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by Dave Rome
August 14, 2020
Photography by Firefly Bicycles
In this week’s Bikes of the Bunch, we take a look at a stunning carbon and titanium disc road bike from Boston-based bike builders Firefly. It’s a bike that merges many new and old manufacturing techniques while also showcasing a mastery of titanium anodising.
For many, the lure of custom titanium is the dream of a forever bike, a ride built to your needs and designed to look as good in two decades as it does now. According to Kevin Wolfson, director of operations and frame design at Firefly, approximately 90% of the company’s customers seek a frame entirely made from titanium.
The remaining 10% seek something that’s a mixture of titanium and carbon. The carbon introduces another level of performance, but is a tradeoff with the simplicity and timelessness of a full metal frame. “The Ti-Carbon combination allows us to combine the best qualities of both materials,” said Wolfson. “The carbon tubing reduces the weight, increases stiffness, and contributes to carbon’s unique vibration damping. The Ti lugs help make the geometry and tube selection fully custom and add strength and stiffness at the joints where it is needed most. And the Ti chainstays incorporate titanium’s legendary ride feel.”
Firefly’s process for building its Ti-Carbon bikes isn’t all that different to its full titanium offerings. Make a complete frame (with some custom placeholder tubes), and then chop it up to then add the carbon tubes in.
This bike’s owner – Boulder-based Craig Kane – knew about these characteristics before putting his name on Firefly’s two-year waitlist. His previous road bike was an Independent Fabrications (IF) XS, another custom bike with a carbon and titanium construction.
“I’ve had it for five years and absolutely loved it,” said Kane of his Independent Fabrications. “Only later did I find out the Firefly folks were the original engineers of the XS.” However, like many cyclists, Kane’s riding habits and interests changed over the years. He was now riding more gravel roads and wanted disc brakes for extended mountain descents.
“I first saw Dani Arman on her Firefly a little over two years ago at the Rapha RGR ride in Boulder,” Kane said. “It was a tough ride, 120 miles, 10k climbing and a lot of rough gravel sections. It was all Ti with an integrated carbon seat post. The combo of anodisation detail and carbon, and the fact it could tackle such a wide range of surfaces, had me hooked. I put my deposit down two days later.”
Firefly operates with a selection of bike models to choose from which are tailored to each owner’s needs with custom geometry, tubing, graphics (or lack thereof) and technical details. In this case, the selected Disc Road model can be tweaked and changed to produce fairly different outcomes, but one thing that remains consistent is space for 32 mm tyres.
More than a sum of its parts, it’s amazing to think about the time that went into crafting each of these pieces.
Firefly sources its custom carbon tubes from Enve Composites (based in Utah), and the forks it uses are from there, too. Other elements, such as the 3D-printed flat-mount dropouts, integrated carbon seat post, and T47 bottom bracket shell, are all optional extras.
The selected frame numbers are a tweaked and refined version of Kane’s IF. According to Wolfson, this bike offers a 73.7º seat tube angle, 72.2º head tube angle, and 58 mm trail figure. The bottom bracket is a relatively low 74 mm, while the chain stays are 415 mm in length.
There are many more fine technical details worth covering, but arguably they’re overshadowed by that rainbow dot graphic. It’s all anodisation, it flows beyond the frame, and it left me speechless.
The dotted design meshes unbelievably well with the carbon tube finish.
“Kevin and I went back and forth a bit,” said Kane of the graphics. “I wanted to do a blue to pink fade across the bike. We decided that the micro-dot pattern would show that fade off in a unique way, given the limited space to work with.
“The original concept came from a vinyl sample with that pattern and a continual drive to push what’s possible with raw titanium finishes,” explained Wolfson. “We had used it on a couple of other bikes before but used a new technique to create the unique colours on this frame. The entire finish process took 11-12 hours of hands-on work.”
So how does it ride?
“I’ve been riding Ti/Carbon for years, however, the shaped tubes and modern geometry, along with a much beefier bottom bracket, has made it super responsive with way more lateral rigidity,” said Kane while drawing a comparison to his IF. “And did I mention the buttery road-feel you get with Ti/Carbon? I’ll probably play around with the wheelset a bit, but as for the rest, Firefly nailed it.”
Frame: Firefly Ti-Carbon Disc Road
Fork: Enve Disc Road, 50 mm offset
Headset: Cane Creek 110
Wheelset: Custom built with White Industries CLD thru-axle hubs, HED Vanquish rims, and DT Swiss Aerolite spokes
Shifters: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace with Stages Dual-Sided Power, 53-36 rings
Bottom bracket: White Industries T47 with ceramic bearings
Front derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Rear derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace, 11-30
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace
Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace
Tyres: Vittoria Corsa Control 28 mm
Handlebar: Zipp SL-70 Aero, 44 cm
Stem: Firefly Titanium, 110mm x -6º
Seatpost: Firefly Tapered Carbon Integrated Seatpost
Cages: Silca Ti with engraved Firefly logos
Bar tape: Silca Nastro Fiore
Saddle: Specialized S-Works Toupe
Pedals: Shimano Dura-Ace
Bike weight: Unknown