One of the greatest things about bikes and cycling is that there is something for absolutely everyone. Whether you ride for sport, or simply to get from A to B, or whether you use it as a means to see your world. No matter if you’re tall or short, or what your gender and background is - the bike is there to be ridden.
Last time we caught up with Kevin at Firefly Bicycles and his client, Jonah, where we discussed a build made for tackling testing ultra endurance events on a range of different terrains. Jonah is an ex-rugby player who channeled his form as a back row player to tapping out the miles on the Transcontinental Race. This time, Kevin introduces us to Erica - another strong cyclist who has ticked of some serious distances in the past and recently became a proud new mother – congratulations! She is now also the proud owner of Firefly FF1242.
Erica’s previous bike was a heavy touring bike. She loved it dearly and completed some serious miles upon it, but the time came to upgrade. FF1242 is a titanium framed all-road machine, equipped with a 650b SEIDO Acceleron carbon wheelset. FF1242 shouts versatility and performance, but with a pair of 47c tyres, it keeps comfort in high emphasis. Given Erica’s shorter height, she often struggled to find bikes that fitted her correctly. Like many other women her size, in the past she would have had to settle with bikes with too long a reach, so this time she opted for a custom build with a geometry completely tailored to her (even down the butting of the tubes). The colourway on the bike was completely bespoke too, and the fact that Erica is married to Firefly’s former Head Finisher meant that she had quite a head start!
We checked in with Erica and Kevin to take a look at FF1242, and to get a glimpse into the journey that formed its creation:
SEIDO: “What sort of distances had you completed on your previous bike, and what were the sensations you experienced that you wanted to correct by having FF1242 built?”
Erica: "With my last bike, I purchased the frame so I could build it up as a touring bike to go down the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego. It was one of those bikes that was a factory build and technically did everything I needed, but it did nothing exceptionally well. Plus, half the parts were poached from various other bikes I had, and the other half of the parts were from the ‘Bikes Not Bombs’ donation pile. It was a loveable monster. An upgrade from that was not hard to achieve, but after years of being jealous of my wife’s Firefly I couldn’t take my eyes off the prize. I’m a Taurus, after all!
In a few words, here are some of the things from my old bike that I bid adieu to: a long reach, mismatched brifters, what felt like 45 extra pounds of steel, and - my favorite - a weird vibration throughout the whole frame when I would reach 25 mph or higher."
SEIDO: “The fitting process when designing a custom frame is crucial. Do you find that your approach to sizing and geometry varies a lot from rider to rider, or do you have established formulas that work well?”
Kevin: "We approach the fit from multiple perspectives for every rider. We have fit formulas that translate body dimensions into a few key contact points, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. We also consider the rider’s goals, riding history, injury history, experience on other bikes, mobility/flexibility/posture, pedaling style, and anything else that will impact their comfort on their Firefly. Exactly which of those factors matters most can vary from rider to rider, but in every case, we aim to center the rider’s experience on the bike to ensure the best possible fit for each specific person, rather than following any set formulas or rules of thumb too closely."
SEIDO: “Were there any suggestions you made to help Erica alleviate some of the problems she was experiencing with her previous heavy touring bike?”
Kevin: "We tinkered with her saddle position a bit, but the main fit adjustment was to her saddle-bar reach, which we did through adjustments to the frame geometry, stem length, and handlebar/shifter set up. Bringing her reach in a bit ended up being a better match for both her fit needs and her riding goals.
We were also able to achieve a comfortable saddle-bar drop without the need for too many spacers under the stem or an upright stem, giving her more room for adjustment in the future. We want Firefly riders to enjoy their bikes for decades, and building in some room for adjustment is a crucial piece of that.
Beyond the fit, the transition from steel to custom butted Ti, and from heavier aluminum and steel components to modern aluminum and carbon components, especially the Seido Acceleron wheels, helped us cut the bike’s weight dramatically, all while giving her better braking, a wider gear range, and more tire clearance. The goal was to make sure the bike would be fun to ride right away, even if she won’t do any big tours for some time, while still being capable as a tourer later on."
SEIDO: “When designing a bike for person who is smaller in size, what are some of the things that you have to take into consideration that might differ from designing a larger frame?”
Kevin: "Fit is always important, but it’s especially common to meet smaller riders who have had to make sacrifices to their riding comfort in order to ride stock geometries, simply because of the limited stock size options for smaller riders, so finding ways to eliminate those sacrifices is always an important consideration.
Dialing in the handling can also be more complicated, as some component specs, like many aftermarket fork offsets, are designed to work best with medium-large frames. Our custom process gives us a lot of flexibility with the frame design and component combinations to find the right balance of steering quickness, stability and toe clearance with the front tire. For example, on Erica’s bike we really optimized the handling for 650b tires, knowing that she will almost always use those.
Tube selection is a major part of our custom process as well, and with smaller frames we need to be extra careful to ensure that we aren’t overbuilding them. Even with Ti, it’s possible to make a frame too stiff and lose some of the comfort and liveliness that a great Ti bike should have. We will consider the rider’s size, riding style, exact frame geometry, and frame options, like potential for panniers or frame bags, to make sure we’re using the right tube diameters and butt profiles for every frame."
