Jun 30, 2022 - Business

Firefly Bicycles builds international reputation

Firefly Bike's Kate Mills adds a design to a premium bike in construction.
Firefly Bike's Kate Mills adds a custom design to a premium bike, using chemicals to alter the color of the exposed titanium. Photo: Mike Deehan/Axios

Some of the finest custom-made bicycles out there come from a small shop on Boston St. in Dorchester, just outside Andrew Square.

Driving the news: Firefly Bicycles makes bespoke bikes for discerning riders.

  • Like a fine suit, every piece is made to order based on a customer's physical measurements and preferences: the length of their legs, the distance between the pedal and frame, the reach of the handlebars and more.
A bicycle in a photo studio.
Firefly conducts a photoshoot for its bikes before shipping them out. Photo: Mike Deehan/Axios

Why it matters: Bicycle traffic is up in U.S. metro areas, according to the census, as commuters choose safer alternatives to mass transit. Recreational bikers have also taken more time to exercise on two wheels amid the pandemic.

  • The League of American Bicyclists ranked Massachusetts the best state in the country for cycling in 2022.
  • Manufacturers like Firefly are meeting the demand for custom bikes not just regionally, but also for customers around the world.

The backdrop: Co-founder Kevin Wolfson, 35, grew up in Belmont. He raced bikes competitively throughout high school and college.

  • He was on the racing team for another custom frame company when they offered him a job building bikes.
  • Wolfson had a knack for it. His competitive riding experience gave him insight into what serious customers want.
  • Three years later, in 2011, Wolfson co-founded Firefly with partners Tyler Evans and Jamie Medeiros.

Details: Prices range between $8,000 and $14,000. The average bike costs around $10,000.

  • All of Firefly's bikes are titanium or titanium alloy. A frame and fork piece alone can cost $5,000.
  • It's a more difficult metal to work with, requiring more experience to get right, according to Wolfson.
  • The five-person team at Firefly finishes about two bikes per week, and there's currently a 36-month waitlist.

The intrigue: Wolfson says there are only a handful of similar titanium custom frame builders in the U.S.

  • One of them, Seven Cycles, is in Watertown. It's only 8 miles away; less than an hour by bike.
  • Firefly makes about 110 bikes a year, so they don't have the scale that larger operations benefit from.

What they're saying: "Some people just want something handmade and really special, sort of like a customer who buys a handmade watch," Wolfson said. "For [others], it's because they need custom for some reason."

Pro tip: Is 10 grand too much for a whole bike? Wolfson says that plenty of customers buy a custom frame for half that and build the final bike themselves.

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