Hailing from Boston USA, launched in 2011 by Kevin Wolfson, Jamie Medeiros and Tyler Evans, Firefly Bicycles has quickly become an iconic name in the world of custom bicycle frame fabrication, building bespoke frames using in-house butted titanium tubing, tailored to the geometry of each bicycle. Matched with head-turning custom finishing choices, Firefly provide a complete package of ingredients to create the optimal bespoke bicycle experience.
The team recently finished work on FF1233 – Rusty – built for Endurance Athlete, Jonah Jones, based in Bermuda. This is a purpose designed endurance machine ready for use on ultra distance events such as the Gravel TroBreizh in Brittany, France, but also to explore the renowned European Divide Trail. FF1233 refines the ‘all-road’ classification by combining a sub-compact drivetrain with a generous tyre clearance, accommodating 29 x 2.2 tyres sat comfortably in a SEIDO Components MGV carbon fork.
We reached out to Kevin and Jonah to discuss some details and ask some questions about what it meant to create such a purpose built machine:
SEIDO: “Tell us about FF1233 - Rusty. What inspired the design brief for this unique bike?”
Kevin: “We built Rusty for a great customer and a super strong rider based in Bermuda named Jonah. We’ve been lucky enough to build him a few bikes now, dating back to a road bike we made for him in 2015. A former rugby player, he now applies his physical and mental toughness to some very impressive rides, from loops around Bermuda totaling hundreds of km, to the Transcontinental race in Europe, and his upcoming foray into Gravel Tro Breizh.
This specific bike was built to tackle ultra-endurance, mixed terrain rides like GTB. He wanted it to be comfortable for long days on the bike, compatible with aerobars to give him lots of options to adjust his position on those long days, comfortable and capable on rough unpaved terrain. The bike needed to be equipped with a full range of cargo mounting options, with integrated dynamo lighting and charging, to allow him to do self-supported rides in remote locations.
While his riding goals and fit needs directed our decisions on the frame geometry and component selection, we were also able to take advantage of our custom finish process to create a totally unique fall-inspired finish design, all the way down to the color selection for the custom Gramm Touring bags.”
SEIDO: “What are the different stages of the build process at Firefly Bikes, and who is involved?”
Kevin: “My role is to work with the customer through the whole fit and frame geometry design process, selecting components, planning frame options, and outlining a rough plan for the finish. As frames get closer to production, I will handle the component ordering and production scheduling so that the frame and all the components are ready at the same time (when everything goes according to plan!), and then take photos of the production process so the customer can see their bike being born, even if they aren’t local.
Jamie will then take the build sheet for each bike, which includes all of the geometry and tubing information, and turn the raw materials into a bike frame. That process includes tube butting, which we do in-house and custom for each bike, mitering, bending, shaping, and tack welding, which is just enough to hold the bike together so we can remove it from the frame fixture. He will also drill the tubing for any water bottle, frame bag, and other accessory mounts to be added later.
Tyler does all of the welding from that point. His first step is to check the alignment after tacking and then plan a welding sequence to bring the frame into perfect alignment. Titanium is very difficult to bend after welding, which is part of what makes it so strong, but also part of what makes building titanium frames so difficult. He will weld the main triangle first, then the small parts and brake bridges, and finally the dropouts, checking and re-checking the alignment at several steps along the way. During that process, he or Scott will ream and face the bottom bracket and head tube, bond in the seat tube insert, and slot the seat tube. At that point the frame is ready to ride, but unfinished.
Kate is our head finisher and in charge of creating the beautiful custom finishes we are known for. Her first step is to remove any excess color around the joints and set an even base finish across the frame with a mix of power tools and using abrasives by hand. She will then get to work applying the finishes for the graphics, masking off those graphics, and applying the base finish around the masks. A finish like Rusty will include many separate steps and can take 3-4 days to complete.
Scott will often do the final bead blasting and then unmask the graphics, the last steps of the finish process, before tackling the final assembly. On a bike like this one, that process goes well beyond simple shifting and brake adjustment to include drivetrain customization to make non-standard gear combinations work. We consider dynamo light and charger wire routing, integrated rack and bag mounting, and in this case, setting up the Di2 shifting so that Jonah can easily install and remove aerobars with integrated Di2 shifters.
