Wheel World

Some of the planet’s finest bicycles are made right here in Dorchester.

By | Boston Home |
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Firefly bikes are handmade from high-quality titanium and steel. (Photographs by Mark Fleming)

Years before Lance Armstrong won a single Tour de France, Tyler Evans was building bicycles. As an avid road and mountain biker, Evans welded frames at Cambridge-based Merlin Metalworks—famous for pioneering titanium bike frames—while earning his degree in sculpture at MassArt in the ’90s (Merlin was acquired by Saucony in 1998). “I’ve always been fascinated by the way bikes blend man and machine,” he says. “They’re the ultimate biomechanical object.”

Evans eventually left Merlin for the custom shop Independent Fabrication (now based in New Hampshire), where he met fellow bike-building pros Jamie Medeiros and Kevin Wolfson. In 2010, the trio decided to start their own company, which they named Firefly to evoke “warm summer nights, lights flickering, and a sense of awe and comfort,” Evans says.

Out of their industrial-chic Dorchester workshop, they produce artisanal bikes for clients across the world who want to get deeply involved in the design of their custom-built machines and value exceptional performance.

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From left, Tyler Evans, wearing a Firefly racing cap, poses with a titanium frame that’s under construction; a drawing of a bike design is annotated with the customer’s notes.

Firefly’s frames are built from U.S.-made, aerospace-grade titanium tubes that were originally manufactured for building jets and spacecrafts. This very light material, which can cost as much as $10 per inch, is coveted among bike aficionados for its strength and stiffness. “Titanium is incredibly dent-resistant,” Evans says, “so we can really shape it to make the bike more comfortable and performance-oriented.”

The first step in creating a Firefly bicycle involves a consultation with the shop’s frame designer, Kevin Wolfson, who works with clients to determine how the bike will be used (commuting, off-roading, or racing), and to establish the rider’s personal biking preferences.

Wolfson then lays out the frame’s basic geometry, and specifies the size and shape of the tubes that will be used to build it. “Even tube thickness and diameter affect how lively the frame will be,” Evans explains. “You can really tune it to the body to create comfort.”

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Clockwise from top, a welding toolbox contains clamps, wrenches, and wire cutters; small titanium parts are welded to the frame for additional support; Medeiros measures tubing to ensure proper length.

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Evans’s wife, Alessandra Mondolfi, incorporated the orange in Firefly’s logo into the Dorchester workshop’s design.

Customers—from professional racers to serious cyclists trying to improve their riding experience—are encouraged to visit the studio for a fitting, during which Evans and his team of technicians use a stationary bike to measure the client’s pedal stroke and body angle.

Wolfson uses this data to generate a computer-aided mockup of the frame. “The closest analogy is a tailor making a suit,” he says. “We take measurements, talk about style, and that informs the design and construction.”

Finally, it’s time to build the bike. Medeiros begins by polishing the tubes before cutting them at precise angles so they will fit together flawlessly. Next, the frame is tack-welded in place and checked for alignment.

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Every finished bike (like the one shown here) comes with a USB key that holds complete photo documentation of the design and construction process.

Once the bike is completely straight, it’s permanently welded, polished to a velvety finish, and decorated with custom graphics. “The design possibilities are endless,” Wolfson says.

A finished bike ranges in price from $6,000 to $20,000, depending on the frame style and additional parts, such as handlebars, seat posts, wheels, and saddles from top-end manufacturers like Chris King and Campagnolo.

For a three-man operation, Firefly’s output is impressive. “We try to make about 12 bikes per month, and almost 150 per year,” Evans says. “We strive to get to know the customer by inviting him or her into our space for a front-row look at the process of building their machine. Our goal is to make the experience of buying a bicycle as personal as possible. ”

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/property/article/2013/09/10/firefly-bikes-boston/