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Thread: Firefly Bicycles

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    Default Firefly Bicycles

    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.

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    awesome tyler- thanks for that. i guess i'll throw you a couple of softballs for the first few questions.

    first: firefly? where'd you come up with that name and why?

    second: you guys are using some pretty cool shaped xcr tubing. is that squishing and squashing untill it looks like udo bolt's mx leader stuff you guys are doing in house or is colombus doing it for you?

    third: what's the lead time for one of those things?

    and finally: how much we talking for the 2 bedroom? i've got to live somewhere you know and i think harold is kicking me out of the ibc basement.
     

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    Tyler, I consider you a friend and seeing how you are form Indiana, which is the only thing in your story that is cool and am incredibly excited for you, Jamie, and Kevin. I got to know you over the years at IF and through emails, phone calls, and a too brief adventure in Pisgah. I was sad when you guys left IF and I think many of us were as your work has always been stellar. I always made Joe promise that you or Jamie weld my bikes and while I have know way of knowing it is something I have always been proud to say.

    Can you share with us what your vision is for FF and while you have a few models now, any hints as to the ideas you have in store. I know you and Jamie have hand in many of the designs and models at IF and would love to hear more. What will FF do or offer that will set itself from others? The shaped XcR tubing is for sure a new item no one has seen yet, come on man share!

    I cannot rent the place you have, but would gladly let you put up Liz and I for a while! :)
    Dave Bradley...not the grumpy old Hogwarts caretaker "Mr. Filch" or the star of American Ninja 3 and 4.

    formerly "Mr.President"

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    Hi Tyler, no questions. I just wanted to say I wish all three of you the best of luck. I'm sure you'll be successful. It was good seeing you guys at NAHBS and meeting your wife Alessandra. Thanks for doing SO. It's always fun to learn what roads builders followed.
    Carl Strong
    Strong Frames Inc.
    www.strongframes.com

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    way cool-
     

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    Craig, The name... well that was a tough one as you can imagine. I had the longest list (I think I've still got it somewhere) of every possible name imaginable, I must have been saving these names in my top drawer for years. Jamie actually came up with the name Firefly and mentioned it to me. At first I sort of blew it off, but after a couple of days I thought "that is pretty awesome". I saw it more ethereally than physically, like a feeling. Like that sense of wonder you associate with a late summer night in a field with the flashing lights of the fireflies all around... a sense of warmth and amazement. Another thing I really liked about the name was that it wasn't all aggro, in fact it was quite sensitive. Believe it or not, I'm a pretty sensitive dude and it felt right, so we rolled with it.

    The shaped tubes are currently pretty subtle looking from a distance (sort of the point), but up close you can see and feel the opposing ovals of the new Firefly MegaMax shape. We have been working closely with Columbus to do the shaping for us in Italy. We have some more shapes in the works, but we won't be offering them for a little while (including an XCr 44mm ID head tube that will accommodate an inset headset and 1 1/8 to 1 1/2inch tapered fork steerers). Reynolds is also working on developing some titanium tubing for us based on the same concepts, but in larger diameters. These tube are shipping within the next week or two.

    Lead times right now are about 8 weeks for the XCr and a little longer on the ti (more like 10 weeks), but once we have our inventory up we will be able to bring down the lead times a little more.

    PM or email me for more info on the apartment... you would be living upstairs from EmbroJames if you moved in. That would be pretty funny.
    Last edited by Tyler Evans; 03-05-2011 at 06:13 PM.

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr.President View Post
    Tyler, I consider you a friend and seeing how you are form Indiana, which is the only thing in your story that is cool and am incredibly excited for you, Jamie, and Kevin. I got to know you over the years at IF and through emails, phone calls, and a too brief adventure in Pisgah. I was sad when you guys left IF and I think many of us were as your work has always been stellar. I always made Joe promise that you or Jamie weld my bikes and while I have know way of knowing it is something I have always been proud to say.

    Can you share with us what your vision is for FF and while you have a few models now, any hints as to the ideas you have in store. I know you and Jamie have hand in many of the designs and models at IF and would love to hear more. What will FF do or offer that will set itself from others? The shaped XcR tubing is for sure a new item no one has seen yet, come on man share!

