive parts and industrial power line equipment. They also used to make carbon tubes and materials for frames (including the OCLV frame tubes and Rolf carbon wheels used by the Postal team), windsurfing booms, Halliburton luggage and their own bicycle cockpit parts.
Unfortunately, the non-automotive parts lost money. Between 2005 and 2007, new folks came in with the goal of “fix it, sell it or close it”, including current CFO Mike Dufner. What they figured out was they could have a competitive advantage in wheels. By 2008, bicycle wheels were the sole focus, all using Paul Lew’s designs, patents and processes.
All design and development is done in-house in Sandy, UT, just outside SLC. They have a duplicate development and testing facility in Hangzhou, China, near their own manufacturing plant. They also produce rims for other brands, but generally reserve their best tech for Reynolds products.
They control the process from start to finish. They buy the carbon from a US source, then ship it to China. This ensures better quality control and eliminates middle men in the supply chain that could insert inferior grade products. They develop their own resins, and as of about a year and a half ago, they make their own molds here, too.
Roll on for a full tour…
The engineering team is overseen by Kim Kington, who came from the aerospace industry where she worked on the composite skins for the upcoming F35 fighter jet. She manages the team that takes Lew’s designs and turns them into actual products.
This screenshot shows airflow around the new midlevel Strike aero wheels. Note the new rounded spoke face profile like most other brands’ current aero wheels. I pointed this out to Lew since it’s in contrast to his sharp-edged DET profile on the top-end Aero and RZR series, to which he smirked and said “they’re good, and they come in at a very good price point compared to competitive offerings, but the DET wheels are still better.”
After the shape is determined in Solidworks, it’s sent to another engineer to create a cut file layup schedule. A Gerber cutting machine makes the pieces, then they follow a layup “recipe” to build a rim.
A prototype is built and put through mechanical testing. The wind tunnel is used as a validation tool rather than a design tool. CFD creates the design and allows them real-time, instant changes to get where they want, then it’s all proven in the tunnel so they have the numbers everyone wants to see.
All carbon comes from US sources, and since it’s prepreg with their resin, it has to be kept frozen until use. This is the small freezer on the workshop floor. A much larger one is out back, and they have to maintain the temps when it’s shipped overseas for manufacturing. Sales & Marketing Director Rob Aguero says the shipping company has screwed it up a couple times, which has caused delays in product launches and availability.
Molds & Processes
Molds are CNC’d from blocks of billet aluminum. They use alloy rather than steel molds because they’re lighter, so one person can handle them, and the thermal transfer is faster, meaning they heat and cool quicker and be used more frequently. All molds are hard anodized to improve durability, which is especially important since they don’t do any cosmetic finishing (sanding, painting, etc,) once the rim comes out of the mold, so they need to be kept smooth.
Molds, along with the actual production procedures, are all made here, then shipped to their factory.
Once the carbon is cut and molds are made, it’s laid up piece by piece (a process they showed us but we weren’t allowed to photograph). The outer pieces of the mold put in place and the rims are cured in large ovens.
Speaking of ovens, this is Paul Lew standing next to the pizza oven he first used when making his own rims as part of Lew Composites. Check our interview with him here for more of that story.
Most of the rims, particularly the mountain bike ones, come out of the mold as solid blocks (top) before having the rim bed and bead hook machined out of them (bottom, on the mold). The “blanks” are suprisingly heavy, but the finished product is thankfully quite light. And stiff!
Then they’re drilled for spoke holes and any other finishing work is done before they’re built into complete wheels.
The top of the line RZR wheels are all made in house.
The entire wheel, other than the bearings and freewheel mechanism, is carbon.
The rim and hub shell are laid into a support platform, then the spokes and nipples are wrapped with film adhesive on the outer ends and slid into place. The other ends are bonded into the hub shell.
From there, the film adhesive is heated a bit and placed in a jig to set the rim perfectly concentric with the hub’s Z-axis by using four eccentric cams to move it in X/Y planes until it’ll roll perfectly smooth. Once it’s set, it’s weighted and goes into an oven to cure.
Once cooled, it goes into a truing stand. The full carbon inner hub shell is molded to directly hold the bearings. They’re pressed in, then it’s inserted into the outer shell and four set screws are set into each side. As they’re tightened against the inner shell, it warps the shape ever so slightly, which trues the wheel. Sounds crude, but it works. Once it’s true, an epoxy is squirted into the hole and heat lamps cure it all into a permanently true wheel with a double walled hub. And it’s stupid light and remarkably stiff. Oh, and expensive. About 25 hours goes into each wheel.
One benefit of the design is that it’s rebuildable. Any single piece can be replaced, so you’re not out an entire wheel.
Other Wheel Building
All wheels are hand built, whether here or in their Asian factory.
They built their own destressing machine, which puts 175-185kg of lateral force straight down through the hub. Lew says the highest lateral load a rider’s going to put on a wheel is about 25kg. Every wheel is tested in it, with duplicate machines in China. They’re trued, tested, and trued and tested again until they hold true after the stress test. They’re not delicate.
Even the disc wheels are trued. How? That’s a trade secret, but that red bit between the hub and disc has something to do with.
Reynolds, like every brand, tests their stuff in house before sending new designs to production. They also pull production pieces periodically for quality assurance. Shown above are a few of the ways they destroy wheels. In the foreground are the impacts with both drop tests and pendulum tests. The drop test lets 50kg drop from 350mm three times, with metal hitting directly on the rim. That’d be like riding your bike off a car-bumper-height curb, directly onto concrete, with no tires. Three times.
In the middle is the torque test, which holds the brake while torquing the drivetrain to test pawl engagement and durability under load.
The plexiglass box is the over pressure test. It ensures your wheel won’t explode if you accidentally overinflated it to, say, 200psi. This one went to 340psi before blowing out.
A drum tester puts 60kg of downward force on the wheel and measures braking performance, heat build up, time to stop, and related issues. And it can do it with various lean angles and speeds to test things like lateral stability. It has sprayers so they can even test wet weather braking. Their main braking test is 16 minutes of continuous braking with increasing pressures throughout the test.
Reynolds left the bar/stem/post component market in 2005, and had quite a few popular products over the years, like the Ouzo Carbon fork. At least one person there is pushing hard for a comeback. People like to match their bike bits, and it’d likely give them a bigger slice of the OEM pie, too.
Introduced at Sea Otter, inkjet graphics are making their way to more of the line for 2014. Depending on the rim, it can save up to 23g per wheel. When it gets to a disc wheel like this, savings can be quite a bit more.
Big thanks to Rob, Paul and the rest of the crew for their hospitality!