All round tour of Woody’s Wheel Works
Driven by the philosophy that the wheel is no less than the mother of all inventions, Woody’s Wheel Works understands the wheel on a profound level. The company ethos is founded on a strong belief that perfecting wheels, which are capable of spinning straight and perfectly round, is an art. Recognising the harmony between man and machine—as much as the pivotal importance played by the wheel in the locomotive process—every craftsman at Woody’s Wheel Works is dedicated to provide the customer with a comprehensive wheel service, irrespective of the vehicle’s brand or model.
Having left Germany at five years old, Trautman Gregory Witte, “Woody” for short, soon became Americanized on U.S. soil. In search of being useful to society, he joined the US Marine Corps in 1960. Eight fruitful years were spent in aviation electronics and teaching Vietnamese to pilots. Hungry for a new path, a passion for motorcycles led Woody to repairing dirt bikes for a local Yamaha garage. The wheels started to stockpile in the servicing department. Woody dutifully took them to the local Harley Davison shop to carry out the service, however, came unstuck when they refused his “rice-grinder” garbage.
Self-taught, Woody diligently set his mind to servicing customers’ wheels using an initiative-led heuristic approach, starting with 175cc and 125cc motorcycles. It didn’t take long for him to realise that the repairs undertaken were identical on both sizes of machines, and in turn, figured out the effects of the resultant forces on the spokes for every ineffective wheel that came his way. His love affair with wheels began, as did becoming the founder of MRA (Mountain Roadracing Association in Colorado) in 1973, where he started turning his wheels in a process to what it has become today.
Although two companies are in operation, the same goal unites them; to produce dynamic motion under solid fundamentals.
Woody’s Wheel Works
Practicing the art of the wheel for 43 years within Woody’s Wheel Works has made the going concern a renowned and established one. The core business of which comprises the design, manufacture, bespoke production and repair of dependable wheel solutions. The ratio of custom-builds to restoration is 50:50 where the customer base has become global for each. A once small team has flourished into a workforce of 20 craftsmen and staff based out of Denver, Colorado.
Enabling Technologies is Woody Witte’s other compelling corporate interest, which like the wheel business, strives to significantly exceed customers’ expectations. The enterprise started in earnest in 1985, which saw the need to produce the most dynamic motion for the disabled athlete, and envisioned the creation of improved equipment. A bespoke offering was born from the mono-ski, outriggers, crutches and the bi-ski. Today the company boasts over 100 years of combined experience in manufacturing the unique, modified and lighter weight products, enabling a wider spectrum of skiers to fulfil their snowy adventures. Enabling Technologies remains a proactive force in the ongoing amelioration of standards and champions best practice of adaptive sports worldwide.
In-house services: manufacturing mysteries uncovered
For both automotive and motorcycle wheels alike, the following services are available within the factory: lacing and true, Superlacing, custom conversions, rim straightening and the purchase of new or used rims. As well, sealing the rims in converting tube tyres to tubeless. In addition to the machine shop, there is a welding facility and finishing department to paint, powder-coat or anodise the rim / hub in any colour. There is also an Eddy current dynamometer in play, which is a device for measuring force, torque or power.
Regardless of the vehicle, whether on four wheels or two, the refurbishment of rusting nuts and bolts, brake disks and ABS rotors amongst other components require the handy work of the bead blaster. Almost microscopic glass beads are fired from a nozzle at high pressure, which removes surface deposits from a component, brightens it to a dazzling gleam and cleans it effortlessly so it looks like new.
What makes Woody’s wheels work?
After studying the problem of broken spokes, Woody discovered that it would be possible to strengthen the structure of the wheel, by altering the lace pattern, so that each spoke was routed as closely as possible to a 90 degree angle between the hub and the rim. This allows an optimal transfer of energy through the spoke to the hub and the rim. Since the method requires drilling the rim holes to point in a new direction, the mechanics at Woody’s Wheel Works fortify the strength factor by drilling and countersinking the rim to allow for oversized spokes and nipples. Called “supersizing,” the process spreads the workload over a larger surface area under the nipple. The net result is the ability to torque the spokes tighter than the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) standard, making a stronger, more durable wheel.
Combine the oversized spokes and nipples with the re-angled lace pattern, and you are left with a wheel that won’t just leave you on the straight and narrow, but is guaranteed for one year against spoke breakage or loosening—including those used by race competitors.
Creating synergy when Superlacing meets Superlite
Superlacing is a custom wheel solution for the recurring problem of loosening and breaking spokes. The solution can be modified depending upon the type of application, size of the motorcycle or engine, and the customer’s skill level and needs. Superlaced wheels are available in all sizes and styles for dirt, street and show.
