Meet Your Maker: KT Taiwan's Massive Hub Facility - Taipei Cycle Show 2024

Mar 13, 2024 at 15:38
by Dario DiGiulio  



Meet Your Maker is going to be a new series for the site, highlighting the people, places, and things that bring you the bikes and components you love. Today we have another installment from Taiwan, this time focusing on a large-scale component manufacturer.

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KT Taiwan is a massive hub manufacturer, with a focus on the mid- to high-end OE market. They make hubs for dozens of companies, to a variety of specifications and finish levels. The massive company had fairly humble beginnings in the 1940s, as a failed frame fabricator turned hub manufacturer. Their hub business saw its biggest boon when the United States government required that all kids' bikes come spec with coaster brake hubs, driving the need for that specific assembly through the roof. KT was positioned to answer the need, and geared up to satisfy the massive orders being placed.

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Most of the hubshells start off as simple bar stock, imported from Dubai.

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Cut to length.
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And cold forged into shape.

The initial shaping process is simple and brutal, with alloy stock smashed into shape by a series of massive cold forging presses. These get forged one by one, with each piece of stock loaded by hand.

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Smusher #1.

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Smashing station.
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Various work holding jigs, forms, and a big hammer.

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Operation one.
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Operation two.
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These forging machines live in a massive warehouse adjacent to the machining and assembly areas, but they're not alone. In the same bay live the machines that put KT on the map, critical to older and less relevant products that still sometimes see use.

These are the machines that brought us here, thanks to our friend Joseph at Ponderosa Industries. Joey is a mechanical engineering consultant in Taichung, and mentioned KT's "dinosaur machine" a number of times during dinner one night - prompting this visit to see it for ourselves.

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The dinosaur machine is literally too large to photograph completely, but it all revolves around these 5 shaping heads.

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The heart of the beast.
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More internals.

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Mostly mechanical, with a little GameBoy computer readout providing some interface.
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It makes these, 40 of them a minute. The steel hubshell for a coaster brake, which were at one time the lifeblood of KT. At this point they only turn the machine on once per quarter, when a run of coaster brake hubs is needed.

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The other titan in the room is old Aida here, a freewheel sprocket cutting machine.

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The business end.
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And the part that is safe to touch.

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From here, hub blanks head to the machine shop, where a series of operations take the blanks down to their final shape.

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Machining on the left, assembly on the right.

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Ratchet hub internals.
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And some very fancy Marameter plug gauges for quality control.

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This is what I will be referring to as the spoke poker, a press dedicated to stabbing spoke holes in hub flanges.
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One by one, side by side.
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One of the punch heads up close.
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Of which they have a very wide variety.

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The small parts storage at KT was quietly impressive, given the massive quantity of ingredients they have to keep track of.

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Some finished hubshells laid to rest.

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I have questions about this hub.
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Goods ready to go.

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The assembly zone, a quiet and methodical process.
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A sealed bearing press.
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And its vintage counterpart, for loose-ball bearings.

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This machine tests for resistance in finished hubs.
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And this one applies the perfect amount of grease.

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Another vintage machine, simply dubbed "the money maker." This was the assembly line for coaster brake hubs.

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Screw-on freehub tightening machine.

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Lockrings.

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One of the finished products. This is KT's highest end mountain hub, with 612 points of engagement.
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There are three engagement options available for their ratchet hubs.

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Finished hubs.
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All laced up.

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Since their inception in 1947, KT Taiwan has been a family-run business. Now entering their third generation of the dynasty, Hubert (father), and Alex (son) are making sure things operate smoothly and that they're ready for the next coaster brake boom.

Taipei Cycle Show 2024
Grandfather, father, son.

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Hubert is quite fond of these beautiful fish.
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A signed Ritchey, given to Hubert by Tom as thanks.

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Full bloom in the company garden.
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Ball is life at the company court.

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Rig of the day.





