Manufacturing with Passion: Velocity USA’s Grand Rapids Wheel Factory

During a visit to my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI this past summer I stopped in at Velocity USA, purveyors of finely shaped and colorful formed aluminum. Jill Martindale – resident endurance racing aficionado and winter weather lover – graciously took time out of her day to show me around their manufacturing facility. I’ve been a fan of Velocity for quite a while (still have a 20ish-year-old set of Deep Vs kicking around) and was very geeked out roaming around the factory with Jill, observing the precision processes that go into creating each rim and wheel build, and meeting the folks that make it all happen.

The facility is laid out pragmatically in a giant U-shape that operates something like this: raw aluminum is received through a shipping dock on one end of the U, goes through various processes around the factory floor in a clockwise direction, and then is boxed up either as a finished rim or complete wheel/wheelset to be shipped out via another dock on the opposite side of the U. Jill’s tour included detailed descriptions of each aspect of the wheel manufacturing operation, in addition to the history of the company and how they ended up in Grand Rapids.

The aspect of the facility that most stood out to me, though, was how satisfied and happy everyone seemed. It was one of the most upbeat and fun workplaces I’ve been to; everyone’s jokes and funny stories caused me to take quite a few blurry photos from laughing so much. For me, this is a testament to the environment created by the employees and leadership, which comes across in the products they make, athletes they support, and overall brand story. Following my visit, I asked Jill to send me some of the important points about Velocity’s manufacturing processes to ensure I didn’t leave anything out of my reportage. In return, she ended up sharing a fully-baked and wonderfully written company history.

The remainder of this story is written by Jill Martindale

Velocity USA was started in 1989 by Tom Black outside of Brisbane, Australia. Our first product was an adjustable aluminum water bottle cage called the ‘Velocage’, and Tom’s brother, John Black, began selling the cages in the United States. In 1991 we introduced our first aluminum rim, the Aero, and we made a name for ourselves by being able to produce any quantity of rims in any size, drilling, or color for the custom wheel builder. In 1998, we began to offer fully built wheels and in 2011 we created the Wheel Department in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so that we could produce custom hand-built wheels for unique and specific needs.

In 2012, Tom moved the Australian factory to Florida, and we became one of the only aluminum rim manufacturers in the United States. We made the rims in Florida and shipped them to Michigan to be built into wheels or distributed out to other wholesalers, dealers, wheel builders, frame builders, or the general public. In 2016 we lost John Black to his battle with cancer, and his wife of over 30 years, Linda, took over as co-owner of the company. Tom and Linda consolidated factories, so that everything was done in house, in Michigan. We source our aluminum extrusion from Arizona and roll, drill, anodize, build or distribute, all from our factory here in Grand Rapids!

The long strips of extrusion come from Profile Design and once they’re here they get rolled by hand (with a machine) into a circular coil and then cut into individual rims. We use another chunk of extrusion, perfectly shaped to match the inner cavity of the rim, and a bonding agent to sleeve join the rims together. The join is treated with heat to set the bonding agent and the rims are then moved to the drill. The rims are cleaned of swarf and then anodized in our tanks here in the factory.

We send the polished rims out to a polisher and we send our powder coated white rims out to a local company in town as well. Then the rims are machined with a lathe to be used with rim brakes if needed, decaled, and ready to build or ship. We have had the pleasure of manufacturing penny farthing rims and working with other companies to anodize small parts for their own use. We offer eight custom colors in addition to our standard black, silver, polished, or white rims, so that you can add a little garnish and flair to your ride!

There are 17 employees here at Velocity USA and we are all passionate about cycling and our bike community. We have always felt that our products stand out because of the variety of rims that we are able to manufacture that encompass all of the different types of riding. We build wheels for larger riders, for recumbents, mobility companies, gravel, road, mountain, cargo and E-bikes. Currently we produce 18 different rims in sizes ranging from 16″ to 29″ (including the occasional penny farthing rim) in widths which allow 19c to plus size tires, and in a magnitude of drillings for different hub options.

We test our rims under simulated loads on a machine that we call the “Kill dozer” so that we can recommend specific spoke counts or rims based on a rider’s weight and tire size, to allow for the most efficient, performance-oriented and strongest build. We also work with other bicycle component manufacturers to offer complete US-built wheel options or to cater to our customer’s specific needs.

Check out Velocity’s full product line here