Not long after e*thirteen was sold to the Petaluma, CA based component manufacturer The Hive, an R&D office was opened in our home town of San Luis Obispo, CA. The unique climate and terrain allows e*thirteen to torture test chain guides, cranks, and mountain wheels in extremely rocky terrain, without having to miss more than 10 days of riding a year due to inclement weather.
Much of the work at this location involves design collaboration with e*thirteen engineers in both Taiwan and Petaluma as well as performing lab tests to evaluate wheel stiffness, moment of inertia, and freehub engagement. In addition to these duties, engineers from this office travel to Taiwan on a regular basis to monitor and evaluate production in order to ensure that both quality standards and the production schedule are adhered to.
With the type of real world testing and early prototyping being performed at this location, it is essentially a workshop that is not too different from those kept by many frame builders and fabricators that tinker and tweak their designs until a working, rough prototype is produced. That prototype can then be refined using advanced CAD and machine tools to produce early production prototypes that are then sent back to this office for further refinement and testing until the product meets the desired design and engineering goals.
The man in charge of this office is former SRAM crank engineer and founding member of The Hive, George Dubois. I had an opportunity to interview George and take a few photos of his workshop to give you a real world look into how products are tested and developed at e*thirteen.
Q: How long have you worked for the Hive?
A: We started the Hive back in early 2008, after talking about it for about a year. The first products were the CHUB track & single speed hubs, Fifteen.G crankset (now the e*thirteen XCX+ model) and the original Revl brakes. The main idea behind The Hive is to develop technologies that can be applied across different platforms, like hub internals and crank interfaces. But perhaps I have said too much…
Q: How much riding do you do a week?
A: *It depends*… really… I try to get up on the (Cuesta) grade at least once a week and ride Madonna (yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s not the name but he owned it) and/or Irish hills a few times a week. And always trying for more…
Q: What sets The Hive products apart?
A: Technical Execution. We think all the way through the product to actually give solid benefits to the consumer. Guides that can really be adjusted; hubs and wheels that are meant to be rebuilt; small parts for everything.
Q: What are your QC practices?
A: We specifically pick only factories that are technically capable of producing our parts. Most factories don’t have the know how or capability to execute the P3Connect crank arm interface. We have part and assembly specific gauges in place at all of our factories as well as sound measurement and sampling practices. We also have final checks for correct form, fit and function at the final assembly level. Being a small company, this involves a lot more work up front, but delivers fewer problems in the long run.
Q: How long does it take to develop a new product?
A: It really depends on the technology we are using. Guides have a lot of existing technologies that we can use, so those can be a matter of six months to a year. Wheels take considerably longer. In addition to immediately marketable products, we are always working on “Technology Bed” projects, where we develop a technology independent of the final product. This way, when the technology is proven it can be implemented into multiple products in an efficient manner. Things like freehub mechanisms, bearing assemblies, maybe something I can’t even talk about.
Q: How much testing is done before a product is released?
A: The first step is to physically test any product to exceed EN or DIN safety standards (by a wide margin). This ensures no one will get hurt. Then we release product to various test riders to see if there is room for functional improvements or to reveal any surprises the certified tests don’t capture. That part takes a while and can sometimes lead to mutliple revisions, each time repeating the process. After that, we will continue to test product that is currently being sold in the market to ensure that our quality is maintained and to try to learn more about the processes and materials used. In shop talk, we test the shit out of it.
Q: What was the design philosophy for the e*thirteen wheels?
A: Performance! We kept the rims really light and the hub flanges big. This formula “triangulates” into supremely stiff wheels that spin up and accelerate quickly. They are canyon carving machines. Especially the TRS+ 29er wheels. They will transform your bike.
Q: How come your trail rims are only 21mm wide (inside)?
A: We have done a lot of work with our professionally sponsored racers and settled on 21mm wide after riding a lot of tire/rim width combinations. It currently provides the best balance of weight and rim width with the tires available. If you go too much wider you start to roll off of the tire tread a bit early in hard cornering. We have our eyes keenly tuned to development in this sector. As technology moves forward, we will be ready.
Q: Any plans to start using more carbon?
A: We really only use carbon where it makes structural sense. We have a reluctance to use it just because it’s carbon. In a lot of applications, carbon is used to bump up the MSRP without a solid benefit behind it. We want our customers to be happy with every product they buy from us so we always use the best material for the intended application. But, to answer your question…maaaaaybe.
Q: Any new projects you can share with us?
A: At the moment, no… and don’t look under that blanket. ;)