Factory Tour – Firefly Bicycles Custom Titanium & Stainless Steel Bikes

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Tucked away in a very industrial area just outside Boston (but not for long, they’ll be moving closer to the city before the year’s out!) is Firefly Bicycles, a custom bike builder that specializes in titanium and stainless steel frames.

Driving home from the Cape with his wife, co-founder Jamie Medeiros started throwing out ideas and talks moved to bugs. Firefly came up, they’re cool, and partner Tyler Evans liked it. That was the beginning, see the here-and-now below…

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Of course, you need a logo for a new brand. These are the many renditions they went through, providing feedback to the design company as the process moved along. They wanted it to be subtle, but obvious once you saw the icon put with the brand name.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

A near final design study showing how it would look on business cards. At right, the final icon.

THE BUILD PROCESS

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

After getting the fit measurements from a customer, Firefly selects from their stock of tubes. They build with titanium and stainless steel. Back when Evans and Medeiros were working at Independent Fabrication, they did some testing with Reynolds 953 steel, but they’ve settled on Columbus’ XCR tubing for their stainless steel bikes. Tubes are mostly straight, but they do use a few butted, shaped ti tubes from Reynolds.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Tubes are then cut to length. They need to account for the overlap around headtubes, bottom bracket shells, etc., after being mitered, and Medeiros build different end pieces to adapt the cutting point. The round silver parts mimic specific tubes and, based on what cut is needed, replace the flat end piece up against the left end of this tube.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Then they’re mitered. Different machines cut the different tubes. The bits last for weeks cutting titanium, but they can only cut a couple stainless frames before they’re shot.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Then all tubes are put in the jig to be fit together and tacked into place. While its being tacked (and, later, welded), the inside of the frame is being flushed with Argon gas. Stainless steel and titanium will oxidize in the presence oxygen and extreme heat, and Argon is completely inert, so it keeps the material from becoming brittle.Jamie says if the frame isn’t purged during welding you could basically rip it apart after its been welded together.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Jig is from Sputnik Tools in Maine, which Jamie says is easier to use than some other popular jigs.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

From there, frames go to the alignment table. Frame is checked for straightness, with marks made to indicate which tubes need to move in which direction.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

The alignment table was made in-house using the large machine behind it on the right…the only time they used that machine, which was left in the place by the former tenant. They put some photos up on Tumblr of it after making it and had someone overseas inquire about one for a coffee table. Once Evans told them it weighed about 800lbs, they politely declined.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Co-founder Tyler Evans then welds the frames, putting a little extra heat in certain places. As the frames cool, this extra heat cools differently and pulls the frame into alignment. Yet another example of why frame building is as much art as science. Frames are welded in sections so as it cools, Evans can use the welding as a non-stressing alignment tool.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Just some of the welds. Titanium OS44mm headtube in the foreground, stainless steel behind it.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Polishing and/or bead blasting after the frame is complete removes the discoloration caused by welding.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Their version of an offset seatpost, shown before (foreground) and after finishing.

After that, the frame is moved to another mitering table where all the small bits (brake bridges, cable stops, bottle bosses) are cut or shaped to fit and welded on.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Lastly, the dropouts are checked for wheel alignment. This provides a final opportunity to make sure everything is straight, then the dropouts are welded on completely.

Frames are then chased, faced and reamed, then go to finishing. Occasionally this means painting at Circle A in Providence, RI, (like the stainless bike shown further down) but usually means polishing or bead blasting in house. They use zirconium ceramic beads because they last much longer and don’t create dust.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

The final step is any color applied to the frame. Using techniques borrowed from the jewelry industry, Jamie masks off sections he wants to color, then applies a trisodium phosphate solution with an electrified brush. Different voltages yield different colors. The tube above is marked with various temperatures along the spectrum so he can reproduce specific hues…within reason.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Here’s how it looks on his personal bike.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Some testing on the left, just playing with ideas. On the right, a closeup of his top tube. Click any image to enlarge.

OTHER FUN STUFF

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

On the left, this painted stainless frame was just being delivered from Circle A as we walked in. On the right, this 55ETT XCR stainless steel frame was only tacked in place, but came in at just 1405g. Full welding might add an ounce or two.

Firefly Bicycles factory tour - custom titanium and stainless steel bikes made near boston massachusetts

Their ti stems use an alloy faceplate from Paragon. Logo headbadges are cut from a thin sheet.

Firefly’s workshop. Offices are in the back, through the opening that cuts off their logo.

Comments

MarkV - 08/13/12 - 7:22pm

Glad to see Tyler using those amazing skills under his own label. Remember the hills in Laguna, you and MB rocked it for flatlanders back in the IF days.

Zap? - 08/13/12 - 9:32pm

It’s shiny!

(Firefly reference)

MissedThePoint - 08/13/12 - 10:25pm

Some awesome looking equipment. I like bike chainstay mitering setup and jig. They have machines dedicated for cutting certain set of tubes, each like this? All this equipment looks like it really eases/speeds up production for them, compared to what I’ve seen in pics from other custom shops.

Ck - 08/14/12 - 8:15am

I want..no…must have a bike made with that awesome electric paint technique. I think I want a Firefly over a Seven now.

Psi Squared - 08/14/12 - 8:44am

That electric paint technique is just anodizing.

Louis - 08/14/12 - 9:51am

…drool…

I’ve been eyeing a Firefly since they first set up shot and it is on the top of my list for my next bike. They do amazing work.

alloycowboy - 08/14/12 - 4:33pm

@Tyler,

Do you know if Fire Fly Electro Polishes there ti frames? I am curious as to why custom Ti shops don’t offer this a frame finish option?

Tyler (Editor) - 08/15/12 - 12:50pm

MTP – Yes, they had a separate cutting machine for each section of tube with jigs already angled for the right cuts…leaving mostly length (I’m guessing) to figure out.

AC – I don’t know that they’ll do that to the entire frame, just details like the logo and such, but I’ve asked Tyler Evans to chime in.

Tyler Evans - 08/16/12 - 9:01am

Thanks all for the kind words.

Tyler – it was a pleasure to have you and your family drop by for a tour.

MarkV – I remember the Laguna Hills ride! BTW, we are making a bike for MB right now. Hope all is well.

MTP – We dedicate as many machines as we can to a specific task, this reduces set up times considerably.

AC – We looked into electro polishing. It doesn’t look as awesome as you think. It mostly affects edges and tries to make them smooth. Cable stops and other small bits are really polished while welds that are deep in a crevasse or in an acute section of a joint don’t get as polished. The result just wasn’t uniform enough for us. Electro polishing would work better for less complex items.

doug - 08/17/12 - 10:33pm

Go back to page 2 on the firefly website and you’ll see details on their machinery. See below:

http://fireflybicycles.com/category/stories/page/2

Post a comment:

Comment sections can be a beautiful source of knowledge, conversation and comedy. They can also get pretty ugly, which is why we've updated our Comments Policy. If your comment isn't showing up or suddenly disappears, you might want to check it out.