Monday, March 18, 2013

Firefly Bicycles: a True Story

Firefly Bicycles
In its two years of existence, Firefly has built over 200 bicycle frames in titanium, stainless steel and titanium-carbon - nearly every one of them documented from start to finish and shared over the internet with what seems like hoards of enthusiastic followers. This rate of productivity is particularly remarkable considering that Firefly is just 3 people: two framebuilders and a tester/designer, all of whom perform double duty as PR specialists and photographers. When I visited Firefly last week, they had just held an open house at their impressive new space in Dorchester. The recent upgrade from their prior digs will allow for even greater efficiency - helping the young company meet increasing demand and tackle their now 8-months long wait list.

Firefly Bicycles
To those unfamiliar with Firefly’s history, it may seem implausible that a brand-new maker of custom bicycles can hit the ground running with this degree of success. But the story makes more sense given their background. When Boston legend Independent Fabrication announced an impeding move to New Hampshire at the end of 2010, most of their employees remained behind. Among them were friends Jamie Medeiros, Tyler Evans and Kevin Wolfson, who decided to start their own venture. They developed a detailed business plan, Jamie and Tyler founded the company and hired Kevin, and on January 10, 2011 (at precisely 2:10pm, they tell me) Firefly was born. While the company itself was new, the skills and experience of those involved were considerable. At IF, Tyler had worked as a welder for over 13 years, Jamie for 14 years in R&D, and Kevin as a designer for 3 years. When Firefly announced they were open for business, orders began coming in straight away.

Firefly, D2R2
I first saw a Firefly bike at D2R2 last summer: two of them in fact. I remember it was an overcast morning, and when they rode past me I did a double take. While the bicycles themselves were quite minimalist, they were also unmissable: In the milky fog, their distinct graphics lit up in shades of green and violet much like ...well, fireflies. I noticed this again at the New England Builder's Ball last October: walking past Firefly's booth, their graphics flickered fetchingly in the dim light of the oddly cavernous showroom.

Firefly Bicycles
This "firefly" glow is in fact achieved fairly easily, through masked anodising. On titanium frames, different colours can be produced through anodising by controlling the voltage. The visual effect is surprisingly beautiful.

Firefly... More Pictures Coming!
The unpainted titanium with anodised graphics quickly became Firefly's signature look, though other finishes and materials are available.

Firefly Carbon-Titanium
Most recently, the other materials on offer include bonded Ti-carbon: frames with titanium sleeves and carbon fiber tubing. As Firefly puts it, this is "technology usually reserved for the companies with million dollar R&D budgets, used by a company of three." 

Firefly Carbon-Titanium
As the guys strung up the bike for me to get a better look, my eye kept going back and forth over the top tube. Something looked odd. I soon realised it was the expanding diamater. The top tube starts out skinny at the seat cluster, then expands until it's fat at the headtube joint, with the titanium sleeves shaped accordingly. 

Firefly Carbon-Titanium
Less noticeable, the same thing happens with the seat tube, which starts out fat at the bottom bracket, gradually tapering until it's skinny at the seat cluster.

Firefly Carbon-Titanium
Between the tapering tubes and the carbon-titanium interaction, the bike, when examined closely, looks like a puzzle box, or an M.C. Escher drawing come to life. 

Firefly Carbon-Titanium
The Firefly logo is carved into every titanium sleeve, like a bit of lacy edging.

Firefly Carbon-Titanium
And fans of colourful anodising have not been forgotten. 

Firefly Bicycles
Being around Jamie and Tyler is a bit like looking at the mixed-materials frame. Somehow they click, despite seeming so very different. Jamie Medeiros has an old-fashioned European face that would not be out of place in a Renaissance painting. A big guy with fluffy hair, he moves around softly, almost stealthily. He often seems lost in thought or amused by something. He smiles to himself as he works.

Firefly Bicycles
Tyler Evans has a sharp and direct gaze. His movements are precise and quick. No question I ask seems to surprise him or give him pause; he is articulate and focused.