After Tyler photographs the bike in our studio, Scott will then carefully pack it so we can ship it out to the customer needing only a few assembly steps to ride.”
SEIDO: “We’re starting to see more drop bar bikes sporting wider tyres, yet there are fewer designs which have space for tyres upwards of 700 x 45c. FF1233 seems to be ahead of the curve in this respect – do you see this bike as a glimpse into the future of all-road bike design?”
Kevin: “I think a big part of what makes gravel and all-road bikes fun to design is that the way riders use them is so varied. Clearance for 700x45mm or 650x53mm tires, the standard for our All-Road model, is plenty for many of our customers, but sometimes we work with riders like Jonah who need bigger tires, and because we’re fully custom, we’re happy to accommodate!
The main challenge with bigger tire clearances is that you can start to run into issues with chainring clearance. That’s easy enough to work around with a custom build, whether through the right component selection, our 3D printed chainstay yoke, and/or longer chainstays. On Jonah’s bike, we even chose to use 148mm boost rear spacing and a 73mm BB shell to help with tire and chainring clearance. Those modifications are harder for a stock company to plan for, but I do think that as more people use their all-road bikes on rougher terrain, more manufacturers will have to find ways to offer frames with more tire clearance.”
SEIDO: “With input from Gramm Tourpacking, Allygn Components and SEIDO Components, FF1233 looks to be a celebration of where the modern era of bicycle travel has found itself. Was the bike designed around these specific components?”
Kevin: ““A celebration” is a great way to describe FF1233! It really does highlight just how custom a custom bike can be. The starting point for each of the frame design and component selection decisions was always Jonah’s goals and preferences for the bike. For example, his desire to have tons of tire clearance, rack mounts on the front and back of the back, internal dynamo routing, and to have the option to potentially use a short-travel suspension fork in the future made the Seido MGV fork a perfect choice.
Regarding the front rack and bags specifically, we knew we wanted to use an Allygn Diamond rack and matching Gramm Tourpacking front bag because we don’t think there is any better front rack/bag combination out there. That decision led naturally to working with Gramm on the custom frame and saddle bags. Once we finalized the frame geometry, we coordinated with Gramm to customize the bag mounting locations, sizes, and colors. The team at Gramm was a pleasure to work with throughout the process.”
SEIDO: “Did you suggest this choice of components to your customer, or did they have a set group of parts in mind?”
Kevin: “The component selection was very much a collaboration between Jonah and us. He had some specific requests, and in other cases we recommended components and options that we thought would best match his preferences and goals for the bike. We’re very flexible with how we approach component selection in general. Some folks want or need more recommendations, while others know all or almost all of what they want. That flexibility is another advantage of the custom process.”
SEIDO: “What can you tell us about the custom finish and interesting graphics on the bike?”
Kevin: “Jonah asked us to create a custom finish with an autumnal themed graphics, including some leaf and bird imagery, the word “Rusty”, and with colors selected to match the theme and complement the two-toned Ingrid crankarms. Tyler turned that inspiration into a custom finish design that used a mix of bead blasted Ti, brushed Ti, and bronze, gold, and rose-gold anodization. Once we created the finish design for the frame, we then coordinated the colors for the bags with Gramm and Jonah to make sure that everything worked together harmoniously. We were thrilled with how it came out.”
When it comes down to creating machines for churning out the miles at a competitive level, Firefly deliver the tools for the job. Jonah Jones has his sights set on some tough but rewarding events, and Rusty is tuned specifically for his needs.
We were lucky enough to get some insight from Jonah:
SEIDO: “What initially sparked the idea to commission a bike like this?”
Jonah: “It’s the bike for the next stage in my life. I had already drifted into ultra events and found my people - that rag tag motley assortment of folks who put themselves through the discomfort of ultra cycling in order to experience life on a different plane. In the last three years I have undergone the disappointment of preparing for several ultra events, only to have them cancelled, due initially to covid regulations and then as a result of family illness. During that time I slipped quietly into my mid fifties and had a real think about how many ultra events I realistically had left in me. Where did I want those adventures to focus? The answer was in quiet, majestic natural beauty.
The endurance bicycle that Firefly had previously built me, “Mud Puppy” is a wonderful machine, but I concluded that while it was very capable, and had taken me onto many a mixed surface, it came up a little short for what I have in mind next. It has clearance for 45mm tires, but I wanted wider. It’s also a little more aggressive in the geometry than the new build and the gearing is too limiting for this ageing dude to take on steep gradients and super long off road tours.”
