Bikes of the Bunch: Firefly Titanium Disc Road
It’s a bike so nice, it doesn’t want to be ridden …
It was some 16 months ago that Sydneysider Joel Lidden placed the order on what was to be his new ride-all-day road bike. It would be an impatient wait as the raw titanium tubes-turned-one-off machine made their way from Firefly’s Boston-based workshop to Lidden’s hands in Sydney. This bike of dreams was finally ready for its maiden voyage, or so Lidden thought.
The day before first riding the Firefly Lidden was met with an overwhelming pain in his knee. Six years of cycling and many years before that of competitive soccer had never resulted in an injury. But just as the new bike arrived so did the pain.
So, for now, Lidden can give no early ride impression and he can’t tell us what he’d like to change about the bike, if anything. He just wants to ride the thing. In the meantime, we can all enjoy the mastery that was born from nearly two years of planning.
Not a first
Joel Lidden is clearly a lover of tech. The list of bikes he’s ridden and owned in the past few years is long and impressive. And the Firefly isn’t his first titanium ride.
“I previously bought a used but high-end titanium bike which was a 95% fit,” he says. “Despite loving the feel of Ti there was a sense that it was someone else’s baby. The chance to sell that bike came up and the Ti bike void was created.”
“Enter Firefly,” says Lidden. “I’d been interested in them for a long time and couldn’t look away. Despite a relatively long wait list due to the small size of their operation, I wasn’t deterred. The resounding feedback from Firefly owners was that they were initially attracted to the look of the frame but ended up being more impressed by the road feel.”
Kevin Wolfson, Lead Frame Designer at Firefly, used Lidden’s existing bike collection to help narrow down what Lidden wanted from the bike. As Lidden explains: “[The] process started with four different bikes assessed [with positional videos shared], a benchmark bike confirmed and then months of testing different positions on the benchmarked bike [with assistance from local bike fitter Tom at Pave the Way Bike Fitters].”
Kevin Wolfson tells CyclingTips that the fit adjustments made are less about re-inventing a fit than fine-tuning it, and in the case of this bike, “it was then designing a frame geometry to work perfectly with that fit.”
“We designed his frame with a few notable geometry features to make it particularly well suited to his riding style,” Wolfson says. “The 415mm chainstays provide a little bit of extra stability for fast descents. That length also works best with wider disc hub spacing to make the shifting work perfectly.
“We also lowered his bottom bracket very slightly compared to some of his other road bikes, and chose a 72-degree head tube angle and 50mm offset Enve fork. That combination works really well with his frame size, giving the bike a slightly longer wheelbase and front centre than his other bikes while still keeping the trail down to 57mm for responsive handling.
“All of these small improvements in high-speed stability are particularly important when descending (any good climbing bike needs to descend well too) at the end of a long day when he’s fatigued.”
Lidden admits it was a totally different experience compared to his first custom bike that he’d ordered from Italy. Where that purchase was an exercise in frustration, the communication with Firefly put any of his early concerns to bed.
“Kevin’s ability to manage expectations was demonstrated from day one and continued through the process,” he says. “His investigation into riding style, my riding habits and preferences, even down to the road surfaces I ride on, were all considered. The benefit of a long lead time is that you’re afforded plenty of time to get the geometry right.”
Performance meets endurance
Seeking a bike to ride all day in hilly events such as Peaks Challenge, Lidden wanted something that was both spirited and comfortable. Providing insight into the design choices of the bike, Wolfson adds, “we used the tubing selection to ensure that his bike is responsive and fast. Tubing outside diameter has the largest effect on frame stiffness, and we knew that he was looking for a bit more stiffness than he experiences on other Ti bikes.”
“With that all in mind, we selected oversized tubing throughout the frame, with the exception of the seat stays. [The] 1″ chainstays (instead of the more common 7/8″ diameter) create a fantastically rigid drivetrain that rivals any other race bike. The 42mm down tube and 46mm head tube further bolster the frame’s efficiency under load and steering precision. That oversize head tube is also necessary to fit the Enve Disc Road fork with it’s 1 1/4″ tapered steerer tube.
“Finally, we custom butt all of our tubing in-house, reducing the wall thicknesses in the middle of the tubing to save weight and leaving the tubing thicker at the joints and around the welded bottle cage bosses to improve stiffness,” continues Wolfson. “That process also helps smooth out the ride quality, allowing us to get away with building stiffer frames that are still exceptionally smooth-riding.”
While the end result is a highly modern road bike with disc brakes, thru-axles, electronic shifting and with room for 32c rubber, it’s quite the departure from the originally ordered traditional rim-brake build. His decision was swayed by Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 that became available while the bike was on the waiting list.
“Aesthetically and functionally, I like both SRAM eTap and Dura Ace, but for different reasons,” Lidden says. “Ultimately it came down to Shimano’s superior front shifting, the speed of shifting, and the comfort on offer with their hoods.”
Anodising and paint to match
As a CyclingTips Veloclub member, Lidden first shared his new Firefly to the VeloClub WhatsApp group. I immediately knew I wanted to help him share it more widely. Those who follow Firefly will know how meticulous their work is. But this bike was something else again, and certainly, the finish added substantially to that wait time.
This bike makes use of a rather fresh take on titanium anodising where a combination of endless masking and careful chemical and electrode treatments come together to create vivid colours that are part of the titanium itself.
What’s more impressive though is the Enve carbon fork that sits up front. You can’t anodise carbon, and the colours you see on the fork are paint, perfectly matched to Firefly’s anodising by Jordan at Hot Tubes Paint. Take a look up close and it’s near impossible to differentiate them.
“The anodising is state-of-the-art flawless! My expectations on the finish quality have been well exceeded,” says Lidden. “Painting a Ti bike may be a little counter-intuitive but the examples I’d seen were really impressive. The final Ti finish is bead-blasted, which apparently works a little better with anodised graphics than brush-finish Ti.”
Best of luck with the knee recovery Joel!
Frame: Firefly Titanium Disc Road with Di2 internal cable routing
Fork: Enve Disc Road, paint by Hot Tubes Paint
Headset: Chris King Inset8
Drivetrain: Dura Ace 9170 with 11-30 cassette, 160/140 rotors
Bottom bracket: CeramicSpeed English threaded
Power meter: Dura Ace R9100-P
Wheelset: Enve 3.4 disc with Chris King R45D Ceramic Centrelock matte slate hubs and Sapim CX-Ray spokes (built by Zak from Skunkworks in Sydney)
Tyres: Pirelli Z-Zero 28mm with Mavic inner tubes (black valves essential!)
Stem: Firefly titanium (fabricated in-house)
Seat post: Firefly titanium with a matching Ti collar and ENVE hardware (both fabricated in-house)
Saddle: Specialized S-Works Power Saddle 143mm
Handlebars: 3T Ergonova Team stealth carbon 42cm
Bar tape: Lizard Skins DSP 3.2mm
Pedals: Dura Ace 9100
Bidon Cages: King Ti with anodising by Firefly
Weight: 7.72 kg as pictured
Assembled by: Chris Schofield from Velo Tech Centre (Sydney)