Tyler Evans :: Firefly Bicycles
I would like to thank Richard Sachs for pushing me to get this rolling.
It all started with a dream. I dreamt of riding a bike without training wheels. I don’t know how old I was exactly, but I was young. It was a blue bike with solid plastic tires and big old training wheels. It was one of those dreams that felt completely real. I could feel the balance and the wind. I could see my bike beneath me and I was moving and turning.
When I woke up I asked my Dad to take the training wheels off and I hopped on the bike and rode, just like in the dream. Since then I have been on a bike almost daily. I was hooked and always had bicycles on my mind. In the 80’s I got really into BMX and then into freestyle. My crowning achievement was mastering the cherry picker.
Being the son of a sculpture professor (Dad) and a graphic designer (Mom) I was constantly exposed to both 2D and 3D design. This coupled with my inherent mechanical curiosity led me to draw, paint and tinker with just about everything in my life. The bicycles I had as a child became an accessible outlet for my constant need to explore the mechanical world. I must have taken apart and rebuilt them a thousand times.
I moved from Terre Haute, IN to New Bedford, MA in 1988, went to High School there and then college at The Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1992 here in Boston majoring in Sculpture. This is where I discovered my love for metal. I instantly gravitated to the metal shop and explored all aspects or metalworking like a ravenous beast, first with blacksmithing, then foundry and onto metal fabrication. My teacher, George Greenamyer, gave me my first introduction to TIG welding there and I will never forget his straightforward, meat and potatoes, approach to the process. He was another major inspiration in my life.
Seeing as my family didn’t have much money, I was pretty much left up to my own devices to pay for my schooling and all of my materials to create my art. I applied for a job at a local bike shop in Jamaica Plain and became a mechanic. I was really lucky to have Jeffery Ferris (Ferris Wheels) as a mentor. He took me under his wing, opened up the Sutherland’s Bicycle Repair manual and taught all of the basics, like how to build wheels, take apart a planetary gear system and reassemble it, and overhaul all sorts of (what are now) vintage bicycles.
Still in college, I next went on to become a wrench at International Bicycle. This was an amazing time to be there. I met some great people there. The cycling community there was amazing. Steven Elms (an early IF’er) Craig Gaulzetti (Gaulzetti Cicli), Jody Stoddard (Downhill Racer), Fabio Selvig (Triathlete) and many more all passed through those doors during my tenure. Those were some good times, but I wanted more…
I had a good friend at Mass Art who worked as a frame finisher at Merlin Metalworks in Cambridge. He told me they were looking for a titanium frame welder. I asked him if he could put in a good word for me and a couple of weeks later I was asked to come in and try out.
I walked into the Merlin factory in early 1996 and was immediately floored (and intimidated). This was no joke. People were hustling, machines were roaring and there were bicycles all over the place. I was in heaven. I met with the head welder Tim Delaney who sat me down with a couple of test pieces and said “let’s see what you can do”. I had never TIG welded titanium, not to mention anything thinner than 1/8”. But I gave it my best shot. Tim looked at the test pieces I welded and didn’t seem too impressed. He said he would think about it and maybe give me a ring if thought there was anything for me there. I interpreted that as “you don’t have a chance kid, get outta here”. Needless to say I felt heartbroken. I rode away from that place, and didn’t stop riding for about 4 hours, until was too exhausted to think about it anymore.
I had pretty much given up hope of working at Merlin when, a couple of weeks later, I got a call from Tim. He asked me to come in and try out. I showed up and he said “If you can learn how to lay some nice beads in 2 weeks you’ve got the job.” So I had 2 weeks to learn how to weld thin wall titanium tubing alongside some of the best in the industry. This was one of the most challenging times in my life. I practiced day and night and things started to take shape. Tim said a good way to learn how to weld, or to learn anything for that matter, was to visualize. When you are not physically doing it, close your eyes and imagine you are doing it. It sounded a little hocus-pocus, but I swear it helped. My girlfriend at the time Alessandra (now my wife) would laugh at me sitting there in the dark with my eyes closed for those 2 weeks visualizing. I would move my hands, emulating holding the torch and the filler rod while slowly pumping the imaginary foot pedal.
