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.
Buy Handmade Wheels Because Robots Kill
I took some liberties with this illustration…
In 1920, the Czech play “R.U.R.,” or “Rossum’s Universal Robots,” was written by Karel Čapek. The story followed a manufacturer who makes a race of servants that ended up revolting, killing everyone in their wake. Karel wrote about these sentient beings and first coined the phrase “robot,” which derived from an Old Church Slavonic word for “forced labor.”
Now, it may come as a surprise to you, but over the years, robots have in fact killed many factory workers, worldwide. More often than not, it’s by shear chance, but the facts are there and as robotic technology continues to advance in factories, one debate has risen: “are we signing our fate?”
All this may sound silly, but for some reason, a recent New York Times article tied into a piece I’ve wanted to write about how you should buy handbuilt wheels. Not just to support your local bike shop, but because the more our industry relies on “R.U.R.s”, the less people it employs… Also, robots will kill us all, dude.
It’s just a thought. Click on below for a visual representation of these OSHA-documented robot fatalities and head over to the New York Times for an interesting piece on the robot labor force.
Andy Waterman Interviews Harry Rowland on Wheel Building
Tracko turned me onto this interview with Harry Rowland the other day and since then, I’ve read it a few times. It’s a great read, accompanied with a couple of photos and a handful of exceptional quotes:
“A lot of my customers, they just want to ride a bike and enjoy it. One of the problems with these factory wheels is they’re such low spoke count that if a spoke goes out on the club run, you’re not going anywhere. You need to call someone and get a lift home. You’ve got to be realistic, save your high end wheels for best. There’s a place for them, but even professionals will train on 32 spoke wheels. When the photographers come along they’ll be on the best gear, but when they’re out on their own without a team car, they’re riding normal wheels.”
Read the full interview at Andy Waterman’s site!
Luxe Wheelworks: Wheel Porn Made to Order
Justin Spinelli has spent years as a professional racer and mechanic. His company, Luxe Wheelworks is nestled in the freshly-established HQ in Boston, where he assembles high-end wheels for clients all over the US. Even if you have no use for his wheelbuilding expertise, you really should check out his blog for some wheel porn.
Also, Justin, thanks for the water bottles!