Author Info:
dariodigiulio avatar

Member since Dec 25, 2016
194 articles

80 Comments
  • 185 2
 It's easy to throw shade on overseas manuf. at times but when you see the focus, investments and the faces behind this stuff....they take pride in their work and manuf to a high quality, as much as any US manuf does, it really makes you appreciate things beyond material value, even outsourced hubs, when there is a story behind where they came from. Cool article. I do always try to buy US made stuff but not at the expense of overpaying for a label, less quality and poor company principles.....hard to navigate that most of the time though.
  • 8 0
 Would be also interesting to see the number of QC persons from different brands flowing around
  • 19 0
 KT has been around for a while. I worked in a custom wheel shop (we also had our on cust hubs and parts) from the mid 90's off and on thru early 2000's. KT Taiwan is a much trusted manufacturer for sure. Taiwan is cranking out some really good stuff since the 90's and is improving. Their ethos is quite different compared to man yChinese offerings for sure.
  • 21 2
 @bman33: I read a research paper awhile ago that stated that a common Chinese mindset is about winning or getting ahead at all costs, which leads to high cheating rates in school and stuff like cost cutting later on. By contrast, a large part of the Taiwanese mindset is honestly(or pureness of soul), which yk is probally gonna lead to better products.

This was awhile ago, so im sorry if any info is wrong. It was a paper about differences between Chinese and Taiwanese mindsets so its also out of context slightly.
  • 76 3
 No shade should be thrown at Taiwanese MFG's - The Taiwanese have a democratically elected government (we in the west could learn a thing or two from their passion for democracy) People's quality of life matches or exceeds ours in NA , they pay their employees well , their quality & innovation is on point.

The issue is that most north Americans dont understand enough about Asia to know the important differences between Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam or China etc
  • 20 2
 @dgwww: >The issue is that most north Americans dont understand enough about Asia to know the important differences between Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam or China etc

Bang on. And realistically these countries have manufacturing capabilities and techniques that we can't offer in the US. Unless you're making hubs (sub frames, forks, brakes, etc) at low volume, there really isn't the pipeline to support high volume manufacturing outside of China and Taiwan.
  • 8 2
 @joebiden: I wouldn't dare to make such sweeping statements. I have a (strong) opinion about politics (Taiwan vs China as polar opposites) but even though I do have my perception (or preconceptions) as well about the people, I wouldn't dare to state them as facts.

That said, I do love the article and feel the art and quality of forging is getting too little appreciation (compared to CNC for instance). This is great stuff we're seeing here and the huge quantity of quality hubs they're able to pump out implies they're getting tons of people on bikes. For some, bikes are recreation. But for many (including me) they are an essential means of transport to get to school, work, shops and friends.

Glad companies like these are around.
  • 9 1
 @joebiden: This was indeed a common mindset, when coming to schools in NZ foreign students had to take tests to put them in the appropriate classes, but it was common for Chinese students to pay someone to take the tests for them because they wanted to get the highest grade. I had to develop a tool to photograph whoever was taking the test, and check for any external keyboards etc to make sure the person taking the test was the person being graded.
  • 5 14
flag sanchofula (Mar 14, 2024 at 15:50) (Below Threshold)
 @joebiden: Sounds like it could have been written about Americans, seems like our country is founded on getting ahead at all costs. As a culture, China has a far more balanced mentality historically than Americans, and the breadth and depth of their history makes ours look quite thin.
  • 3 1
 @vinay: Yea, thats why I included the bit at the bottom. It was a paper intended to make some sweeping generalizations, I was just using it for a debate case.
  • 3 2
 @sanchofula: Idd beg to differ - while amercian culture can defiantly be mirrored to chinese culture, I think we glorify work, while they view it as means to an end. Civic duty vs personal responsibly. Again, I dont really know this, so you do probally know more than me.
  • 2 0
 @radbarttaylor
But something made in the US is usually not completely made here. Parts or materials may come from somewhere else. The reason i9 has done well is not because they are American made but because their designs were innovative and high quality. I have lots of their hubs because they are the best not because they are made here. Now more companies make similar hubs but I still think they are the best.
  • 3 0
 Neat to see some products I recognize being made. No surprise that DT uses a reputable factory for 350 hubs-the gold standard.

