Moots is best known for its premium titanium bikes, all of which have been made by hand for over a quarter-century in the idyllic Colorado mountain town of Steamboat Springs. Going strictly by the numbers, nothing Moots produces can compete performance-wise with modern carbon fiber. But numbers aren’t everything, and the timeless design, unique feel, small-batch production, custom finish and geometry options, and the promise of a lifetime of dependable durability are more than enough to lure a thousand happy owners each year.
With few exceptions, most of those buyers unfortunately only get the see the final product, not the processes that lead up to it. There’s a saying that you usually don’t want to see how the sausage gets made, but this isn’t just any sausage, and you absolutely do want to see what happens in this kitchen.
This is where the process starts for every Moots frame. All of the company’s seamless 3/2.5 titanium tubing is sourced exclusively from US mills. According to Moots PR man Jon Cariveau, this yields more consistent quality and fewer issues down the road – some of which could potentially end up costing far more than whatever the company may have potentially saved on the tubing from less reliable sources.
All of the tubing arrives at Moots in straight lengths, which are then chopped up and bent in-house as needed for each frame.
If Moots doesn’t have stock in Bridgeport, maybe it should consider getting some. Here is where all of the tubes are cut, mitered, and bent.
Moots designs and manufactures its own machining jigs in-house, and given its considerable production volume – roughly 1000 frames annually – it’s more efficient to leave the jigs set up on each machine whenever possible to minimize machine down time.
Each process has its own jig. And given how many different processes are in play to handle all of Moots’ various frame models, the company ends up needing a lot of jigs.
Where possible, Moots will pre-make certain frame components that it knows it will need in the near future. This reduces lead times, and also makes better use of slow periods.
Pre-made frame parts are carefully labeled and stored.
Each of these cardboard sleeves contains the start of someone’s dream frame. At this point, it’s all basically just a pile of titanium tubes.
The folks at Moots definitely have a good sense of humor.
Sometimes, complete assemblies can be made ahead of time. Some Moots frames are built with wishbone-style seatstays. Those can often be made in advance, since all that’s required to get them ready for a frame is trimming the ends of the tubes.
More partially prepped tubes stacked up in neat little wooden bins.
Tubes are very carefully mounted in frame jigs when it comes time for mitering.
A beer can happens to be just about the right length to serve as a temporary spacer here.
Mistakes happen. This set of V-blocks has clearly seen its share of minor mishaps.
Head tubes are one frame component that can be completely prepped ahead of time, at least for stock frame geometries where the lengths are pre-determined.
There’s a lot of titanium inside the Moots factory.
See that fuzzy-looking ball on the shelf? That’s a huge pile of titanium chips. And it’s sharp.
Moots had this building constructed specifically for its own needs in 2001. Production happens on the first floor, offices are on the second floor, and then there are three apartments up on the third floor. But even though the structure was custom-built, Moots has grown enough since then that it still needs to get creative to store all the tubing.
According to Moots, roughly 85% of its production is made in stock frame sizes, with only 15% built using custom geometry.
Moots earned its reputation with mountain bikes and road bikes, but gravel models are taking over. The standard Routt – such as this one pictured here – is now the company’s top-selling model.
Moots has been having a lot of fun with anodized finishes in recent years. This employee bike is obviously made to pay homage to a certain fizzy beverage.
See the bubbles in the logo?
Some people would consider spilling beer to be a sin.
Moots is synonymous with titanium today, but actually got its start with steel frames.
It wasn’t until Moots started development of the YBB softail in the early 1990s that it moved away from steel. A then-cutting-edge data acquisition system, developed with the Colorado School of Mines, confirmed that steel wouldn’t provide the fatigue life Moots needed to pull off the concept. But titanium would fit the needs perfectly, and the company switched from steel to tubing almost overnight – and never looked back.
Once the tubes are cut and mitered, they eventually make their way into the welding area.
The ends of each tube are lightly scuffed to remove surface impurities before they’re cleaned more thoroughly.
Every titanium tube takes a trip through an industrial ultrasonic cleaner to make sure every bit of contamination is removed. Even a tiny bit of oil (from human fingertips, for example) can ruin a weld.
All clean, shiny, and ready to weld. Gloves are absolutely required from this point forward.
Once the tubes come out of the ultrasonic cleaner, they wait here for the welders.
More frame kits in process, and one step closer to being a frame.
Hey, Jace Calderas, this is your new Moots frame! Well, almost.
When Moots was founded, most of the employees were young and childless. But many of them have grown up along with the business, and with more than three decades on the clock to date, there have been quite a few employee kids that have left their mark on this wall.
Frames are first fusion welded here, where the ends of the tubes are basically just melted together. There are no welding rods used just yet.
Every step in the process is critical. Even if the alignment is only slightly off here, there’s a good chance it can’t be corrected later on.
Do you know what you don’t see in this area? A coffee machine. Steady hands, please.
