Factory Tour – Guru Cycles, Part 3: Titanium Frame Building, Painting and Finishing (UPDATED)

Guru Factory Tour - titanium frame alignment check

So far, we’ve taken a pretty close look at how Guru Cycles designs their custom bikes and preps the carbon frames in Part 1 and how those frames come together in Part 2. Now, we get to show you the other side of their business with the steel and titanium frames. Then the finishing and painting process that gets them ready to ship.

Shown above is a titanium frame in their digital alignment table. The spring-loaded “pokers” holding up the seat tube are wired into the system and show how far they’re extended compared to the clamp holding the bottom bracket shell. They can be moved to check any part of the frame, letting the welder confirm alignment after tacking and welding.

But how does it get to this point? Put on those safety goggles and come on in…

UPDATED: Guru’s response regarding ti welds added to bottom of post.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium and steel bicycle frame fabrication

As we learned at Interbike, Guru’s been streamlining their lineup to make things a bit more efficient. They only really make steel and titanium bikes now. They used to do aluminum and will still build one or two track bikes a year, but that’s about it.

For titanium, it’s all U.S. sourced 3/2.5 material with tube diameters from 12mm chainstays up to 44.5mm for the downtubes. They use diameter rather than butting to doctor the stiffness of the frame. They say this gives the desired result without adding the additional weight and complexity of butting.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium and steel bicycle frame fabrication

The bends are all done in house.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium and steel bicycle frame fabrication

The bottom bracket shells and headtubes are all made in house. This gives them a lot more flexibility to create custom frame sizes since off-the-shelf parts (head tubes in particular) only come in limited sizes. It also lets them control the stiffness of the headtube by controlling the diameter by subjecting it to more or less lathing. Lastly, it lets them mix and match headset styles, using an integrated upper cup and external lower cup to add a bit of headtube length without the visual weirdness of a massively tall tube.

The other benefit is that they end up with thicker tubes than what’s available elsewhere. They found that thinner 3rd party BB and HT parts would deform too much during welding, which could result in poor headset and bottom bracket performance. Guru’s tube ID’s (interior diameters) are left intentionally too tight throughout the welding process, then they’re machined after everything’s welded to the correct measurements for a precise fit.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium bicycle frame fabrication

They make their own dropouts in house, and the design is brilliant. Both stay contact points are rounded with a constant radius. So, once the seat- and chainstays are mitered, they make full contact at any point on the curve, so Guru has a range of angles to work with from just a single part.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium and steel bicycle frame fabrication

Once the tubes are selected for a particular frame, they go to the middle of the shop floor for cutting and mitering. Then, like the carbon tubes, they’re binned with all parts for a frame in a bucket with geometry chart and instructions.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium bicycle frame fabrication

Then they head to the welding room, run by Michel Jacques, a former pro downhill racer, and Luc Moreau, both came from Balfa. They worked together there and were recruited by Guru when Balfa was purchased by Rocky Mountain and moved out of Montreal.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium bicycle frame fabrication

We’ve seen welding before, but it’s always a treat to watch it in action. Welding tubes with wall thicknesses is tricky, because you need to make sure the bead adequately penetrates each without destroying the thinner one or not fully melding with the thicker one. It’s an art, and they seem to be quite good at it.

Guru Factory Tour - titanium bicycle frame fabrication

Here, the dropouts are tacked in place…

Guru Factory Tour - titanium bicycle frame fabrication

…and then fully welded. All of the heat coloration will be polished off, but dang does it look neat.

Guru Factory Tour - frame painting and finishing

Once the frames are all put together, they’re queued up for sanding, painting and finishing.

Guru Factory Tour - frame painting and finishing

Different stages of sanding are done before any paint or coating is applied and then again between coats as necessary to get the desired result.

Guru Factory Tour - frame painting and finishing

Like any good custom builder, paint schemes run from mild to as wild as you’re willing to pay for. It’s not just the decals they were printing in Part 1, it’s masks to get detailed art and logo work on the frames.

Guru Factory Tour - frame painting and finishing

Guru Factory Tour - frame painting and finishing

Frames are racked to dry a bit between coats.

