Poster by: Kristina Wayte
We were recently invited to attend and participate in a bicycle industry tête-à-tête in Portland, Oregon at the Chris King factory. Given our yen for accuracy and high-performance bicycle components, we were delighted at the invitation and accepted wholeheartedly. We’ve always found their flavor of ATDAttention to Detail pairs well with a main course of an Above Category custom bike or wheel build.
My first introduction to Chris King was many many years ago hearing a customer ask my boss if he thought a Chris King headset would work in their bike. My boss was an old stodgy curmudgeon and dissuaded the client from King because of some licensing and authorization to sell King products that he wasn’t entitled to. This excuse is a mystery to me to this day. As the years went by and my client-base began growing and having me install more high-end components on their rides I became much more familiar with the Chris King line-up. Before I knew it I was installing NoThreadsets and ThreadFits on the regular.(These are the clever names of Chris King headsets and bottom brackets—more on that in Part II). Not to mention hubs; to me personally, this was the coup de grâce of the Chris King platform. I was building new wheels with R45’s and ISO’s left and right, cutting out hubs and rebuilding with a King hub—and when it was time for my new wheelset, R45 was the only choice. I’m obviously a mechanic and I, of course, purchased my own R45 hub service tool, which is a work of art unto itself.
Art & beauty. Functional design. Performance & durability. Engineering mastery. These are all themes to strive for when creating a product. It is a rarity that they all are successfully achieved in one. Virtually the entire Chris King product line is a body of art disguised as high-end, high-performance bearing systems for bicycles. To be able to see the inner workings of a Chris King ISO or R45 hub is an epiphany, no there is no pouring forth of bumblebees, but there is an intricacy to the mechanism that whispers: genius. Being invited to view the inner workings of the Chris King facility in Portland Oregon was no less revealing—which was why I jumped at the offer to go and represent Above Category as one of a few select retailers to attend their recent Builder’s Summit.
The highlight of which to me was the factory tour that I gave myself. Seeing their organized approach to everything is impressive, driven by Six Sigma or ISO 9000 standards most likely; it is evident that there is a precision right down to how they recycle their aluminum waste—of which there is an abundance. The stainless and aluminum bar stock neatly stored in their racks had an intrinsic elegance. Having the opportunity to witness the transformation of that bar stock into actual bearing races was incredibly impressive—explosive in the mind really given the systematic and synchronized process it takes. Maybe my eyes were unable to discern the primitive shapes of a headset before it’s recognizable shape is formed and branded, but on this particular day, it seemed the production floor was manufacturing hubs. At each machine station, there were trays (literal culinary baking screens for filtering lubricant away) with scads of hub shells in successive states of completion—some lacking spoke drillings, others more complete but without the pre-anodized polish. All on their way to becoming an illustration of precision. CKPC; their recent sticker upgrade is an emphasis of that, Chris King Precision Components.They test for that goal of exactness throughout their manufacturing process. Reaching tolerances that are virtually undetectable by the human eye or touch, relying instead on near infallible machines to test the accuracy of bearing or hub shell radii. This quality control goes beyond machining tolerances, but ventures deeply into aesthetic extremes even: questionable anodizing, a slightly botched laser engraving, all get kicked out and stored in reusable egg-crates as future recycling or potential donations.
There is sometimes the talk of a brand not innovating enough, and this is sometimes viewed as a detriment to their market. Chris King may have at times suffered this opinion, but I have a different mentality on the subject. It’s with a unique care, spirit, and passion that keeps CKPC holding their line on their staunch product line. Their products are predictably reliable (I’ve heard many stories of rider’s headsets still turning smooth after thirty years), keeping their product line “limited” gives them the control to produce their bearing systems exactly the way they want to. Simple. Sure we’ve all been waiting for a Chris King skewer to go with their hubs, but there was evidently never an internal-cam design that they were confident about to produce. So instead of potentially tarnishing their name, they withheld. That ship has likely sailed and we’ll likely never see a CK quick release skewer for your R45’s, but maybe we’ll see a CK thru-axle—once that standard settles of course! None of this is to say they don’t innovate, quite the opposite actually. They have released a new anodizing process; surprising even that it’s not an easier process, but rather one that is more time-consuming. These are the recently announced matte color options: Slate, Punch, and now Mango and Turquoise are all super hot. (I just hope they retain their high polish offerings personally). Even just today I’ve been notified that they have released a new axle standard for their ubiquitous ISO hub line and are likely doing away with its redundant alternative. And after a long design process and internal debate, there is the new DropSet headset available. This is nimble manufacturing, adaptive, innovative, yet mature and measured—calculating and precise. Words that can be synonymous with Chris King, the man himself.
So no matter the fitment standards on your bicycle, in order to outfit it with the highest Precision Component, just add Chris King to the spec sheet.
Be sure to stay tuned for Part II of our look into Chris King.