It’s All Ball Bearings: Chris King Precision Components Factory Visit

Within a relatively straightforward product lineup, Chris King Precision Components manufactures hubs, headsets, bottom brackets, and, perhaps most importantly, the bearings inside that make them spin. On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, Josh spent some time at the Chris King HQ factory to learn more about the company’s origins and what makes it continue to stand out in a crowded space of bearing-centric bicycle components. Read on below for the full rundown of what goes on at CKPC’s giant vegetable oil-fueled machine shop!

When I built up my Alumalith last year, I sent in a set of 30-ish-year-old Chris King Classic hubs and a 1-1/8″ headset to the factory for servicing before reusing them on my new project. I remember thinking, at the time, of how few bicycle parts I could or would do that with. Since I was a kid, I’ve imagined King parts to be like top-shelf jewelry. If a store had a glass case holding King hubs or headsets, there was a pretty solid chance they were legit.

There are very few components I’d remove before selling a bike, but I guarantee I’m going through the effort of pulling a Chris King headset or swapping wheels with King hubs before letting a bike out of my possession.

Buy why? Well, while King parts look stunning —with their ever-evolving candy-colored lineup of anodized finishes and iconically etched CHRIS KING logos— their true value isn’t visible on the surface. It’s all about the ball bearings inside that make them function. CKPC has been machining its own surgical-grade bearings in-house since 1983. They have complete control over the production process, from sourcing raw stainless steel stock to final assembly. And their products are guaranteed for life.

Before I share more about why King’s bearings are special, let’s start from the beginning.

In the Beginning

Chris King Precision Components turns 48 this year. Currently based in Portland, the brand actually started in Santa Barbara, California, in 1976 when founder Chris King set out to make the best bicycle headset. The brand has dabbled in other ventures over the years, including the offshoot framebuilding label Cielo, which King built frames under from 1978 to 1982 and then resurrected in 2008 for another nine-year run and an additional 1,000 frames.

John documented Chris King’s self-built Cielo in Japan in 2016

These days, their focus is solely dedicated to bicycle components that contain their in-house produced bearings (and rims, but we’ll get to that later), which remains a challenge in an industry that likes to change and add new standards every few years. Headsets, for example, have come a long way from the original 1” 2 Nut to the integrated DropSets and AeroSets available today.

Once headset and bearing production began in the 80s, hubs followed in the 90s. King initially experimented with silent Sprag clutch bearings but found them heavy and difficult to maintain.

RingDrive, the unique hub drive technology still used today, was patented in 1997.


I’d visited the CK factory multiple times over the years, either for events or to see my buddy Steven who’s worked in the building for a while, first as a finisher for Cielo Bikes and now as the general manager for SimWorks USA whose warehouse and offices are on site.

Before this past January, however, I had regrettably missed opportunities for an official facility tour. I even missed out on the tour led by the man himself during the inaugural MADE show this past summer. John and I, of course, spent our post-show evenings editing and publishing day-by-day recaps in real time. But even without an official tour, the building seemed different than many other established machine shops I’ve visited—there was a noticeable cleanliness, on the floor but also in the air, thanks to the absence of the overwhelming smell that typically accompanies cutting fluid.

Because it makes sense

Jay Sycip, Sports Marketing and Event Manager (who led a majority of the tour) pointed out that Chris King claims he was green before green was a thing. But more than being sustainable for the sake of it, Chris envisioned long ago the positive impact such practices would have on his business processes and employees. And, it would help him control nearly every aspect of what happens inside the factory.

You might recall the news that Chris King let their B-Corp certification lapse a couple of years ago (this is the status bestowed by B Lab for corporations that adhere to specific sustainability metrics). Similar to farmers who have to prove organic status, the B-Corp label had become a time-consuming and costly exercise to evince what they had already been doing for decades. Plus, with other corporations clamoring to claim the status as a marketing move (um, Nespresso?), it didn’t seem relevant for a well-established company like King any longer.

The reasons why became clear from the start of the tour where material enters the building.

Metal with a side of vegetable oil

CKPC runs vegetable oil through their machines rather than relying on single-use toxic chemicals for CNC cooling and cutting. The cost of using this sustainable alternative is that production times are slowed but, on the other hand, the oil is infinitely reusable. Much of the oil being used today is, in fact, years old.

Metal chips are gathered from the oil after parts are cut and the oil is pressed out of them while turning the chips into dense pucks. Metal is then sent out for recycling while the oil goes back into the machines. There are also humans on-site running the machines, of course, and vegetable oil is infinitely better for their skin and general health than the alternatives.

Heat treating for machined bearing races also happens in the factory via a giant vacuum oven. Excess warm air from the oven (and other machines that make and need heat) is piped through an extensive water mass loop that circulates warm air through the building during colder months.

Then, when it’s warmer, according to CKPC: “This allows us to transfer the heat generated through our daily processes to the water mass and store it there until night time when we can use the ambient air temperature outside to cool the water mass and start the cycle over again.”


While many people envision the hub, bottom bracket, and headset shells when they think of Chris King, the bearings within those shells differentiate their components from other brands.

They are the only, if not one of a very small few, manufacturers who also make their bearings in-house. The bearings, first designed in the early 80s by Chris, were the first to be used specifically in bicycle applications.

