Fireflys Are Self Aware

By: Jared Porter Apr 15

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There are times when a chain reaction of events unfold that are complex, unexpected, and exciting. The birth of Firefly Bicycles was one such moment. Tyler Evans, Jamie Medeiros and Kevin Wolfson are Firefly. Each of them possesses qualities and aptitudes that, in combination, create an awesome team. It became clear to me as I spoke with them that they know exactly how they want their company to be perceived, how the bikes will look and ride, what methods and materials to use, and what the customer will take away from the experience. From the outsider’s perspective that all sounds perfectly logical, but from where I sit, after being involved with more than my fair share of bicycle companies, I know how amazingly rare it is.

Tyler and Jamie decided to team up while trying to figure out what their next move was going to be professionally. Both are totally rooted in Boston, and Independent Fabrication’s announcement to relocate to southern New Hampshire made their decision to move on imminent. Both of them really didn’t want to stop building bikes, that part wasn’t much of a decision. The real question was how and where they wanted to make bikes? That question triggered the creation of Firefly. The two of them know each other in an intimately professional way, having been tested by the same situations in the past. They have worked with each other on prototypes, concept bikes, and crazy customer special requests. It was these types of projects that really made them want to continue working together. The materials they employ are clean and timeless. Both stainless steel and titanium allow little room for error on the part of the builder. They also allow for a minimalistic aesthetic that shows off the builder’s skill; they don’t need paint, body fillers or anodizing to make the frame look finished. This transparency is a metaphor for the entire philosophy behind the way they build bikes.

The element that remained to be sorted was finding someone to act as a point of contact for the customers; that is where Kevin came into the picture as Lead Frame Designer. At Independent Fabrication he became adept at this role by drafting a few thousand custom frames. He genuinely enjoys being the person customers talk to. It allows him to make the customer understand the process of designing the frames. A big part of this process is asking the right questions.


So what differentiates these guys from all the other spin-off companies that were spawned from Greater Boston’s tumultuous frame building past? With nearly 30 years of collective frame building experience between the three of them, they each have a specific area of expertise. Each of them fills a very specific and essential niche in the company that makes the sum of the parts much greater than the individual pieces. I think that they identified this in each other at the inception of the company.

Tyler, as the Creative Director, incited a social media onslaught on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr as the company came online. To that end Tyler says, “We are doing more than building bikes, bicycles are a social product”. Looking at Google Analytics confirms this. Every blog post shows a huge spike in web traffic on their website. Tyler worked with id29, a company specializing in branding and packaging cohesive identities, to create the logo, look, and outward image of Firefly’s website and soft goods. Anybody can track the process of creating the company. We got to see the building of the alignment table, machining fixtures, head badges, first frames, heat sinks and all the associated tooling. If one had the material, knowledge, and machines it is a step by step guide on how to start a bike company. The presentation is also stunning. The photos of the alignment table are as beautiful as they are informative. When asked why they would go to all the extra effort to show how the tools and frames are made, Tyler responded, “We want people to feel closer to their bikes, having the process be transparent makes this possible. We are creating extensions of the human beings, we want the process of buying a Firefly to be an intimate one.”


If Tyler is the intuitive promoter then Jamie, as the Director of R&D, is the creator of structure, discipline and efficiency. His background in chemistry and astronomy allowed him to understand systems of organization. These academic pursuits were too theoretical though, and he needed something more tangible to direct his energy towards. “I learned how to think, then I had to think of something to think about” says Jamie. Jamie obviously chose frame building. His approach to making, tooling, and machining frame parts is tremendously logical. He builds jigs that minimize operator error. For example, His chain stay mitering fixture won’t allow you to load the stays into it if there is not the prescribed tire and chain ring clearance. This approach minimizes lost time and material when a mistake is made. There is a fixture for every operation in the building process, even if a step can be done by hand. Jamie takes the time—and really seems to enjoy it—to make tools that make the jobs easier in the long run. Tyler says of Jamie’s methods, “It’s a production mindset applied to individual customer needs”. “There are guys out there hand filing each tube miter. We do it with fixtures as well or better, and much faster. A perfect miter is a perfect miter” says Jamie. Using the best possible methods to arrive at the best possible outcome is the mantra. They use the time saved from efficient set up and execution to develop new methods so that there is as much value packed into each customer’s frame as possible. “It is really a mixture of the handmade and modern machining practices” says Jamie.


All of this creativity and discipline is a wonderful thing, but if nobody is there to answer the phone and respond to emails then none of that matters. Kevin is the point man taking care of the customers. Kevin is thoughtful and always listening. He is adept at taking the information from the customer and translating it into the technical data used to create the frames. This process is far more than simple order taking. Kevin’s task is the most essential link between the idea of a bicycle frame and the end product. If he doesn’t translate the customer’s desires into an accurate frame design, all the efficient tooling, immaculate welding, and perfect frame alignment don’t add up to anything but a waste of time, money, and materials. Frames are more often ruined by poor design, rather than incorrect building techniques. When asked how his degree in neuroscience translates to a career as a frame designer he replies, “In the end both disciplines deal with helping people, which is why I pursued both.” His credentials go way beyond being a skilled draftsman, good listener, and all around nice guy, as he is also a Cat 1 racer. It is his experience as an elite level cyclist that informs him of the technical nuances that affect the way a frame will behave under the rider.


