Factory Tour – Moots Titanium Cycles’ Idyllic Steamboat Springs Compound

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - headquarters building

Moots, headquarted in Steamboat Springs, CO, has been in this building for about 11 years now. Kent Eriksen founded the company in 1981, starting in the back of a bike shop before moving into a warehouse. Current owner Chris Miller came on a few years later. Eventually, as the company started growing faster and production demand ramped up, Eriksen split off to build his eponymous, custom bikes, and Miller took over full time.

From ’81 to ’91 they built only with steel, and only full custom. In ’83, they built their first mountain bike. It won the first NORBA Nationals under Steve Tilford, but it was badged as a Raleigh.

In 1991, it was a virtual overnight switch to titanium. Tubing quality became better and more diameters and sizes became available. That’s when they started developing stock sizing, too.

After about 21 years of renting, they decided to build their own factory and office. It’s 15,000 square feet, and the entire first floor is all production. Second floor has the showroom plus all the sales, marketing, admin and other desk work. On the third floor are three apartments – one for staff, one for guests (like us, thanks guys!) and one for the owners.

They offer tours MWF at 10am, but this tour is open 24/7…

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - showroom and offices

In the showroom are a few desks, where Tammy (not shown, that’s our PR liaison Cathy in the foreground talking with Moot’s marketing man Jon Cariveau) processes all the web orders for parts and soft goods.

One of each model is represented here and showed a few updates that have taken place over the past 12 months. Moots’ carbon forks are now made by PMG, and are Moots’ own design. They had to switch when Alpha-Q stopped making forks. PMG is American owned, though they’re made in Asia, so communication was quick and easy, and they make a lot of carbon products for the top brands and bikes, so the quality is high.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - dealer network

They have 25 full time employees now, 18 of which are on the production floor. They pump out about 1,400 to 1,500 bikes a year, and about 15% of that is custom. They offer 8-10 stock sizes for road bikes, and around 8 for mountain bikes, so there’s plenty of sizes to avoid the custom up charge. That said, Cariveau says most go out with some options added like extra bosses, pump pegs, etc. The map above shows their North American dealer network.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - workshop

Windows along a hallway at the back of the showroom look down on the machine shop and finishing area. The tube prep happens directly beneath it, and welding is on the front right corner.

TUBE CUTTING, MITERING & SHAPING

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - order sheet

They have 31 different wall thicknesses and diameters to create the 16 different models of bike. Each one starts off as a set of measurements like this Vamoots CR road bike.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

All if their tubing is US made, from Sandvik and Hanes. Cariveau says it’s the best quality. They’ve tested samples of foreign sourced tubing, and say it cracks as soon as they start trying to bend or shape it.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

They use seamless 3/2.5, plus a bit of small diameter 6/4. It’s seamless drawn from a solid puck of titanium that has a mandrel pushed through it to make tubing. A 1.5″ diameter tube is about $28 per foot when it arrives on their door. The wider 1.64″ is far more, meaning a single downtube can easily be $150 worth of raw materials. They’ve used up to 1.75″ for custom orders.

Material costs are just one of the reasons Moots’ bikes are expensive. I asked Cariveau (with a warning that there’s really no way to sugarcoat this) why, compared to other custom titanium bicycle builders, are Moots’ bikes generally higher priced, even for stock sizing? Part of it is the overhead of a large operation, lots of employees and maintaining a dealer network. But the part I, as a rider and Moots owner, care about is the quality of materials and meticulous process. You don’t hear much about Moots’ frames having problems, and they come with a lifetime warranty.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

The back half of the mitering and tube prep room.

The mitering/cutting/shaping room is huge and full of machines. the reason for so many is that each one is dedicating to doing a certain type of tube and cut.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

The front half, with all the mitering machines preset for a particular frame and size.

When they set up for a production run, they’ll batch orders and run a few extra to have on hand. Typically, for a bike like the Vamoots CR that’s one of their bread and butter items, they build twelve at a time per size, so the jigs are all set and they can streamline operations and make them all the same.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

Cutting the tubes to length is the first step.

That combination of abundant machinery and processes allows for accurate repeatability and consistency, something that helps set them apart from smaller builders doing one or two bikes at a time.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

Precision mitering.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

They machine their own fixtures in house, too. All materials are cold worked. Anytime you heat metal, it weakens, so all of the tube bending is done at room temperature.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

A straight tube is cradled on the bottom piece, then the upper roller is pulled over it, bending the tube into the desired shape.