SEIDO: “What were some features of your previous bike that you liked and wanted to carry over to FF1242?”
Erica: "Small wheels! My old bike was the first time I ever tried 650bs, and I never looked back. Wheels of that size helped the bike fit my body, and the whole bike felt more manageable and maneuverable regardless of terrain.
I also wanted to keep a large gear range - I used that bike both for trail riding and for long tours, and needed FF1242 to have the flexibility to let me crank out at top speed AND to drop down fast into granny gears."
SEIDO: “As a new mother, were there things you took into account when specifying FF1242 that you might previously have overlooked?”
Erica: "Honestly, the specs of the bike didn’t matter as much as the permission to get myself an amazing-ass bike. I thought to myself - if I can grow a baby, I deserve a Firefly."
SEIDO: “Did you have any specific plans in mind for how/ where you’ll ride FF1242?”
Erica: "Between being pregnant and having a newborn, it’s really been two whole years of me not being able to ride a bike the way I want to. So as anticlimactic as it sounds, this bike is about getting to return to one of my favorite things to do after a long hiatus of not doing it. A homecoming, if we’re getting sappy about it.
While of course I’ve got the D2R2 and gravel rides in Vermont on my radar for this summer, the thing that I’m looking forward to the most is getting a few mundane hours to just bliss out on a ride on a sunny weekend morning."
The different shapes and styles of bike out there are as diverse as the almost infinite range of people who ride them. Each one can have its own unique paint scheme, geometry, range of components and accessories – we dress our bikes in ways that reflect who we are as people. These uniquenesses are not only limited to aesthetics however, and how a bike rides is an important defining factor in its personality. We can ride heavy but comfortable touring bikes that are happy to plod away all day long, relaxingly carrying inertia along every undulation to the most perfect camping spot in an unknown land, or we can hop astride a feisty and lightweight ibex of a machine and pick a line up a rough trail where the reward is a spectacular view, amplified by endorphins in the veins, generated by a hard and calculated effort. There is almost no limit to how we ride.
SEIDO: “How long had upgrading to a bike like FF1242 been on your mind? Did you anticipate that moving to a bike of this type would open up new doors to the way you ride?”
Erica: "For as long as I’ve ridden like this, I’ve watched other people get to the top of the hill faster than me and thought to myself… “Is it because they have a nicer bike than me?”. It’s me internally making a subtle excuse. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, but the consequence of finally getting here is that now I’ve gotta face the music - maybe they were just faster than me after all? Who knows, maybe now I’ll just say that they’ll get to the top faster because I’m a mom who doesn’t have time to train anymore."
SEIDO: “A titanium frame combined with a carbon fork and carbon wheelset is sure to make for a featherweight yet comfortable ride. What were your first impressions of riding such a lightweight set-up?”
Erica: "I felt it immediately. Also, my speedometer confirmed it. I was SO FAST! And with so little effort! I’ve never ridden on such a light bike, and I’d never ridden with a wheelset like this either - I can’t even quite describe what was different about it, but I came back from that ride and practically skipped into the house."
SEIDO: “Carbon wheels are becoming a first choice for many of today’s cyclists. Composites are getting stronger and lighter, moulds more versatile. Do you find that these days, your customers are more regularly specifying carbon wheels?”
Kevin: "Absolutely. The transition to disc brakes on most bikes (so we no longer have to worry about carbon brake tracks) has made carbon rims the clear best choice for many riders. As you said, they are lighter and often much stronger than alloy rims, and there is an incredible array of options to match pretty much every rider’s goals."
SEIDO: “When deciding on a colour scheme for F1242, being married to the former head finisher of Firefly Bicycles must have had its perks! The bike sports a very nice, simple yet effective finish. What can you tell us about it?”
Erica: "I admittedly confirm - I outsourced the design to my wife entirely. After spending an hour scrolling through the Firefly Flickr account and pointing out things that I liked, she went and sketched three mock-ups and I picked my favorite. The things that I like best about it are that it’s in the classic Firefly style (all the logos in their standard place, and some fun annotations on the top tube and head tube), and the low-voltage sunset fade colors are so dreamy.
Although, poetically, maybe I should reframe the colors as sunrise colors - a new era of my bike riding has dawned!"
The ‘new bike feeling’ can be more than just the excited feeling of receiving a new product, such as a new pair of shoes or a new phone. It can be a reflection of where we are at in our lives and the type of cyclist we are can shine through it. We might previously have delved deep enough into travelling with a particular bike that we know how we can improve our cycling experiences, or push the boundaries of where we want to go or what we want to do. It’s an archaic sensation that is very human, feeding our curiosity to explore. When that new bike is bespoke and made-to-measure, the fusion of creativity and the primal urge to discover creates an amalgamation of feelings, resulting in unmatched excitement, where we can so clearly visualise where this bike will take us - just like we could when we were kids!
Like many other bespoke bike brands in the community, Kevin and the Firefly Bicycles team make the dream come true. The flame is very much alight with the torch I their hands and it’s brands like Firefly that keep the bicycle machine ploughing on into the future.
A huge thanks to Erica and Kevin for taking the time to share their thoughts with us on FF1242, and another massive congrats to Erica for becoming a super-cool Firefly riding momma – the very best of wishes to you and your family!
By Pete Skelton