Inside DT Swiss

Feb 16, 2016
by Matt Wragg  



It's not difficult to draw parallels between the internals of a hub and a clock or a watch. If anything, the complexity of the mechanism inside a hub pales in comparison to a clock. So it should surprise few people that the world's number one hub maker is based in the home of the world's finest watchmakers: Switzerland. DT Swiss don't have a huge marketing department, they have never been ones to shout about their achievements. Yet if you start to look objectively at the accomplishments, it is hard to see them as anything other than the world's number one. Their hubs are beyond question - only a few of the top providers of high-end exotica are comparable in terms of quality, and none of those other brands provide a full range of products or supply their internals to industry giants such as Trek and Specialized for their OE equipment. Then there are the spokes, they have long been the industry standard for wheel builders, the spokes against all others are measured. More recently they have set their sights on rims too and their range, after a couple of false starts, is now among the best in the world. What do Aaron Gwin, Nino Schurter, Richie Rude, Emmeline Ragot and Greg Callaghan all have in common? They all won on the world stage on DT Swiss wheels in 2015. Yet unless you were paying close attention, you could be forgiven for missing all of this. We traveled to their headquarters in Biel, Switzerland to have a look at what makes them tick.



Inside DT Swiss
We would be lying if we said we weren't a little disappointed that DT Swiss' headquarters aren't some high-tech bunker carved into a mountainside. Sadly, they are simply a nice building on an industrial estate on the edge of Biel, just down the road from the legendary watchmaker, Omega.

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
DT Swiss' spokes have been one of the staples of their business for a long time now. Every spoke begins its life as one of these rolls of wire.

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
The process of making a spoke is in many ways utterly simple, but the efficiency is impressive nonetheless. The wire coils are loaded onto the machines, then slowly spun out into the machine to straighten and true them - they are never stretched during production because this would weaken them. Then they are fed through a series of tools that add the j-bend, roll the threads and finish the spoke off. It is all over bewilderingly quickly, it takes a matter of each second for the wire to enter one end of the machine and a spoke to emerge from the other.

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
This precise work is all backed up by rigorous quality control and while the machines are running there are always people on the floor checking the output. In the spirit of simplicity, they use this uncomplicated looking tool, which although it is no bigger than a credit card it is machined to conform exactly to the measurements required for the spokes, so they can quickly run it over a spoke and find out immediately if it is up to standard.

Inside DT Swiss
Not all spoke are equal, though, and anybody who has browsed the DT Swiss catalogue will know that their Aerolite and other butted and bladed spokes are significantly more expensive than their regular spokes. This room is the reason why.

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
This is as much as we were allowed to shoot of these machines, they are the secret behind the Aerolite spokes - and this is something no other company is doing. No other high end spoke manufacturers comes close to this, their competitors pull the spokes to achieve variable widths along the length, whereas DT Swiss cold forge the blades into the Aerolites. These machines are ultrasonic hammers, which beat the metal into shape - supplied by a labyrinth of pipes to keep the oil flowing to the machines as they run.

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
The spokes are then fed through the regular spoke machine to have their j-bends bent in and threads rolled. The final stage for the Aerolite spokes is being run through huge presses, which press in the blading by hitting each spoke with 500 tonnes of force. When these machines were installed the architects didn't realise how much force they would generate, so at first, the machines beat their way down through the cement floor. To deal with this, they had to reinforce the floor around each machine. If you think of the cost of an item in relation to the time it takes to produce it, you can see that for the Aerolite spokes the cold forging process and blading adds a couple of minutes per spoke to the process, compared to the matter of seconds it takes to produce a regular spoke.

Inside DT Swiss
Today there is only limited production left in Biel as business pressure forced their move of manufacturing facilities to Poland and the Far East, but there is still some production happening there, and the processes and procedures are exactly the same in the new facilities as they are in Biel.

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss
Following this rim being made would be identical in the new facility, just on a much larger scale. Production begins with lengths of metal already formed into the D shape that their bicycle wheels are based on. It is then carefully bent into a curve and cut into wheel-sized circles. Before it can be welded it needs to be scrupulously checked by hand for the quality of material and diameter. While diameter may seem an obvious measurement, it is slight variations in diameter that make some wheels harder or easier to mount tyres onto, coupled with similar variance with the diameter of the tyres.

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
To weld the two halves of the rim together a small, metal block is placed inside the rim on either side and pinned into place to help the rim retain its form under the extreme heat of the welding process.

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
The excess metal from welding is then sanded away to leave a flush surface and structurally, at least, the rim is complete.