Guru Factory Tour - frame painting and finishing

Once all the paint’s done, a protective clear coat goes on. This is the buildup on one of the stands. Pretty, no?

Guru Factory Tour - frame painting and finishing

Once the clear coat is applied, they’re put on a spinning rack to dry. The frames rotate slowly while drying to prevent any runs or light/heavy spots.

Guru Factory Tour - frame packing and shipping

When it’s all dry, they’ll get a final inspection then they’re wrapped up and boxed. Complete bikes get partially built first, but this is the end of the line before the delivery company makes someone a very happy cyclist.

Thanks a ton to Jodi and the rest of the Guru team for showing us around!

GuruCycles.com

GURU’S RESPONSE RE: TITANIUM WELDS

Guru-Cycles-PraemioR-titanium-welds-detail-photo

From Tony Giannascoli, Founder: Please allow us to chime in on the posts regarding Guru’s welds. Guru has been welding titanium frames for more than 10 years already and we take great pride in our craftsmanship and in our weld quality. We were pleased when Tyler accepted our invitation and we allowed him to snap pictures of anything he wanted as we are transparent and have nothing to hide.

Weld zone discoloration is inevitable when welding outside of an inert chamber. In the bicycle industry, since weld bead aesthetics are important, frames are welded outside of an inert chamber but steps are taken to ensure the integrity of welds. Firstly, the interior of the frame is purged of all oxygen using Argon gas. Then, a specially designed cup which diffuses Argon gas evenly is used to purge any oxygen from the outer surface of the weld. Inevitably, some discoloration will be evident with this technique. It is only a few microns thick and can be easily removed using scotch brite to finish the surface (photo above).

Note that we’ve had our welds tested by independent laboratories using x-rays and micrographs. In all cases, the results demonstrated very low levels of porosity and high levels of purity with virtually no contamination. The ultimate test for our welds is fatigue and impact testing which we regularly conduct at Guru. These tests demonstrate that when frames are brought to the point of rupture due to excessive abuse, the welds never break. Furthermore, we have many clients who have been riding their Guru-made titanium frames for well over 10 years without any incidents (Editor’s note: They added via phone that their titanium models are by far their most durable frames, virtually without any warranty issues). This is the true testament to the quality of our titanium frame construction.

Comments

MattTheIcarus - 12/14/13 - 6:49pm

The Ti welding don’t seem to be so desirable… Look up at what the colors mean…

Sascha - 12/14/13 - 7:11pm

Well that was disappointing…Ti frame being built then it cuts to carbon frames in the paint shop with no final pics of the finished Ti frame…?

eddie - 12/14/13 - 7:55pm

serious oxygen contamination and un-prepped welding surfaces- sloppy.

Jeff - 12/14/13 - 8:32pm

I am not a welder, but when you see frames like this from Steve Potts or Moots they do not seem to have those colors which I have been lead to believe are not good. But what do I know…

Joey Brown - 12/14/13 - 8:56pm

I would take a Kent Ericksen Ti frame any day!

fred - 12/14/13 - 8:58pm

According to this: http://www.millerwelds.com/resources/articles/TIG-gtaw-titanium-welding the welds above are contaminated. I’ve heard a lot of trash talk about Guru and until now didn’t really believe it. Hmm… now I am starting to. Any way Guru can weigh in on these photos?

CXisfun - 12/14/13 - 9:35pm

Yikes, those welds are scary. While their “stack of dimes” may or may not look ok, all of that discoloration is downright sloppy. Check out Fred’s link and maybe think about revising the post?

dizzy - 12/14/13 - 9:38pm

dear consumers, you don’t want to see colorful titanium welds. There’s enough bad stuff in those photos that I’m surprised Guru would let you post them. They didn’t even bother to remove the oxide layer from the tubing in the weld zone (on the outside, who knows what it looks like on the inside.) The weldor appears to be competent in laying down wire, but they need to step up their game in the pre-weld department and definitely need better shielding coverage. I shudder to think what the interior looks like. Yikes.

