Further back is a mix of packaging and shipping, spoke manufacturing, and wheel assembly. Wheels, all hand built, are being made for after market sales and as original equipment (OEM) for smaller U.S. brands who don’t yet have need for a full shipping container’s worth of product. The day we walked through there was a box of wheels being packed for shipping to Pivot.
“Overall we do more after market here,” explained Barbieri. “But as a whole DT Swiss does more OEM, about 80-20 when you factor in parts and wheels and suspension. It’s an interesting position to be in, where in many cases we are working hand in hand with our competitors. But that’s part of our Swiss heritage. We ask a client what they want. Sometimes it’s super secretive [think Swiss bank account] and other times it’s more open. Either way we are trying to make good product that never comes back [for warranty or service].”
And in case you’re wondering who DT Swiss works with, run through a list of all the big and medium sized U.S. brands and you’re on the right track. “Specialized, Trek, Giant, ENVE, the list goes on,” said Barbieri. “We do branded and non-DT Swiss-branded stuff with all of them, wheels, hubs, you name it.”
Barbieri also likens his facility to a way point for growing bike makers. At first their needs wont necessitate the massive output available from the DT Swiss operations in Asia or Poland. But if they grow large enough, they’ll be transitioned out, and start receiving their DT Swiss product from elsewhere than Colorado. “Trek, ENVE and now even Pivot are all examples of companies that have grown through this facility,” added Barbieri.
Chances are you’ve also been the beneficiary of the Grand Junction operation, which cranks out spokes of all lengths at a nearly non-stop pace. Many of those spokes are then boxed up and shipped to major distributors such as QBP and BTI, who in turn sell them to your local bike shop’s service department, who might have restrung your busted wheel with new DT Swiss spokes.
Other batches of spokes are dropped into giant dayload crates that can be fork lifted straight to an assembly line. The one being packed during our tour was bound for a Trek facility in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
“Making spokes is like making a very long bolt,” explained Kory Moore, operations manager of the Grand Junction facility, as we stood together next to a giant spool of wire being fed into a click-clacking spoke making machine. “The wire goes into a straightening process, then it heads it, puts our logo on it, and threads it all inside this machine. If it’s a butted spoke, it’s brought in as a blank and the machine hits the head and adds the threads. All our butting is done in Switzerland using a cold forging process which makes them stronger.”
One room over a team of eight people (and 16 hands) are busy building wheels. Rims are laced, trued, and then packed for shipping. It’s a labor intensive process, but one Barbieri says is a function of what’s currently possible in the manufacturing world. “You can get fairly consistent tension using machines,” he said. “But for high end product hand truing is unbeatable. Until that changes this is how we build wheels.”
Road wheels are what’s on tap on this day, but overall DT Swiss does more volume on the mountain bike side. That’s changing, though, says Barbieri. “It’s only recently that we have a complete arsenal of road wheels with all the widths, price points, and weights.”
Our last tour stop is warranty and service, which is located in a smaller, crowded room along the building’s west side. Anything that needs fixing in North or South America is routed through here. Most of the outreach comes from bike shops, but the small team also answers plenty of customer emails and phone calls.
“One of the newer needs we’re filling is with consumers buying on-line and getting in over their head,” explained Barbieri. “There is a lot of hand holding with the increase in direct buying. We are filling the shoes of the shops in that respect.”
In the end, filler of need is an apt descriptor of DT Swiss. Whether you’re a behemoth bike maker, bike shop, or just a guy looking to upgrade his wheelset, their goal is to make top-shelf product for you — and make it exactly the same every time.
To learn more about DT Swiss visit www.dtswiss.com and check out the expansive photo gallery below.