Frames all use size specific tubing, so smaller people/bikes get smaller diameter tubing.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

To shape the tube profiles (ovalization, for instance), a tube is set in a clamp with the desired shape. Sometimes it’s a small clamp like the one above…

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

…and sometimes it resembles a full length mold when compound or lengthier shaping is required. This one flattens and ovalizes the top tube on the Psychlo-X RSL cyclocross bike to make for easier shouldering.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

Sometimes a tube can be bent and shaped in the middle, then cut to create two usable tubes.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

The Rumorlets get a crash course in titanium frame building.

For the precision of their mitering machines, some cuts are still done by hand.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

Some of the subassemblies are tacked and prepped to go with the cut tubes, then they’re all sent across the hall to the welding room. But first, a quick detour.

THE MACHINE SHOP

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - machine shop

Four CNC machines make about 75% of the small parts (BB shells, headtubes, disk brake mounts, bottle bosses, cable stops, etc), plus the tooling for their mitering machines and benders.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - small parts

Paragon Machine Works does the rest. Having them in house has really helped them speed up delivery time. It also lets them prototype faster.

WELDING

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - welding

After the mitering room, tubes go to the welding room.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

Tubes are grouped by model and size first.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - tube cutting mitering and bending

Then they’re boxed into groups for a complete build…

moots-cycles-factory-tour-tubes-cleaned-prepped01

The sections that will welded are brushed clean, then they’re put into into a hot soapy water mix inside an ultrasonic cleaner. This removes all cutting fluids, oils and fingerprints from the tubes. Without this step, the welds could deteriorate over time and cause a failure. They go from the wash basket to a dry basket, and from here on out they’re handled with gloves.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - welding

Clean parts are put into a jig and sealed for argon gas filling. They use tig welding, so the welding torch flows argon gas over the. Outside of the tubes, and argon is pumped through the frame’s tubes, to remove all the oxygen from the welding surface. It takes about 20 minutes to purge the oxygen from the frame before they can start welding.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - welding

They go through a lot of argon. Just disregard that Raleigh box.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - welding

They have six full time welders. Mark Rasmussen is the head welder. He and Bryce Davies tack all the frames, check for alignment, then they move through to be fully welded.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - welding

Before they’re tacked, the jig’s measurements and angles are double checked with a digital angle finder. It’s tacked with only heat, then moves on to one of the welders.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - welding

They use a double pass welding method. This means they do a first pass with only the torch, which essentially fuses the tubes together by melting the material into one. Then, they do a second pass with 6/4 rod. It usually takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to completely weld a frame, up to 4 hours if there are a lot of extras like third bottle bosses, rack and fender mounts, etc.

The precise mitering means less welding time and filler material is used, which makes for a stronger frame. They also weld in a very specific order and direction, which reduces warping from the heat.

Most of their welders were self taught and learned at Moots. One, Amy Decastro, started out in customer service but wanted to learn to weld. She went though UBI’s welding course and now does all of their subassemblies, stems and seatposts, along with a few frames.

FRAME FINISHING

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame finishing

In the back is the hand finishing area. That’s where the bottom bracket and headtube are reamed, chased and faced.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame alignment check

They get a final alignment check, hand checks over the stops to check for burrs, and the headtube is drilled and tapped for the badge.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame finishing

A raw titanium frame (foreground) is much shinier than the finished product.

Frames are bead blasted and waxed before they leave, which is their trademark finish. Cariveau says when you polish or brush it, it creates titanium dust, which isn’t very healthy to breathe, and it won’t look as good for as long.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame finishing

Blasting it also means they can easily refinish it, which they’ll do for $350 and include an alignment check and fresh decals. Basically it’ll look like new.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame finishing

Hanging frames have been blasted, but not waxed, thus the intermediate gray hue.

After blasting, decals are hand applied, then the frames are waxed. They used to use Lemon Pledge, until Johnson & Johnson changed the formula. That threw them for quite a loop when the finish wasn’t turning out like they were used to. Now they stockpile this:

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame finishing

Store brand lemon scent furniture polish gives Moots bikes that characteristic dark ti tint.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame finishing

For complete bikes, this is the final stop for assembly.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - frame finishing

Bikes and frames then get a smattering of other quality checks before they’re boxed up. Each one ships with a tag that shows who handled each part of the construction, any requested options and other notes.

