Made in the U.S.A.: The MOOTS Factory Tour
Last weekend I raced the 2nd annual Steamboat Spring Stage Race in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Steamboat is also home to titanium bike maker Moots and as such they were a sponsor of the race. On Sunday night Moots held a barbecue at their headquarters just outside of downtown Steamboat where racers enjoyed great food and beer, were entered into the raffle for a free frame and could take tours of the facility. I was pretty shelled and tired, but I took the tour anyway and was fully impressed. Continue after the break to see this awesome facility and learn about how the bikes come together.
The Moots facility covers 15,000 square feet and was built in 2003. It is a modern looking structure with steel and glass making up most of the materials and if the sign out front didn’t say MOOTS in big bold red letter you would not know what was there. The building is made up of three levels. The top level is actually an apartment that houses dealers, industry friends and one employee, The middle level covers only half of the building and is where the offices and showroom are located. The lower level features high ceilings and is where the production happens. The building flows from space to space, there are no hallways and only a handful of small rooms that house special equipment. The open layout is simple to navigate and seems conducive to productivity.
The first space houses the tubing. Moots sources the tubing from the U.S. and Sweden and then organizes it according to diameter. Each batch is certified and Moots knows the composition of each tubing down to .01 of a percent. Tubing ranges from $55 per foot to $10 per foot, so it’s not cheap. Next to the tubing are some lathes and benders that Moots built themselves for their specific needs.
Next comes the C.N.C. equipment consisting of two turning centers for round parts like bottom brackets and two machining centers for 3D parts like stems and face plates. Unlike steel or aluminum which can be forged, Ti has to be machined. A single block of Ti is cut down to create the specific part, all of which is controlled by a computer program. From raw block to the finished part is roughly an hour and a half. The chips are recycled in Denver and turned into commercial production (C.P.) titanium.
The next large space houses cleaned tubes and welding stations. The tubes have been mitered, buffed and cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner. The cleaner is one of the few pieces of equipment tucked away in a small room. The tubes are so clean at the ends that no one is allowed to touch the end, you can’t even have a fingerprint on it. It then goes into a jig and the welding begins.
Welding Ti is an incredibly difficult task since there can be no air in the weld. To keep air out, Argon, an inert gas, is pumped out of a massive tank, through a tube and out of a small cup at the tip of the welder. Moots used to buy the small cups from a vendor but now they just produce their own. The welding process is an exercise in patience. There is no weld wire used for the first pass, the two parent materials are simply heated up and welded together. The welder must keep the gas over the weld and the gas must be flowing evenly, no small task since Argon is invisible. The finish pass uses 6.4 Ti weld wire. The idea is that with the first pass the materials are meshed together and the second weld provides extra strength to the weld. The combination of both passes is what makes the joint so strong. Every weld has to be perfect, there is no touching up or glossing over an ugly weld. Moots doesn’t see any weld failures either.
Once a frame is welded on the finish process starts. Serial numbers are stamped on, bottom brackets are faced and chased with a hand tap, head tubes and seat tubes are reamed. The frame checked for alignment to ensure the head tube, seat tube and center of the dropouts are exactly in plane. If they are not, they are cold set to make sure it is perfectly dialed in. The frame is de-burred by hand then bead blasted to it’s final look. Decals are put on, the frame is wiped clean and ready for shipping. It takes 15 to 20 man hours to build depending on the model and how many are being done at a time. The attention to detail and pride in each frame is evident in the finished product.
The Moots facility isn’t big or complex, it’s simply focused on doing what Moots does best, and that is building quality Titanium bikes. They have a full line of road, mountain, cyclocross, and commuter bikes, all available in standard sizes or custom. Find out more about what they have on offer at www.moots.com.