Inside / Out at White Industries in Petaluma, California

In 1991, with the advent of Shimano’s XTR drivetrain, Doug White felt a pinch. That pinch turned into a financial punch and it was the first time since White Industries opened in 1978 that the small fabrication shop was worried about shuttering their operations. Ironically, the thing that saved White Industries from Shimano’s pursuit of mountain bike drivetrains was the single speed freewheel and the community that embraced SSMTB racing and riding.

Stories like that really resonate with me. Hearing about a small company – by comparison to Shimano anyway – make it after fears of breaking it thanks to a grassroots scene like SSMTB shows just how much companies like White Industries matter to us, the consumers within the cycling industry.

Over the years, White Industries has done their best to address various shifts and demands in the marketplace, while sticking to their guns and making the best dang parts around. In their Petaluma-based shop, I got the grand tour with Alec White, Doug White’s son, at the helm. Alec has really stepped up his presence in the company over the years, pursuing new products, as well as updated designs – like their Center Lock Disc hubs and those spiffy new MR30 cranks. He also spearheaded the newly-released White Industries headsets.

Modus Operandi

Ask Alec and he’ll tell you White Industries isn’t trying to take a bite out of anyone’s market share, they’re trying to simply offer products that fit the brand’s M.O. That is, quality products, machined in-house, using sealed bearings, void of ostentation. Pick up a White headset, or cranks and you’ll see near-squared off edges and their logo. White’s offerings are hardly as aerodynamic or stylized as Shimano’s current XTR group, and yet the consumers seem to love it.

White also exists within the US-made market, alongside their close friends at Chris King and Paul Components. Alec will even admit the success of King headsets and the apparent competition White has brought to the table, while still stating that they are, indeed, two different products. King makes their bearings in-house after all, while White uses sealed bearing cartridges from Enduro.

Operations

Walking into White Industries feels like a number of facilities I’ve visited over the years. There’s an office, a stock room, and the production floor. Within each of these zones are real human beings, some of which are Petaluma natives, and others who moved clear across the United States to work at the company.

The production floor is loud, with the hum of mills and other machines buzzing, like this broacher, manned by Adrian. This machine adds the teeth to the freehub body assemblage by pulling a tapered rod with scaling teeth through the machined ring. It’s a messy job, with milling oil being dumped onto it, yet even Doug himself and Alec have manned it in the past. Today was Adrian’s turn at the machine and tomorrow, someone else’s. You get the sense that it’s an all-hands-on-deck operation. Pardon the seaman expression, it’s hard to not make the analogy with Adrian’s outfit.

Not all operations are human-run at White. A decade or so ago, Doug purchased this robot from Taylor Guitars, who could never get the thing to do what they wanted it to. Doug waited and waited until the price was right, then made the move, bought it, and for years it sat at White, looking for a use. Then, with the advent of the MR30 cranks, Doug programmed it to polish crank arms. Every anodized component at White needs to be polished first. This ensures consistency in the anodizing finish and hue. If you’re wary of the robots taking over, this polishing system is still run by the guy who used to be doing the dirty work. Now he’s much cleaner, however.

Meanwhile, before the cranks ever reach the polishing surface, they are machined from square stock, via a series of processes, all manned by a series of employees. In the back production room, a myriad of mills and CNC machines buzz, as employees move around as if they’re spinning plates. Like Ed, who moved here from the Midwest to work at White. Ed’s a cyclist and we got to ride mountain bikes last Saturday together. I’d like to think when people purchase parts from White, they know they’re not only supporting a company that’s been around since the late 70’s but people who rely on White Industries for a job. Many of which aren’t even cyclists, just humans who love the machining industry.

Ownership

Doug White is lucky. Lucky that he’s got a son like Alec who has taken an interest in the company and invested his time and energy into making it better. While Doug still comes into work many times a week, eventually, it’ll be Alec running the show, making decisions and ultimately ensuring the success of White Industries. Any time Alec and I hang out, we discuss ideas, both in terms of marketing approaches and components. Usually, it’s at an event or over dinner, but sometimes it’s while pedaling a bike.

This trip we finally got to ride on Alec’s home turf. Well, Santa Rosa and Calistoga anyway. You can design parts and components all day, but if they don’t work in the field, the pursuit is moot. These bike rides are essential for Makers, for people who form an idea and see it to fruition, hopefully making the industry and your bike ride better in the end. And yes, White Industries still makes SSMTB components, the very thing that saved this company back in the early 90’s.

Thanks to everyone at White Industries for opening their doors to me. I can’t wait to come back in the near future to document what’s next for the Petaluma-based manufacturer.

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Follow White Industries on Instagram.

  • HurlEverstone

    rad. A Petaluma field trip is long overdue for this flat-lander.

  • Drew Carlson

    Just upgraded from my stock wheelset to a pair hand laced to White Industries CLD hubs and they are a dream! Was a huge factor for me that they are made here, so awesome.

  • EH

    Quick grammer note about “Petaluma-based shop” – companies are location-based, not shops. Should just be “Petaluma shop”. The “-based” is used for abstract entities, not physical ones!