There are other innovative approaches that are employed to bring the customer closer to the buying process. The online fit form is the first step, then the customer can Skype with Kevin while gathering the fitting information. In this way Kevin can be sure he is getting the most accurate data. It also allows the customer to get better acquainted with Kevin, Tyler, and Jamie. With every order the customer receives a thumb drive that contains photos of the production of their bike from start to finish. They really want to show what they do, share it with the customer, and show them how their bike was built. In an industry where I have heard the saying, “This job would be fun if it weren’t for the customers”, all three of them have a refreshing attitude towards the end user. Jamie, Kevin, and Tyler are lucky that they have control of how they make a living; it is obvious to me they know that. By extension they are honoring their customers with the knowledge that they have made an informed decision about who they are getting their bike from. As consumers we don’t often get the feeling that we have spent our money well and given it to someone who deserves it. I think to provide that feeling is something very special, and so do the guys at Firefly Bicycles.

 

PART1: PARLEE Z3 Custom Design

By: Jared Porter Mar 22

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It’s that time of year again in New England. The snow is melting, there are brief moments of riding in the warm sun, and my cross bike feels super slow rumbling along the grimy shoulder of the road. It’s time to break out the road bike and, luckily for me, time to build a new frame.

I work at PARLEE Cycles in Beverly Ma, where we focus on building light, stiff and comfortable carbon fiber road frame sets. The most striking quality of PARLEE frames is their very minimalist appearance. This can give the mistaken impression that they are simple bikes. The truth is that all of our tube sets are designed for performance first and aesthetics second. We have a huge array of tubing options, geometry and finishes that can give someone a truly customized bike. So, what do I really want out of my new frame? That’s the question.

My last bike was great, I loved the way it fit, felt, and handled. But, it was kind of heavy. 16.5 lbs. for a 62cm bike isn’t bad, but it isn’t lithe either. On the other hand neither am I at 210 lbs. and 6’5”, so that needs to be taken into consideration. That said I want to drop a pound on the bike. I also want the bike to snap more out of the saddle. My old bike felt a little flabby in torsion at the bottom bracket. At odds with my desire for a more responsive ride is that I need the bike to be really smooth like the bike I have now.

The first advantage I have with regard to weight reduction is the method of construction PARLEE employs in joining the tubes of the frame. The frame’s tube junctions are molded together rather than assembling the frame with glue and pre-made lugs. The net result is a mechanically superior tube junction because of its tremendous strength to weight ratio. Generally PARLEE’s construction method reduces weight by 120 grams when compared to the aforementioned method of building carbon frames.

There are other things that can be done to control the weight without sacrificing ride quality. I have decided to use a PressFit 30 bottom bracket. The PressFit system from SRAM, or the BB30 standard first introduced by Cannondale, allows the crank, bottom bracket, and frame to be lighter and stiffer than a comparable English bottom bracket and crank. This is because since the crank spindle, and bottom bracket shell of the frame are oversized, the structure of these parts can be thinner and more lightweight while being tremendously stiff in terms of torsion.

Another weight-saving feature of my new frame will be the integrated seat post. This avoids redundant material in the seat post/seat tube interface found on a standard frame. I plan to use a Ritchey Super Logic carbon ISP head, which weighs about 100 grams. This part is sturdy enough to support me without complaint while being fairly light. An added benefit of the ISP is that I can select the type of tube I want. The tube I will use for my ISP is designed to be compliant. Typically we use compliant tubes for more lightweight individuals or for bicycles that will be ridden on rough surfaces. In this application the ISP will absorb impacts from the road because it is designed to be flexible.

The rest of the tubes (top tube, down tube, chain stays and seat stays) are all fairly typical for a rider of my weight. This will make a frame that has stiffness in torsion while being comfortable. In other words, the frame will resist the loading from rider without feeling harsh. I will also use an Enve, 1.0, 43 rake fork, which is light and will be a little flexible under input from the road. I chose to go with a seat stay wishbone because its stiffness will compliment the ride quality I’m looking for. It will also give the frame great braking performance in the rear.

To summarize: the tube set has been selected for its ability to deliver efficient forward movement while the fork and ISP are giving the frame a more comfortable ride.

From a geometry perspective, my frame will be tried and true with 73 degree seat and head angles coupled with a 7.5 cm drop that will give me an agile feel at the bar without requiring too much attention. The chain stays are going to be a relatively short 403 mm, which keeps the wheelbase nice and tight. This equates to rear end snap and will allow for the rear wheel to follow right behind the front giving the bike a feeling of being on rails when cornering.

I still have some of the final details to work out, and I’m not sure what components I’m going to use or, more importantly, how I’m going to have it painted. I do, however, have enough figured out to make a draft and begin building, and I think it’s funny that the paint job is the most difficult thing for me to decide on. Maybe that’s because it is an aesthetic decision, and therefore harder to make. The important thing is that I know exactly how I want my new bike to ride, and I have a pretty solid plan on how to get there.

The next segment will cover the method of construction, the equipment employed to do the job, and the specific considerations that relate to which components I will use to build the frame up. There are also some non-standard items that I have been working on that need to be tested before the bike is finished. Now I’m really excited and I can’t wait to start building.

 

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