TIG-welded titanium joints need to be backfilled with inert argon gas so as not to contaminate the weld area. Not surprisingly, a company the size of Moots goes through a lot of argon. Whereas once it would just cycle through a whole bunch of smaller tanks as needed, it now has a much bigger tank (that resides outside), which is refilled periodically instead of replaced.
It’s not enough for every weld to look perfect. It’s also critical that the joints are welded in specific orders and directions to avoid warping the frame. There’s an incredible amount of heat being introduced here, and a careless order can ruin what might have been a beautiful bicycle.
The seat tube-to-bottom bracket joint is fusion welded all the way around, not just tacked and covered up by the down tube. According to Moots, it’s this sort of small detail that not only helps its frames last, but prevents mystery creaks from popping up down the road.
A little bit further along here. Even the initial fusion welds are pretty.
Looks like there’s a budding American Ninja Warrior within the walls of Moots.
Moots employs some of the most talented welders around. But even the most experienced craftspeople have their limitations.
“Sparky” is a welding fixture developed by former Moots employee Brad Bingham (who later went on to take over Kent Eriksen’s smaller custom titanium operation not far away). It allows builders to more easily and consistently weld around the entire circuference of a cylindrical joint, such as what’s found at the top of a seat tube. The motor at left rotates the tube at a constant (and known) speed, so every weld comes out perfect.
Moots currently has 24 full-time employees, including eleven dedicated soley to production. On any given working day, three welders are making the magic happen.
Moots also produces its smaller titanium fittings in-house, such as bottom bracket shells, cable guides, and most of its dropouts.
These steerer clamps will eventually be turned into gorgeous titanium stems.
Moots recently started using 3D-printed titanium dropouts, specifically to address the alignment challenges created with the advent of flat-mount disc brakes. Whereas most titanium builders will first weld the mounts to the inside of the chainstay, and then weld that sub-assembly into the frame, Moots prefer to maintain its proven process with dropouts that already have the mounts formed directly in place. It removes another chance for heat-related warping, and helps maintain consistency. The dropouts also look really cool.
Moots uses some of its scrap tubing to make limited-edition noisemakers around the start of each cyclocross season.
Titanium is both heavier and less rigid than carbon fiber, and also doesn’t provide as much design flexibiliy. But there’s just something about it that still generates an emotional response with many riders.
Once the frames are fully welded, they move into the finishing area.
Serial numbers are stamped into each frame by hand.
Every Moots frame is fully reamed, faced, chased, and honed as needed to make sure every component fits as it should.
Moots currently offers both threaded and press-fit bottom brackets, but has no plans to add T47 to the list. According to Moots, the format just isn’t conducive to medium-volume production like this.
If many of Moots’ machines look old, that’s because they are. But in many instances, the older ones are more highly cherished than newer ones. With proper maintenance, they can last nearly forever, too.
These frames are all awaiting finishing work, such as blasting, decaling, and/or anodizing.
These final welds haven’t yet been brushed, but you can already see how impeccably even they are.
After welding, every frame is checked on the alignment table. Given titanium’s stubborn resistance to cold-setting, it’s far better if the frames are already straight by the time they get here.
For anodized logos, Moots first polishes and anodizes the entire area. A mask is applied, the whole frame is media blasted, and then there’s a brilliant logo left behind once the mask is removed.
Moots sponsors the Alpha Bicycle Company cyclocross team, but one of the beauties of titanium is that racers don’t need new frames every year. A batch of team frames was currently getting refinished in preparation for the upcoming season.
A blast from the past. Moots’ Malcolm X full-suspension mountain bike was short-lived, but showed the company’s willingness to experiment.
Moots founder Kent Eriksen left Moots in 2005 to start up another titanium frame company, Kent Eriksen Cycles, that was aimed more toward fully custom builds. Eriksen has since retired, and that company is now being run by head welder Brad Bingham, who served long stints at both brands.
Moots houses its two media blasting chambers in a separate room to help keep the rest of the facility clean.
Media blasting is messy work, so the room in which the blasting chambers are housed has its own air management system.
Anodizing is simple in theory, and requires very little in terms of equipment.
Getting anodized finishes to look this brilliant is easier said than done, however. Getting the precise colors you want in a repeatable fashion is a bit of an art form, too.
Hey Ryan Trebon, your new Moots is almost ready!
CNC machining has long been an important process within the Moots factory, but it’s taking on an even bigger role these days.
Moots makes as much as it can in-house, which means the CNC machines are generally kept quite busy.
Why use a head tube badge when you machine the logo right into the head tube?
Seatpost collars in process inside the CNC mill.
All of the aluminum and titanium scrap is sent off to a recycling facility.
Fresh and shiny Moots frames, almost ready to be sent off to their partner dealers. Someone’s dream is about to come true…
Few brands occupy as many cyclists’ wish lists as Moots – and the Routt RSL gravel bike is certainly a good reason why that would be.