Menga - 12/14/13 - 9:38pm

I was about to say the same about the welding. There are a couple of welds contaminated, but probably the titanium-oxide and titanium-nitride are only superficial, probably doesn’t affect the structure, but i’m not sure. It’s true that the wleds of Moots and other doesn’t look like that.

CXisfun - 12/14/13 - 9:49pm

http://www.bikerumor.com/2012/08/13/factory-tour-firefly-bicycles-custom-titanium-stainless-steel-bikes/

There’s your reference point on Ti welds.

Eyal - 12/14/13 - 10:25pm

Some brands are naturally dislikable this is one of them. It might be partly irrational. But I keep reading about their unsatisfactory customer service should anything happen to any of their products. Their name is full of conceit too!

Snow - 12/14/13 - 11:14pm

I’ll leave a non negative comment… The actual welds look good, a quick tip to the Welder to reduce the heat effected zone, use the biggest cup possible and then try .040-1 1/16 tungsten. This link was very helpful for me. http://groovycycleworks.blogspot.com/2011/09/fabricating-custom-ti-welding-cup.html

Cheers

MB - 12/14/13 - 11:20pm

Butting tubes reduces weight, not adds weight. Perfect example of lack of skill turned marketing BS.

CdnTi - 12/14/13 - 11:58pm

I have been riding a Guru Ti frame for 5 seasons and would ride nothing else. To my knowledge, only two Ti frames produced by Guru in 11 years have ever failed which is the reason I went with the company’s frame. That and the fact that the tube set and geometry was made to my specs. Having visited the factory, I can attest, and I hope Guru does as well, that Michel Jaques is an artist and is one of the pickiest welders ever, and always purges the tubes with Argon gas when welding. So before you knock a product you have never tried, seen in person, or for that matter met the artisan welding the frame, find me a single brand out there that does not have waranty issues… Yeah, that’s what I thought. No product or brand is perfect but in my opinion, and it is mine, Guru Ti bikes are as good as any out there, if not better and it is because of the artist behind the shield. Thanks for the article Tyler. Glad you enjoyed the visit and enjoyed the Canadian hospitality.

Tan dumb - 12/15/13 - 12:20am

Brown or purple contamination on Ti welds is a big no-no. Silver or straw yellow is about all the color you want, otherwise the weld is brittle and prone to fail…

But, that being said, the guru welds may be passable as the stack of dimes don’t seem to be discolored, it’s the heat affected surface outside the weld that didn’t get enough argon purge. And yes, that is just purple discoloration on the surface of the metal, not thru the weld itself… And therefore can just be polished or bead blasted off. These welds, though not as crisp clean as those from moots, eriksen, strong, etc… May still be passable.

Tandumb - 12/15/13 - 12:25am

Brown or purple contamination on Ti welds is a serious no-no. Silver or straw-yellow is about all the color you want, otherwise the weld is brittle and prone to fail…

That being said, the guru welds may be passable as the stack of dimes don’t seem to be totally discolored, it’s the heat affected surface outside the weld zones that didn’t get enough argon purge. Either they need to up the argon, or use a better gas lens… If that’s the case, it may be a case of a little purple discoloration on the surface of the metal, not thru the weld itself… And therefore could just be polished or bead blasted off. These welds, though not as crisp clean as those from moots, eriksen, strong, etc… May still be passable.

turtlehead - 12/15/13 - 1:00am

Most aspects of the weld execution appear to be correct, with the exception of contamination. On steel, aluminum, and even stainless steel, the weld will still be supple enough to pass a bend test. On titanium, it really isn’t enough to use a normal tig setup. A purge chamber is ideal. A few companies use this specifically. Moots uses a purged environment during welding: essentially to the same effect. The dropout is a prime example of this: the joint along the outside corner edge will be vulnerable to failure. Due to turbulence, the argon isn’t doing a good enough job shielding.

It seems like guru should have a large enough operation that this shouldn’t be an issue. However, the truth is that most titanium bikes’ welds look like this (or worse, or much much worse).