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
This Bond villain-esque contraption is a series of drills that drill the spoke holes into the rim.

Inside DT Swiss
Once the rim is drilled it is then ready to be sent off for finishing, whether that is painting, polishing or anodising.

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
With their engineers still based in Biel, DT Swiss maintain an extensive testing facility on site - in this torture chamber they put their rims, hub and spokes through a world of pain. From long-term testing to see how long and under how extreme the conditions they will keep working to brutal impact tests, where they not only measure the forces involved but record the impact in slow-motion to understand more about how their rims fail when they are pushed that far.

Inside DT Swiss
Upstairs in the office block is the relatively modest design team and technical department responsible for all DT's rims and wheels (it was even more, modest than usual on the day we visited, admittedly) Next door is a separate office for suspension, spokes and hubs.

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss

Inside DT Swiss
Taking pride of place in the design office is something the whole team are evidently incredibly proud of: Aaron Gwin's rim from Leogang 2014. That was the run where he blew the tyre off and completed the course on the bare metal - and the rim survived (the hub was cut out by the team to continue using). To put the achievement of that rim slightly further into context - it is the same model of rim that Jared Graves and Richie Rude captured the EWS World Championships on in 2014 and 2015. Although DT are not ones to shout about it, it's hard to deny that in a world of space-age, wallet-bending carbon, that's one hell of an achievement for a $111 aluminium rim.



118 Comments

  • + 103
 I like this kind of articles, but I would have been happy if the part about their hubs was a bit longer.
  • + 33
 no kidding! their hubs are amazing, no hype, they just work. Its not the emo fanboy brand but their hoops and hubs are money well spent!
  • + 5
 I am a DT fanboi, I finally managed to build a complete DT Wheel. EX 471 are amazing. I just wish I had the motivation to buy their 36 POE upgrade kit...
  • + 2
 Definitely a DT Swiss fanboy after riding my current spline wheelset for a year!! @WAKIdesins the 36 POE ratchet is amazing...
  • + 4
 EX471's rip. on my 2nd wheelset build with them as we speak. first ones performed flawless.
  • + 3
 @WAKIdesigns the procedure to install the 36t star ratchets is quite simple. It's only money and you deserve the upgrade. Although I pulled the 36t after only a few rides and have them reserved as backup since I decided to go with the 54t on a couple of my bikes.
  • - 3
 Is there 54?
  • + 2
 Yes, I've been using them for a little over a year now. They were slightly difficult to acquire originally but they're readily available now.
  • - 3
 I think I will start with 36. I am riding a bit of street lately and I have a super crappy NC-17 Pete hub, which has like 12 POE Big Grin
  • + 2
 WAKI i'm running the same 54t ratchet for 2 years now, buzz buzz
  • + 1
 Does anybody know why the price of the 36 tooth ratchets went up by 3x?
  • + 2
 The prices I first saw were for each one. Now most are advertised as a kit with two ratchets, two springs and grease.
  • + 3
 @foghorn1 its the Canadian dollar
  • + 1
 I bought a set, then went to get another set a year later- price tripled, I was like WTF?
  • + 5
 Just about to build up a new wheelset for my enduro bike. Went for the EX471 as well. It's a no-brainer really, price to weight to performance ratio way above the competition.
Kind of sad how everyone is crazy about carbon rims (I considered them myself), when there are so many advantages to aluminium rims.
  • + 1
 @wite-trash-azn
Makes sense, but that was before the loonie tanked.
  • + 1
 "part about their hubs was a bit longer" Spoke pun?
  • + 43
 When I was 19, I took a road trip by myself to Colorado and Utah for 3 weeks. I had a Hayes Onyx rear hub on my bike, which broke in Fruita. Went to LBS who told me the Hayes hub is a cheaper DT brand, whose US headquarters is right down the road in Grand Junction. Went to DT and talked to Dave, told him I was on a road trip and really bummed. Dave took my wheel and sent me to lunch. When I came back, I had a bright shiny new DT 440 with DT spokes on whatever rim I had at the time. Also got t-shirt, stickers, water bottle.

Today I turned 35. I've worked in lots of bike shops and seen many hub failures. I've tried several other brands of wheels/hubs and been let down in some way or another. But during the past 15 years, when it's time to build a new wheel I only buy DT rear hubs and spokes. Not only is the customer service amazing, I still have that 440 hub, now 15 years old and fully functional. Of the various DT hubs I've owned, the only issue has been one broken star ratchet driver, and I still made it home from that ride able to pedal and freewheel.