    I cannot rent the place you have, but would gladly let you put up Liz and I for a while! :)
    Dave, From one Hoosier to another, thanks. I know how much you are into mountain bikes, so look for something really special coming in May (Jamie says June, and he is usually right, but I'm still pushing for May). We have an amazing disc dropout design in the works with our good friend (and infamous solidworks bike guru) Pete Verdone. From the initial design sketches it promises to be something really special. The first one will most likely be in Titanium, and we are working throughout the weekend on refining our tubing with our suppliers for this awesome bike we have planned.

    You and Liz are welcome any time, if not in an apartment then you can stay on the famous "supercouch" that Alessandra made.. : http://www.teamcreative.net/catalog.9.html
    Last edited by Tyler Evans; 03-05-2011 at 06:23 PM.

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Tyler,

    Craig threw you some softballs...so I figure I will up the ante a bit.

    According to published accounts, IF never made a profit in your tenure there. At least not until this past year. What did you learn relative to running a business (as opposed to specific aspects of a business like welding, photography, etc), that you can apply at Firefly to hopefully achieve a positive return for your efforts?
     

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Man, I figured either you or Jamie were big Joss Whedon fans and your first model would be named Serenity.

    You have a good story & congrats on the biz!
    "It's better to not know so much than to know so many things that ain't so." -- Josh Billings, 1885

    A man with any character at all must have enemies and places he is not welcome—in the end we are not only defined by our friends, but also those aligned against us.


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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Don,

    Thanks for the well wishes! Everyone says that we should have named our first model Serenity, that would be kind of funny, but also totally lame...



    Moran,

    Thanks for the question, it is a good one.

    Through my tenure in the bicycle industry in the last 15 years I have seen a lot of what works and what doesn't. I have never been required to be in charge of the finances of any of the companies I have worked for, that being said, I have seen a lot of missed opportunities and have managed my own personal finances quite well.

    Sometimes my voice has been heard and sometimes it hasn't, that is part of working for a company with a lot of people in it. I have had many opportunities to make much more money than I have made making bicycles outside of this industry but this is where my passion lies, so I am going continue doing it and will do all I can to make Firefly work.

    I believe that having a small number of super high quality dealers (8-10) throughout the world that specialize in fitting cyclists to custom bicycles is a big part of the equation. But they have to be good, real good, and their experience, people and space has to be top notch. The thing about having high quality dealers is that they earn their margin. They are worthwhile.

    We plan to have a bulk of our customers work directly with us. Then it will be our turn to earn those margins. If they are in the area, or within a reasonable driving distance, they can come by our facility and get fit by us personally. We will also work with customers directly and guide them through our fit system via live video (skype) over the web, telephone conversations and email. Whatever it takes to confidently get the numbers right.

    All great companies have to start somewhere, and we are starting here, with an amazing lineage and a wealth of experience. We have run the numbers, our plan is solid and we count on being around for many years to come (forever if possible).

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    *****
    Last edited by bellman; 03-09-2011 at 10:08 PM.

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Tyler, great stuff! I'm so excited and happy for you guys.

    In a time when most companies are trying to be all things for all people, it looks like you guys are narrowing your scope. Was it difficult to decide what models to build and materials to focus on? Was paint, or lack thereof, a big factor?
    Last edited by zank; 03-06-2011 at 01:33 AM.
    Mike Zanconato
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    Hey Mike,

    We are really excited too! It was nice to see you at NAHBS, your bikes looked stellar as always.

    Because we wanted to get off of the ground running we had to narrow our focus, both in our model offerings (road and cross) and material selection (Ti and stainless) and given our limited funding to start (our savings) we had to focus on what we could build now and paint was a huge factor in that decision. Being the control freaks that we are , we hope to have paint in-house in the future. It is one of our goals. We have been talking with many of the paint shops that are out there (before and during NAHBS), looking at their work, and talking to them about turnaround times and the like. We have found a good match for paint locally, and look forward to having them paint some of our bikes. Their quality is top notch and they are also really good friends, so the communication portal will be quite accessible. We are also offering a large array of raw surface treatments and decal options that will hopefully satisfy a large percentage of our customer base.