So the 2 weeks came and went, and Tim said nothing. I was surrounded by hundreds of test pieces, and even started to do some production work on some sub-assemblies. I had burns all over my hands and arms and was gathering the courage to ask if I got the job. So when I asked him, he gave me a sarcastically grim look that quickly turned into a smile and then handed me a check and told me to get back to work. And so it began. I started building frames on Monday, May 6th 1996. I continued working almost full time at Merlin while still going to school full time for the next 2 years. The schedule was exhausting, but I was more than motivated (and young enough) to manage.
In December of 1996 I went to Spain for a month to visit Alessandra who had won a yearlong Fulbright award to study abroad. When I came back I was shocked that Tim, Rob V. and a few others had left the company. I found out a month later, that they had started a new company, Seven Cycles. I was saddened by this and missed all of them dearly, but found that I had a lot of new and exciting responsibilities and challenges at Merlin. Gwyn Jones took me under his wing at that point and taught me a lot about how things were done, and for that I am grateful. Another great thing about this time period was having Tom Kellogg around. He pushed us really hard to up our game in terms of quality, pushing us to our limits and not wavering from perfection.
After graduating from Mass Art in the spring of 1997 I dove into framebuilding at Merlin full time. Merlin was undergoing a lot of changes during my last 2 years there. It was bought by Saucony and began to go the corporate route. The breaking point for me was when a tour was brought through the factory and I was referred to as an “operator” performing a “task”. I churned for quite a while over that and decided to make my next move.
I quit Merlin and became head welder over at Independent Fabrication on March 1st 1999. It was an amazing time and a big switch. At the time Indy Fab was only making steel stock bikes, the shop was cramped and dirty, but it was full of life and passion and I felt at home. I was surrounded by some of the most hard working and inspirational people I have ever met in my life: Jeff Buchholz, Lloyd Graves, Jamie Medeiros, Steven Elmes, Jane Hayes, and Mike Flanigan, just to name a few. I was told, on my first day, that when I could get up to welding 4 bikes a day I would get a raise. That day I stayed a little late and welded 13 steel mountain bikes. Not long after we entered the world of making all of our bikes custom and began working with titanium.
I continued working at Indy Fab for the next 13 years, until January 3rd 2011. During that time my responsibilities grew and morphed to encompass all aspects of frame design, fabrication, marketing and branding, all while welding frames daily. There were many long days and nights, and I learned a lot about business and life while there.
I never did it for the money; I did it for the love. Building frames is truly satisfying and rewarding. It is what I do and I have a hard time seeing myself doing anything else. In order to make ends meet I have come up with many ways to make additional money. Most notably (and profitably) I have been working with my wife Alessandra on nights, weekends and vacations on many of her amazing large scale projects with her company making and designing retail fixtures, tradeshow booths and movie sets as well as becoming a landlord through buying and fixing up a big old Victorian house in the heart of Boston (2 bedroom available now, wink, wink) where we also live.
Upon leaving Independent Fabrication I had a long and heartfelt conversation with Alessandra, about what to do with my life and it didn’t take long for me to take action. I teamed up with former co-worker Jamie Medeiros to form Firefly Bicycles on January 10th 2011 and haven’t looked back since (except while writing this). It has been an awe-inspiring whirlwind. It really makes me appreciate the community of family and friends that surrounds me, here in Boston and beyond. We couldn’t have done this alone. Not long after starting we brought on another former co-worker, Kevin Wolfson, as our lead frame designer. He has been awesome and has shown incredible motivation and tenacity to make things work and get us off the ground here at Firefly. Right now he is on his way from Boston to Washington DC on Firefly #001 with Tim Johnson and a slew of others to speak at the National Bike Summit to represent the cycling community in all of its forms to our government, as well as raise money for Bikes Belong.
I am about to turn 37 and I guess I reached a point in my life where if I didn’t branch out and start my own thing I would always be asking myself “what if”? So here I am, giving it everything I have, along with some amazing people, to create the best bikes I possibly can. I love what I do and wouldn’t change a thing.