These hubs are ridiculously simple and reliable. Pull apart with no tools. Nothing to wear out. Engagement isn't the fastest, but I have yet to be in a situation where that matters. These hubs are expensive and the antithesis of flashy, but it does its job so I can focus on mine. As the saying goes, cheap, light, durable - pick 2. DT hubs are some of the lightest out there, and as a heavy rider in the Pacific Northwet, I've found them to be fantastically durable. I usually replace the bearings once every 3 years. Spokes aren't all the same, although they look it. Avoid wheelset a made in China because they have brittle spokes and rarely use spoke prep during the build, so they fall apart within 6mos-1yr. DT makes the best spokes. Yes, long rant, but hey, the DT rear hub and spokes are the only bike components that never change when I build a new bike. Customer for life!
  • + 2
 Dave is the man! Lives just around the corner from me and got me one of my first jobs at DT Swiss when I was in High School. I will never ride another wheelset as long as I live. I just wish they would bring back that distinctive Hugi sound from the late '90s. The new ones just don't have the same ring to them. Great story BTW, speaks to the company's values and dedication to the consumer.
  • + 43
 I like how they included ''Aaron Gwin'' in the description to guarantee that people would read the article.
  • + 42
 "Aaron Gwin" is slowly but surely becoming the new "enduro"... haha!
  • + 9
 Didn't even notice...still read the article.
  • + 4
 wait until the "Aaron Gwin" specific lines of components are rolled out.
  • - 1
 Strictly read the article because I love riding my dt swiss wheels. At this point I avoid most Gwin stories.
  • + 39
 I'd like to see a $1000 Enve rim make it down a tireless WC DH run...
  • + 15
 I would chip in 10 quid to see that.
  • + 38
 I'd like to see a unicorn in the wild.
  • - 1
 It would make it. But if you were to cross Alaska the day after, the Ex471 would do it more happily
  • + 0
 It would be a shame if someone put the brakes on these wheel puns.
  • + 1
 No bajagrande, much better to just roll with it.
  • + 1
 Let's keep the momentum up by suggesting 29" wheels
  • + 2
 29" wheels would totally suit Gwin's style. He's not sending much, keeping it on the ground a lot and this is exactly what 29ers do best.
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns you killed the punstream dude.... ok half points for mentioning Gwin....

Is he tall enough?....we all know he's not really 5'10" so maybe minaar or ratboy will have to show us if 29ers on DH tracks work!
  • + 1
 and before we get loads of dull "heres a 29er on a DH track" videos/references etc......I mean on proper big world cup gnar!
  • + 0
 oh crap... let the executioner spin my head off...
  • + 1
 ----
  • + 34
 Dunno about you lot but I found it wheely interesting
  • + 25
 Couldn't agree more, this article really spoke to me.
  • + 14
 these wheel puns just keep going around and around
  • + 17
 puns are really the hub of any pinkbike comment section
  • + 14
 Yeah you never get tyred of em
  • + 10
 These puns are so full of holes they're like swiss cheese.
  • + 9
 True dat, true dat.
  • + 12
 Nipples.
  • + 3
 rimjob
  • + 1
 burp
  • + 21
 Love these articles. Love to see how are made the products I use or see on trails.
  • + 5
 Yeap, the insights are awesome!
  • + 7
 The second best content on the internet.
  • + 1
 @NascentesMorimur who's the 1st???? Oh wait....never-mind. (giggles)
  • + 16
 @mattwragg another great article.

