Canadian Carbon Fiber: A Factory Visit with We Are One Composites

We Are One Composites fabricates carbon bike frames, rims, and handlebars in North Kamloops, British Columbia. In this immersive shop visit and tour, Pat Valade delves into the brand’s inner workings, looking under the metaphorical hood, to learn about their origins, inspirations, meticulous manufacturing approaches, and quite literally, what makes the wheels go around…

In a world where everyone is making bike parts, most of the stuff we have access to in bike shops is pretty darn good. Yes, I know, there is a lot of minutiae out there, but I think it’s safe to say you can grab just about any spec of bike off the shop shelf these days and be happy about it. But when you dig deeper, there are a lot of things that can be improved upon, tweaked, and accommodated for each style of rider. In manufacturing, brands are looking to set themselves apart, whether through design, engineering, or customer service, and We Are One Composites, strikes me as one of those brands.

As I rolled down the quiet streets of North Kamloops, BC looking for the address of We Are One Composites, it was hard to imagine that the made in Canada, purveyors of fine carbon goods could be lurking in this quiet, mixed-use commercial and residential area. So many operations or shops in the bike industry I’ve come across, are bracketed by breweries, coffee shops, and any number of other convenient modern-era vices we’ve come to associate with our favorite sport of cycling, they want you to find them and they want you to stick around. If you imagine you’re looking for the office of a high-stakes aerospace engineering firm, instead of a bike company, you’d be more on the right path. WAO is taking a stealthier approach, and after seeing what’s going on inside, I can’t blame them.

Established in 2016 by Dustin Adams, a long-time rider and former competitive racer on Giant’s factory team in the 2000s. Adams was looking for a way to combine the aspects of prototyping, production, assembly, and testing, all under one roof. He saw an opportunity to build carbon products, in Canada, to an extremely high standard. His approach was to eliminate reliance on foreign manufacturing and the potential issues and constraints that can come with working with overseas factory partners.

What came out of this idea, and years of hard work, is We Are One Composites in their current iteration: making a variety of mountain bike and gravel wheelsets, the company has built a cult following with their early wheel releases like The Agent and The Union. They also make a cockpit stem + bar combo known as “Da Package” with a focus on extreme DH durability in a lightweight and compliant package.

They also build their own frame, The Arrival, which is a non-nonsense bike built using their proprietary hand-laid carbon technique perfected with their wheels. Although made in Canada might lead you to think that these wheels come with a hefty price tag attached, through precise construction and thoughtful engineering and manufacturing practices that actually reduce labor, We Are One comes in with some very reasonable (as far as carbon goes – which is not always reasonable) prices.

As I step through the front doors, I’m greeted by an old friend, and We Are One brand manager Nate Schumacher. I know Nate from growing up in Kamloops, and doing some photo work together while he was working for another brand, in my early Vancouver photo days.

We Are One doesn’t operate a physical storefront, so the front office here is quiet and focused. Sales, marketing, and brand leadership all working nearby. That quiet lasts until you step into the manufacturing sections, or paint workshops in the rest of the building.

Here you’re greeted with a determined bustle of activity. A quick detour over to the break room for a cup of coffee, and we are on our way for an hour-long tour of the facility with Adam Marchand, their lead engineer.

What followed was a smorgasbord of engineering feats, through the various phases of the manufacturing processes that WAO’s 60 staff embark on to put their products into the world. From CNC tooling for molds, to hand drilling every hole on every rim, it was incredible to witness the work and detail going into the products we see out in the world.

Just a quick perspective check. I’m an art school grad. My manufacturing and engineering knowledge is limited. The details Adam was excited to share, despite his best efforts to pretend he was talking to a child, had my head spinning.

However, a few things were abundantly clear. WAO cares about making incredibly high-quality, precision products while maintaining a tight grip on every single step of the process. Nothing here is left to chance, and you can see that in the work in each department, and the finished products out on bikes in your local hills.

They test their products to the limits, in a vigorous in-house quality control program, exploring every “what if”.

My first stop was a look at the CNC machine section of the building, a group of wildly expensive-looking machines, milling molds for a variety of products.

With complete control over the process, WAO can prototype on the spot, whenever inspiration hits, or the engineering department comes knocking. They create molds for each of their products in-house. It was amazing to see these machines in action, and they recycle all the scrap aluminum created in the process.

Pushing through the doors into the cutting room, you’re greeted with large tables and vast amounts of carbon fiber. A precision cutting machine whirred back and forth across a large tabletop covered in thin carbon sheets. Different sizes and widths matched up to each rim model and packaged off to the assembly room.

We then poked our heads into the room where your favorite We Are One wheels are hand-laid. A conveyor belt runs the length of the room, with several assembly stations, and the mold for each rim model and the Arrival is within easy reach. The team building these rims, and laying each carbon strip by hand, all donned headphones and worked away methodically. I wonder what they were listening to?

Once the molds are laid, they get rolled along the conveyor into the next step of the process where they are ready for curing. Some steps with some secret WAO sauce are mixed in here before the rims head off to be cured in an extremely hot room of giant ovens. The proprietary process We Are One has developed for the lay-up of these wheels, allows for precise fiber placement, with no drifting or bridging during the layup process. This ensures all strands are under correct elongation, and ensures the load is carrying evenly as it should.

Rims are then trimmed of leftover resin and are ready to ride. That’s it. The process is streamlined, removing labor and the environmental issues that can arise with the use of chemicals for prep and paint, or the need to repair blemishes out of the mold.

In the drill room, for some reason one of my favorite spaces, each rim is placed into a jig, the holes hand-marked, and then drilled. This is a more reliable, and efficient process than having some sort of automated robot doing the work.

Outside of this room rows and rows of hoops are lined up on the wall, ready to head for a quality control inspection, and then to be laced into hubs. As I walked over to the quality control area, the team paid me not the slightest attention. Which is exactly what you want. They were focused on making sure not a single small issue slipped past them.

I stuck my camera in the face of We Are One’s mechanic, determinedly assembling a shiny new Arrival, ready to roll out the door, a few rolling carts were assembled with 3D printed parts holders for each build, ensuring a quick, smooth build process.

A little jaunt next door and I was on my way to the last stop of the tour. The paint and finishing section. I arrived at the perfect time and was able to stroll around the paint booth, seeing the light bounce off the brand-new finish of a set of arrival frames.

Headphones in, eye-pro on, and the finishing team was taking the last passes at frames, rear triangles, and bars. The light in here was a photographer’s dream, and I probably spent too long in there.

I hope you enjoyed a peak behind the carbon fiber curtains of We Are One. Seeing the We Are One employees’ hard at work, making some of the best carbon wheels out there, and an all-made-in-Canada frame, was very impressive. In a world full of great bike parts, and quality brands to support, We Are One makes a case for reasons to spend your hard-earned cash with them if you’re after that carbon fiber feel.