American made. In a global economy, it seems there simply isn't much of it anymore. In the bicycle industry, many of the products we bolt on our bikes come from the Far East. There's nothing wrong with Asian-made products per-se, but it feels good knowing that your American-made product is helping foster a resurgence in US ingenuity and manufacturing.
On a recent trip to North Carolina for the launch of Cane Creek's DBinline shock, we took a tour of the company's factory where their entire line of shocks are made, as well as their high-end headsets, and the legendary Thuduster seatpost.
That's right, the Thudbuster is still alive and well. Although you might not see them very often in the United States, in Germany they sell like bratwurst during Oktoberfest. It turns out the off-road bike touring community there is quite healthy, and the Thudbuster is the go-to post for taking the edge off bumpy trails.
Cane Creek started in North Carolina in 1973 as Dia-Compe, a Japanese parts manufacturer known best for braking systems. In 1991, a recently independent and new entity, Dia-Compe USA, patented a revolutionary design that is found on virtually every modern bicycle-the threadless headset design known as Aheadset.
In 1996 Dia-Compe USA changed its name to Cane Creek, after the road where the company has been located in the town of Fletcher since day one. The name change helped distinguish the new direction of the flourishing American company that was taking over the headset market. In 2010, the Aheadset patent expired, forcing the company to once again, pardon the pun, look ahead.
Company management decided that they wanted Cane Creek to be a "best-in-class" company, meaning, if they couldn't make the absolute best product on the market, they would get out of the category. This is the reason, for example, why Cane Creek Cronos wheelsets no longer exist. Although they were excellent wheels, the company felt there were too many players in the market, and their efforts were better focused elsewhere.
One of the renewed areas of focus for Cane Creek became suspension. Although it wasn't until 2005 when the first Double Barrel shock was released, the company had roots in suspension helping Paul Turner manufacture the very first Rock Shox RS-1 fork in 1989.
Since its initial launch, the success of the DB line of shocks has been tremendous, and the company anticipates significant growth over the next five to 10 years. To see every shock wearing the Cane Creek logo coming out of its North Carolina facility is encouraging for an industry that has drifted away from American production over the last decade.
From an old Bridgeport lathe to the newest and most advanced Brother digital CNC machinery, Cane Creek employees like Vice President of Engineering Josh Coaplen, take great pride in their American-made philosophy. Although most people associate high-end headset bling with Chris King, the Cane Creek 110 headset is truly a work of art, especially when you witness the exacting quality that goes into making each and every one. Why name it the 110? Because it comes with a 110-year warranty.
Continue to Page 2 for more of the Cane Creek factory tour and full photo gallery »
The proprietary design of the company's AngleSet headset makes it possible to change the actual headtube angle of a mountain bike by 0.5 to 1.5 degrees for the perfect trail geometry. The design has become extremely popular with riders who want one bike to handle both tight, twisty enduro courses and steep, pucker-factor downhill runs.
For roadies who account for every single gram, the AER headset is one of the lightest on the market-more than 50-percent lighter than comparable headsets--and features a Norglide composite top bearing that weighs an incredible 1.5 grams. All three headset models are made at in the North Carolina factory.
Quality products require quality people, and there's no shortage of either at Cane Creek. Personality abounds at the company, with characters like Gary Maltby who you're likely to talk to if you call the customer service line. Not only can Maltby get radical both up and downhill on a bike, but the guy has become somewhat of a bike shop celebrity thanks to his "Gary Gauge"-a plastic headset measuring tool that was developed to help bike shops keep their S.H.I.S. straight. Also known as Standardized Headset Identification System, S.H.I.S. helps make sense of the mind-boggling complications of modern tapered and integrated headsets so shops always get the proper headset bearings for customers.
Engineers who shred
On the suspension side of things, having engineers who double as product testers helps ensure the absolute best quality product available. Brandon Blakely is a suspension engineer who also happens to be one of the fastest downhill racers on the Eastern Seaboard. His time in the saddle along with that of fellow employee and pro downhiller Evan Voss is invaluable to helping develop products like the DBAir and the DBInline.
The longevity of employees at Cane Creek is a direct reflection of the longevity of the company's products. Vice President of Sales Peter Gilbert, has been with the company since 1988, back when it was still Dia-Compe, and the longest-tenured employees have been there since 1974.
As Cane Creek continues its expansion into the suspension world, its also has to make sure it can keep up with the growing demand for its products. To maximize the company's efficiency, they've implemented production improvement practices to optimize production times.
With 30 years of manufacturing experience, David Hall joined Cane Creek two years ago as director of operations to help improve manufacturing process control. Hall tapped into the know-how of North Carolina State University and their Industrial Extension Service to streamline the shock assembly line. Before the collaboration, a shock took 34 minutes to build. Now Cane Creek builds the same shock in a mere 14 minutes.
Through personality, passion, production efficiency, perseverance and pride, over the past 40 years, Cane Creek has emerged as a model for how companies in the bike industry can still thrive with an American-made philosophy.