What happened to the yt article? Is it going to be edited and published, or just binned?
  • + 4
 Cheer! It looks like the YT story isn't going to happen, although there should be a couple of other stories about them coming up.
  • + 1
 Looking forward to them
  • + 12
 "Young guys, you head to the computers and design some cool, techie stuff. Old guys, you head to the factory and make it so"
  • + 13
 Read this whole article in the How its Made guy's voice.
  • + 6
 I used to build custom wheels for a living and we saw all rim types come through the doors. Back when lightweight Stan's hoops were all the rage, we would have days of building with the 355 rims. It was demoralizing trying to wrestle those rims into shape -so much so that we would have to intersperse "vacation builds" with DT's rims to regain our sanity. I will forever be grateful to the machined sidewalls of the 4.1 rims. Thank you DT!
  • + 9
 dt swiss should ask remy metailler to test their rims..
  • + 5
 Good to see them getting credit where credit's due. I'd be interested in knowing more about their carbon rims. Been using 240s hubs for years now and like their quietness and engagement suits me. I've heard servicing is easier than many other top draw kit hubs but I wouldn't know as I get my butler to sort that out.
  • + 6
 Would like to see their facility in Taichung (Taiwan) which is literally next door to Giant Bike C-Tech facility. Can PB arrange a tour there?
  • + 9
 Something about DT suspension as well?
  • + 6
 that was a whole lot of spokes and rims and a whole not of hubs....still interesting i guess
  • + 2
 Fan of their spokes, have used the Revolutions on several builds.
However, I'm not sure even the best DT Swiss engineers would agree with this comment:
"If anything, the complexity of the mechanism inside a hub pales in comparison to a clock."
Seen inside an Omega? Let alone a full-blown tourbillon or grand complication.
  • + 1
 'pales in comparison' does mean a hub is nowhere near as complex as a clock, as you would expect! The sentence before that part however is contradictory almost, depending on how you read it... its just badly worded!
  • + 2
 "Today there is only limited production left in Biel as business pressure forced their move of manufacturing facilities to Poland and the Far East, but there is still some production happening there, and the processes and procedures are exactly the same in the new facilities as they are in Biel."

I am going to guess that production in Poland and the Far East results in lower cost of manufacturing?
  • + 1
 Overhead and labor are probably much cheaper.
  • + 1
 Same with campag. Stopped making drivetrains in Italy, all in eastern Europe to lower manufacturing costs
  • + 2
 Nice read. Just wondering. I thought aluminium bicycle frames needed to be heat treated after welding as the welding process compromised the heat treatment the tubes had before that. Doesn't it happen for the welded rims, did I miss it or is it just not as necessary?
  • + 2
 With that type of weld, there is really not much heat input. I don't think it would affect the metallurgical properties of the rim, but I could be wrong.
  • + 1
 I don't know what type of welding they perform there, I suppose it is friction welding but I could very well be wrong here. I'm not aware of one welding method to affect the metallurgical properties of the rim more or less than the other. No matter how large or small the heat affected zone, at least at the weld the temperature has to be at or above the melting temperature of aluminium (about 660 degrees C or 1220 degrees Fahrenheit). So if that messes with the heat treatment, it would do so no matter what welding process they use. Being extruded, I expect the alloy to be some 6xxx series which is also used by many frame manufacturers for the frames. And they need the post weld heat treatment to avoid brittle fracture at the joint. So I'd expect the same for these rims.

So far I expect that they do actually do perform a post weld heat treatment on their rims. They're not particularly large or irregular compared to a bicycle frame\, but I just wanted to be sure that's what they're doing. Or maybe even more so, if they don't then why not?
  • + 1
 I thought the finished weld looked like a product of friction welding too, but I didn't know how that would work if they pinned the two sides together beforehand, so I looked it up. It looks like they use a welding machine that flash butt welds the two sides together, which is a type of resistance welding that doesn't use any filler metal either. I still don't know how they flash weld it with both sides already riveted together though haha.

I don't if all manufacturers use pretty much the same process or what, but in this video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYUOLGEPw9Q) they heat treat the rims before the weld but not after, so I assume the heat input of the weld process doesn't mess up the heat treatment that they already did to the rim.
  • + 1
 Glad I bought my EX 1750 Splines before they stopped making them for 26. Amazingly light and very durable! I did upgrade to the 36 POE ratchets but didn't notice a huge diff. But i can really tell the diff btwn my hubs and I9's side by side.

My choice boiled down to serviceability (the industry standard for sure) and reliability.