Hope to see more “behind the curtain” pieces!!! And maybe more food pics
  • 5 2
 @joebiden: Oh yeah, I spotted that no worries. My response was aimed at such generalizations being published, by such papers in this case. China is such a huge country, it'd be like saying people from Finland and Spain have a similar mindset and way of life.

Yet at the same time, obviously a repressive regime has a huge i nfluence on how people can and dare to express themselves. I don't question there are amazing, beautiful and kind people living in both China and Russia. Thing is, those who dare to stand up and speak out won't be able to do so for long.
  • 4 0
 They are the same workshops I saw at Piaggio in 1996!
European/American production of quality, innovative, precision and with current safety rules is something completely different, and it can also be seen in the products.
  • 1 0
 @dgwww: yes.
  • 5 0
 As a manufacturing engineer for the past 20 years, I've seen it all. The saddest thing in American manufacturing is the evaporation of pride and give a shit and the overwhelming drive for more margins. Hate to say it but so much of the state side manufacturing is dependent on a worker that was hired through a temp agency and doest care because they won't be there in a few months. American quality is becoming a challenge.
  • 3 0
 @dgwww: "The issue is that most north Americans dont understand enough about Asia to know the important differences between Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam or China etc"

perfectly stated and on point
  • 5 0
 @sanchofula: I certainly have lots of criticisms of American culture, but to call the Chinese mentality balanced is patently incorrect in my opinion. What we refer to as "chinese" history is actually many kingdoms who have only recently merged into what we know today as China. For example - before the CCP there were over 90 distinct languages in China, today they are rapidly zeroing in on Mandarin as the sole survivor. As a citizen who's culture is steadily eroded by the overbearing influence of the USA - I'm not their greatest fan, but I would choose the USA 100 times out of 100 over the CCP.
  • 2 0
 @sanchofula: Sure, up until the Cultural Revolution. Seems that part of history isn’t taught anymore. I agree with you on the American front—that is a large part of our culture. Why else would parents spend thousands on SAT prep classes and bribe university officials to get their kid in? Chinese and American culture are probably a lot more common in that respect now.
  • 2 0
 @foggnm: totally, that's kind of what I was getting at, it's tough to navigate at times! Some US manuf. prey a bit on "Go Murica", but are outsourcing much of the manuf, poor quality product and marking it to make you think it's really made here...you see the American flag with "Assembled in USA"....

With that said, I 100% will pay a reasonable (hard to define) premium on a small, family owned, craft type product supporting a hard working company here in the US. I do a lot of trail work / sawyering and needed a new axle, I could go down a buy an axe from Home Depot / Saw shop, made overseas or spend another $50 and buy a made in USA axe like Council....out of principle I bought US, quality is probably not $50 better, but it's $50, felt like the right call, but again, always tough to tell...
  • 3 0
 @gnarlysipes: depends on where you are in the USA, small town USA is not like that, large metro areas 100% are. We see these same cultural divides in politics, haves vs have-nots, conservative vs liberal it's a complex issue but there are a lot of places in the US that have generations of hard working blue collar families and will for years to come.
  • 60 0
 This is an awesome idea for a series, excited to see more in the future!
  • 29 0
 Owner of a hub manufacturing company called Hub-ert: one-upping 'Bike' the owner of Vee Tire!
  • 4 0
 Bike should change his surname to "Tire"
  • 16 0
 Nice story, this is a great way to bring life to the bikes we ride, thanks!
  • 13 0
 Awww yeahhhh it's beautiful to see some actual forging. In the aftermarket car component world, people are now referring to randomly oriented short strand carbon fiber as "forged carbon". It is not forged, carbon fiber laminates are not forged, period. The pressure doesn't do anything to the resin. Heat makes the resin polymerize into solid. Metal only is a forging process and it is so friggin cool.
  • 4 0
 People obsess over pretty machined parts but cold forging gives you better strenght. Really cool to see those machines!
  • 1 0
 100%
  • 13 0
 is that a hub for a wheelchair?
  • 2 0
 Could be, except that the 6 holes feature still makes me wonder...
Could be for a high end stroller, or for a trailer (Thule or such)
Still wondering Smile
  • 4 0
 @danstonQ: disc brakes are somewhat common on wheelchairs
  • 1 0
 Scooter? It's a narrow OLD width.
  • 4 0
 Some folding bikes use really narrow front hubs--74 mm on Bromptons.
  • 2 0
 @barp: @dariodigiulio I was thinking folding bike hub and or light dynamo hub.
  • 1 1
 micro-boost! it will debut for the Olympics as the new standard for the leg shavers.
  • 2 0
 I was thinking maybe a cargo trike or one of those 4 wheel pedal carts that four people can ride. Those hubs look pretty beefy
  • 10 0
 Coaster brake has no cable nor battery. Lots of the world is flat. One speed for upwind another for down
  • 5 0
 Long live the kickback
  • 8 0
 Cold Forging > All

