though ostensibly the same story but told in a different voice, there is a marked difference between the wonka movie starring gene wilder and its modern equivalent with johnny depp. the latter wonka seems much more a victim of his circumstances, almost at the mercy of the oompah loompahs and their obscure yet technologically questionable methods of creating the world's finest chocolate. wilder manages to imply a steely death grip over not only his employees, but to be a man very much in charge of his own destiny. witness the change in his demeanour when congratulating charlie on having passed the test as a worthy successor to the inevitable health and safety nightmare that will doubtless ensue when change of ownership papers are signed.
a man who does not suffer fools gladly.
johnny depp, however, remains childlike throughout, a man to whom things happen rather than one who decrees their happening. i often wonder whether christopher lee as the father figure with a dental practice was something of an afterthought to help explain this strange characterisation, for i find it hard to reconcile the apparent superiority of product design that has resulted from one who changes not his disposition throughout the film.
hollywood has a lot to answer for.
the notion, however, that the inadvertant acquisition of a golden ticket will allow full and almost unrestricted access to a bastion of former secrecy is one that has been played out in many a fairytale over the years. in the wonka story, it was a combination of dumb luck and persistence that brought charlie to that golden ticket. in many another, defeating a dragon or ogre conferred the same benefit.
though most of us as adults (with the possible exception of johnny depp) can discriminate between 'real-life' and fictional fairy tales, on occasion, life can imitate art. on my previous stay in portland some three years ago, a visit to the chris king plant at nw nela was saddled with politely requested restrictions which could be neatly summed up as 'no photographs please'. i do not know enough about cnc machining techniques to know if my 350 pixel representations of the factory floor would have been sufficient for the latvians or chinese to set up a similar manufacturing process with perhaps different anodising colours or not, but the shroud of secrecy and, in my case, sense of privilege seemed to be gently, yet firmly enforced.
far from this being an irritant or disappointment, i cannot deny that it added to the sense of marvel and exclusivity that an apparently random trudge about the premises engendered in one who felt delightfully favoured. i think i speak for all when i declare this could be summed up as 'i could tell you, but i'd have to shoot you afterwards'. but similar to the circumstances surrounding mr wonka and his chocolate, things change; now the secretive part has become a welcome with open arms and 'what would you like to see?'
i do not, at this particular juncture, have an answer to this change of heart, for on my visit to nw nela at the beginning of the week, the only request was to refrain from publishing any photos of the nahbs machines until at least friday when the exhibiton commences in sacramento. in the true spirit of egalitarianism, i demurred from capturing even one image, preferring to wait until california beckoned. everything else, however, was apparently fair game. had the bureaucrats of health and safety not dictated otherwise, i believe it would have been perfectly in order for me to sit inside and photograph a daewoo cnc machine while it carved off the aluminium that has no place on a chris king hub.
though the shop floor is viewed from on high, and from behind expansive glass, there seems little sense of other than calm industriality being carried out below. far from experiencing the wrenching sound of metal being digitally yet screamingly separated from its family, i believe i may have viewed more frantic activity in a launderette. this is not to imply a phalanx of workers comfortably seated in herman miller chairs sipping cans of mountain due with only one eye on a digital readout; it was perfectly obvious that stuff was being made, but in a calmly ordered fashion. much like the way in which a chris king ring-drive operates, come to that.
attend one of the many tours operated within the confines of islay's distilleries, and you will be treated to a blow by blow account of the processes indulged for the production of uisge beatha in correct, sequential order: barley to dram, if you will. such is not quite the case at king's where the shop floor, with its eccentric mix of digital and engagingly low-tech analogue lathes and presses, is viewed and explained prior to reaching the remarakably large and open bay that constitutes the raw-material repository. huge solid bars of steel and aluminium in varying diameters, occasionally punctuated by flat, solid discs that will, sometime very soon, become somebody's single-speed rear sprocket. it's just that, at the minute, the number of teeth has yet to be decided.
green credentials are uppermost on the minds of many an industrial goliath these days, a number coloured only by the imagination of those anxious to gain credibility without the pain and heartache of having to do something about it. remain true and loyal to many a caustic process, but carbon offset the destruction by planting a few trees in malaysia. chris king's use, and have used for some considerable time, a soya based oil for pretty much all their manufacturing processes. this oil still clings on for dear life to the metal swarf that is surplus to requirements, yet destined for recycling. king's therefore leave the aforesaid metal detritus in open barrels, perforated to allow the oil to succumb to gravitational forces. after a few days of this, the excess metal is compacted into ingots, during which darned near all the extraneous soya oil emulates elvis, and leaves the building (so to speak).
having done all possible to return the oil to its pristine original state, this is then receyled through the relevant factory machinery and begins its dizzy process once more. this has, i was advised, been the case for more years than they care to recall, and studiously in advance of any greening that federal and moral laws would require.
coincidentally, my loaned ride for this trip emanated for the same space as occupied by the cielo prototype that i rode three years ago. for not only do chris king's have a substantial cielo fabrication taking place in a delineated far corner of the storage bay, but they are also contracted with producing all the models in james selman's beloved range (it says so on the left chainstay). at the previous point of visitation, the cielo area consisted of little more than a selection of cnc'd fork crowns and a pristine variety of stainless steel dropouts and seatstay caps. hanging on the wall at the time were four, unpainted cielo sportif framesets.
the difference now is like comparing johnny depp with gene wilder. there is tangible activity taking place; tig welding is in evidence; there are more than just a few unpainted frames around the upper reaches of the walls, and right, slap-bang in the midst of all this is a rather large white tent that constitutes the recently implemented in-house paint shop. colorado's spectrum were the previous colourists of choice, but with demand for these superb frames currently exceeding the capacity of cielo to build them, it apparently made far more pragmatic and economic sense to bring the process and thus the quality control to portland. at the time of my visit, the finishing touches were being made to the mountain bike frame destined for nahbs 2012.
aside from the factory floor, there are the cubicles of minutiae on the periphery; you surely didn't think those little round medical grade bearings climbed into the headset races on their own, did you? there is even a contraption diligently manually operated to check the tension of the ring-drive springs. rather obviously, this spring needs to have the wherewithal to push the ring back into contact with the hub to enable forward motion, but each and every example is examined to ensure that it does what it says on the tin. too strong or too weak, and they end up in the recycle bin. and there is no machine that pops headsets, hubs or bottom brackets into their respective boxes accompanied by a shiny sticker; there are people who do that manually as well.
i have no real idea what brought about the decision to freely offer a golden ticket to anyone with the temerity to ask, and in reality, as one who is still coming to terms with the notion that i may be regarded as media, it makes little difference other than being allowed to say what i previously might not have been, and to photograph and publish a lot more than simply the front door.
there are many wonderful people working at nw nela, but i believe that i ought to at least mention, kyle von hoetzendorff, dylan van weelden, jay sycip and brian schultz for treating me like scottish royalty during my hours in the anonymous grey building. and while on the subject of royalty, it was something of an added bonus to be introduced to chris king after a rather fine vegetarian lunch and eye-popping double espresso in the staff restaurant.
whether you have your bicycle tricked out with chris king components or not is, to a certain extent, neither here nor there. for those of us who do, let the above serve as confirmation of choice; for those who have yet to achieve but currently live in anodised aspiration, it gives me great pleasure to announce that you are undoubtedly headed in the right direction, something i am rarely able to say was the case during my portland perambulations of downtown (though i did find nw nela without undue concern and trauma).
posted thursday 1 march 2012 (by our overseas correspondent)...........................................................................................................................................................................................................