Words: Vernon Felton
Photos: Seb Kemp
One of the things that has struck us during our time in North Carolina (where we’re testing bikes for our upcoming Bible of Bike Tests) is the sheer number of innovative companies that call this place home. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a framebuilder, engineer or machinist. Cane Creek is a great example.
We drive down a quiet country lane in Fletcher, North Carolina and there, amidst cows lazily chewing grass and lambs frolicking in fields of green (seriously, we’re not making this up) sits Cane Creek’s headquarters.
Cane Creek’s roots go deep here. The building was originally ground zero for Dia-Compe USA’s (a.k.a. Cane Creek) operations and, beginning in 1974, was cranking out brake widgets for Schwinn Varsities and the like. The place was a hub of activity; running three shifts a day. It was a true start-to-finish operation. Billet came in one door. Finished product came out the other.
As bike assembly moved offshore in the eighties, the little factory in North Carolina became less of a factory and more of a parts distribution center for Dia-Compe. By 1989, Dia-Compe was looking at their business model for things to create beyond the world of brakes. They found that project in the first widely-successful suspension fork.
Dia-Compe was one of Paul Turner’s original partners and handled the manufacturing, distribution and sales of the early RockShox’s forks. All those early pink and black RS1s? They were built right here in the building that now houses Cane Creek.
The product that truly put Cane Creek on the map, however, was the AheadSet: the mother of all threadless headsets. That product came out in 1991 and was the patented blueprint for just about every headset you’ve ridden since. In the intervening years, Cane Creek invented or refined a wide range of products: including the Cloud Nine rear shock, Cronos wheelset and Thudbuster seatpost.
All of which were fine, but not exactly ground shaking stuff. The ground shaking, holy crap, product came out in 2005. In a collaboration with Swedish suspension manufacturer Öhlins, Cane Creek produced the Double Barrel rear shock.
The Double Barrel features four-way independent adjustability (low and high-speed compression adjustments plus low and high-speed rebound damping) and is on a roll these days, even gaining a berth on Specialized’s new Demo 8 downhill rig.
Cane Creek recently had to ditch the small room where they assembled Double Barrels in favor of a much bigger one that is still seriously tight on space. Cane Creek may not have Fox or RockShox’s widespread Original Equipment spec, but they are clearly becoming a contender.
The new DBAir (which we had installed on our Intense Carbine test bike and have begun testing) is already garnering serious attention despite the fact that hasn’t even hit the market yet). The DBAir is meant to bring that same high-end coil shock feel to frames that are designed around air-sprung shocks (think Nomads, Ibis Mojo HDs and the like), and yeah, the company is going to need a whole lot more room to build those shocks and meet the demand from the growing number of riders who want more latitude in tuning their bike’s suspension.
At some level, you expect companies to crank out new products. That, after all, is the nature of business. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of our time at Cane Creek was the obvious shift in the nature of the company. Raw aluminum shares space on the shop floor with two massive CNC machines, which whittle away on high end 110, AER and AngleSet headsets.
“This”, says Cane Creek’s Suspension Design Engineer, Devon Sullivan, with a wave of his hand, “is what Cane Creek will look like in five years.”
Cane Creek is going full circle—bringing more and more of its manufacturing back to the United States and openly defying the conventional wisdom, which holds that making a buck requires slapping a Made in China sticker on your product. It’s heartening to see.