By Hand Is the Way: Cane Creek Components Factory Visit

Just south of Asheville, NC, in the town of Fletcher, is the Cane Creek Cycling Components headquarters. Backed up to the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s here that they assemble all of their suspension forks, shocks, and brakes by hand and continue to carry the torch of design innovation lit by their predecessor, Dia-Compe USA. Photographer Steve West is back from a factory tour and shares about the Cane Creek process below.

Back in the 90’s I was heavy into mountain biking. After trying a few different brakes, I eventually got hooked on the Cane Creek Direct Curve brakes. They just felt right and I rode them for years. I finished out the cockpit setup with the Cane Creek bar ends. They were a little different in design and didn’t throw you so far forward while using them. Both components served me well; they were just good quality parts that worked and lasted. Having grown up in Asheville, NC, I always knew I wasn’t far from the Cane Creek factory, but I had never made a stop in to visit the historic space. Until now.

I worked at Litespeed Bicycles in Chattanooga back in 2001 and, in one form or another, cycling has been a consistent part of my life ever since. A few weeks ago, I decided to make the trek from Atlanta up to 355 Cane Creek Road for a factory tour (easy to book online). It was a good reason to visit a friend and to finally see the mythical Cane Creek factory where such industry-shifting designs, like the first threadless headset and early mtb disc brakes, were brought to light.

Leading the tour was Peter Gilbert who’s been at Cane Creek for 35+ years and, as a result, has been a firsthand witness to some monumental shifts in cycling technology. Most notably, he was an integral player in bringing the threadless headset to the world in 1992, back when Cane Creek had yet to be born from the brand Dia-Compe USA. That Cane Creek started out as a US-made component line from Dia-Compe was something I hadn’t known. Dia-Compe was the Japanese brake company that I rode with in high school. What I also didn’t know was that Cane Creek/Dia-Compe built the first Rock Shox forks in this same building. You can read a lot of this history on the website, but it felt different hearing these origin stories in the place where they unfolded.

Cane Creek assembles and tests all of their forks, shocks, and brakes on site in western North Carolina, where the unruly trails of nearby Pisgah work as their products’ proving grounds. Walking around the facility, what first caught my attention was the crew building the suspension forks and shocks by hand. Here, I met Rufus, a guy with his own t-shirt design that asserts: “You ain’t a man if you can’t can” (In case you’re mentally stumbling over this one, it’s a reference to the install process for Cane Creek’s air shocks where, rather than using an installation tool, Rufus installs the air cans by hand!). Even the tool, a large fixture really, to press in fork seals and steerer tubes is done by hand; you won’t find any blind pneumatic pressed forcing of parts together here. Since 1995, “by hand” has been the Cane Creek way.

A constant blur of activity and dyno machines soon had me headed towards the eeBrake assembly section. These insanely light rim brakes are like building an intricate 80 gram puzzle. I also found another 30+ year veteran of Cane Creek named Dianne. She assembles all of the headsets that roll through Cane Creek.

Her three-plus-decade tenure means that Dianne was likely there when Cane Creek (then Dia-Compe USA) made waves in the cycling world by bringing to market the first threadless headset in 1992, the punnily-named Aheadset. If you ride a Yeti, Ibis, Santa Cruz or have a Cane Creek headset on your bike – it went through Dianne’s hands first!

The back corner is the machine shop, which I quickly learned is Tim’s domain (and you can feel it.) He’s back there machining prototype parts that prove Cane Creek is still pushing design and function today. As the tour came to a close I found myself surrounded by all the products Cane Creek produces in a special area set aside for outside visitors. You really get a great overview of everything the team at Cane Creek has been doing over the years. I also got my mind blown again with the eeWings cranks and found a new goal to save for.

If you find yourself near Asheville, NC I would highly recommend stopping in for a tour. Be sure to say hey to Rufus and Dianne.