Firefly Bicycles
Watching them together - interacting by the machines, or drinking coffee in the kitchen - there is a synergy that is as effective as it is endearing. They sometimes give the impression of speaking in unison, or finishing each other's sentences. When working in close proximity, their movements appear synchronised. 

Firefly Bicycles
This could go some way toward explaining Firefly's productivity. The shop space is organised with a separate station, machine, and tool for every task, arranged in the sequence in which the work gets done. Jamie cuts, prepares and notches tubes. Tyler welds. The smart layout and the rapport between the pair ensure that the works gets done in an efficient sequence, with as little time and energy wasted as possible. 

Firefly Bicycles
Kevin is not in on the day that of my visit (he is baking bread, they explain - a culinary course), but I've met him before at local events and know that he completes the synergy. He is missed and mentioned often, as Jamie and Tyler discuss the shop and the business. Kevin is the racer, and every prototype bike gets tested by him in action. 

Firefly Bicycles
In Firefly's range of offerings there are no model names, only descriptions of bikes and frame materials. They can build road, cyclocross and mountain bikes, or anything in between, or something different entirely. Recently they made a classic randonneurring bike with 6550B wheels and front rack. They have made upright city bikes. When I playfully ask about step-through frames they assure me that they would welcome such an order. 

Firefly Bicycles
Hanging up in the "to do" corner, I spot the fabled monster cross frame that belongs to a local customer.

Firefly Bicycles
It is in for seat stay modification, to allow for a 650B conversion (built for 26" wheels originally). 

Firefly Bicycles
Firefly's beautiful dropouts are machined locally by Cantabrigian Mechanics

Firefly Bicycles
A few other bikes lurk in the shop on the day of my visit. Tyler and Jamie's personal bikes are there, as well as a new road build for review in Australian Ride Magazine. Several frames sit in fixtures in states of near-completion. A well-ridden mountain bike, its frame anodised in brown, hangs by the door. None of the bikes are my size, which is just as well, since absorbing the new shop is more than enough for my senses this time around. 

Firefly Bicycles
It's hard to describe Firefly's shop space without appearing to be gushing. The place is - quite deliberately - a showpiece of interior design. Upon moving into the new building, Firefly gutted everything and started from scratch, hiring designer Alessandra Mondolfi - who also happens to be Tyler's wife - to create an interior to suit the company's needs and business model.

Firefly Bicycles
Firefly's space was designed to serve three distinct functions: as a workshop conducive to efficient fabrication, as a showroom for customers, and as a promotional space for both process and product.

Firefly Bicycles
The open concept layout is arranged as a series of rooms separated with sliding doors. At the very back is the roomy shop space, laid out much like a factory floor. Leading up to it are an office space, an inhouse photo studio,  

Firefly Bicycles
a fit studio, 

Firefly Bicycles
a kitchen and meeting room,

Firefly Bicycles
And a dramatic entryway that also functions as a rotating art gallery (currently showing work from Heather McGrath). 

Firefly Bicycles
Strategically placed sliding doors and windows can make every section as public or private as necessary. 

Firefly Bicycles
But aside from how the space is organised functionally, there is also a branding aspect to the design. It is difficult to point a camera within the shop without getting at least a part of the Firefly logo in the shot. Virtually everything - from the welding setup, to the fit studio, to the kitchen - has been arranged with documentation and media visits in mind.

Firefly Bicycles
The lighting is photogenic and atmospheric. The shop doubles as a stage.

Firefly Bicycles
The colour orange is carried through into all aspects of the space, from bar stools

Firefly Bicycles
to machienery,

Firefly Bicycles
to plant life. 

Firefly Bicycles
There are unexpected installations. The moss bed not only smells wonderful, but is a great stress reliever - petting it feels wonderfully relaxing.

Firefly Bicycles
A modest DJ setup for parties.

Firefly Bicycles
Bits of stained glass to enhance the light streaming through the small windows. I'll refrain from posting pictures of the bathroom, but the theme continues there as well. 

