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Hand built bikes are often referred to as the heartbeat of the bike industry. If you love bikes and ever get a chance to attend the NAHBS (North American Hand Built Show) do it, you’ll quickly see why that reference is made. Rich, meticulous paint dripped on a canvas of titanium, steel, aluminum, and carbon done so with a flare that proclaims priceless. The hand built community is comprised of folks with an engineer’s brain coupled with the affection to tinker amongst alloys and angles. Where most of us merely dream up good ideas while on rides these talented people actually execute. Some build in their kitchens and garages, some use borrowed machine shops, and some use more conventional shops set up for larger production.
Firefly has its feet firmly planted in Boston, Massachusetts, an area in the East that has become known for this type of craft. Firefly bikes were originally crafted in 2011, but the three partners that stand behind the brand have close to 40 years of know-how between them. I had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Wolfson, Firefly’s lead frame designer, for a few minuets late one afternoon about the ingredients mixed into our Ti-Carbon test bike.
Each Firefly is built to order. Like a fine wine these bikes are procured over time. Approximately ten months time to be precise. Worth the wait? We think so. Firefly goes the distance to make sure that each bicycle they produce is exactly what every customer dreams of. The team of builders has the ability and experience to either work your wildest dreams into a reality or help guide your bike lust into the tangible and stretch your imagination along the way. Not only do you have the option to optimize the angles of each tube intersection, but you also have the ability to choose tubing diameters along each section. Can’t decide? You won’t have to. They offer a carbon taper.
The model of Firefly we tested is pretty self-explanatory and ordinary in name “Ti-Carbon”, but the way in which Firefly marries the two is anything but. Each Firefly frame is hand crafted to exceed customer expectations. Ours was built with the mindset of being racy and aggressive in geometry but not at the risk of coming across as jarring and unpleasant.
At first glance it is subtly beautiful in craftsmanship, then like a crescendo, the longer you look the more signature features begin to stand out and the bike deliberately gets louder. You will quickly notice the synchronized titanium stem and seat post, the mandrel-rolled carbon tubing from ENVE composites, and the TIG-welded, laser-cut titanium lug construction. However it takes a good once over to notice the tight tolerance around the rear wheel the Firefly signature wishbone seat stays provide, the tapering carbon tubes used on the top tube, seat stays, seat tube, and the Firefly badge laser cut into each lugged titanium section.
On the road the Firefly Ti-Carbon provided an interesting combination. The titanium dampened the road noise in a way that is impossible to do with carbon alone. The ENVE 2.0 fork is a great compliment to the Ti-Carbon frame with its progressive steer matched with the oversized titanium head tube. It was particularly stiff and made for a great driving experience down winding descents. The enlarged tubing in the chain stays definitely stiffened up the power transfer from the cranks but did not quite meet the level of most full carbon rear triangles. This was most noticeable in out of the saddle sprints during initial acceleration.
At speed on the flats and descents the Ti-Carbon got better the faster we rode. Some cars begin to drive better at higher speed; the Firefly lit up over 30mph. The titanium lugs were stand out as they soaked up all the road chatter and eased the pain of potholes on roads long ago forgotten by local government.
If you are the type of cyclist that is into the culture that cycling embodies; wants to have an experience and bond with the bike you ride, plus make a purchase that will be in style for years to come a Firefly might be in your future. Their desire to welcome customers into the process of building a bike is certainly fascinating. Although the actual production of the frame set only takes about two weeks the extensive fitting, pairing, and sifting through the endless custom options takes much longer, not to mention the high demand. Currently Firefly has a pretty full cue of bikes in production, so if you are interested I would not wait any longer than you already have. At the end of ten months you will not only come out with a bike you love, and a photo book documenting the whole process, but you will probably have a couple more people to add to your Christmas card list.