When they’re not making carbon fibre wheels in their factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the engineers at Lightweight turn their attention to a multitude of other applications.
Or maybe its other way around.
When they’re not making interstellar equipment, aircraft parts, robotic components or medical hardware – or in other words, far more important things – these specialists in precision engineering turn their attention to making bicycle wheels.
Its important to know this background – that wheels constitute around half of Lightweight’s revenue – when David Bergmann at the company says that the Lightweight disc wheel – the Autobahn – is “a rolling satellite housing.”
“We are currently supplying five satellite housings for the Sentinel Programme,” he explains. “Number one was launched in 2016. The Sentinel Programme satellites are supposed to measure the oceans and the ozone layer, and we were official supplier for a company contracted by the European Space Agency.
“Those are built with a tolerance of five microns: five thousandths of a millimetre. That tells you a lot about the capacity we have.”
Besides the technical know-how from making satellite exoskeletons, those aerospace industry certifications are rather handy for getting hold of rare and expensive high density carbon fibre.
Used to make the wheel’s broad spokes, which form the distinctive radial pattern, it costs between six and 24 times more per kilogram than the usual carbon fibre blends of choice for bicycle components.
If it’s good to orbit the Earth at several thousand kilometres per hour, it’s good to orbit a quick release skewer at 55.
“The wheel was actually developed for building the satellite housing, and we just transferred all the knowledge across,” says Bergmann.
So distinctive is the resulting aesthetic that professional teams and riders – none of whom are sponsored by Lightweight – have attempted to cover it up.
“It is so obvious that they are ours, and we’re not official sponsors,” Bergmann adds. “But it still is an honour that teams are buying them.”