SEIDO: “Built with the events you have in focus, Rusty is purebred machine. Compared to other bikes that you have ridden long distances, how did you want this bike to stand out and differ from the rest?”
Jonah: “I envisage this bike as being able to take me far and comfortably on the trail less travelled, but also have the geometry and gearing to get my head down and tap out long distances on the faster sections of a journey. We spend a fair bit of time in Southern Brittany. The area is criss-crossed with rugged farm tracks, locally called “ribinou” which Jo, my partner, and I love to select over the metalled roads whenever possible. One of our favourite outings there is to ride from our house, along the river on these tracks to a small village at the estuary for a plate of oysters and a glass of Muscadet.”
SEIDO: “Since receiving your bike and completing your first rides, which features have made the biggest impression on you?”
Jonah: “We have been lucky enough to have had several bikes built for us by Firefly, so my expectations were already sky high. I expected balance, comfort and smoothness. What is striking about this build though, is the barely noticeable transition when you head off road. That’s where it really seems to come into its own. It just kind of floats over the trail leaving you confident and relaxed.
Also the Swiss Army knife aspect of the set up is so impressive. There are just so many options for events with a different focus. For example, on this upcoming ultra I have entered, (Gravel Tro Breizh) which will be a kind of shakedown cruise for Rusty, I’m not confident that there will be much readily available accommodation on the fly in that rural part of Brittany. To that end I’ll likely mount one of your Seido cages on one side of the fork to carry a tent.”
SEIDO: “Rusty looks to be very well suited to all types of terrain; the 29 x 2.2 inch tyres really highlight this. Do you find this tire clearance opens up new doors to the way we ride drop-bar bikes?”
Jonah: “I have been riding the bike on the few trails we have here in Bermuda, and its capabilities have been eye opening. The bike feels so tight and in control on steep loose surface descents.
A few years ago I had a rough day on the Transcontinental Race where I got pretty seriously lost off route (a real skill of mine) and I found myself in the backcountry of a mountainous logging area in Bosnia for 100km or so. It was deep into the race and I was pretty mentally and physically frayed at that stage - I had to do a lot of hike a bike, even with the very capable 44mm smooth gravel tires. I would like to go back and redo that route on Rusty. I’m certain I wouldn’t need to dismount for anything other than taking in the incredible views.”
SEIDO: “We love to see bikes like Rusty pushing the envelope on bike genres – have you found that people are curious about Rusty’s design?”
Jonah: “I have had a lot of online feedback and questions. People wanting to know how such a wide spread of gearing is possible for example. I think it’s struck a chord with the kind of bike many other riders of mixed surface envisage. Approaching the off-road capabilities of an MTB, but with the legs to go great distances in comfort and at a relatively high speed.
Firefly bicycles are always visually striking and regularly garner attention. I work as an artist, a painter, but I consider art to be present in all aspects of life. Firefly bicycles are artistic creations. As a self employed creative, it’s important to me to spend my currency, wherever possible, supporting other small, ethical, like minded businesses. Rusty is a visual statement of that desire; from the Gramm Tourpacking bags, beautifully made by Kristin and her all-female team of artists in Berlin. I’m also currently using a swift Industries saddle bag (Zeitgeist) as I prefer the quick access from that kind of bag over a seat pack in some scenarios. The Rene Herse tires, the baby of the laterally thinking maverick, Yan Heine. The Seido fork and cargo cage from you guys. Ingrid components who were happy to sell me their visually beautiful cranks in different colours. All of these companies tick the box that makes me feel good about the incredible world of bicycling and I couldn’t be happier.”
A great bike is a finely tuned collection of carefully considered and selected components, with the potential to create something with the same uniqueness and striking appeal as a well executed piece of art. It’s no mistake to say that with custom framebuilders like Firefly Bicycles and visionary clientele like Jonah Jones, the world of bicycles and cycling is at the most vibrant is has ever been, and it will continue to grow along this natural and exciting path.
We kindly thank Kevin Wolfson and Jonah Jones for their enlightening insight into what makes a fantastic bicycle, and wish Jonah the best of luck with the Gravel Tro Breizh astride Rusty.
By Peter Skelton