    As far as choosing to start with stainless and titanium... Although the raw materials are really expensive, we have worked out deals with our suppliers to provide us with complete tube sets to our specs, this will make it possible for us to keep lower inventory of raw materials in house and receive tight little bundles from them that we can turn directly into complete bicycles. No more waiting for chain stays from so-and-so and down tubes from someone else. The tubes show up as complete sets, and the bikes get built.

    We started with road and cross mostly because of the time it is taking for us to get our disc brake dropout made for our future titanium mountain bike. We are still in the design stage with that. It is looking really good, functional, light and distinctive. We are also working on our tube set for this bike as we speak with durability and light weight playing as major factors. We plan to grow our model offerings, but not at the expense of our means. You have to start somewhere, and this was a really comfortable place for us.

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Tyler,

    That was a great read - thanks for sharing so thoroughly!

    I was tickled when I saw Firefly's address - I never managed to make it all the way across the river to visit IF, but Firefly's HQ is a few dozen feet off on of my regular morning ride routes. You guys start your workday at 7, right? I'll drop by frequently with DD from the corner...

    No questions for you right now, but I hope you'll keep this SO updated with your progress over the next few months of the start-up. I'm really looking forward to following the latest chapter in the history of Boston framebuilders. It sounds like you've got a well thought-out plan of attack. I wish you, Jaime and Kevin great success.
    GO!

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    Awesome article,

    Congratulations on your new venture and can't wait to see some of your rides!

    Rob Hill
    New England Bicycle Expo
     

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Tyler,

    Kevin is a pretty young kid for the custom business. There are not many young guys looking to make a career out of the bike industry, although there are many in part time or seasonal positions.

    What characteristics/ skills did you see in Kevin to bring him on board?

    David

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    Tyler, great story. I applaud you for taking the high road in what I am sure has been a difficult past many months. I wish you and your team all the success in the world.
    Anthony Maietta
    Web Site | Blog | Flickr
    "The person who says it can not be done, should not interrupt the person doing it."

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    David,

    Although Kevin is what some would consider young, at 24, he is a top notch fitter. Over the past few years of working with him I have seen extreme dedication to his work. He is super smart, with a degree in neuroscience from Dartmouth, and an avid racer and daily cyclist. He knows bicycles inside and out and is good with people. His designs have always been spot-on to the customers needs and he can turn them around quickly and efficiently. His focus on the details has also always amazed me. He is prompt, talented, responsible, responsive, thoughtful, positive and courteous; a good mix for someone in his position. Above all, he is great to work with.

    Like me, he has had many opportunities to be able to make a lot more money outside of this industry, but this is where his passion lies and he has thrown himself at it with everything he's got. He is dedicated to making the customers experience dealing with Firefly a good one and he is excited at having the opportunity to grow with the company.

    The three of us: the nerd, the artist and the racer make for a great, well rounded, team.

    Anthony,

    It was nice seeing you at NAHBS, your bikes looked great. That inlay stuff you are doing is off-the-hook and must have taken forever! The last few months have seen many challenges, but they have been super rewarding. Thanks for the support.

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    hi tyler, and welcome atmo -

    with firefly being a new company created by not-so-new cats, what are the short and long term goals?
    i suspect that you're the actual fab guy there, so that limits output at least for the time being. will the
    brand stay low volume, or should we expect to read that more welders come aboard and production
    numbers growing exponentially? i'll hang up and take the answer off the air.

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    Default Re: Firefly Bicycles

    Short term goals are to get production rolling smoothly, orders in and bikes out. While I am the only welder I am not the only fab guy. Jamie is a whiz with the machines and can easily make multiple bikes a day when he is needed to. I can easily keep up with him and it appears as though we will be able to manage our volume sufficiently between the two of us. Long term, we plan to remain low volume and spend more time with the individual bikes than we have in the past, pushing our level of detail and finish quality. We want to keep our operation small and intimate. We have no plans on bringing anyone else on.

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