Last week I stopped by the offices of Industry Nine and we went through a tour of their two buildings where they make the components and wheels they are known for throughout the industry. Industry Nine actually got their name because this is the 9th industry they have been in at these facilities (they used to make huge automation equipment and still machine parts for the racing industry in east NC and Indy Car). It is also now the most successful out of any of them and over the past couple of years…they have actually started shutting most of the other businesses down to focus and expand I9. What used to be mostly crammed into one room has now taken over two buildings.
Industry Nine is located in Asheville, NC. For those that don’t already know…Asheville has become a biking and beer mecca for the east coast. The city is awesome and the riding in Pisgah National Forest is some of the best backwoods, enduro style, all mountain riding you can find anywhere. It is also where breweries like Oscar Blues, Wicked Weed, Sierra Nevada and others now call home. Bikes and beer…it doesn’t get much better than that.
Industry Nine jumped onto the scene with their high engagement hubs and thick aluminum spokes that you could get in virtually any color combination. I visited the facility over 8 years ago and this trip proved that there has been a lot of success at Industry Nine over that period. There has been a lot of expansion over the past couple of years including adding the “Ano Lab” that brought the ano process in house instead of being out sourced. Industry Nine is now churning out 750 wheels per month which is pretty awesome after you see the entire process.
The Industry Nine Manufacturing Process
Let’s take a look at how they make their wheels as they are one of the few that do everything in house here in the US. This tour isn’t just a look at a bunch of imported boxes in a warehouse…you get to see the wheel take shape from start to finish. The hubs start out in building 2 from the 7075 aluminum bars that are 12 foot in length.
From the loading dock, they head to the band saw where they are cut into slugs to get ready for the turning and machining processes.
The slug is then turned down on a lathe to start taking shape of a hub. The bearing surface is done first and then the outside profile of the hub.
The hub features are then milled out for the cassette body and the rest fo the hub but the spoke holes are not drilled yet.
Before anodizing, each hub is hand polished to get a perfect surface finish.
The spokes are machined in these really cool swiss machines designed for the medical industry. The entire spoke is machined in one process and there are 4 machines dedicated to this job.
The spoke raw 7075 aluminum.
From here the hubs, spokes and other components go up to the anodizing process that is done in house.
The longer the parts are in each of these baths…the deeper the color. Anodizing is a very sensitive process. If the time or mixture is even just the slightest bit off, the shade of the color changes. Anodizing is the process of bonding a protective oxide layer by an electrolytic process in which the metal forms the anode. Think of it like dipping an Easter egg.
The parts are hung on the racks and go into the corresponding color tanks.
After the hubs and parts are anodized, they head back to building two to get etched and have the spoke holes drilled. This is to ensure that all tolerances are exact in the spoke holes.
The drive rings and engagement pawls are cut out of hardened tool steel. Industry Nine pre-hardens the steel and uses a lot larger part base to make sure that the rings and pawls keep their shape after the EDM process. This is unique to Industry Nine and makes their drive mechanism incredibly strong.
Industry Nine is known for their crazy fast engagement that always has 3 pawls engaged out of the 6 in the drive that creates a 3-degree engagement on a 120 point drive ring and can handle over 700 ft/lbs of torque.
The pre-hardened drive ring.
The rings getting cut in the EDM. This is a long process where the EDM wire arches off the steel. The ring is essentially getting burned out of the steel.
The hubs are then ready for assembly and place on racks.
Each wheel is then hand built in-house before they ship out to customers. Only the bearings and the carbon rims are outsourced. The carbon rims are manufactured in Taiwan and are designed in house at Industry Nine.
Industry Nine still owns all of their original equipment that they used to turn and mill hubs and parts on back in the day before they were producing 750 wheels per month. They now use all of this old equipment to do their prototyping which allows them to come to market much faster than everyone else. None of the design or first article process is outsourced at all. It is all done in house.
The sales offices are right outside of the building stations.
There is a bike shop in the anodizing area to handle all of the employee’s rides. In just about every room of this place, there is a mtb sporting I9 wheels.
And no bike industry manufacturer should be without a killer pump track on the back lot.
On the way out, you see an I9 wheel display with the quote “Work Hard…Ride Harder”.
After we got done walking around the 2 facilities, we hung out for awhile talking about the good old days of mountain biking and the future of Industry Nine.
Industry Nine on the market and the future
One of the things that I asked was if Industry Nine was considering manufacturing other products and components like they did with the Match Stick. While nothing is off the table…there really are any solid plans right now for anything else. Industry Nine has a pretty hardline on the desicion they make on whether to manufacture products.
If we can’t make it significantly better, we don’t do it.
It makes sense given their history with tooling and their rise in the biking industry with their wheels.
A subject I find myself talking with everyone in the industry about right now is all of the new standards and how do you adapt? The industry has seen more new standards in the past couple of years than the rest of mountain biking combined. Almost all of those effect hub design.
Since Industry Nine does all of their design, development, and prototyping in house, they have been able to change with the rapid pace at the front of the pack. With standards like boost, boost with 20mm and others, they are able to be first to market. I9 was also one of the first to adopt an interchangeable design that allows their customer to accommodate different axle sizes as long as the width is the same.
When asked what sets I9 apart from the competition? Of course color always comes up first as they are the most customizable wheelsets on the market but the drive mechanism and durability are also key factors they believe they have a let up on their competition.
What’s the wildest color combo they have seen? The rainbow fades are a personal favorite of several that work there but they did say some have done it wrong. Weird fades or ones that contrasted.
When much of the industry is outsourced these days it is really cool to walk into a facility where most of the product is all made in house. When Industry Nine says “made in the USA”…they mean it and they do it in one of the best riding areas around.