Race Face has a long history with carbon technology. They released their original Next LP cranks - an aluminum exoskeleton with a carbon charge inside of it - 15 years ago in 1998. Ten years later they re-released Next as a fully carbon crankset complete with hollow arms, implementing a proprietary process closely guarded by the brand. Minor evolutionary steps followed until the Next SL with a titanium spindle was released in 2011. This year, Race Face released not only the lightest production carbon crank set in the world (eclipsing the record set by their original full carbon design
), but arguably the most versatile. The complete redesign, the new Next SL, which we recently reviewed
, is not only modular, but also lighter, stiffer and stronger than previous designs. To learn more about what goes into the production of a full carbon crank, we ventured to Burnaby, BC, where Race Face's design innovation and carbon manufacturing takes place. Manufacturing domestically is a point of pride for the brand and something they have gone to great lengths to preserve.
While it is more cost effective to move manufacturing overseas to Taiwan, where Race Face produces components like chain rings, aluminum cranks, and bars, they are committed to maintaining and expanding their carbon crank manufacturing program in Canada. In the early years, the company took advantage of a government grant program designed to promote Canadian innovation. The program subsidized partial wages and supply costs to offset the risk associated with such an undertaking. The grant provided support for the brand to explore, and eventually prove, design concepts and manufacturing processes in carbon. Driven both by production efficiency and protection of their trade secrets, they have since invested a quarter of a million dollars in new machines and increased their carbon specific manufacturing team. “The pressure to transfer local production overseas is a daily reality of our business. We've had to make concessions in other areas to ensure the carbon crank program remains in Canada for the long term, but when you experience the innovation in the building right now and consider the early success of the Next SL crank, it's proof enough for me that we're headed in the right direction,” says Dave Murray, Operations Manager.
One of the benefits of producing locally is a streamlined R&D cycle; faster turnaround on prototypes and, ideally, a quicker time to market. In some cases the proximity of the carbon room to the engineers has cut the development process by up to six months. With these kinds of results it has been a ‘no brainer’ for Race Face to keep the production local. Additionally, when you have a new and truly unique process, sending your designs off to Taiwan, the melting pot of bike production, can be unnerving. Rather than risk dissemination of their intellectual property or compromise the quality of their product, they instead built a dedicated carbon room in their new facility and began running two shifts daily to produce their handmade Next SL cranks.
When it comes to carbon cranks, Jonathan Staples, Senior Design Engineer, says, “I don’t think there is any argument, they are better.” With six years of carbon technology development under his belt, Jonathan’s ingenuity is driven by his passion for riding and carbon technology development. Currently, the Next SL cranks are 120 grams lighter than their closest mainstream competitor, and according to Race Face their stiffness to weight ratio, when compared to aluminum cranks, is off the chart. While aluminum cranks have been made that approach a similar weight, the end product is too flexible, lacking the desired stiffness. In previous crank designs the spider arms were built-in, creating a challenging and expensive manufacturing process. Additionally, this design did not allow for the adaptation to new standards. In an effort to accommodate riders’ needs, this newest arm set up has a removable spider slot that will remain compatible with the changing standards. The new Cinch System, as it is referred to, has interchangeable parts that can be customized right from the manufacturing facility, at your local bike shop, or in your very own garage. Riders can now transfer their Next SL cranks from their summer bike over to their winter purposed fat bike with the addition of a wider spindle. Jonathan's team have produced a rider driven product that they have crafted from start to finish in in their office. Race Face employs a strong team of riders and engineers who have a unique chance to oversee every step of the product that not only you, but they as well, will be riding.
At the end of the day, costs and efficiency aside, it is a much better conversation for a company to have when they can say their product is made in Canada. There is a lot of pride that comes with producing something locally and selling it to the rest of the world.www.raceface.com