Sure, there’s lots of talk (babble?) about “Made in USA”. It’s a complicated thing, we know. Affordability, quality, customer service, and practicality all come into play. Making our thru axles here, instead of China or Taiwan, is important to us because we can employ local skilled people and support our local economy.
We also like to be hands on—we prefer to oversee production on an almost daily basis, which we think is the real value in creating quality bike parts. From raw material, to finished and packaged goods, we handle all processes.
It’s a job we take seriously. Stuff needs to not break, and stuff on your bike needs to REALLY not break, especially when you are using it. Breaking parts on a bike ride, whether you’re out shredding singletrack, or taking your kids to the park, is not what we would call a good time.
We machine and assemble all our thru axles in Bend, Oregon. And with access to testing facilities, we are able to test our axles for different types of strength and loads. We test all of our thru axles in two ways:
Torque strength. Over the years, we have been keeping tabs on how our customers are installing their Robert Axles. Installation requires the user to torque the axle to a specific spec, so we test all axles for torque strength to make sure they are strong enough during installation.
Shear strength. This is the stuff that goes BOOM, the fun part. By testing shear strength, we test for catastrophic failure, and we ask: How much force would it take to suddenly shear this axle? Our goal, which we consistently reach, is to far exceed the shear strength of stock axles that come with bikes.
The big brands usually get all the coverage and credit for innovations and splashy bikes. But several boutique manufacturers have also come out with important advances recently.
One great thing about the bike industry is its low cost of entry for brands. If you have a solid idea and some manufacturing connections or savvy, it’s generally possible to get into the business. And nowadays, with all the oddball sizes and new “standards,” there’s tons of room for these smaller companies to create niche products that will increase versatility, cut costs, and stave off planned obsolescence. The big brands could take a few lessons from these small guys.
Robert Axle Project Thru-Axle for BOB (From $70)
I nearly got rid of my BOB trailer, which I love for hauling and hunting, when I found that it wouldn’t work with a thru-axle (which you’ll find on every modern bike), and that BOB didn’t offer a fix. But then I found the Robert Axle Project, created by a couple in Bend, Oregon, who apparently had similar frustrations.
Combining a 7075 aluminum axle shaft with stainless steel end pieces that fit the BOB’s mounting parts, the axle is a simple, elegant piece of hardware that allows me to pull my trailer with whatever bike I want. Given all the different hub widths and thread patterns, it’s definitely worth buying direct from Robert Axle (using the handy drop-down menu).
The company also makes axles for Thule, Burly, Chariot, and other trailer brands, for wind trainers and cargo racks, and bolt-on solutions for bike security.
Wolf Tooth Boostinator ($25)
The rapid rise of Boost hub spacing might be good for performance as it creates stiffer wheels and better clearance, but it has also made some older wheels incompatible with newer bikes. Thanks, however, to the Boostinator from Wolf Tooth, you don’t have to sell those old hoops to run them on your new whip.
These smart kits consist of a machined aluminum end cap and, on the rear kits, a rotor spacer, that allows hubs with smaller spacing to be used on new wider-set frames. It’s a simple installation, even if you have to re-true your wheel a bit, and $50 for the two kits, is a pretty small price to pay for the repurposing of those expensive wheels.
One Up 42T Sprocket + 16T ($80)
Everybody wants a 1×11 drivetrain these days, but the cost of retrofitting your trusty old steed, which can include upgrading everything from a rear cassette to cranks, shifters, and even wheels, has kept many people on their existing gear. One Up’s 42T hack gets people with 10-speed cassettes many of the benefits of a 1×11 drivetrain—minus all the headache and expense.
Here’s how it works: On most 11-36 cassettes, you simply nest this bigger 42T ring on the outside, then sub in the 16T sprocket for the existing 15T and 17T. Of course you don’t get quit as big a range as 1×11 (especially not the super wide Eagle options) and you give up one gear, but the quick change yields a 17 percent range increase for a pretty minimal investment. One Up also makes 50T hacks for Shimano 1×11 cassettes, as well as well as a 10T cluster for those willing to invest in a new free hub body. Smart stuff.
Bar Fly E-Box Spacer ($40)
Though I love riding Shimano Di2, it’s always struck me as insane that the junction box (the charge port and brains of the whole damn thing) attaches to your stem with a rubber band or zip tie. It’s like putting coaster brakes on a Ducati. Regardless, I was thrilled when I found Bar Fly’s E-Box Spacer, which attaches the mount for the junction box to an anodized aluminum five-millimeter headset spacer. Genius! And for what it’s worth, Bar Fly makes all sorts of other excellent and elegant mounting solutions for GPS units, lights, cameras, fenders, and pretty much anything else you want to attach to your bike.
