August 9, 2012 Leave a comment
Last week the lucky winner of our Tour Devinci, Build a Bike Giveaway, Kaden (from Ann Arbor, Michigan), got to live out his dream to visit the place where his new bike was designed, built and tested. So we packed up our own suitcase to go along for the ride to find out what the guys (and gals) at Devinci are up to up north.
The first thing we found out was just how far north Devinci‘s factory really is – scenic Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada is about 2 1/2 hours drive north of Quebec City (if you drew a straight line across, the latitude of Chicoutimi is about the same as the North Dakota/Canada border). So why Chicoutimi? It’s easy – aluminum. Chicoutimi (and the surrounding Saguenay region) are a global hub for the aluminum industry. With a deep water harbor on the Saguenay River, huge cargo ships carrying bauxite (the principal ingredient of aluminum) unload their cargo to feed the aluminum factories of Rio Tinto Alcan. Once the aluminum ore leaves the ship, it never travels more than a few miles from the Devinci factory in Chicoutimi before it is turned into the durable hand-crafted bikes that Devinci is famous for.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit – let’s start at the beginning of our journey to Canada. As soon as our trip winner, Kaden, arrived in Chicoutimi, Julien, our Devinci guide for the next few days, ushered him to the local ski hill for a little taste of Canadian downhill mountain biking. Once Kaden got a handle on how to ride up the T-bar (which is harder than you would think), he was having a blast on a loaner Devinci Dixon mountain bike. Devinci sponsored the trails, and it seemed like the entire Devinci factory turned out to ride on this Wednesday evening. As we came to learn, everyone who works at Devinci has a passion to ride – and ride really fast! Folks were shredding the downhill runs, but they still took the time to wait up for us from time to time – since that also gave them the chance to take in the view over La Baie.
After a rousing few runs, and just as we were getting the hang of riding the T-bar, the sun was setting and it was time to grill. The post-ride hangout is the same everywhere – everyone was dirty and tired, but still basking in the glow of some great riding while recapping their greatest runs (although there was definitely more French spoken than at our usual trailhead). After some tasty grilled hot dogs and chips, it was off to bed after a long day.
The next day, we were up early with Kaden to get the factory tour started. The Devinci factory sits in an unassuming industrial park outside of town – the only indication of what was going on inside was the near universal bike rack on the back of the cars in the parking lot. But once inside, it was more than clear that what was going on was bikes, bikes and more bikes. We started our tour in the Devinci offices, where the bikes are dreamed up and designed. Every office had a Devinci road or mountain bike leaning against the wall, ready for the requisite lunchtime ride – their creations have to tested in the real world, of course. We learned about the Devinci design process, from the initial meeting to start the ball rolling, through the computer-aided design and testing (where all of the bikes are put through their paces virtually before any metal or carbon is ever used), to the first real prototypes where the final designs start to take shape. Their mantra is to test, test and re-test – Devinci strives to create innovative bike designs, but also well-thought and thoroughly tested bikes.
Once we left the offices, we moved into the hubbub of the Devinci factory floor. While the space isn’t huge, it was full of activity, material and bikes in various stages of construction. Our hosts walked Kaden through all of the steps of the bike building process, from shaping the raw tubing, to CNC machining, to welding, heat-treating, and ultimately painting and assembly of the finished bike. A lot of experienced hands touch each bike as it makes its way through the construction and testing process.
At the time we visited, their assembly line was busy cranking out BIXI bikes – the world-renowned bike share system currently in use in London, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and other cities around the globe. As you can see below, the current fleet of bikes under construction was for New York City’s new bike share program – you’ll soon see thousands of these big blue bikes at bike rental stations across the city, every one of them built by Devinci in Chicoutimi. Since Devinci has such an experienced bike-building team, BIXI contracts with them to build these rugged bikes – they are a far cry from Devinci’s own line of mountain and road bikes, but the BIXI bikes are built with practicality and reliability in mind above all else.
Of course the real fun part of Kaden’s trip to the Devinci factory was in getting to try out the steps of the bike-building process first-hand. Up first was electrostatic spray painting – after a few quick words of advice from Devinci’s in-house paint expert, Kaden fired up the spray gun on a new Devinci Atlas frame. His painting mentor said that his first effort was pretty good – although that could have just been a friendly translation from French that meant “he wouldn’t have been immediately fired from a job as a painter”.
Next up was the real fun task, welding. When welding together a bike frame, the first step is to have an apprentice welder tack the shaped tubes together as they are held in a jig to maintain their alignment. Only then does an expert welder step in to finish the frame, in a carefully choreographed series of buttery welds. It’s vital that the welder have a steady and skilled hand to end up with a bike frame with perfect alignment – Devinci welders apprentice for over a year before they are entrusted with creating the smooth finish welds on a bike frame. Needless to say, we weren’t exactly ready for a real frame, but everyone in our group had fun testing out their arc welding skills (even Julien, our Devinci guide).
Running the CNC machine was a less skill-intensive task (since most of the work is done in the computer beforehand), but it was neat to see the before and after results. Into the machine would go a basic metal shape, and moments later out would come an intricately carved and shaped bicycle frame component.
Once Kaden had seen every step in the design and build process, he wanted to check out the finished product, of course. Overlooking the Devinci factory floor was the storage area with all of their new 2013 bike models, including the sweet new ride that Kaden had won – a Devinci Atlas RC 29er mountain bike. With 110mm of Devinci’s patented Split-Pivot suspension and a 29″ wheel platform, Kaden’s new Atlas is perfect for ripping the trails back on his home trails in Michigan.
And we did mention that the folks at Devinci love to ride, right? After our factory tour was over, we literally headed out the back door to hit the trails that Devinci bikes were born to shred. Just a few minutes ride from the factory was a great local trail network – full of twisty singletrack, rocks, roots and bridges. If there was ever a spot to test out a mountain bike, this was it – since their bikes are designed to stand up to these trails, the guys at Devinci know that their bikes can take whatever abuse you throw their way (and which is why their bikes are guaranteed for life).
Speaking on behalf of our contest winner, Kaden, we had a blast visiting Devinci‘s factory and hometown – whether riding or welding, everyone at Devinci was friendly and fun to hang out with. When you ride a Devinci bike, you can know that not only are you getting a machine that was designed and built by experienced craftsman, but also by folks that are passionate about their brand and love to ride as much as you do. It’s an old adage, but at Devinci they really do work hard and play hard, and it shows in their bikes.