Bearing manufacturing and related processes comprise over 60% of the manufacturing portion in the factory’s 73,000 square-foot floor space and there are over thirty steps required to produce a finished product. Some of these include: blanking, heat treating, grinding, polishing, quality control, and assembly. The bearings are made from 440c stainless steel sourced from domestic and European mills.

According to Sycip: “CK bearings are designed to wear in and not wear out. As the bearing races burnish with use, they become faster and faster as the miles stack up. King bearings are also fully serviceable without any special tools, allowing every rider to keep their bikes in ideal condition for life. This also keeps bearings out of landfills and means that riders rarely, if ever, need to replace them.”

CKPC’s in-house production contrasts other brands that source sealed cartridge bearings from 3rd party manufacturers like Enduro or overseas options.


There is a lot of tech talk around a place like Chris King, but two long-standing innovations are worth taking a closer look at.

The first is RingDrive in their hubs, for which CKPC received a patent in 1999. In a conversation with Greg Hudson, CK Sales Manager, he helped explain the unique functionality of RingDrive:

“The drive ring engages the driveshell using a helix spline which forces it against the driven ring which is held in place by splines machined into the hubshell. These 72- or 45- teeth are what give their hubs simultaneous points of engagement, rather than a pawl system. This system provides a stronger and more consistent power transfer.  This sound of the drive and driven rings riding over each other helps create the signature angry bee buzzing sound. Since their patent expired, we’ve seen many other hub companies adopt a similar system to the RingDrive.”

Regarding RingDrive, Sycip told me, “[It’s] never been broken in testing, withstanding over 800-foot pounds of force before our test rig broke. Making these pieces in-house allows us to precisely control the quality and consistency of every single one.”

Then there’s GripLock, which is found in all InSet, DropSet, AeroSet, and 1-1/8″ NoThreadSet headsets. It’s a unique headset design that isolates riding forces from the fork’s steer tube by introducing a second wedge into the system. GripLock headsets are made to stay tight, without damaging steer tubes, even under hard hits.

Finishing and Assembly

Once parts are machined and pass quality control, they enter the finishing process. Certain pieces are tumbled in walnut shells with proprietary polishing fluids, while others are sanded and polished by hand or robotically.

Yep, there’s a fairly large robotic arm sitting amidst the sea of CNC machines that runs components over a circular polishing brush. For parts that get the signature matte finish, media blasting is also done in-house.

At one time CKPC also ran an internal anodizing process, but that’s one step that has been outsourced. Once parts return to the factory, they are laser-marked and then sent to assembly.

Following the finishing, bearings are hand-assembled and pressed into headset cups, bottom brackets, and hub shells. All assembled parts then go through a final quality check before shipping out.

Full circle with wheel building

CKPC have a long history of selling complete wheelsets and they are on the third iteration of their wheel department within the factory. During the 90s—as the industry shifted away from a bike shop-based wheel-building paradigm to a “wheel systems” approach—they offered aluminum Mavic road and mountain rims laced to King hubs. In the early aughts, the program expanded to incorporate models from DT Swiss but it was always difficult to compete with the complete wheelsets coming from other manufacturers.

The second go at a wheel department was formed in 2013 and featured a broader offering of rims from brands like Stans, HED, Zipp, and ENVE. King hubs were, of course, the main draw, but this approach allowed them to put a complete wheel in customers’ hands quickly.

For a while, it was hard to find an ENVE wheelset without King hubs. This was seen as a success and eventually made sense for King to develop their own rim. However, Chris had concerns about putting his name on something made overseas.

Enter FusionFiber. We’ve reported extensively on the material and the three rim options King is offering, so I won’t belabor this too much, but the combination of recyclability, domestic production, and inherent reliability of FusionFiber dovetails well with King’s ethos.

While they still offer rims from a few other brands, the MTN30 (MTB), GRD23 (gravel), and ARD44 (road) are their proverbial bread and butter. And they have a new wheel department built up around them.

John’s MTN30 Review

Josh’s ARD44 Review

Crumbs’ GRD23 Review

All wheels are laced by hand at the factory and 99% are built to order. Right now, you can expect custom wheelsets to ship within 2-7 days from the time they are ordered.

I was impressed to see the equipment they are using to build and check wheelsets. To retain high tolerances they use tools like P&K Lie truing stands, a house-built spoke tension meter calibration fixture, and stress tester. The stress fixture ensures wheels are ready to ride out of the box and don’t require a “break-in” truing. The machine applies a repeatable amount of stress to the wheel on both sides to set the spokes and allow for any unwinding when using round spokes.



It’s all ball bearings

Irwin M. Fletcher (disguised as A&P mechanic G. Gordon Liddy) once famously declared: “It’s all ball bearings, nowadays.” And for Chris King and the folks running his namesake factory, precision ball bearings are the foundation for making high-quality and long-lasting bicycle components with innovative technologies.

After nearly fifty years in business, CKPC continues to be one of the premier makers of top-shelf hubs, headsets, and bottom brackets. While you might spend a little more up front on King parts than with other brands, rest assured your investment is servicable, backed by an impressive guarantee, and made in a leading-edge facility by a lot of folks who care a great deal about what they do.

Thanks to Jay and the team for having me out. I thoroughly enjoyed finally getting to see what goes into making those wonderfully spinny parts!