Great article and yes I'm a fanboy
  • + 1
 i'm just sad that they don't have a 26' dh rim anymore. i'm not sure if the EX1501SplineOne is dh ready. i ride a lot with my spicy at my local bikepark(Austrian Alps/brandnertal and hidden tracks) and always on the dh track. my alex rims are almost ripped.
any suggestions? thnx
  • + 4
 The EX1501 wheels use the EX471 rims.
  • + 2
 thanx. maybe i give them a chance. buy recommendation?
  • + 2
 just read the article of manon carpenters bikebuild. she has the same ex471 rims on it. so if she can i can for sure. and i can't crack them for sure, not with major injuries;-)
  • + 2
 I know a couple of people who had carbon rims and now rode EX471s for a second season
  • + 2
 Get an EX471 and lace it up to a 240s hub. Thats what I would have on a DH rig, now i just need to get a dh rig again! Oh yea and the EX1501 spline wheelset would be amazing but I'm pretty sure they don't sell a 12x150mm rear hub laced into it. So lacing up a rear wheel yourself is the only way to go.
  • + 1
 EX1501 uses aerolite spokes but I don't think it's worth it. You'll be better off financially with 240/350 with 741. Also straight pull spokes are more and more common, I got myself such treat. Easier to build a wheel and looks cooler IMHO
  • + 2
 you can get the EX471 rim in 26" (as mentioned above), but you can also get the new FR570 in 26".
  • + 2
 @spicy4me if gwin cant destroy a 471 rim on a worldcup dh racerun without a tyre on it i am sure it will be more than fine for us mortals :-)
  • + 1
 @funkzander should have read more attentively. you're absolutely right.
  • + 1
 I guess I'll go for the fr570. Just because of the 2,5mm of more inner rim wid
  • + 0
 I don't think anyone needs more than 25mm... I had 28mm carbon rims and then went for 25 471s (since I fkng hated carbon rims, like riding with 10PSI more in tyres) - no probs. If you really want tyre stability there is no way around chosing a stiffer and heavier casing.
  • + 1
 @ wakidesigns i like the maxxis highroller 2 in 3cmaxgrip wire the most. that' s one reason why i tend to the wider rim. but hey most of you guys probably ride more miles on bike than me. so i will try the 471s. tey're lighter by the way too.
so thanx for support..
  • + 1
 I just picked up some 26" fr570 rims to build onto 240s, I also have ex471s, the fr570 rims are meaty can't wait to case these haha!
  • + 2
 Smart move playing the Gwin thing.I wouldn't be surprised if they saw a close to 50% spike in sales on EX471's when he lost that tire. I took the bait.
  • + 3
 Wait what model rim was Gwin on? Because that's enticing as f*ck, $111 for a rim that good
  • + 1
 ... as it's labelled on the rim in the picture: EX471
www.dtswiss.com/Komponenten/Felgen-MTB/EX-471
  • + 1
 grüezi usm gsiberger ländle
hoff mal die flagge stimmt. kennst als insider☺sichdr lenzerheide. di meinig zur felgenwahl. ex471 odr fr570 mit maxxis highroller2?
grüße usm ländle
  • + 1
 Good article. I had the pleasure of touring the Cascade Designs factory once. Very cool seeing how all the stoves started out as pieces of aluminum and how they were hand-assembled.
  • + 3
 "ultrasonic hammers"
Oh yeaaah....
  • + 2
 Yes! Cable for spokes comes from Sweden. Here's to DT Swede
www.pinkbike.com/photo/13172380
  • + 1
 My 240 hub has lasted an average of 100 whistler bike park days a summer since 2008. No fuss needed, just go ride! Good job Dt.
  • + 3
 I could only see the nipple piercing.
  • + 2
 Had to figure what you were talking about, but if you look at his back in an earlier photo you will see he is wearing a set of bib and brace overalls.
  • + 2
 haha @iamamodel you should rename yourself to "iamadetective"
  • + 2
 Love these factory tours pinkbike, please keep them coming!
  • + 2
 They did their homework befor releasing the product. That's why it survived. R&D already done.
  • + 2
 Looks like the structures inside CERN ahaha
  • + 12
 Can give you some first hand info about that. Will be at CERN next month. Looking forward. Yes, I am a bit proud of myself there Smile Smile
  • + 6
 We want a proper report with a video starring you taking a tour around the LHC on your bike :-)
  • + 1
 Could actually happen maybe.. My father works there sometimes ahaha
  • + 4
 A rumor has it that CERN has increased the section of hadron collider so right now it comes in plus size.
  • + 4
 CERN is proof that a larger diameter allows for greater speed!
  • + 2
 CERN is a proof for existence of God. Without fine tuning by the designer those two electrons would never collide.
  • + 1
 I thought it was protons...or maybe morons!
  • + 1
 Protons?! So you believe everything they tell you? Smile
  • + 1
 Ok then they are colliding morons ahaha
  • + 1
 I am amazed they kept the hub to keep racing, if I were at DT Swiss I would be doing all type of R&D on those parts.
  • + 1
 @Matt Wragg

Is it true that Giant owns DT Swiss?
  • + 1
 @mattwragg

Is it true that Giant owns DT Swiss?
  • + 1
 Not as far as I know, no.
  • + 2
 DT are owned by Frank Böckmann and Maurizio D’Alberto, who are the bosses there.

They're independent and long may that last.
  • + 1
 Good to know, won't spread that rumor then.
  • + 1
 Matt Wragg gets around.
  • + 1
 Bitchen article!
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