Firefly Bicycles
In an era when creating a strong brand presence and culture around your work is crucial, Firefly's purposeful approach makes for a fascinating case study. It is unlikely that their success is a matter of mere luck. 

Firefly Bicycles
They work on building bicycle frames around the clock, sharing the results with the world as they go along through activity on social media and bicycle forums, building a loyal and ever-expanding following. 

Firefly Bicycles
From the get-go, this was a part of their business plan, and they have followed through as intended.

Firefly Bicycles
Can the market for custom bicycle frames in titanium, stainless steel and carbon fiber sustain Firefly's practice? Impossible to know what the future will bring, but at the moment it appears the answer is yes. 

The Firefly showroom in Boston is open weekdays 9-5 (no appointment needed). And, of course, you can also follow along online. Many thanks to Firefly for the tour and the chat. More pictures of the visit here

64 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. My pleasure, Alessandra! Beautiful job, the space felt magical to be in.

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  2. Good write-up. Any thoughts on how the Firefly Ti carbon compares to the Seven 622?

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    1. Aside from the fact that they look different, I can't really say. I've ridden the 622 in my size, and it was nice, but I prefer my full-ti bike for the kind of riding I do. I haven't as much as sat on the Firefly, so can't speculate how it compares.

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  3. They make some great looking bikes and communicate well with their public.

    Heck I almost want to live in their new facility!

    Eight months is not that bad a backlog for high end custom. Eight months plus waiting for my first call from another builder.

    Thanks for the detailed report.

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  4. Great post and photos! I've admired Firefly's frame decorations and finishing; now seeing this workspace makes them even more dreamy.

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  5. Nice report! One small correction: That's Dorchester not Southie!

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    1. Andrew Square is in Dorchester?

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    2. davids might be thinking of their old space

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    3. I thought the old space was in Milton!

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    4. The old space was in Readville, the current space is in Dorchester, just over the expressway from Andrews Square.

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    5. Jeez. OK, after much research into the matter and consultations with Southie/Dot border dispute scholars I think you win. Though on the map it's "Boston"...

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  6. Best wishes to them!

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  7. I was lucky enough to attend the opening party. The space is fabulous, sort of a spare, modern feel with generous space for working. And the team is pretty amazing. It seems like it would be an inspiring place for working and for designing your next bike with the builders.

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  8. I was wondering when you'd get around to them.

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  9. These bikes remind me of True North bikes. Wonderful things to behold.

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  10. What a beautiful ode to men who really know how to do something! Big machines, hard metal, close tolerances, all these things speak of competence and functionality and no-nonsense things that are far too often despised by metrosexuals wearing tight suits and sipping coffee sodas.
    Nothing is sexier than someone who can tell at a glance the difference between 304 and 316L steel, and who can weld it into whatever you dream of. Titanium even more so.

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    1. Of course those coffee soda* sipping metrosexuals probably make up 90% of Firefly's customer base.

      *what is coffee soda?

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    2. Coffee soda is anything with a coffee-ish taste and lots of other specifications; a drink that has to be ordered by a longer name than "A cup of coffee, please."

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  11. I agree, the designer did a stunning job. Kudos to Firefly and to Alessandra!

    PS: Love the moss bed!

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  12. Excellent post and great looking bikes....you are getting pretty good at this blogging thing!

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  13. It's nice to see a sophisticated new venture in bicycle manufacturing. I hope their success continues.

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  14. Social media begets social media.

    You're welcome for the intro.

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    1. Note to ff: the day you fab a step thru is the day I, and many others, stop taking you seriously.

      I just rode a girl's Novara Jaunt, which was a lot of fun.

      A one-off to be ridden for errands at 12mph. Think about it.

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    2. BTW it's an XS with tube manipulation. Race bike 101. The next step.

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  15. Interesting comparison (contrast?) between Firefly and, say, Mercian. Hard to believe they both produce the same sort of device. Of course, the Boston product costs 8 or 10 times as much as the Derbyshire model.

