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Tech: Behind the scenes at the Time factory in France

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Time's factory is based near Lyon, France

Time's factory is based near Lyon, France
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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QC testing as frames, bars and forks are pulled, pushed and stretched

QC testing as frames, bars and forks are pulled, pushed and stretched
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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QC testing as frames, bars and forks are pulled, pushed and stretched

QC testing as frames, bars and forks are pulled, pushed and stretched
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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QC testing as frames, bars and forks are pulled, pushed and stretched

QC testing as frames, bars and forks are pulled, pushed and stretched
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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No matter what age your frame is, Time are happy to restore, repair and repaint it

No matter what age your frame is, Time are happy to restore, repair and repaint it
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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No matter what age your frame is, Time are happy to restore, repair and repaint it

No matter what age your frame is, Time are happy to restore, repair and repaint it
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Jérôme Coppel’s 2012 team bike was going through the finishing shop to be restored to as-new condition. Time have a policy of selling on their pro team bikes, so a chance of a bargain maybe?

Jérôme Coppel’s 2012 team bike was going through the finishing shop to be restored to as-new condition. Time have a policy of selling on their pro team bikes, so a chance of a bargain maybe?
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Base coat apllied and masks in place

Base coat apllied and masks in place
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Raw frames are hung with a selection of others that are being refinished or updated

Raw frames are hung with a selection of others that are being refinished or updated
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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A raw frame awaits its decals and masks before the final paintjob

A raw frame awaits its decals and masks before the final paintjob
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The Time factory showroom

The Time factory showroom
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's factory is based near Lyon, France

Time's factory is based near Lyon, France
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time

World champs memorabilia in the form of Tom Boonen's 2005 Time
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens

The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens

The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens

The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens

The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens

The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens

The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens

The bike Paolo Bettini rode to victory in the 2004 Olympic road race, Athens
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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A whole heap of 'UCI certified' badges waiting to be applied

A whole heap of 'UCI certified' badges waiting to be applied
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Each step of the process goes through quality control before the next can begin

Each step of the process goes through quality control before the next can begin
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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After the moulding process the frame sections (usually two monocoque parts) are released from the mould. They actually look remarkably finished at this stage

After the moulding process the frame sections (usually two monocoque parts) are released from the mould. They actually look remarkably finished at this stage
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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At work in the Time factory in France

At work in the Time factory in France
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time Forks

Time Forks
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time frames at the ready

Time frames at the ready
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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After the moulding process the frame sections (usually two monocoque parts) are released from the mould. They actually look remarkably finished at this stage

After the moulding process the frame sections (usually two monocoque parts) are released from the mould. They actually look remarkably finished at this stage
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Post-moulding, the frames are taken to have their fittings and fixtures bonded in, and the two halves are bonded together

Post-moulding, the frames are taken to have their fittings and fixtures bonded in, and the two halves are bonded together
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Post-moulding, the frames are taken to have their fittings and fixtures bonded in, and the two halves are bonded together

Post-moulding, the frames are taken to have their fittings and fixtures bonded in, and the two halves are bonded together
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Post-moulding, the frames are taken to have their fittings and fixtures bonded in, and the two halves are bonded together

Post-moulding, the frames are taken to have their fittings and fixtures bonded in, and the two halves are bonded together
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Unfinished frames inside the Time factory

Unfinished frames inside the Time factory
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed

Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed

Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed

Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed

Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed

Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed

Another round of quality control checks begins. At this stage, every inch of the frame is checked for cosmetic imperfections, and internal examinations and alignment checks are completed
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The mould is loaded into this computer-controlled cage, where the resin is injected and three vacumn pumps draw out the air and pull the resin through the structure

The mould is loaded into this computer-controlled cage, where the resin is injected and three vacumn pumps draw out the air and pull the resin through the structure
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Once all the wax forms have the carbon weaves stretched over them, they're attached together and the carbon is stitched and tied. Then, a very thin finishing layer of pre-preg is heated on. This has no structural importance, it's used to make the finished frame look cleaner. We'd like to see a raw frame made available

Once all the wax forms have the carbon weaves stretched over them, they're attached together and the carbon is stitched and tied. Then, a very thin finishing layer of pre-preg is heated on. This has no structural importance, it's used to make the finished frame look cleaner. We'd like to see a raw frame made available
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Each step of the process goes through quality control before the next can begin

Each step of the process goes through quality control before the next can begin
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bottom bracket shell uses 37 layers of woven carbon, all hand-stitched into place

The bottom bracket shell uses 37 layers of woven carbon, all hand-stitched into place
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Complex joints are attached together and interwoven

Complex joints are attached together and interwoven
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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The bottom bracket shell uses 37 layers of woven carbon, all hand-stitched into place

The bottom bracket shell uses 37 layers of woven carbon, all hand-stitched into place
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Numerous layers of wovens socks are drawn over the wax forms

Numerous layers of wovens socks are drawn over the wax forms
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Numerous layers of wovens socks are drawn over the wax forms

Numerous layers of wovens socks are drawn over the wax forms
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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A complex instruction guide is used by the mould preparation staff, to ensure the layup is consistent between each handmade frame

A complex instruction guide is used by the mould preparation staff, to ensure the layup is consistent between each handmade frame
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Wax forms of each piece of a Time frame are prepared for the carbon socks to be stretched over, in a similar way to the last of a handmade shoe

Wax forms of each piece of a Time frame are prepared for the carbon socks to be stretched over, in a similar way to the last of a handmade shoe
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand

Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand

Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand

Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand

Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand

Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand

Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Long reams of woven socks come from the spool rooms. These are the basis of every Time frame

Long reams of woven socks come from the spool rooms. These are the basis of every Time frame
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand

Time's engineers can configure the makeup of the carbon tubing used on the frames, from the orientation of the weave to the individual thickness and material used in each strand
(Image credit: BikeRadar)
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Complete bikes are assembled by hand from start to finish at a rate of about three per day

Complete bikes are assembled by hand from start to finish at a rate of about three per day
(Image credit: BikeRadar)

Time are somewhat of an enigma. With their long heritage in pro racing – the likes of Richard Virenque, Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen all having had stellar success on board the brand – you’d imagine the huge company producing thousands of bikes. The reality is far closer to that of traditional artisan frame-builders.

