Could you imagine having a full workshop of CNC machines and metal working tools as a kid? What would you make? It may be that Clint Spiegel’s career path was set when his father opened up a machine shop in Asheville, North Carolina, just after he was born. The fact that he was programming a CNC machine at the age of 7 should give some indication as to how he came to start Industry Nine (who for the rest of this article will be known as I9).
Clint’s ingrained knowledge of manipulating metal into intricate shapes means that I9 has some of the most distinctive wheels on the market today, but the decision to start making mountain bike hubs and wheels didn’t just start at I9. Hiding within a nondescript industrial unit on the outskirts of Asheville in North Carolina is an engineering geek’s wet dream of machinery. Unassuming it may be, but interestingly these machines are responsible for a key point in mountain bike history. Some of the components for the original Rockshox RS-1 were machined here, and before Clint started making parts for his own company he was turning out products for others.
Clint is obviously the perfect tour guide around the facility, a lifetime around these machines means that he knows the manufacturing floor like the back of his hand, jumping onto machines and pushing buttons like an excited school kid.
He is a firm believer in trying to do things in house. There are very few items that aren’t made there in Asheville, with the exceptions being the bearings and currently the rims, with plans being made to bring rim manufacturing in house. Having the manufacturing right there allows new product or design changes to be implemented quickly. For instance when SRAM introduced the new XD1 driver to accept the 11-speed XX1 cassette, I9 were one of the first after-market hub manufacturers to offer a compatible freehub.
The aluminium spokes are a defining feature of the I9 wheels and when we arrive at the machine turning them out I asked Clint what came first, the chicken (the machine) or the egg (the spokes). “We already had the machine” was the surprise reply. “The Swiss type CNC machine was already something had been used to make a shaft for the original Rock Shox RS-1, so I used that to start making the spokes. I am always looking at ways to make a component better than what is already on the market, and the one piece straight pull spoke was something that I thought would build up to make a stiffer wheel with less weight than the traditional j-bend steel spoke and brass nipple.”
Another defining feature of I9′s wheels is the noise generated by the freehub, with the hubs being up there as some of the loudest on the market. Clint got the idea for the hub internals after working on a stillborn roller clutch freehub with local company Cane Creek. The freehubs also have one of the fastest engagements on the market, just 3 degrees. The drive ring only has 60 teeth, which should equate to a 6 degree engagement, but by offsetting 3 of the 6 pawls by 3 degrees you get that quick 3 degree engagement.
The drive ring and pawls themselves are made out of hardened tool steel. Using Electrode Discharge Machining (EDM) to form the teeth and pawls after hardening the metal means the top of the tooth is extremely hard and should resist wear longer than other manufacturing methods.
One of the things that Clint highlights as important in I9 being successful is having people on his team that love to ride bikes. The fact that they care and take pride in the product heading out the doors helps push the company in a positive direction. It also helps with innovation. Ideas brewed up within the team are tossed around and if found worthy the machinery is right there to go and make something quickly.
Given the manufacturing skills within I9 it was natural to ask about why they haven’t produced other CNC machined components like stems or pedals. “We could easily produce those components and we have some ideas bouncing around,” Clint said. “But for Industry 9 to commit to that it has to offer a benefit over current designs on the market today.”
Clint’s life long experience with manufacturing components certainly shows in the final product with the internal and external finish of the components seeming more like surgical equipment over something that is going to be out on a bicycle, exposed to the elements.
Asheville happens to be a great place to test mountain bike components. True to his word, Clint loves to ride and to finish off my visit he took me out to an area of Pisgah National Forest to show me some new trails that he and some friends have been building. The damp, slick rocks and roots make the already technical trails less predictable and my bike writhed around as I tried to weave between the trees. There are certainly similarities to the riding in the Pacific Northwest, however the North Carolina rocks are not to be trusted with a tire’s grip. Having those damp, wet conditions within which to prove your products in certainly helps.
The finished product certainly ramps the exotic dial up to 11. The set you see below is built up on I9’s Enduro rim, which with the matte black anodized finish combined with the anodized blue spokes and hubs make for a classy and distinctive wheel. The rim has a fat tire pleasing internal width of 26mm, which should suit the abuse that is planned for them. These wheels really do stand out on the trail and a more detailed review will be coming soon.
Still drooling over that jewelry. Laser-etched spokes – are you kidding?