The process involves analysing how you ride, where you ride and on what terrain. Reconfiguring the original rims, hub, spokes and nipples, results in selecting the most favourable lace pattern. Incorporating a rim made from a tough 7000 series alloy allows for maximum performance and strength. Blueprinting the wheels also involves ensuring a precision fit of the spokes and nipples. The spokes and nipples are made from a heavy duty stainless steel, manufactured to a Woody’s Wheel Works specification and produced by Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim, Inc.
Complementing the Superlacing technique, Woody’s proprietary custom-built hubs and other related components (e.g. brakes), are constructed from 6061—a precipitation hardening aluminium alloy, which optimises the balance of weight, strength and aesthetics.
Highlights of the factory tour
Critical to what makes the wheel go round, the four main aspects of wheel truing came to my attention during the factory tour. These are: lateral true (the side-to-side “wobble” of the rim as the wheel spins), radial true (the amount of up and down “hop” with each revolution, also known as “out-of-round”), rim centring over the hub (or “dish”, which refers to the rim being centred in the frame), and spoke tension (the tightness of the spokes, of which are tensioned just like other fasteners). There is zero tolerance of horizontal (wobble) and vertical (hop) run out in the rim; both are kept to within 0.01.
As an orchestral symphony on the radio builds to a climatic high, chief craftsman Jarod assembles the spokes that enjoy a beefy over brittle appearance in an artfully seamless process. The classical music aids a well-oiled process that works with the spokes when lacing, rather than fights against it. Jarod stays tightly focused on the task in hand as he sound tests the tension in the spokes, and akin to any professional, maintains a spotless workstation at all times. Jerod’s skill and practice combine to achieve an equally balanced tension by the time final checks towards rim movement are undertaken by eye, spoke tensiometers, the wheel-truing stand and steady pointer.
Woody and his team of master wheel smiths are able to adjust spoke tension so each aspect is made advantageous. Post tightening up the spokes and where appropriate, checking for dead spots to prevent future seizing, brake calliper settings are greatly improved, brake pads need replacing less frequently, no bumps will be felt by the rider, centred rims allow for easy brake adjustment and great handling is achieved where the rear wheel will no longer track behind the front wheel.
Race to lace
Knowledge ascertained in Woody’s previous racing endeavours over the decades is passed onto customers in the form of continuing innovation and creativity, applied to his daily work. Woody has always harboured a love for motorcycle racing, #11 was a force to be reckoned with on the track. Although he no longer haunts the racetrack on his own bike, he sponsors racers in several categories. Woody’s fervent connection to the track fuels the search for better ways to accomplish the goal; stronger, safer, better. The notion of changing the lace pattern on spoke wheels to eliminate breakage was developed, and the concept of Superlacing was born and bred on the racetracks of Colorado and eventually the world.
Lyndon Poskitt, former Dakar race finisher and Baja 1000 racer is currently undertaking ‘Races to Places,’ a round the world, off road adventure. Having undertaken 75,000 miles on one set of Woody’s wheels, throwing every kind of abuse imaginable at them, is testament to the endurance of the wheels.
Other happy customers include: Lukas Matzinger (round the world motorcyclist), Issac Feliu (enduro rider), Daniel Rintz (long distance moto-traveller and producer of the documentary Somewhere Else Tomorrow), Kim Krause (GS Trophy competitor), and Lisa and Simon Thomas (full time adventure motorcyclists).
What else and what’s next?
In addition to running Woody’s Wheel Works, Woody plays an advisory role on online forums (e.g. ‘Ask Woody about your wheels’ on http://advrider.com), attends motorcycle and car rallies and club meetings. His vision is to create an oasis for adventure riders, overlanders and competitors; provide a comfortable campground in which to stay and relax while having your wheels serviced.
The company-wide approach to the wheel was forged by Woody’s experience in the Marine Corps where excellence is the standard. Because of such, Woody’s Wheel Works claims that their product will flawlessly go the distance, well beyond that of the OEM standard. Having been treated to the full factory tour, I can vouch that a spectrum of wheels with which we came into contact—whether undergoing restoration or being custom-built from scratch—were reconditioned if not assembled with acute attention to detail. Centring stays critical throughout the process. Due to the comprehensive pre-seating process, the customer will not need to tighten the spokes again. Herculean strength and longevity in each wheel come as standard, and because absolute trueness is achieved on top, precise handling of the motorcycle alongside minimal wear to the tyres and brakes, naturally follow suit.
Incredibly, Woody’s Wheel Works manages to reconcile a stark contrast, where technical brilliance meets visual pleasure: the point in the universe at which high performance and beauty intercept. Indeed, the aesthetic component comprises the added dimension of quality (the core message from Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) When the wheel is stamped, it is transformed to a beautifully rugged one that Woody agrees, “works as good as it looks and looks as good as it works.”
As a finished article, the undeniable strength behind Woody’s wheels is made complete by a je ne sais quoi, something from the soul. Something you can’t quite name but you know is sacred. http://www.woodyswheelworks.com.