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    1. Not sure that's the case, esp if we compare apples to apples. The only point of comparable overlap between Mercian and Firefly products are their stainless steel road frames. Firefly's price for a stainless frame + Enve carbon fork is currently listed at $3,900. Mercian has recently removed their stainless pricing replacing it with "POA", but I vaguely remember it approaching 2,000GBP ($3K USD right now) last time it was up, not including fork. Even if my recollection is off a bit, it is still nowhere near an "8 or 10 times as much" price difference. That aside, in terms of infrastructure, production methods, etc., they are very different businesses that makes it difficult to make these kinds of comparisons.

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  16. V,please don't post this comment if it seems disrespectful, any comments I have to make are sort of an invasion of the privacy of the people who have built Firefly in any case...

    Anyway, It seems to me that Firefly Bicycles(the article and the enterprise) are really about something other than bikes. The degree to which they've imagined and executed everything about the endeavor makes me think the bicycles would be completely un-necessary if they weren't the only object that fit the concept.

    How could you make anything else in that space and still strike the same balance of crisp contemporary art(lower case) and technical obsession. Musical instruments from that shop would seem too sterile, too precise and removed from the tradition. Jewelry made to the same standard of fabrication would just be affectation. Sports/Racing cars would be too infected with the needless drama of danger and lack the accessibility needed to allow people to approach emotionally in the same way.
    Bikes are about the only thing that come to mind that combine craft, a degree of practicality, the room for emotional engagement and the intimate physical inclusion of the customer in the object itself in a way that makes something like this come to life. I wonder, could anyone love anything else enough in the right way to make something like this come to life.

    Everything you show us in that space seems SO well considered, so integrated and purposeful that the bikes seem to become something other than bikes, as though they were simply the vehicle required to experience/navigate this particular little world.

    I don't know what to think about the whole crazy sci-fi deal. The bikes are beyond my means and more capable than I am, but I WAY feel the attraction and needfullness of want when I think about them, the space just seems like a place that would inspire and trouble me at the same time. Like a self-taught fiddler dropped into the middle of the orchestra of a GREAT and DEMANDING conductor. I want to be there I just don't want anyone to catch me lurking about.

    Or maybe your pictures hide the grubby doorknobs, mislaid tools and empty bottles?...

    Spindizzy

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    1. Yeah.

      From the stylized Asian hieroglyph to colour lietmotifs to courting an Asian audience to pumping social media...

      Keys to success in a post-Indy Fab world. Sad, but WHATEVER.

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    2. I don't think your point is disrespectful or invasive. I know that Firefly are aware of this line of critique, and I'm trying to remember whether there is a written response to it I can point you to.

      As far as this:

      "Or maybe your pictures hide the grubby doorknobs, mislaid tools and empty bottles?..."

      No. The space is very new/designer/shiny (with the exception of shop machines) and kept very clean, as shown.

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    3. So, no filthy corners and dustbunnies under the benches? I sort of assumed that.

      I'm not going to go as far as G.R. and call it sad. If it was a trend every shop felt compelled to follow I would, but there's no danger of that.

      It's just a little foreign to me I think. I can certainly understand wanting to achieve something like this but I don't think I could ever imagine it. I also know that long before most anybody got close to this degree of perfection they would throw up their hands and say "The hell with it, good enuff!" I see absolutely grand bikes come out of pretty humble shops. Perfect if you're just after a great bike. This is different, it's just such a spectacular place by some amazingly focused people.

      That's why I hesitate to offer opinions about some things like this, I'm not the "Target Demographic". There's a real audience for this and why shouldn't somebody "step up and make it so". My bikes and the shop I build my stuff in certainly appear just as over the top to some of those who see them. I hear enough "Holy S@#$! People pay THAT fer a DAMN BIKE!" around here to pretend I'm much different.

      Spindizzy

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    4. I mean sad like going from the Velvet Underground or some post punk band to...

