Editors Note: This story originally appeared in issue 209 as part of our new column “Fast and Loose.” Like what you see? Become a subscriber to help support independent mountain bike journalism and have Dirt Rag delivered to your door!
By Carolyne Whelan
Photos by Brett Rothmeyer
It’s easy to miss, but tucked in a warehouse space in Boston, Massachusetts is the fabrication studio of Firefly Bicycles. The location is a perfect secret hideaway for continuing the city’s deeply rooted tradition of handmade bicycle design and fabrication. While the outside is unassuming — there isn’t even a sign on the door — the inside is a hip art gallery, fit studio and clean fabrication studio, all compressed into a relatively small space for what’s accomplished.
The owners — Kevin Wolfson, frame designer; Jamie Medeiros, machining and tack welds; and Tyler Evans, welding, final machining, and alignment — used to work at Independent Fabrications. There had long been inklings and whispers of wanting to do something on their own, especially from Evans and Medeiros, but it was IndyFab’s decision to move to New Hampshire that was the catalyst for starting something new. With Ellen Bechtel coming on to do the finishing work, these titanium and ti-carbon-blend bicycles have become works of art.
“We stopped offering stainless steel a few years ago and we’ve done a few limited runs using Columbus Spirit tubing,” Wolfson says as he walks us past a mesmerizing nest of angel-hair titanium noodles shaved from oversized tubes. Material is removed from the outside to reduce weight, while keeping it thicker where there’s more stress on the frame, like joints and weld spots. The result is a lightweight, strong frame with external butting that looks cool.
“Titanium is more flexible and versatile in terms of what we can do with it. It’s cleaner, it’s lighter,” Wolfson continues. It’s also beautiful and long-lasting. One bike in the stands has a German poem etched into the frame and is having its chainstays replaced to accommodate a different riding style after being enjoyed for years by its owner already. As titanium doesn’t tire the way steel does, the frame maintains its pop and stiffness. At the same time, when built into a ti-carbon blend, it offers a feeling of liveliness that is typically lost in full-carbon bikes.
In addition to the warm sunlight and murals on the wall, I’m struck by the antique-looking CNC lathes and other machines around the shop. New England, and Boston, in particular, has a long-standing history of bike building and machining in general, so a lot of the machines were able to be purchased secondhand at a good price. With so many machines, Firefly is able to make about 110 bikes per year. Only 10 of those are mountain bikes, with most of their designs being gravel bikes and all-road bikes, though it’s not for lack of interest.
“We love building mountain bikes,” Wolfson says. “We all ride hardtails. We can make great mountain bikes, but most people want full-suspension bikes.” Leaning casually against a wall is a titanium gravel bike with a lefty fork, and I am entranced. The coolest thing about owning a fabrication studio must be the ability to build whatever you dream, just to see if it will work.
Framesets start at around $4,400 for titanium, and complete builds depend on the rider’s wishes; a deposit of $1,000 is requested for each order. Firefly’s current backorder is 18 months, but they hope to shorten that wait to 12 months. To begin your custom bike order, visit their website at fireflybicycles.com.