    Great article!

    • Matthew

      grammar*

    • shut up nerd.

    • colavitos_ghost

      COTY!!!!!!

    • Did not know that! Once I’m back at my computer I’ll edit it.

    • Superpilot

      Hi EH. You should have used an em dash instead of a hyphen before the word companies.

  • #43 !!! HOLLA!

  • Alec is crushing it! So cool to see all the new stuff they’ve been coming out with and it feels so good to ride stuff made by real people! Can’t wait to see what’s coming from White! Also I didn’t know that Bennedict had sent the UltraNutmegger to live in Petaluma!

  • Chris Valente

    I could look at machine shop pics all day long…

  • Nicolas Ponroy

    when did WI started to do copies of Berthet’s pedals?

    • Matthew J

      9 – 10 years now. Very well made, BTW.

  • Jared Jerome

    I like the shots of the employees at work too. Even the robot.

    • It all came together so well. I’m really pleased with the portraits!

  • California Travis

    Dude. This whole article and all its photos and White industries themselves are top fuckin notch. Hell yeah.

  • Jonny Fong

    Love the pics John

  • ap

    Dat broacher <3 <3

    • So wild! I’ve never heard of that process before!

      • Javier Daniel Valencia

        Oof. Cool process, but one of my least favorite machines to run. I’m glad they rotate the workers.

  • My next headset.

  • Own three WI freewheels and a set of pedals. I would love to own one of those fantastic square taper BBs’ (like i REALLY want one) But for my dura ace crank i need 111 or 112. They only offer 113, so its a no go. But suffice to say im a big fan of WI, so thanks john for a great article and some excellent as usual photos. You can see so clearly why smaller companies like this, especially US companies deserve our support.

    Also, i would like to have a polishing robot.

    • Nicholas Petersen

      It’d only be 0.5mm out of spec. Alternatively, Phil Wood makes a mighty fine square taper BB in 111mm with up to 5mm of chain line adjustment and bling-y mud guards in various colors.

      • Its for a single speed setup. Im using a 7400 road crank with the chainring on the outer position with 7400 bottom bracket it eas designed for. 112mm. My front chainline is 46.8mm and my rear on a dura ace 7600 hub. A WI freewheel and a 1mm spacer i have a chainline of 46.5mm not perfect but damn close. A 113mm spindle just wouldnt work. I could use a 111mm spindle and lose the rear spacer but a 113 would need a 2mm spacer. That wont cut it when youre using a freewheel on a track hub with only fixed threading. Nothing against the phil wood, but its over engineered IMO. My dura ace BB is fantastic, i only lust after the WI because its as simple as the DA, but the added benifit of sealed bearings.

      • Its for a single speed setup. When i ran it as a 1×10 i actually used a 113mm spindle. Im using a DA 7400 road crank with the chainring on the outer position with a DA 7400 bottom bracket, which is 112mm. My front chainline is 46.8mm and my rear, on a DA 7600 hub with a WI freewheel and a 1mm spacer is 46.5mm. not perfect but damn close. A 113mm spindle just wouldnt work. I could use a 111mm spindle and lose the rear spacer but a 113 would need a 2mm spacer. That wont cut it when youre using a freewheel on a track hub with only fixed threading. Nothing against the phil wood, but its over engineered IMO. My dura ace BB is fantastic, i only lust after the WI because its as simple as the DA, but the added benifit of sealed bearings. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d497787f9fdafd749aebba4ae973838d1a8f696ebbb938d89e26a96c8d2e48cb.jpg

  • mfp

    Looking forward to a visit to profile down in fla.

  • CJones

    I really love these behind the scenes articles that feature the smaller shops dedicated to making bike parts in the USA like White, Paul, etc.
    Keep ’em coming!

  • mp

    In my early days of mtb, a riding buddy of mine purchased a set of white industries wheels, polished on mavic 321 (or somesuch). This was 1994 and $400 of paperboy money was a fortune (since we were riding bikes that were around $800). But what a lovely set of wheels and indeed the high water mark then and still for me now. He let me borrow them for a race, and I ended up winning. In this case, the wheels probably helped a bunch!

    Thanks for this great story – really nice to see the folks that make our fun possible.

  • mrbiggs

    I have a set of White Ind cranks, BB, and freewheel sitting in a box along with a set of Paul Mini Moto brakes that came off a bike I cracked. They didn’t have a home on the new-fangled replacement, but there’s no way I’m selling this bling. If some White and Paul isn’t an excuse for an 8th bike at some point, I don’t know what is.

  • Just upgraded the wheelset on my 2014 All City MM Disc, with a fresh pair of White Industries CLD hubs and some H Plus Son Hydra rims. Too wonderful for words.

  • Jared

    I have had WI on several bikes over the years and now that I am living in Santa Rosa they are my go to for new builds. Excellent quality and local. Nice coverage of the Sonoma County crew (plus Curtis) this week.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    I love White Industries. I’ve been riding their hubs for years and they’ve been on several bikes. It is a dream of mine to work in a shop like this.

  • fab

    Always nice to see how things are produced. Love factory tours :)