Lightweight Factory Tour

110902-lightweight-23-wpTop Secret. Every manufacturer that I have ever visited has a Top Secret, behind the curtain section that is corded off to only those with the proper clearance. Lightweight goes beyond any limited access areas that I have seen in our industry. For good reason, Lightweight is more than just a wheel manufacturer. They are a carbon company first; wheels are just one of the products that they produce in their factories. Lightweight is contracted to build satellites, MRI equipment, airplane components, Formula One parts and a slew of other really cool stuff that requires exacting manufacturing to tolerances measured within 1000th of a millimeter. Think what would happen if the MRI track that the camera rides on is out of true or if a satellite camera mount is off by just a hair. Lightweight lives on the razor’s edge of tolerances like no other company in our industry.

110902-lightweight-18-wpThe Holy Grail of wheels is the perfect combination of Lightness, Strength and Aerodynamics. Maximize all three and the result is performance without compromise: rapid acceleration, durability to NYC pothole standards and wind cheating speed with less effort. Most manufacturers will give you one or two of these features. Lightweight, through their exacting standards and technology, provides all three. There isn’t a better wheel on the market today.

110902-lightweight-05-wpAs you walk through the factory it is clear that handmade craftsmanship is a large part of the equation that is added to cutting edge technology. The people building your wheels look and act more like scientists in a lab than your typical wheel builders. Each wheel takes close to twenty hours to produce. No one person in the factory knows every step on how to build the wheels. This is by design. Lightweight has two manufacturing facilities, approximately 100 miles apart. The wheels get shipped after phase one completion to the second facility for final proprietary assembly and alignment. Top Secret in Lightweight terms is taken very seriously.

110902-lightweight-08-wpErhard Wissler, Lightweight President, shared with me the latest testing device that took two years to develop. It was unveiled just one day before I took these photos. Final programming was still being worked out. This machine will change all wheel manufacturing standards and testing protocols. In a two minute automated process, the wheel is tested for roundness, trueness, parallel rim surface deflection, lateral strength and braking performance. Lightweight requires a maximum of .3mm of parallel rim deflection on all their wheels. At .4mm the wheel will create a frequency that causes the wheel to squeak during breaking. Other high end carbon wheels have been tested by Lightweight to have .57mm of deflection and higher. You clearly get what you pay for with Lightweight.

Speaking with the design engineers enlightened me to what is possible with wheel technology. I was shown a 700 gram wheel set. Not a wheel, a front and rear wheel totaling 700 grams. They are known as “Climbing” wheels. Climbing wheels are just that, you can climb with them however you shouldn’t descend with them. They will never come to market because there is no way to guarantee that the cyclist won’t descend with the wheels. Jan Ulrich had a set but he broke the golden rule. He was successful on the descent, but he ruined it for the rest of us.

110902-lightweight-16-wpThis is a picture of another wheel that you can’t have. It is a six spoke prototype that ended up weighing more than the new eight spoke. How can that be, you ask? Lightweight doesn’t just remove spokes to make wheels lighter; they maintain their strength and stiffness standards by beefing up the rim construction. This caused the six spoke to weigh more than the eight spoke.

The new eight spoke debuted at eurobike on the Parlee TT. This is a wheel that you can purchase. It is expected to come to market in nine months. It has been independently tested in the wind tunnel and in combination with its minimal weight will set a new standard for all high end performance wheels. Pro teams are already lining up to purchase the wheel for next season. Yes, Pro teams purchase Lightweights. Lightweight’s rear disk finished on the top five TT bikes at this year’s Tour de France. They were of course labeled with the team’s sponsored wheel manufacturer. A well known secret in the pro peloton.

110902-lightweight-21-wpYou can experience the Holy Grail of wheels by making an appointment to demo a set of Lightweights. A great set of wheels will totally change the performance of any bike. When you are ready for the best combination of lightness, strength and aerodynamics, Lightweight is there to deliver with satellite accuracy. Top Secret? No, but pretty darn close.