      Air Supply.

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    5. I'm always intrigued at how well a person's outer space reflects the inner. I know, it sound new-agey cliche, but I've found it holds true to a surprising degree. I had an antique shop for 10 years in a small city, and my shop, like the dozen or so others, was distinct. Each space belonged to its owner, and none could be interchanged. I couldn't create or maintain a space like the Firefly Studio in a thousand years--not that it doesn't have a certain Elle Decor interior design porn appeal, but it's not in my DNA. As an aside, stainless steel does not do it for me either. Pardon me in advance for anthropomorphizing, but it's like chrome with no soul. Save the stainless for hospital gurneys and soup spoons.

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    6. The level of shop cleanliness relates to the materials used.

      A small local shop that makes titanium components for medical, satellite and astronomy devices is equally clean if not as stylistic.

      The Firefly space is sales floor as well fabrication space. The style fits the product.

      M: I would say stainless is chrome with less environmental hazzard.

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    7. The deeper we start digging, the more complicated and multifaceted all of this gets.

      On the one hand, we have framebuilders who charge for their frames what they think customers are willing/able to pay, and as a result do not earn a decent wage, and who then either go out of business, live in poverty/debt while eking out a living just barely (resenting their customers and other framebuilders in the process), or who stay in business and live comfortably because either their spouses' incomes or family money support them. On the other hand we have builders like Firefly, who charge enough for their product to actually make a decent living, who market their product aggressively (ie making full use of contemporary marketing tools), and who aim for target markets whom they know to be receptive to this marketing. An argument could be made that the latter is a more sustainable model. Then again, making this comparison in the first place is flawed, because it assumes similar business sizes, similar materials used, similar products, similar approaches to production, etc., which is rarely the case.

      As far as self-promotion and a sleek space vs "real bikes are made here"... Critics sometimes present this as a dichotomy, but it is not necessarily such. Builder A can have a sleek designery space and be shameless at self promotion, and nonetheless be hardworking and skilled and make excellent bikes. Builder B can have a rugged dirty authentic space, toiling away in humble anonymity, and nonetheless have a poor work ethic, so-so skill and make mediocre bikes. I am not saying Firefly is necessarily Builder A. I'm only saying it need not be a dichotomy.

      As far as sci-fi graphics, etc... Not my cup of tea either, but to be fair this stuff is not unique to Firefly. Manufactured symbols, pseudo-ethnic references, faux mythology, sci-fi, lots of youngish builders seem into this. One can always request custom graphics after all.

      But being in a position where I am very content with my own roadbike and don't covet a Firefly, I guess I am looking at them from the POV of admiring their ability to follow through with a plan, to be as productive as they are, to find a way to do what they love despite it not exactly being the easiest thing in the world. Their new space was a bit overwhelming, but also comfortable and pleasant - not cold or clinical. And the shop in the back is a very "real bikes get made here" kind of space, strategic lighting notwithstanding :)

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    8. Matthew wrote: M: I would say stainless is chrome with less environmental hazzard.

      "Occupational exposure to chromium occurs from chromate production, stainless-steel production, chrome plating, and working in tanning industries; occupational exposure can be two orders of magnitude higher than exposure to the general population." --From the EPA site on air toxins.

      I'm aware that chrome plating is a relatively toxic process. That's why people who can now prefer to have it done elsewhere whenever possible. I do not know how it compares to stainless production in the end. Weighing the true cost to the environment of any given process or product is difficult. Not to say it shouldn't be attempted--just be prepared to be sucked into a complex web.

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    9. I just wanted to chime in with a final comment, which is that I agree with what you say here--it's not a binary equation in terms of slick marketing and clean space equals x quality, word of mouth funky workshop equals y quality. Nor do I equate rugged and dirty with authentic. I do think certain personality traits can be deduced from one's work/retail/shop/display/personal spaces. I admire a mind(s) that can create a Firefly environment, and that, plus all of their experience, would make me feel confident ordering a bicycle from them if it were the kind of bicycle I was looking to own.

