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RATCHET MAN

Stefan Spahr, 56, Head of Wheels, has been with DT Swiss since 1995 and is the man behind the 240s classic hub. Quiet, thoughtful and with a sixth sense for solid innovations, he is responsible for all wheel projects at DT Swiss. In the interview Stefan talks about his life and DT Swiss.

When and how did you join DT Swiss?
In March 1995. I’d just properly got the biking bug and had bought myself a Muddy Fox from the United States, but I didn’t think there was anything like a bike industry. Then I came across an advert for DT Swiss AG, which had recently been established. The three owners were looking for their first engineer after the management buyout.

What are you working on most at the moment?
We are currently working on new wheel and hub concepts as well as customer projects. We will expand the successful Areo, MTB and Hybrid wheel lineup. When it comes to hubs, we continuously working on renewing, expanding and modernizing our product range.

What’s the inspiration behind the 240s hub classic?
We wanted to build a lightweight hub that was easy to build and service. At the same time we were also thinking about the modularity of the product, so that it can cover a wide range of applications with the smallest of modifications. On top of that, our customers were demanding ever lighter, cost-effective products. So I tried to develop a hub that required few parts and was easy to assemble and disassemble. The hub had to work with the precision of a Swiss watch.

What were the main steps in this evolution?
It all started with continuous improvements to the existing concept behind the Hügi hub. With the introduction of the Hügi 98 hub, we improved the ball bearings, optimized the seal system and increased the precision. In the following Hügi 240 generation, we reduced the weight, developed new star ratchets and replaced the bearings with new products. When the 240s as we know it today came into existence, non-contact seals, stainless bearings, a new material and a new surface treatment for the star ratchets were added.

What makes the 240s such a classic in your opinion?
The uniqueness of the freewheel system, which makes it possible to construct lightweight hubs and to respond to customer demand for a wide variety of hub forms. Of course, it also combines reliability and precision with super-easy maintenance.

How many projects are you working on with your team right now?
215, no joke

Coffee or tea?
Black coffee

Cheese or chocolate?
It’s got to be chocolate.

Tube or tubeless?
Tube

First hub you designed?
The 98 Hügi hub

Last hub you designed?
The hub for the 1200 SPLINE Wheels

Best road bike product?
Disc brakes

Best MTB product?
Boost standard

Best DT Swiss product?
Two: the 240s hubs & the RWS thru bolt

Best wheel builder?
Gerd Schraner, he unfortunately passed away at September 11th this year. All I know about wheel building I have learned from him, he is still a great role model.

Most important person in the bike industry?
Sorry, it’s got to be three: Keith Bontrager, Gary Fisher & Tom Ritchey

Where do you get the inspiration for new developments?
I visit many trade shows in other industries, such as mechanical engineering, watchmaking and the motorcycle industry. That’s where I get ideas that I can implement in wheels. I search for balance while riding my bike and my motorbike or while sailing my little boat. It’s during these activities that I come up with the ideas – nearly everywhere except in the office, where I’ve not had a single idea EVER!

Where is the development of the wheel heading?
Clearly to system wheels. Hubs, spokes, nipples and rims are increasingly becoming unified into one unit. In the future, the individual components will no longer be replaceable. Together with the use of new materials and new processes, this will lead to the emergence of ever better wheels.

What will road bikes look like in 2035?
They will also no longer be comprised of interchangeable components. The components will be integrated into the frame. Aerodynamics and riding dynamics will gain in importance.

And mountain bikes?
Similar to road bikes. A particular feature of mountain bikes is that there will be gears and numerous sensors that constantly analyze and correct the behavior of the bike while it is being ridden.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the bike industry as a career?
You have to cope with a rapidly changing environment. Visions and ideas alone are not enough. It takes perseverance before a product works and is marketable. You have to be able to quickly implement market and customer requirements without compromise. Under these conditions, life in the innovative bike industry is a lot of fun.

Number of hubs you’ve designed?
2450 models (without the different hole counts)

Smallest tolerance?
± 0.002 mm

Largest tolerance?
± 0.1 mm

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