We had the great fortune to make a visit to Easton's composite factory (dubbed EMX) in Tijuana, Mexico this week. In addition to road and mountain rims, Easton builds a ton of composite hockey sticks at EMX, including custom sticks for hundreds of professional hockey players. At EMX they also make the rims and build the wheels that are being used by George Hincapie, Cadel Evans and the BMC Racing Team this year.
We thought we'd take you through the process of building an Easton rim step-by-step, from composite material all the way through to a finished wheel.
The raw material of a composite rim--sheets of hybrid material (carbon, fiberglass, aramid, etc.) combined with proprietary resin is cut by a computer controlled cutting table.
Once the material is cut into pieces of the correct size and fiber orientation, it can then be laid-up into the shape of the final product.
Two workers finalize the placement of the laid-up (but not cured) rim in a mold before rolling the several hundred pound assembly over to a press.
Placed firmly within a multi-piece mold, the rim is slid into a 150-ton press to be baked or cured for about a half-hour.
After the rim is removed from the press and the mold, the bladder is taken out (via a semi-secret process), extra resin cleaned off and the spoke holes and valve hole are drilled.
Next, the rim is lightly sanded and a light coat of paint applied. In order to use high quality water transfer decals, the surface of the rim must be ultra smooth and clean.
Once the rim has passed the final QC processes, it's turned into a complete wheel by adding a hub, spokes and nipples. Easton hand builds every single wheel in their line and trues them acoustically for super even tension (which ensures that the wheel stays truer, longer).
There you have it, the full process of turning limp composite material into a rim that can stand up to abuse from the world's best riders.
We saw some amazing new wheels while at the factory, but we promised to wait a few weeks before letting the secret out. Stay tuned.