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    10. "Manufactured symbols, pseudo-ethnic references, faux mythology, sci-fi, lots of youngish builders seem into this."

      Sigh. Searching for meaning in a bike, tattoo, different culture. English suffices for me, unless the name were horribly misapplied, such as "Breadwinner".

      Yeah you don't covet one because: you haven't ridden one and/or you're loyal to Seven and/or you don't have the legs and/or it doesn't come in the step through colourway.

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    11. I can't believe these guys are getting harpooned in this thread because of the attention they've paid to their brand and the cleanliness and design of their workspace. I doubt the route they're going is "fake it til you make it". If people are continuing to give them business it means they are probably producing a quality product. And do we really know anything about the mythology of their brand? So what if the language of it wasn't slowly developed over 20 years? That doesn't automatically make it shallow or disingenuous.

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    12. P - I don't think they are getting harpooned or accused of "fake it til you make it". Some critical back and forth is not a bad thing.

      Spin - Here is something from Tyler you might find interesting (are you able to access the thread?), with some relevant Q&A afterward.

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    13. Harpooned for aesthetic choices: valid. It's called free speech. It's also subjective.

      Harpooned for building bad ass bikes: invalid. No one said that. There is zero doubt in my mind it isn't a great bike.

      No one said ff is Shinola and no one said because it says ff on the dt they're immune to talk.

      In fact I'll be they're just smiling broadly right now.

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    14. "mythology of their brand" -- yes we know something. Tyler wrote about it somewheres.

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    15. "So what if the language of it wasn't slowly developed over 20 years?"

      It's just a bike. As a manufactured piece yes, in fact, it has been slowly developed over 20 years.

      "That doesn't automatically make it shallow or disingenuous."

      When you mix art school grads and ancient language to produce a stylized symbol, which I'm sure will gain its own validity (reinforced by your comment), yes, it is shallow, if not disingenuous.

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    16. I have to say the logo looks far more sci-fi than asian to me- and if I were to look for an ancient cultural reference I might favour Mayan or Toltec sources over asian, whether we are thinking of India, China or Japan. It is pretty hard to find a bicycle, particularly a custom or boutique handmade one that is not playing into some aesthetic ideology/mythology- the predominant forms being hi-tech quasi-military functional minimalism, ornate edwardian almost steampunk or a kind or no-frills model t plain and straight-up. The most functional thing you can imagine is still very strongly aesthetic- one only has to look at almost the same tool from different countries- it will be similar enough that we immediately see it's purpose but sufficiently different that it is clear that there are many ways to reach the same result.

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    17. It's interesting to see the iterations the logo went through. Some pictures of this here. Tyler was telling me that their initial ideas for the graphics were a lot more literal (a rendering of a firefly), but the graphic designer they hired steered them toward abstracting it and they liked the result.

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    18. I can't find the entry wherein the Far East hieroglyph was favored. No matter he probably heard enough negativity to revise history.

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    19. Never said they were getting harpooned for building great bikes, only for brand and aesthetics.

      I don't dispute anyone's right to critique them, I just see the critique they're getting as a little silly. I think people like to pile on more when they perceive someone is adding to their success with "aggressive" marketing.

      A bike is not a brand (and if you had a framebuilding shop with the brand "Bikes", I'd say go back and finish your MBA). Their brand is new. It doesn't matter how ancient the product is.

      It sounds like the objection to their brand is that it has no historical context or cultural relevance to the owners or the company's geographical location. That it's "made up". I grant you that. However, the "Far East hieroglyph" sounds made up until someone digs up the source material. It looked like a firefly's abdomen to me even before V posted the link. In any case, it won't be the first time that a brand has been pulled out of thin air. My point is that companies can grow into their brands over time, and over time it will take on its own meaning. World famous, well-respected brands have done exactly that in the past. It's only problematic for me if the quality of the product can't stand up to the mythology.

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    20. I can't speak to anyone piling on, but that's what people do. I'm speaking of my own take.