Consider this: there are shops that do defense work that are certified to standards that require that NO STEEL HAS EVER ENTERED THE WELDING ROOM. Contamination matters a lot when you’re considering a “lifetime bike.” Why do you think we’re seeing so many ti bikes from the 90s failing at the tubing’s seams?

joe - 12/15/13 - 3:02am

Well, there’s a company not to buy from. Unbutted tubing and dodgy welds. A steel bike is a bike for life too…

Butzi 993 - 12/15/13 - 3:11am

Well, I’ll definitely take Guru off my “Potential” builder list. Those welds look strange, and the “we don’t use butted tubing” comment is off. Where’s the photos of a finished product?

Mosaic, Eriksen, FIREFLY(!), Strong, Moots, SEVEN, Serotta (oops, Saratoga Frameworks), Independent Fabrications… — Why go north of the border when the best are in the U.S.??? If you have to leave America, go to Down Under and look at Baum…

onetrackmind - 12/15/13 - 8:46am

Hate to be critical, but…I welded for one of the most respected Ti companies out there, and I used to be horrified if an area the size of a dime accidentally got that much contamination. GURU – they do make extra large cups, and you guys need to use them. Additionally, you should start buffing & flapping the mill finish off the weld zones and cleaning the tubes and parts in a sonic cleaner.

Davechopoptions - 12/15/13 - 9:46am

MB – exactly!

fred - 12/15/13 - 10:55am

@ CdnTi I am sure that your bike is just fine. Most likely, even the bike in the photo is fine, but for the kind of money a Guru costs, they should really be more attentive to details. from a marketing stand point, they really should have looked at other makes’ TI photos before letting theirs get published. I would really like to hear back from Guru directly about this.

CXisfun - 12/15/13 - 12:40pm

@CdnTi: Sort of curious how you’d be privy to this: “To my knowledge, only two Ti frames produced by Guru in 11 years have ever failed”

Dockboy - 12/15/13 - 1:25pm

@CXisfun, perhaps CdnTi meant that only 2 of the Guru ti frames he’s seen in 11 years has failed. I’ve never seen a failed Moots frame, but I don’t see many Moots in general.

SUSCIATTA - 12/15/13 - 1:57pm

I’ve been fortunate enough in the past to spend a few hours with many of the GURU shop guys and talked to each one of them one-on-one. EACH AND EVERY FAB GUY is quite literally the best of the best in what they do PERIOD! What personnally bugs me is when people here just like to make negative comments about what they think they know… Everyone who posted a comment here have 0 (ZERO) fabrication skills. I don’t blame them for posting negative comments because they attract more attention but when they try to deliberately hurt the reputation of the company, that’s not cool. You all need to keep in mind that unlike %99 of other bicycle manufacturing companies, those are made by hand and one by one by the best of the best craftsmen. If something wasn’t right, the’d fix it… The blue on the welds are very minor argon contamination ideed but don’t affect the structural integrity of any frame in any way. Using the word contamination to even describe effect isn’t really right. It’s when a very slight amount of oxygen gets into the argon used to weld titanium (from I what I know). If the colour of the contamination were to be white or even black, that’s different. Blue is nothing, seriously. Once sand blasted/bead blasted/sanded/polished or whatever, you get that perfect finish anyways. BTW, his welding beads are photoshop perfect. As for the rest of the fabrication processes, it’s really an art form. They do great work. Hand made bikes guys, not in a robotic lab… Keep that in mind. I don’t own a GURU nor do I ever think I will for financial reasons but they are truly on my holiday wish list.

Damien - 12/15/13 - 2:49pm

Having owned three Moots of which I still have one, and currently owning two Guru’s, I can attest that all are beautiful bikes. They all ride amazing, and are example’s of beautifully made ti. Saying that, Moots welds are different than Guru’s. I won’t say better, because as much as I’d like to be as educated as all of you armchair welder’s seem to be, I just don’t know.