The ‘Made in France’ tagline isn’t just a catchphrase – Time frames are produced from the ground up within their French factory, where a small, dedicated team do everything from weaving the carbon to the final paint and polish.

BikeRadar took a look around Time’s HQ in Vaulx-Milieu (on the outskirts of Lyon) and watched every step of the process that takes spools of carbon thread and turns them into some of the finest quality road frames available:

Time’s in-house design team comprises 10 engineers – one looking after road pedals, one in charge of mountain bike pedals and the remaining eight all involved in the design and development of the carbon frame modules.

Waxing and weaving

The process starts within the weaving room. Inside are the sort of machines you’d expect to find within a textile factory. Huge circular contraptions take individual strands of fibre that vary in spec between 3,000, 6,000, and 12,000 filaments from as little as 7 microns in diameter.

At this point, Time can incorporate other thread materials, allowing the engineers to tune the characteristics of each tube section and frame component. For example, Vectran fibres are incorporated in frame pieces that require a more flexible character. Kevlar is used in areas that need increased protection, such as steerer tubes.

The composites engineers define the exact weave, the orientation of which can be anywhere between 15 and 70 degrees or, in some instances, unidirectional. A 15-degree weave will be highly flexible but very resistant to torsional twisting, whereas a 70-degree angle will be very stiff and flex free but resist twist lengthwise.

Unidirectional orientations resist twisting, too, but are highly flexible. By matching these characteristics to key parts of the frameset, Time can dial in every element of a frame’s character.

After the woven pieces are created they’re transferred to the cutting room. In here, each tube section is cut to size from the sock/tube forms created by the weaving.

It’s here that the main process – Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) – starts. Each sock section is stretched over an inner mould form made of recyclable wax. Each tube mould has a number of socks stretched over it. The inner mould forms are then connected together, and the fibre ends of each piece are interwoven to make a single structure.

Each section involves complex patterns, with the bottom bracket section of the range-topping VXRS having no fewer than 32 layers! The framesets are all completed with a very thin layer of pre-preg carbon; it’s not there to enhance performance but to make the bikes’ finishes clean. Henri Colliard, Time’s global development VP, told BikeRadar they’ve made special order frames that haven’t had this, which is something we’d definitely like to see.

Once the connected wax-and-carbon frame form is finished, it’s time for the resin injection process. The basic frame is put into a precision-engineered mould tool. This has one entry point for the proprietary resin, and three vacuum-controlled exit ports.

Once the mould is pressure-fitted together it’s loaded at an angle, with a constant heat of 100 degrees – just enough to enable the resin to penetrate the carbon and cure, but not enough to melt the wax.

800g of resin is injected at a 6 bar pressure, while the three vacuum pumps draw out any air and pull the resin through the raw frame. This results in a totally even spread, and no air pockets or imperfections within. From start to finish, this process takes 20 minutes, with around 15 minutes of prep on each frame – it’s a remarkably swift timescale.

However, the weaving, cutting, pre-mould prep and finishing means that, at full capacity, Time are only able to produce about 70 frames per week. That makes for a pretty exclusive product in these times of mass production.

The final stages

After the frame has been released from the mould, the injection and vacuum ports are removed and the frame has its first clean. It’s left to cure and set, and then it’s off to another oven so the wax can be heated and melted out. From here it’s into the fitting room, where an engineering team use precise jigs to set the bottom bracket inserts, headset inserts and dropouts.

Time’s carbon dropouts are created using a process called Carbon Matrix Technology (CMT), and it’s the one thing in the factory that we were allowed to see but not photograph or video. CMT uses a special carbon matrix made of identical leaves of super-thin carbon fibre pre-impregnated with a resin.

In a temperature-controlled room, these pieces are chilled to -18 degrees to maintain density. These flat sheets are then coiled up like a Swiss roll and forced under 10 tonnes of pressure for 350-600 seconds, to form a complex one-piece mould.

Time use this process for dropouts but also for the Integrated Seat Post (ISP) seat clamp base, stem and stem plates too. CMT creates a highly dense yet super light and very strong part. The carbon dropouts, for instance, weigh just 11.79g, much less than identical ones made from aluminium (16g).

The process needs great care and attention so, each and every day, the flat pieces have to be prepared by hand to ensure no variances in temperature – this stuff has a pretty short shelf life.

As soon as the pieces are extracted from the moulds, they go through quality control; weight wise, if they’re not within 1g they’re rejected. The process is totally unique within the bike industry, and outside only the likes of Boeing are employing it.

With the component parts bonded in and every element and alignment checked, the frames then go through their final finishes. Each one is hand-completed (finely sanded) and takes 45 minutes. The painting and decal process can go on for more than 10 hours for one of Time’s VIP bikes, and takes place in a special dust- and dirt-free series of rooms.

In an industry that’s full of marketing hype and claims about the humble bike’s creation, it’s great to see that Time can actually back up their story with a frame production process that combines the cutting edge with true handbuilt quality.

For more information on Time products see www.time-sport.com.