At its core, the goal of the DT Swiss facility in Grand Junction, Colorado is simple: Do the exact same thing over and over again - and do it exceedingly well. This mantra of precision repetition carries across all the DT Swiss operations, be them in Colorado, Poland, Germany, France, Taiwan or at company world headquarters in Biel, Switzerland.
"We produce spokes and wheels and hubs, and we do it here and in Europe and in Asia, and we use all our own equipment and our own buildings, and we do it the same every time," explained Chip Barbieri, the CEO and general manager of the Grand Junction branch, which occupies a non-descript 20,000-square foot building in an industrial area on the west side of this small city of 60,000. "That way no matter where a DT Swiss product is produced, it will be of the same quality and standards."
Except in rare instances, those qualities and standards are exceptionally high. Indeed, the DT Swiss name is a sought after stamp of approval. Wheels may bear the ENVE or Roval or Bontrager or Syncros name, but it's often the fact that hub internals or other parts are of DT Swiss origin that's proudly marched out in marketing material. It's the cycling world's version of "Intel Inside."
"We buy all our raw materials from our parent company," continued Barbieri, who came to DT Swiss by way of Cannondale and has been running the 30-person Grand Junction facility since 2005. "We're all fed the same stuff, the spoke machines are the same, the QC is the same, the maintenance is the same. So what you see here is just like what you'd see in Poland or Asia, except those facilities are a lot bigger."
This begs the question why in this age of overseas manufacturing are things actually being made in the USA? And why here, on Colorado's Western Slope? We'd love to think it had to do with the area's world class riding. Grand Junction and nearby Fruita boast some of the state's (if not the country's) best mountain biking trails, while the smooth roads that ring Colorado National Monument are a truly singular cycling experience.
But the actual answer traces back before Fruita was a bucket list locale for mountain bikers. Instead, it was 16 years ago at a time when DT Swiss was getting pressure from key clients such as Cannondale and Trek, who at the time were still assembling the majority of their bikes in the U.S. and wanted a supplier that wasn't a half dozen times zones away.
"Basically we got in business here to make spokes for their assembly plants," recalled Barbieri. "Initially we had a distributor who happened to be in Grand Junction. But then we moved in here permanent because at the time it was less expensive than the east of west coast, there was a less expensive but skilled labor force, and freight was less expensive."
The official opening of DT Swiss Temecula was highlighted by a spirited XC ride on nearby trails. Long time DT Swiss rider Shaun Palmer (far left) was among the group.
Some of those metrics have changed over time, and this year DT Swiss added a second U.S. facility in Temecula, California in order to be closer to key clients. "The Grand Junction area is phenomenal for cycling, but it's not the easiest place to get to," conceded Barbieri. "As a global company with multiple facilities around the world, being in Southern California puts us within the largest market region in North America, as well as making travel for our key customers faster and easier."
That new office officially opened on March 13 with a media/VIP open house that included longtime DT Swiss rider Shaun Palmer.
Back in Grand Junction, the operation has a decidedly hands on feel, a fact discovered during Mtbr/RoadBikeReview's exclusive tour of the facility. Up front are a suite of sales and marketing offices, which service all of the America's from Canada in the north to Argentina and Chile down south. This is also the primary warranty center for all those markets.
Continue to Page 2 for more of our tour of the DT Swiss facility in Grand Junction, Colorado, and an expansive photo gallery »
These giant spools of wire could just as easily be used to make a fence, except that the spoke-specific alloy would make for one very expensive fence.
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."
Waterslide decals are a relatively new addition to higher end DT Swiss rims. The process literally involves using water to slide the decal onto the rim, then baking said decal into the rim, which makes it more durable and grants more latitude in terms of artwork.
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.