RANDOM BIKES & PARTS

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - repairs

They can also do frame repairs. This one had a new derailleur hanger welded on.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - original and random bikes

Two classics: Moots’ no longer available TT/Triathlon bike and an original steel bike.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - original and random bikes

This frame had been converted into a dual single speed backcountry adventure bike. A 29er rear wheel with fat tire front combines the benefits of both where needed, and drop bars make for more hand positions over the long haul.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - original and random bikes

Two setups keep the ease of singlespeed with a bit more versatility. Easy gear for climbing and technical sections, big gear for hammering gravel roads.

Moots titanium bicycles factory tour - full suspension pivot hardware

The lower pivot for the MX Divide full suspension mountain bike.

Huge thanks to Cathy, Jon and the rest of the crew at Moots for their time and hospitality!

Moots.com

Comments

mike - 01/14/14 - 1:20pm

Guru could learn a thing or two. Just look at the weld on that moots frame!

M.A. - 01/14/14 - 1:22pm

One day, I will own one.

DoCycling - 01/14/14 - 1:27pm

My moots RSL is an amazing bike- my components might change through the years, but this frame is one that I’m going to care for over a lifetime. This past summer I climbed with it over Trail Ridge road in Estes Park, CO- and if I’m lucky sometime I’ll get the chance to take it over to france.

Thanks a ton Moots- you guys rock.

misterha - 01/14/14 - 1:33pm

Oh here comes the peanut gallery showing their expertise and knowledge on welding.

zank - 01/14/14 - 2:28pm

Moots….always inspiring.

Ryan - 01/14/14 - 3:00pm

I shall have a single speed specific Moots (or REEB) titanium frame one day.

yep - 01/14/14 - 3:50pm

Love seeing these tours, especially Moots! I’ve got a MXRSL and it’s an amazing bike. Can’t see myself ever getting rid of it.

jason - 01/14/14 - 4:15pm

Another great factory tour.

Steve - 01/14/14 - 4:17pm

I will always own a Moots. They are an amazing company that makes amazing bikes.

Old Doc - 01/14/14 - 4:29pm

2014 starts the 7th season on my Mooto-Xessessss. One SS, one geared.
I’m can’t deny the desire of the carbon and squishy space ships that I ride with.
But after every trade off the YBBs and onto a super slick time machine, well… I cant say that the new bikes aren’t nice in their way. I can say that getting back on the Moots always feels more like home.
I’m now older, slower, heavier, and keenly aware of why I love bikes. The latest and (not so) greatest just don’t feed what my riding is these days. Somedays at the start of a loop I’ll look around and wonder why my bike looks like a CX rig more than a mountain bike. Then at the end, we’re all smiling and laughing regardless of the chosen tool.
Now… How to wrangle a deal on a VaMotts for the randoneur routes of my dreams?

pornitswhatlwouldratherbmaking - 01/14/14 - 4:41pm

100% sweet bikes but when will they make a full suspension frame that looks attractive?

Brad - 01/14/14 - 5:03pm

By apartments, do you mean actual apartments that people live in?

slippyfish - 01/14/14 - 5:48pm

Did I read that right? They share a roof with Paragon? That’s cool.

Contador - 01/14/14 - 5:57pm

Such a clean and tidy shop, very impressive operation!

Charlie Best - 01/14/14 - 5:58pm

No Lizard Lugs on display? Too bad.

Inspector Gadget - 01/14/14 - 7:48pm

Paragon is located in California, not Colorado. I think they meant the CNC machines to make 75% of the fittings in house.

http://www.paragonmachineworks.com/index.php/contact

Alex - 01/14/14 - 8:24pm

The “overheads of a large operation” increase each fames price, but then you mention their batch building that streamlines the production?

Moots are more expensive because they can be – the extra you spend to get an unbutted, non-custom Moots instead of a “Made in the USA” custom frame from a small builder, is for the name you get on the down tube.

MB - 01/14/14 - 9:06pm

@Alex – Spot on.

David Berry - 01/15/14 - 1:00am

I’m sure my custom titanium bike (made a little further south in Colorado) cost a good deal more than its Moots equivalent. Despite that, it is the hugest disappointment ever. My bike arrived three years and four months after it had been ordered and was (to put it very mildly) substandard in almost every way. I am now seriously thinking of ordering a Moots from my local dealer and transferring the components and accessories.

Singletrackroadie - 01/15/14 - 2:39am

Great tour. Got to love Ti bikes! One day…..

nsp234 - 01/15/14 - 5:21am

Am I getting this right? Are they using only tubes with constant wall thickness?

I like their stuff for being very beutifully made, but many of their frames have way too many bends for my taste…

pants and jacket - 01/15/14 - 10:24am

Nobody making Ti frames in the US is using butted tubes.