      As a long-time owner of an IF I've been following ff since inception, when I read Tyler's words on the logo. Look, I don't really care if you believe me or not as I've nothing to gain or lose in a silly interweb argument. I mean Tyler and Jamie built my bike after all and I've talked to Kevin an he was very helpful on another problem.

      The bike is just a continuation of r&d from those guys from their roots at IF. The brand's rep is solely based upon the quality of its bikes. That's the way I see it and no, I don't need to be indoctrinated into the world of business speak.

      So to sum up: if you really want to know about the history of the logo why don't you call them up? To say I made it up based upon zero visual evidence to you isn't exactly a sound argument. I don't care about it much -- you apparently do so I'd encourage you to find out for yourself.

      Of course your point about brands' ability to grow over time is valid. Your original post was pretty muddled though. Piling on...heh you don't know what piling on is until you've camped out here for a couple of years.

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    21. Thank you both, and I call a Fini on this topic at this stage.

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  17. I wish I lived in Boston. There seems to be a great custom bike (bikes, components and accessories) there. And this latest one might just have to be my favourite of all the ones you've brought us.
    Of course, it means I'm in love with yet another bike. And that's never good for the bank balance. Thanks!

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  18. I get the feeling no one's much into spinning anything besides cranks here.
    One turntable is not a 'modest' DJ setup, it's an 'incomplete' DJ setup. :)

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  19. They sell $4000 frames to customers who can pay for $4000 frames. And they have a $6500 frame. Catering to that market may require all this silliness. But some of what's being presented here should just be laughed at.

    These are utterly conventional frames. The design work was done 120 years ago. Don't need a Designer. Product Tester means someone has time to ride their bike. After all with only two sales a week and three people to build them they must have time on their hands.

    These are pure luxury goods for the luxury market. These frames are not produced because the purchasers have technical requirements mandating $4000 frames. They are shiny toys. They are status symbols. A dozen mfrs and a hundred small shops are competing for a handful of customers. Firefly is doing something right if they can survive in this market. But be plain what is happening here.

    Rene Herse used to pay the rent by selling full-dress (yet tastefully restrained) Vespas for his clients' mistresses. Whatever it takes. Just leave out the humbug.

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  20. Great looking studio-workplace. Personally, I like better the classic, older aesthetic for the bicycle. Singer, Herse, vintage Colnago, Mercian, the Italian loop frame, Italian city bikes, that sort of thing. But still, beautiful studio and nice looking bikes. You gotta go out on a limb sometimes. Look at Brompton. That is the new classic!

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  21. I'm usually intimated when I go into spaces like this, be it a restaurant, an art gallery, or really anything with the appearance of high end....one look at me and it's assumed i'm not as serious as they are about what that particular place is all about. It's frustrating, because I am. Sometimes something surprising happens and I'm greeted with respect and kindness, and other times I turn and leave after a brief encounter. I wish I were not judged by my appearance and I try not to do that to others, but still.....

    The bikes are beautiful and it's somehow seems appropriate that one is hanging like a piece of art. I hope they treated like bikes, though, and the fact that you saw one out in the New England dirt roads is good!

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  22. a neat write-up about some builders who thought a lot of things through really well so far. It's inspiring to this guy who builds stuff, too. The pictures really draw you in.

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  23. Setting the aesthetics debate aside, I would love to know how the economics of a shop like this work. Because, looking at the quality of the space, furniture, fixtures, artwork, the tooling, the materials, the photography on their website--all I see is some serious overhead.

    I feel like I've seen a couple of shops on this blog that I couldn't quite square with the reputed penury of today's framebuilders. How do the do it? Is Massachusetts offering some serious tax incentives for framebuilders? Is there a hyrdoponic setup in the back room? Is the neighborhood a war zone? Or is there just that much demand for $4000-$6000 custom bicycle frames?

    It's probably not something the proprietors are keen on talking about publicly, I'm sure. But I'd love to know what the deal is.

