How to make a carbon frame: A tour of the Ibis Cycles factory

by Dave Rome

photography by Dave Rome

There’s a slow-moving trend across the bike industry of brands ‘re-shoring’ to take ownership of their own manufacturing. In recent times we’ve seen the likes of Bianchi, 3T, and Pirelli announce new manufacturing facilities; all projects that were in the works before the ongoing pandemic. And it’s a trend that will surely continue as the pandemic-led cycling boom has shown the bike industry that it shouldn’t have all of its eggs in one manufacturing basket.

The reasons for the re-shoring can be varied, and there’s often more than a single benefit to doing so. For smaller brands, it’s a guaranteed way of controlling the supply chain that can often shift schedules based on the demands of larger brands. In other cases, it can be because a brand wants to push a technical development and/or the product performance, and its existing outsourced manufacturing partners don’t want to stray too far from the well-beaten (and profitable) path. Some also cite benefits in the ability to control every step of the production, with in-house testing, and continuous improvement along the way. 

The much higher labour costs of manufacturing in developed cities can be partly offset through shorter delivery lead times, not having to freight products across the world, or more efficient manufacturing processes. Meanwhile, eco-conscious brands cite similar benefits to local manufacturing. And while it’s rarely reason enough alone, many brands re-shore because there’s prestige in doing so. 

Based in Santa Cruz, California, Ibis Cycles is another industry example that has made a significant investment to control its own destiny and bring a small part of its production in-house. And all of the reasons above arguably apply.

In 2018 the company acquired what would become its 15,000 square foot carbon frame manufacturing facility, a building that feels impressively spacious for the current headcount of around 15 staff – many of whom are veterans of the industry, with a few having been involved with pioneering monocoque carbon frame manufacturer Kestrel.

The following gallery is a tour of the Ibis Cycles facility and a look behind the scenes at how the new Exie cross country race mountain bike is created – the only model from Ibis Cycles currently being produced in-house.

It’s worth noting that our sibling website PinkBike has previously featured the backstory to Ibis’s facility, however, I figured that while I was in town for the 2022 Sea Otter Classic, why not check it out for myself and take a deeper dive into Ibis’s process for making a carbon frame. While you’re here, be sure to check out an older feature of ours that takes a more detailed look at what carbon fibre composite is and how carbon bicycle frames are made.

The finished product. Photo: Ibis Cycles.

Editors' Picks