Nobody wants to talk about it, because everyone knows if it’s made in the US it’s automatically better and worth the premium.

velovelo - 01/15/14 - 11:57am

@pants and jacket Seven builds Ti bikes with either straight gauge, double butted or triple butted tubing, depending on the model. They butt the tubes in house.

sean - 01/15/14 - 12:01pm

@pants and jacket – not true. Plenty of builders offer frames made with butted tubes in the US. There’s a company in CO who offers centerless ground butted tubes, there are several builders who own centerless grinders and butt their own, there’s a prominent company on the east coast who butts theirs on a lathe with a steady rest and profiler and fewer still plunk down the cash to have Reynolds draw butt tubes for them.

There’s a question as to whether or not it’s useful. A pretty standard 58cm road frame using 0.035″ WT tubing comes in at just over three pounds. Big 29er frames using big diameter tubes come in at about 3.5lb using 035 tubing. You can save some weight and keep most of the crash proofness of a frame by using 032 tubing (roughly 10% thinner and lighter).

plebs - 01/15/14 - 1:23pm

That 29er/fatbike/semi-geared bike is crazy. I’d love to know how it came about…

Butch - 01/15/14 - 1:57pm

Our Vamoots RSL and the Psychlo-XRSL models use internally butted tubes in the 3 main tubes which we have butted by Reynolds in the UK. The chainstays are tapered which also is a form of butting, the head tubes on all the frames are externally butted and the bottom bracket shells are internally counterbored/butted. butch@moots

Psi Squared - 01/15/14 - 2:45pm

Butting isn’t necessarily a sign of quality, be it build quality or ride quality.

Bobby - 01/15/14 - 3:22pm

Call Moots when you get tired of waiting 6months to over a year for your small builder frame. Wouldn’t batch processing also ensure more quality and consistency between frames as opposed to having to set up your tools and jigs each time you go to make a single frame if the builder even has all of the specific tools and jigs for 15 models and various options? Plus they have departments that are focusing on one specific aspect of the build process instead of one or two guys that do the CNC, cutting, welding, finish… Seems like that would allow more focus and specialization?

Bobby - 01/15/14 - 4:52pm

Wouldn’t batch processing also ensure more quality and consistency between frames as opposed to having one person setting up various tools and jigs each time you go to make a single frame, that is if the builder even has all of the specific tools and jigs for 15 models and various options? And the departments look like they are focusing on one specific aspect of the build process instead of one or two guys that do the CNC, cutting, welding, finish… Seems like that would allow more focus, quality and specialization?

Alessandro - 01/15/14 - 4:57pm

hola .. excelente la fabrica .. donde consigo esa maquinas soy de peruano..

Troy Junge - 01/15/14 - 6:03pm

Furniture Polish….?

Matthew - 01/15/14 - 7:07pm

@Troy: Yep. Furniture polish. If that freaks you out, you can use a bicycle specific polish (Finish Line’s product is pretty good), but all you’re getting by paying twice as much is no lemon smell and a picture of a bike on the outside of a can.

I use store brand polish from my grocery store on my Lynskeys and Seven, and it gets rid of the fingerprints and smudges like nothing else. Works on glossy carbon too (haven’t tried it on UD carbon). Try it.

912R - 01/15/14 - 10:53pm

If nothing else I’ve learned I should maybe buy some cheap furniture polish for my old VooDoo D-Jab ti.

bikerjay1350 - 01/16/14 - 3:38pm

Who is PMG???

Mathew - 01/16/14 - 7:25pm

I met Caleb over there on the tour when I was visiting colorado for the us pro challenge.He was super nice and I watched him weld a little.MOOTS was a great visit and watching them put the passion in the product first hand was great.Hope he’s still over there.Support USA made.

GC - 01/16/14 - 10:41pm

I am lucky to own two of these frames after a decade and a half of chasing other brands in other materials. I enjoyed my other bikes, but my Moots are with out a doubt the biggest smile inducing rides of my life. Components may change on my frames, but that is all. I have quit looking at the buxom blondes and am fat and happy on my couch and happily married to this brand. The service and more importantly the people who make up this company are top notch and I am quite comfortable sounding like a fanboy here.

Bicycle Playground - 01/17/14 - 12:44pm

I’m stocked to be the only Moots dealer on Long Island. Their bikes are amazing!

Wiul - 01/24/14 - 10:56am

Can we call that last gearing set-up a “double-dingle”?

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