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    1. Mass tax break vs. NH? Ironic!

      Major economic indices are pegged, Asia is heavily-invested in US property and needs its own bling goods. ff and IF, to name two, are positioning themselves for the int'l market.

      Framebuilders will never be rich. I see these moves as further boutique-ifying these particular semi-durable goods.

      The photography isn't super expensive, it's just artfully done. A good picture is worth 10,000 yuan.

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    2. Not a war zone exactly, but I guess you could call it a rough, run down area, with an effort being made to revitilise/develop it. The building next door was scheduled for demolition next day after my visit. Bunches of small and not so small operations from Somerville and Cambridge are now moving into parts of South Boston and Dorchester because of the new development and comparatively cheap rents. I did not ask how much Firefly pays for their space, but was given to understand it was a good deal, even including the refurbishments. As far as subsidies, I know that Geekhouse (probably one of the other fancy spaces seen here you are referring to, and also in South Boston) won some sort of government loan/grant thing for their venture. Don't know about Firefly, but I don't think so.

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    3. WRT the economics:
      Click on the link to Tyler in the text of the original post. It's an interview over at the Velocipede Saloon. Tyler tells a story about coming to work his first day at Independent Fabrication. He was told that when he got good enough to weld 4 frames a day he would get a raise. So he welded 13 frames his first day.

      Now welding is not the only thing that goes into building a frame but it is significant. And the guy who could weld 13 IFs in a day is now a principal at a shop that produces all of 100 frames a year. Two frames a week. They have a backlog and a waiting list. Hmmm.

      Methinks the backlog could be cleared quickly if the builder were cut loose. But that is not how money is made. Who pays the piper calls the tune. Instead of a builder who builds frames we have a builder who strikes poses and displays attitude and talks about bikes. And that is economically rational. People who want $6500 frames don't want to buy them from a grease monkey. They want frames from a dancing horse or a talking bear or perhaps a holy fool. And so long as the check clears they can have that frame.

      This comment is no cut at Firefly. This is a comment about the culture we all live in.

      (Insert famed Feuerbach quote.)

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  24. Whoa! I didn't mean to start such a protracted discussion, if I did, with my comment about the comparison/contrast to veteran builders like Mercian. Although it is interesting to read people's responses. Nor did I, as you suggest Velouria, mean to compare apples to oranges. Most Mercians, like my 25 year old Professional, are simple steel tube affairs. Not the latest technological development of titanium/carbon/whatever. Please note I wrote, "they both produce the same sort of device", that is, quality bicycles for discerning riders.
    I was just comparing/contrasting your beautiful photos of this slick operation with a Google Map's Streetview picture of the Mercian, uh, er, factory. Go to Google maps and enter "Mercian Cycles, Pontefract Street", (not the retail outlet on Shardlow Road). Click Streetview and rotate the image to the left, then click down the road past the modern turqoise building to the little single-story brick building with the Mercian sign over the door. The building looks maybe a hundred years old. I'd love to see photos of its interior.

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    1. That reminds me, I saw some beautiful photo and video documentation of Mercian's shop recently; will try to find it.

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  25. Thanks for the tip. I found this short video, and it looks like the interior of the little brick building visible on Streetview. So here is the fascinating contrast with Firefly's premises.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/8092048.stm

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  26. Wonderful comments! specially about the cost. I recently bought custom TI frame and built it with my parts to save some money. I know of Firefly but went with Seven. There is an art to the process and they are all beyond just a bike. But at the core, they are great bikes. My $3600 frame and fork is way too expensive but I chose it because I really wanted Seven. No reqrets about the bike, the more I ride the more I love it. The price should also be noted that if the frame is costing $4000, you'll more likely spend equall amount for all other parts. How may of us really need $8000 bike you'll never race!

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  27. Anyone here into high end audio? It's the same thing. These bikes are functional works of art for a lot of people, not practical bikes or even race bikes. The bike itself is something to respect. For those types of buyers/riders, the process is part of that.

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