However, working in a shop that sells both Guru and Moots, I am equally happy to sell either. For failures, I have seen two Moots fail in five years. One purchased 8 years ago, one purchased 2 years ago. Both of the customers were well taken care of. I have seen two Gurus develop cracks. Both carbon. Both were fixed and both are still being ridden. One was a customer’s bike, the other a shop demo. The demo was and is being consistently ridden by a 270 pound guy, as he now owns it. The demo’s failure was cosmetic, but Guru owned it, payed for shipping both ways, completely repainted the bike and fork in new colors that the customer picked, and did a stellar job.

I love both companies bikes, and am a happy owner of both Moots and Guru.

Gillis - 12/15/13 - 6:45pm

“SUSCIATTA”

Decries no one here is an expert:
“Everyone who posted a comment here have 0 (ZERO) fabrication skills.”

Then claims to be one:
“The blue on the welds are very minor argon contamination ideed but don’t affect the structural integrity of any frame in any way. Using the word contamination to even describe effect isn’t really right. It’s when a very slight amount of oxygen gets into the argon used to weld titanium (from I what I know). If the colour of the contamination were to be white or even black, that’s different. Blue is nothing, seriously. Once sand blasted/bead blasted/sanded/polished or whatever, you get that perfect finish anyways. BTW, his welding beads are photoshop perfect. As for the rest of the fabrication processes, it’s really an art form. They do great work. Hand made bikes guys, not in a robotic lab… Keep that in mind.”

Nevermind he doesn’t even own the bike in question:
“I don’t own a GURU nor do I ever think I will for financial reasons but they are truly on my holiday wish list.”

Big D - 12/15/13 - 8:37pm

I do own a Guru Ti. In fact my frame may be the first Preaimo. I have had my Veloc’ti for over 7 seven years and it has about 10000 km. i know I am not a high miler like some of the guy commenting here but I am a little different then everybody else. I’m 6’3″ and currently weight around 340lbs. 2 young kids and demanding job limited my riding for a couple of years but now an averaging 2400 2700 km a year. When I first received my Guru I was closer to 400lbs. My frame has survived 7 year of Montreal potholes, crashes and super huge a$$. The frame has been great and weight around 4lbs. I do charity rides and some group rides and my bike has never left me want more, until I saw the new Praeimo R. The Guru guys are great with and my next bike will be a Guru. once i make it under

Eric H - 12/16/13 - 12:05am

I just went through a fitting on the guru machine and I’m now looking at frames. I was looking at a Guru Ti frame (and still am), but I’m really not impressed with those welds.

Thumper McDonut - 12/16/13 - 7:49am

@SUSCIATTA – Do your homework before spouting off like an a-hole. There are plenty if people here that do know EXACTLY what they’re talking about, and those welds are not acceptable. Or, they wouldn’t be on a bike I would buy. The picture of the chain stay-dropout inset plate where it’s past purple to faded white-lilac is definitely contaminated beyond usability. That’s something you throw out. Not something you take pictures of to hype your shop. It’s unfortunate you’re so clueless about how titanium welding works and yet so vocal about how stupid everyone else is.

BillyTheIcarus - 12/16/13 - 9:24am

Steve Potts and Kent Erikssen. What more do you need?
Everything else is a step down.

Paolo - 12/16/13 - 9:34am

Guru? Anything to say?

Whiner - 12/16/13 - 10:57am

Wow, who would’ve thought? So many of the world’s best professional frame builders all chiming in with their constructive feedback in one post! There must be centuries of welding experience in this comment section….. or not.

Tyler Benedict - 12/16/13 - 2:38pm

All – Post has been updated with comments from Guru and a pic of a finished joint. We covered their Praemio at it’s 2012 launch with detail photos in this post for a closer look at a complete titanium bike:
http://www.bikerumor.com/2012/06/20/new-guru-praemio-r-oversized-titanium-road-bike-makes-ti-racier/

jason - 12/16/13 - 2:44pm

I love it when every bike aficionado thinks they are a certified weld inspector.

