Every cycling enthusiast dreams of ordering a custom frame, made to fit their specific dimensions and riding style. Based in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, Firefly Bicycles have been fulfilling the dreams of a dedicated client base since 2011. They produce around 120 bikes a year and will build any style of frame a customer wants—if the buyer is prepared to join the 12 month waiting list.
Company founders Tyler Evans, Jamie Medeiros, and Kevin Wolfson met while working together at Independent Fabrication. When IF relocated from Boston to New Hampshire, the trio stayed put, and made the decision to start their own shop. All avid cyclists, they set out with a detailed business plan and fortunately got access to a machine shop Tyler's architect friend wasn't using. This meant they could move in and start building with minimal set-up investment. Branding agency id29 helped position the new company as a high-end frame maker, and the experience and contacts of the team helped them hit the ground running. Orders came in from the start, and they haven't let up since.
They moved into their current space in 2013. It's a good size, comfortable and immaculate for a machine shop. Located in a relatively unassuming ground-floor factory, the front lobby functions as an exhibition space and features a dedicated rig for bike fittings. The back is organized into sections for each stage of the build process, including an anodizing bay and sandblaster for custom graphics, and a permanent photo studio. Tyler does all the in-house photography, and every customer receives a photo book documenting his or her bike's production from start to finish.
Titanium is the frame material of choice at Firefly. Graphics are applied through anodizing the material using masks and controlled voltage to alter the colors. The bare metal and spot applied, vivid colors have become the visual identity for Firefly frames, making them easily recognizable at a race or in a group ride. The Firefly team pride themselves in precision and attention to detail during every step of the build process, and the finished products offer testimony to the attention spent on every detail.
With roughly 620 bikes shipped since they started, they are not currently seeking to expand their business (maintaining a work-life balance) but rather will continue to focus on improving their processes and production quality. They recently finished the most complex request to date—an electric bike with custom housing in the bottom bracket for a Bosch motor and battery—and all the electronics hidden neatly inside the frame to keep the appearance minimal.
After a recent visit to the workshop, lead frame designer Kevin Wolfson sent us a few photos of their build process, and detailed how they make one of their bikes:
Every Firefly is custom made for each client to suit their specific needs and riding style. That means the fit, frame geometry, tubing, component compatibility, frame options, and finish are all specific to the rider. We have a proven process to carry out the whole design process remotely, but when possible customers will visit our shop for a full fitting in person.
After Kevin finalizes the frame geometry, Jamie pulls the tubing and small parts for the frame and then machines each part individually. We bend, shape, butt (alter the tubing wall thickness along the length to save weight and improve ride quality), and miter all of our frames in house.
The tubing is precisely machined so that each joint is as tight and clean as possible. Those efforts result in a stronger and straighter frame later on.
Once the tubing is machined and cleaned, Jamie places it into our frame fixture, which is set to the frame's specific geometry. The fixture holds the tubing straight during the tack welding process.
Jamie carefully tack welds each joint, welding it just enough to hold the frame together for the next steps.
All of our dropouts are proprietary designs that are CNC machined locally out of 6AI-4VA titanium. The grade of titanium and design of the dropouts makes them extremely strong and improves functionality. Small design details like the shape of the dropout opening make installing the wheel noticeably easier, for example.
After tacking, Tyler checks the alignment of the frame on our alignment table. The heat from welding distorts the frame, so he plans a welding sequence based on the starting alignment in order to keep the frame as straight as possible throughout the welding process.
Every frame we make is TIG welded. Titanium can't be welded in the presence of oxygen, so we fill the frames with argon gas "back-purge" the welds. Tyler has over 20 years and tens of thousands of frames worth of TIG welding experience, and it shows in the quality of the welds.
Tyler places a "heat sink" in any joint that he is welding to soak up some of the heat from the welding process and reduce distortion. One of titanium's greatest strengths is that it is very difficult to bend after welding. That makes it extremely durable, but also harder to work with. Tools like heat sinks help us manage the distortion during welding and align each frame to within .01", about the thickness of a Post-It.
In the final alignment, Tyler checks the frame in each dimension. A straight frame handles better and is a sign that the construction was done precisely and correctly.
After welding, each frame is prepped for building by hand, including reaming the head tube, facing the head tube and bottom bracket, and chasing the bottom bracket threads, shown here.
We developed a "flat-mount" disc brake dropout in 2016. That dropout works with low profile disc brakes that mount with two brake bosses to the chain stay. It is perfect for road, cross, and all-road bikes. In order to make the dropout short and stiff, we place one brake boss on the dropout and then weld the second boss into the chain stay. Here, Jamie machines the chain stay to prep it for that brake boss.
We will often design custom graphics for our frames. Sometimes we will work with graphics provided by the customer, and sometimes we will create graphics from scratch. In this case, Tyler hand draws a graphic for a customer who requested a serpent theme.
Daniel hand finishes each of our frames. There is no substitute for time and an astute attention to detail when finishing titanium. Depending on the finish, the whole process can take 1-3 days per frame.
In this image, Daniel lays down masking for custom anodized graphics. Anodization on titanium is a carefully controlled process by which we apply a thin layer of oxide to the titanium tubing. We control the voltage to control the color, and use custom masks to create an endless array of anodized graphics. Anodized logos are more durable than paint or decals, and provide beautiful but subtle touches of color to the frame.
We choose components for our frames that perfectly suit each customer's needs and budget. Building the bikes here allows us to make sure everything is placed correctly and works perfectly. A simple detail like hood placement, for example, can have a significant effect on the fit.
We take photos of the process of building every frame we make, and then take studio photos in our photo studio. That gives every customer a visual record of their bike's creation, and, hopefully, fosters their personal connection to the process.
Internal brake routing and tight junctions highlight the fine detail work and expert craft that goes into each frame.
Custom finishes can be inspired by specific images or come from very general ideas. In this case, the customer simply requested a custom anodized graphic with geometric shapes. We took it from there and created this graphic, which we dubbed the "hexi-fade."
When every detail is considered with our level of care, the result is a truly personalized bike that fits and functions exactly as the customer wants.
The Firefly showroom in Boston is open during regular working hours. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an appointment if you'd like to visit. You can find tons more photos of their shop and their bikes in use on Instagram.
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Dorchester is not part of South Boston,
Hi, Andrew! Thanks for your edit suggestion—just fixed it.
You are correct. I've edited that description too. Thanks for pointing it out.
Thanks for the fix about Dorchester within the article but the meta description still has it as "South Boston's Dorchester neighborhood"! I know it seems minor but us Dot folk are wicked proud of our neighborhood! Could you please fix the meta description too? It shows up in Google and when sharing the article elsewhere!