Bike Building

Bicycle factory visit: Helkama Velox part 1

6 Comments 18 October 2010

Our trip really started after we got to Hanko, a town in Southern Finland where the headquarters and factory of Helkama Velox is located. We were lucky enough to be invited to check out their factory and during this week we’ll be posting a lot of photos of the tour. Neither of us had never visited a bicycle factory before, so we were very excited.

Our host was Janne, who is responsible for all after sales and Merida importing (yes!) for Helkama. After a thorough security screening that reminded us a lot of American airport safety, we entered the actual factory.

The first thing we saw from the top of the stairs were rows and rows of bicycle frames on massive stands. From the outside the factory didn’t look that big, but we started to get the scope of things..

It also didn’t long to understand that Helkama bikes are made from raw materials in here, mostly by hand. No super-clean Japanese robot assembly lines here. We liked it immediately.

Helkama has a long history, it was founded in 1905 to sell bicycles and sewing machines (to show proper cadence, we hope) and the factory was littered with old posters and advertisements. This one shows their crown jewel, the Jopo or “Everyman’s bicycle”.

Speaking of Jopos and raw materials: These steel pipes you see above are the materials they build the bike frames. During the day a pipe transforms into tubes, chainstays and handlebars. Next year they’ll push out over 20 thousand Jopos alone from this location, all hand-made in Finland from Finnish steel.

Our journey continued to the production warehouse side, and in this photo you can see a tiny fraction of its size. This part was full of tires and racks.

I especially liked these retro-looking beige-coloured whitewall tires, and there were a dozen boxes of them. Waiting for me to take them all home to make a bed of.

This is a pressing machine they use to press the steel tubes into different shapes. That day it had been pumping out chainstays for Jopos (which you can see a glimpse of on the right side of the photo).

Naturally bikes needs forks too, and since people like colors, Helkama was trying out “a few” in this batch. The collection of forks continued in all directions from this point.

Not only were there forks, there were tens of different frames in different phases of painting, from raw steel to primed.

.. and all kinds of other parts too – I think these are dropouts. That stack was pretty deep as well, like a pirate booty!

Naturally they have to paint everything they build here, so the painting line was full of stuff drying from small bits to whole frames.

The Royal Blue colored bikes are all from Helkama’s Professional line. They build heavy-duty bikes, trikes and scooters for factory environments – and they’re all royal blue.

With production in Finland, Helkama can react faster to market requirements with different colors for example.

But yellow still seemed to be a favourite, the original Jopos were yellow as well.

The Finnish postal system uses Helkama bikes as well, they have a very open frame design to allow quick mounting. The post bikes also come with an electric engine to assist the delivery people who can ride with loads of over 40 kilograms (80 pounds).

Naturally, since every bike has at least two wheels, Helkama must produce them all using a very expensive wheel-making machine.

One of the three assembly lines was still operational during the Friday afternoon we visited. Another Jopo almost ready to hit the streets.

There were three assembly lines in this part, this one is for the professional bikes heading out to factories and similar environments all over the world.

I liked the way the Jopos were packaged with just a small amount of plastic and a minimal amount of recycled cardboard.

Once the bikes are ready for transport, they are moved to this three story warehouse that continued on and on.

Whew! That’s the first round of photos, our next location in the factory was their history room with bikes from Helkama’s history and even from a few past competitors. Check them out by clicking here!

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Markus is a bike commuter gadget freak who is learning the ropes of the bike world, you can find him all around the web - but you can start with his twitter at @banton.

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Coming Thru (or Coming Through - as that URL was taken) is a daily updated bike magazine - a collection of writings and links that relate to biking in its every form. The idea started from when Maarten met Markus decided to finally start collecting the things we like about bikes and talk about our everyday adventures in dodging moving objects at high speeds.The site is run by a collage of cyclists, most notably by Canadian Johanna MacDonald, Belgian Maarten Patteeuw and Finnish Markus Sandelin.

It all started in the spring of 2010, after a record breaking snowy winter when Markus bought a house 25 kilometers from the office and decided to handle the commuting with a bicycle. It turned out the bike wasn’t up to standards for that kind of stress and the first weeks were more tragicomic than glorious. Thus the idea began to brew to actually document this journey.

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