And for nitpicking, those "Marameters" are actually a Mahr 'Millimess" dial comparators (1 micron/division linear indicators), the gold standard in mechanical measurement.
  • 6 1
 @dariodigiulio bit of a tangent but I noticed most of these were shot with the Samyang 35mm - any major complaints or things worth mentioning about it? I like the idea of not lugging around heavy (and expensive) glass around while traveling, especially on an already heavy rig like the A7. Would love to know your thoughts, keep up the good work.
  • 14 0
 I shot the whole Taiwan trip with the Samyang, and I've got nothing but good things to say. Framing can be tricky (as with any short prime), but my A7RII's battery life was way better for it. Lightroom has killer optical correction for any lens effect, so overall I'd say it's a great tool.
  • 1 0
 Awesome, thanks!
  • 7 0
 I love this new series. It's a fun and interesting read. Keep it up!
  • 7 0
 That soothed my brain.
  • 3 0
 We need you to go back and show a banana for scale, next to those machines.

It looks like quite a clean shop, for having manufacturing going on. No oil leaking on the floor? Pffft.

Does Dubai do a lot of metal trading?
  • 4 0
 I'm surprised to see a punch press used to make the spoke holes. I had just assumed every hub had drilled spoke holes, even cheap hubs. Learn something new every day!
  • 3 1
 Awesome article. As a engineer by trade, I get a kick out of getting to observe how something is made. Every tool, every machine, every process....required a person or team of persons to think, develop and incorporate that solution. I do appreciate it because I know it's not always easy.
  • 3 0
 "And this one applies the perfect amount of grease"

Which is still almost always never enough despite being in the right place. Especially if it's a Quando cup and cone hub.
  • 1 0
 Please can we get a message back to KT and ask for a little more grease.
  • 4 0
 As a Hub manufacturer, is Hubert an ethical name choice for your first born?
  • 1 0
 Yeah, lots more of this please. Also, this is the best tech feature for a pivot to video. I know that most factories will frown bigly upon that, for obvious reasons. However, if anyone is willing to let you record things in operation, I would love to see it.
  • 3 0
 a lot of people write off overseas manufacturing as being garbage, but theres guys like these who want to do a good job, but just on a massive scale.
  • 4 0
 Really nice photos on this article, great work
  • 4 0
 More of this sort of ting plez
  • 2 0
 Fantastic article, and great pics. Rig Of The Day needs to be a regular thing!
  • 1 1
 It's what likes/dislikes used to be before a very confused democracy turned everything to 'voting.' Prop: proper respect. Negprop: proper disrespect. I might have gone with upgrunt/downgrunt
  • 1 0
 Bizzare choice of title. Death is a weird thing to associate with factory tours.
  • 1 0
 @dariodigiulio is there a model name/number for "KT's highest end mountain hub, with 612 points of engagement."?
  • 2 0
 Googling suggests Spank's new prototype high end hub is using this design.
  • 1 0
 Chin Fong smash! Hulk like smash! Hulk like green. Hulk like Chin Fong.
  • 2 0
 yeah man
  • 1 1
 That's not a warehouse, it's a factory.
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