Factory Tour – Firefly Bicycles Custom Titanium & Stainless Steel Bikes
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…
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.
A near final design study showing how it would look on business cards. At right, the final icon.
THE BUILD PROCESS
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jig is from Sputnik Tools in Maine, which Jamie says is easier to use than some other popular jigs.
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.
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.
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.
Just some of the welds. Titanium OS44mm headtube in the foreground, stainless steel behind it.
Polishing and/or bead blasting after the frame is complete removes the discoloration caused by welding.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s how it looks on his personal bike.
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
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.
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.