Dalai lama - 12/16/13 - 4:42pm

If you people don’t like it. You don’t have to buy it. You don’t even need to look at it. So, why do you feel the need to be a hater??? Just say’n

AnotherMike - 12/16/13 - 5:00pm

According to NASA’s Process Specification for the Manual Arc Welding of Titanium Alloy Hardware visual inspection for all welds must show bright silver to light straw color, any blue and the weld is rejected. Further more, any weld that has been brushed before inspection is rejected due to the fact the discoloration will be removed but the embrittled material is still there. I.E. looking at a pretty frame after all the discoloration has been removed means nothing. If you look at the Bottom Bracket weld bead you see bright blue, that would be rejected in a heart beat in my industry.

Aaron - 12/16/13 - 5:09pm

There is a lot of negative talk about Guru here and I think a lot of it may be unfounded. While I am not a Ti Fabricator and cant comment on the integrity of the welds I will tell you that when it comes to the “Stack of Dimes” that everyone is looking for, the welds posted here are better than what are on my Potts. I would imagine that many builders wouldn’t show an unfinished weld before the scotchbrite hits it. As to the butted tubing, Steve said that he really doesn’t see the attributes for it in a Ti bike and therefore doesn’t build with butted tubing. His reasoning was very similar to what was stated here in this article.

Someone else mentioned the rash of 90′s built frames that have been breaking, I would imagine that the majority of those were Litespeeds. They weren’t truely a fusion weld the majority of the time. I had 3 of them break at welds and all three times it was only the filler that was holding them together.

fred - 12/16/13 - 6:59pm

@ Guru, thank you for chiming in. Guru Ti is back on my short list.

CyclePat - 12/16/13 - 7:17pm

First I want to congratulate Tyler on a fantastic write . With the pictures it makes for a very interesting read .

I have been riding my Guru Praemio for the pas three years or so . I beat the crap out of it every chance I get . I weight 250 and Titanium gives me piece of mind . I’m super disappointed that «NASA» said I can’t take my bike to outer space but heck I’ll live with that … I see my bike as a work of art made by artists/craftsman if you will . Bottom line my Guru looks great and rides awesome .

Coo-dos to Guru for their transparency . I’m sure they could have taken their show bikes and perfect mitered tubes from the stockroom . I kind of like the fact that they don’t take us for stupider than we are . I’m guessing that they still need to make a profit @ the end of the day . Maybe I’m sensitive to that because I work in production myself . With all that aside I think that for those of you who want a great bike for riding and not going to space you could be well served buy these guys . I know I was !

Thank you Guru Cycleworks for making such a nice product . You make choosing Guru easy . Don’t hate me cause I love my bike ;)
-great posts guys always very colorful and opinionated …

Dr. Badtouch - 12/17/13 - 6:01am

Jeez. A little discoloration is fine. Even some blue and purple OUTSIDE the actual weld zone is ok. But when it goes past that deep, bright purple to the washed out faded greens and greys, that is a bad sign. There’s only that one pic with it, but that’s still something to try and avoid at all costs. Also, Guru’s response about weld chambers is complete BS. They’re either being lazy with shielding or stingy with gas to get that much discoloration. It’s not terrible, but it’s not done to the level of the better titanium companies in the industry, i.e. Firefly, Potts, Moots, et al. I’ve seen many of those frames in their raw post-weld state and there isn’t a fraction of the bluing Guru says is acceptable.

ginsu - 12/18/13 - 6:17pm

ginsu – 12/16/13 – 7:19pm

The Praemio still doesn’t use butted tubing, and a lower grade of titanium as well. Although it does have higher elongation so it will be more comfortable than 6Al/4V. Of course, anybody who pays too much for cheap tubing is going to argue about how ‘great’ the bike is. But, I expect a reviewer to be more objective and, at least, not make completely inaccurate statements like:

“They use diameter rather than butting to doctor the stiffness of the frame. They say this gives the desired result without adding the additional weight and complexity of butting.”

Titanium 3Al/2.5V 90-95 KSI
Titanium 6Al/4V 130-145 KSI

From Reynolds:

“Reynolds as a lighter alternative to straight gauge tubing offers double-butted 3Al/2.5V titanium tubing. Thicknesses are down to 0.6mm on mainframe tubes. This tube set will build a very reliable, lightweight, and excellent riding frame that will last a lifetime.”

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