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 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. ground. 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 survival Vietnamese to the pilots heading to Vietnam. Hungry for a new path, he returned to college and pursued his interest in early childhood development. This took him to Colorado in 1973 seeking employment in that field. Not finding work with adequate pay, Woody turned to his passion for motorcycles and landed a position in the servicing department at a Yamaha dealership. As the damaged wheels started to stockpile, Woody dutifully took them to the local Harley Davison shop for repairs. He came unstuck when the staff refused to work on the “rice-grinder” garbage.
Woody diligently set his mind to servicing the customers’ wheels himself. It didn’t take long for him to realise that the spokes of the Yamaha AT 125 and CT 175 were constantly breaking. He problem solved what caused the failures and created a treatment for every ineffective wheel that came his way. Woody’s love affair with wheels had already begun when he officially launched Woody’s Wheel Works and later the MRA (Mountain Road racing Association) in Denver, Colorado.
Although two companies are in operation, the same goal unites them: to produce dynamic motion under solid fundamentals. Practicing the art of the wheel for 43 years, Woody’s Wheel Works has emerged as the pre-eminent worldwide recognized ‘Go to’ wheel shop. Services range the gamut from the design, manufacture, customisation and repair/re-finish 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.
Enabling Technologies is Woody’s other compelling corporate interest, which started in earnest in 1985 having identified the need to produce bespoke ski equipment for disabled athletes. Woody’s first mono-ski, the Unique-1, was the ski that transformed skiing for the disabled community. It featured state of the art suspension, a self-loading feature allowing complete independence on the slopes. The Superlite outriggers and crutches raised the bar for lighter and stronger accessories, whereas the bi-ski is used in adaptive ski programmes throughout the world.
Today the company boasts over 100 years of combined experience in manufacturing the modified products, enabling a wider spectrum of skiers to fulfil their snowy adventures. Enabling Technologies remains a proactive force in the on-going amelioration of standards and champions best practice of adaptive sports worldwide.
In-house services: manufacturing mysteries uncovered
For virtually any automotive, the following services are available within the factory: lacing and true, Superlacing wheels, custom conversions, rim straightening and the purchase of new or used rims. As well, sealing the rims in converting tube tyres to tubeless. Alongside the machine shop, there is a welding facility and finishing department to paint, powder-coat or anodise the rim / hub in any colour.
Regardless of the machine, whether on four wheels or two, the refurbishment of its rusting components entails the handy work of the bead blaster. Almost microscopic glass beads are fired from a nozzle at high pressure, which removes surface deposits from the component, brightens it to a dazzling gleam and cleans it effortlessly to look like new.
What makes Woody’s wheels work?
After studying the puzzle behind broken spokes, Woody discovered the notion of changing the lace pattern to eliminate breakage, so that each spoke allows an optimal transfer of energy from the hub to the rim. A new concept was born and Woody coined the term “Superlacing.” Since the method requires 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. The net result is the ability to torque the spokes tighter than the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) standard, making a sturdier, 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 five years for street bikes and one year on any off-road or competition machine against spoke breakage or loosening.
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 thus available in all sizes and styles for dirt, street, competition or show. The process involves analysing how 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-T6, an aircraft aluminium alloy, which optimises the balance of weight, strength and aesthetics.
X-laced tubeless wheel repair and modification
When a large automobile, motorcycle and engine manufacturing company offered X-laced tubeless wheels and informed their customers that the answer to damaged/un-true wheels was to replace them at circa $1,500 a piece, Woody saw another opportunity. He fathomed how to true the wheels and as well, made them more robust. Designing every conceivable variation, he raised the bar to meet and exceed his customers’ expectations.
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” that refers to the rim being properly located on the hub), and spoke tension (the tightness of the spokes, of which are tensioned just like other fasteners). There is practically zero tolerance of hop and wobble run out in a Woody’s Wheel Works’ rim; both are kept to within +/- 0.01-0.015.
As an orchestral symphony on the radio builds to a climatic high, master wheel smith Jerod 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. Jerod stays tightly focused on the task in hand as he sound tests the tension in the spokes. His 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. Optimally adjusting spoke tension, setting the spokes and tightening up the nipples makes for a stiffer wheel with improved handling.
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 his original set of Superlaced wheels and thrown every kind of abuse imaginable at them, is testament to the endurance of the wheels. His current Superlaced wheels have logged 35,000 miles, endured three of the toughest rally races in Greece, Mongolia and the Finke Desert race in Australia. Other happy customers include: Lukas Matzinger (round the world motorcyclist), Issac Feliu (Barcelona’s prominent BMW R1200GS/HP rally racer and test rider), Daniel Rintz (long distance moto-traveller and producer of the documentary Somewhere Else Tomorrow), Kim Krause (GS Trophy U.S. competitor), and Lisa and Simon Thomas (full-time adventure motorcyclists).
What else and what’s next?
In addition to operating the two core businesses, 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 long distance customers, adventure riders, overlanders and competitors, providing a comfortable campground while having their wheels serviced.
The company-wide approach to the wheel was forged by Woody’s experience in the US Marine Corps where excellence is the standard and a lifetime of road racing knowledge, which is fed into the continued innovation of his wheels for a product that is “stronger, better, safer.” Because of such, Woody’s Wheel Works claims that their wheels 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 into a beautifully rugged one that Woody asserts, “works as good as it looks and looks as good as it works.”