Paul Set N’ Forget Thru Axle ($70)
This thru-axle replacement definitely falls into the serious tech geek realm, but if you’ve ever been frustrated with the fiddliness of stock thru axles, it will be a godsend. On many standard setups, it’s tricky to get both the right tension on the axle as well as the right position for the lever. The Set N’ Forget replaces your stock axle with one in which the lever can be indexed in 12 positions. Once you install it and put the lever in the desired position, you simply screw the axle into place and the lever will line up where you want it to go every time. No more futzing around to get it just so or riding with the lever in a questionable spot.
Thru axles, hot dogs and a friendly trade show atmosphere.
Last week, we spent a few days in St. Charles, Illinois (about 30 miles west of Chicago) at the 2017 CABDA Expo. We’ll be honest here. Trade shows are a mixed bag. They can be fun and interesting, but also tiring and frustrating. But the CABDA Expo was surprisingly different.
Let the record show – the 2017 CABDA Expo was a breath of fresh air and we can’t wait to go back next year.
Now, we don’t say this about every trade show, trust me. But the CABDA Expo really was one of the better shows that we have attended. And by the way, CABDA stands for the Chicagoland Area Bicycle Dealers Association. We like that – “Chicagoland” – like its an amusement park.
Unlike most of the other prominent bicycle industry trade shows, such as Sea Otter, Interbike and Eurobike, CABDA occurs at a time of year when suppliers and dealers can actually get away from their business or shop to attend the show. It’s pretty tough to get away in April, August and September. But in the case of CABDA, dealers from all over the Midwest can actually close their shop doors for two days to attend the show. And as a small supplier, it is definitely easier for us to step away from business for a handful of days in February rather than in the middle of summer.
The dealers that we talked to at our booth were very engaged and very interested in learning about this year’s products. That might have had to do with our display, which involved hot dogs. You see, we needed a clever way to display thru-axles and it turns out that a mini-mart style hot dog roller was just the ticket. We could display our axles and give away free, Chicago Style Hot Dogs to attendees. While we take our products very seriously, we try to not take ourselves too seriously.
In all seriousness, it was wonderful to talk one-on-one with Midwest dealers about all of our products, from our standard Kid Trailer Thru-Axles that allow attachment of trailers to our new Lightning Bolt-On replacement axles. We also garnered a ton of interest in our Trainer Axles. It’s a long cold winter in the Midwest and indoor trainers are one way to keep cyclists from going totally insane!
We’re back at it here at the shop, making axles and fulfilling orders, and some of us are craving a slice of Chicago style deep-dish pizza, but we’ll need to wait until next year when we return. A huge shout out to the CABDA folks, the attendees and the exhibitors for making it a wonderful two-day event!
Katy, Chris and Hunter show off some axles and hot dogs.
Chris talks to a crowd of enthusiastic bike shop owners.
Woohoo! We’ve got a solution for Surly MDS and Gnot Boost bikes that want to tow a kid trailer, such as a Thule, Chariot or Burley. We dig Surly bikes and the people that ride them – durable, no BS and adventurous.
The Surly compatible axles are a bit different than typical thru-axles in that they aren’t threaded. However, the installation and removal is just as simple as before. They also allow a better fit for the hitches that are used with Burley trailers, like this:
The Surly MDS and Gnot Boost compatible axle makes for a better fitment, as seen here with a Burley Trailer hitch (And a big thank you Missoula Bicycle Works!)
In all of our rigorous testing, we were pleased to find that they are much stronger than the stock axle. Which is important when towing your precious cargo. We’ve got three different sizes, and all three are in stock now!
Great news for FOCUS R.A.T. bike owners. We now have a solution for you. Part of our job is to keep up with bike industry standards and specific individual bike brand standards. FOCUS, with their unique proprietary thru-axle, posed a problem for those riders who wanted to tow a trailer or use their FOCUS on a trainer. Finding a compatible solution to fit R.A.T. thru-axles were a bit of a challenge, so we appreciate your patience as we worked to design a quality solution. And thanks to a few customers who were willing to test our prototypes.
We offer the FOCUS axles for Kid Trailers and for Trainers (sorry, we don’t have a BOB Trailer solution!)
FOCUS R.A.T. compatible axle for trainer installed on bike.
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