We were privileged to go along on the press tour of the Chris King factory in conjunction with the 2011 Oregon Manifest Constructor’s Challenge.
The Chris King factory in Portland, OR makes bike components with bearings
I had no expectations for the tour but I came away with a better understanding of what an important company this is. It is the company that doesn’t exist in America anymore. Here is a maker of precision bicycle components that employs over 90 people. And they make everything used in their finished products. They even make their own ball bearings.
Originally known for the headset which has become the standard for durability and function (Chris has the first headset he made in 1976 sitting on his desk) the company also makes hubs, bottom brackets, cogs and lockrings, and tools for servicing their products.
The real story behind all these shiny parts is maybe as fascinating as the parts themselves. The first thing one notices on entering the factory is the smell of machine oil. And this is where the story of commitment to employees and sustainability becomes apparent. First of all the oil used here is soy based, not petroleum. The machines on the floor of a factory such as this throw off clouds of oil and here they have implemented a recovery system that recycles this oil that could be wasted and lessens the health risks to workers.
The machines also throw off a lot of shavings, aluminum or steel. And to recycle the shavings they need to be cleaned of the residual oil, which is also recycled, resulting in a barrel of oil being recovered every month or so.
We were treated to lunch in the employee’s cafe.
A puck of aluminum shavings, ready to send to the recycler.
A bean counter might not encourage building an employee cafe. But in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity, it makes sense.
The employee bike storage area was well over half full of bikes even though this was Friday and most people work four tens, Monday through Thursday
. Employees gain cafe credits for riding their bike to work and they receive days off based on how much they ride to work. There is a complete locker room with showers provided for employees.
To my mind this is the best kind of bicycle advocacy, if the intent is to get more people on bikes. Many employees come to Chris King as non-cyclists. They may get an inexpensive cruiser one year in order to take advantage of the perks. The next year they might upgrade to a hybrid and the pattern is established.
The Chris King employee's bike parking
Oh yeah, they make bike frames too. Chris made his first frame in 1978. Now, in a corner of the factory building, is made the Cielo line of bicycles. All of the parts for the frames including the fork crowns and dropouts are made in house too.
Cielo fork dropout
As much as the manufacturing process contributes to environmental responsibility, so does the fact that the components made here are made to last. Many Chris King headsets are in the third, fourth of even fifth bike of their service life. And that, my friends, is a good value.