A bike sporting Swiss technology has carried Lance Armstrong to his sixth – and record-breaking – Tour de France victory.
The DT Swiss company of Biel supplied bike parts to three-quarters of the teams that participated in the three-week event.
Lance Armstrong from the US Postal team and Germany’s Jan Ullrich are two cycling stars who rely on Swiss DT Swiss’s spokes and hubs to keep them ahead of the pack.
“We supply wheel sets as a complete item, hubs, spokes and rims. Lance Armstrong rides a United States Trek bicycle and we supply the team’s… carbon hubs and spokes,” said the company’s head of sales and marketing, Frank Böckmann.
The firm’s parts for racing bicycles are characterised by their weight (or rather the lack of it).
“Weight is basically everything. Our products enable the teams and riders to use lightweight components and this is what counts,” Böckmann told swissinfo.
“They also have to be extremely durable, and accept a lot of force and torque. They have to function perfectly under extreme, competitive circumstances,” he added.
The company’s products are used not only by the teams in the big road tours, but also by mountain bikers and other performance-related cycle disciplines.
DT Swiss can’t compete on price with firms in Asia, but what gives the company its edge is that renowned Swiss quality – precision engineering.
“Here in the canton of Bern we have skilled workers who are very keen on working with metal, in particular for the watch industry which is very strong here. We find a lot of workers there and use them in the disciplines we have,” said Böckmann.
“It’s obvious that being a Swiss company we have to offer what Switzerland is best known for and this is high-end components.
“It is clear that labour is pretty expensive in this country. Here we go in for smaller volumes than the low-end Asian countries like India or China,” he added.
Nuts and bolts
DT Swiss traces its origins back to 1650 with the founding of the United Wireworks, which produced nuts and bolts, and also shirts for Napoleon’s army.
It started producing bike parts – spokes, mudguards and rims – at the end of the 1940s.
Böckmann and two colleagues took over the company through a management buyout and started producing spokes in 1994 with a total staff of just 28.
The company now sells 220 million spokes a year and produces one million per day.
Inside the company’s warehouse, 25 million spokes are stacked neatly on the shelves. They come in 14 different types and have lengths from 115mm up to 315mm.
DT Swiss also produces about 220 million nipples a year, which hold the spokes to the wheel rim.
And the company ships about 4,000 sophisticated hubs – drive mechanisms comparable to a car clutch – from its Biel headquarters.
“The hubs are made out of very light-weight aluminium. We have started to make carbon hubs for the Trek team of Lance Armstrong, too,” explained Böckmann.
Assembled out of about 40 parts, the hubs weigh next to nothing but can withstand enormous pressures.
As a supplier to the manufacturers, DT Swiss is not a name that you can find easily on a normal bicycle.
“That’s our destiny a little bit. We are a little bit unknown. We supply the manufacturers basically,” said Böckmann.
“It wouldn’t be logical for us to produce entire bicycles. That would put us in a position where we would have to compete with all of our customers and this obviously wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do.”
swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Biel
DT Swiss takes its name from the German “Drahtwerke” and the French “Tréfileries”, which both mean wire works.
The company employs a total of 120 people and has an office supplying the Americas in Colorado.
DT Swiss is a supplier to three out of four teams that took part in the Tour de France.
The company manufactures for the top end of the market. A carbon hub costs around SFr1,500 ($1,200).
As a sub contractor, DT Swiss hardly hits the news… but it is well known by top bikers and manufacturers.