At first, I thought the high altitude was playing tricks on me when I looked across at my friend Gordon Wadsworth and saw a brilliant display of pink and purple wheels spinning together like the world’s most expensive kaleidoscope on his Pivot bike. No, despite the effort of the Breck Epic mountain bike stage race, all of it above 9,000 feet, it was real. He was riding some of the most exotic wheels I’d ever seen, made by Industry Nine.
We have had a few really cool Industry Nine wheels come through the shop recently. It got me wondering: What is the story behind the company making these wildly colored wheels?
So, I called up Industry Nine and talked to marketing specialist Issac Presson to learn a few key facts about this Asheville, North Carolina-based company.
1. Ninth Time is the Charm.
Clint Spiegel started eight other companies before he decided to try his hand at bicycle hub design. He started Industry Nine in 2005 and hasn’t stopped innovating since then.
“Clint grew up tinkering around and working in what is now our machine shop before he was even 10 years old, because his family had the business. He has worked there his entire life, learning things and teaching himself different things engineering-wise. He formed a number of different businesses, eight different businesses, to varying degrees of success. When he was in his mid-30s he started riding bicycles and then was just out on a ride, thinking about the rear hub specifically and what he could do to improve the design of that.
“Eventually, he came up with what is our mechanical pawl engagement system, which is the basis for all of our hubs now. He formally launched the first of our legacy hubs in 2005. That was the first iteration and he also introduced the idea of these crazy-colored spokes, which is our aluminum straight-pull spokes. That was totally different than anything else on the market. It wasn’t huge, obviously super-small based on where it started, but it had a small niche following.”
2. More engagement points than there are degrees on the compass.
Industry Nine’s latest hub design, Hydra, has an amazing 690 points of engagement. That means for roughly every .52 degrees of the cassette’s rotation, the mechanism will click and you’ll be able to start pedaling forward.
“Four months ago, we launched the third iteration of our hub which is the Hydra. That came out in February of this year, and it kind of pushed forward all of the technology that was on the market in terms of mechanical pawl engagement, how immediate the engagement is. It has 690 points of engagement.”
3. About 80 people make the wheels turn in Asheville.
If you were to visit Industry Nine’s headquarters in North Carolina, you’d have a tough time remembering everyone’s names with about 80 employees split between the office and the machine shop.
“The company has grown pretty exponentially since Clint founded it back in the early 2000s to where we’re at. Now we have around 40 employees. Our machine shop has 35-40 employees as well; 60-70 percent of what they do is machining I9 products. They also still do have a smaller percentage of stuff that’s contract-based, unrelated work as well.”
Photo courtesy Industry Nine
4. Industry Nine is committed to American-made products.
It might be easier or cheaper to make products overseas at larger, more automated factories, but Industry Nine makes nearly all the components of its wheels in the U.S. That helps with quality control as well as company culture.
“All of our hubs, our stems, our straight-pull spokes are all made down there. We do source a few things. Our carbon rims come from Reynolds, and we source our bearings and just a few random things like O-rings. Everything hub-wise we do machine here. And everything is built here. We have an assembly line that builds freehubs, puts in the hub shells, presses the bearings in, then sends them down the line. They lace the spokes, true the wheels, and then ship them out the door from there.
“Everything’s made here in Asheville. Everything is made by a group of riders. I’d say 90 percent of our employees here at Industry Nine are avid cyclists. We ride together — dawn patrol rides super-early in the morning, night rides after work, weekend rides. I think that’s really helped with our company culture. Everyone here is passionate about what they do.
“It’s obviously a little bit more expensive. I don’t know if it’s a matter of Asheville versus overseas, but a lot of our processes take a really long time. Our straight-pull spokes take one minute each, that time adds up. It’s a really long process to cut the drive-rings from steel. The products that are created are of a quality that we know is going to hold up in the field. It’s expensive to manufacture in Asheville, but the benefits outweigh the downsides.”
5. And American-made has its advantages.
In the ever-changing bike industry, Industry Nine uses its easy access to a machine shop to rapidly prototype parts to fit new standards.
“This also allows us to be super-nimble. In the bike industry, for instance, Shimano can release their new Micro-Spline groupset and that can change fitment for everything that’s complementary to it. Or say Super-Boost spacing comes out for a new bike frame. Being based right next to our machine shop where we machine all that stuff, it allows us to be nimble. We can start cranking through it and have prototypes done immediately. Instead of having them shipped from Asia, we just walk downstairs and go grab them.”
6. Industry Nine puts the “pro” in prototyping.
Like many bike industry companies, Industry Nine sponsors riders to help develop new products. But the range of its sponsored athletes is very diverse. On one end of the spectrum, it sponsors gravel cyclist Jay Petervary, who just won Dirty Kanza’s epic 340-mile, and on the other, mountain bike freeride star Brandon Semenuk rides Industry Nine products.
“We sponsor those top-of-the-line guys, but we also work with various brand ambassadors who aren't necessarily getting on the podium at CrankWorx or winning Dirty Kanza, but they’re super solid ambassadors.
“I think it’s certainly paid off. In a lot of instances, these athletes come to us. They’re familiar with our products from other elite athletes in the field also using them. It’s a testament to the quality of our products. And then it allows us to prototype. Like Brandon has a prototype free-coaster that he uses. He’s the only one that has that specific one. We have feedback from him using it in the field. It caters exactly to his style of riding, which obviously is unique. But it’s also super-helpful to have a wide range of athletes so when we’re testing products we can ship it out to them and get their feedback on it. If a product’s going to break, it’s probably going to break from some of the gnarliest rides anyone does. For instance, our Hydra hubs, we developed and tested those for two and a half years before we introduced them to the market. We wanted to make sure we got it right and were able to test that with our athletes.”