Moots Cycles: The Difference is the Welds

Let’s get this out of the way first:

Moots does not dress their welds.

There is no painting, no filling, no filing, no sanding, no flapper wheels.  The welds are what they are, and they pass from the welder’s hands to the buyer, as-is.  They get blasted with the rest of the frame, but let me tell you–there is no change in the welds that comes from blasting.  They’re perfect when they’re welded.

They start with impossibly tight tolerances in the joints to be welded…

Insert the parts into a jig, cork/tape the orifices, and fill the yet-to-be-welded frame with inert Argon…

And then they tack weld the frame together, to hold all of the parts in place perfectly.  Before being tacked, all of the designed angles of the frame are carefully measured and confirmed one last time.

Here’s a sample tack weld.

Tacked frames are hung, awaiting final welding.

The tacked frames are then moved over to a second welder who again purges the frame with Argon (purging the inside of the frame keeps the welds pure…the outside of the weld is purged with flowing argon from the TIG torch while the welder is welding), and that welder finishes welding every joint up with a complete weld.

The finish welds are done in perfect segments of uninterrupted, stacked dime welds.  This shows you what a finished weld looks like before Moots’ signature blasting:

There are 2 gents who do the finish welding, and a handful of people who do small parts or the tack-welding.

What do the finished welds look like?  They look like perfection.  The funny thing is, I don’t have to post a bunch of pictures of them here…because every Moots has finished welds that look amazing.  Since they don’t even offer any factory painting options (and it would be sacrilege to paint one of these frames), every frame that leaves the factory shows the welding legacy of the company.

I’m a hobbyist welder.  Give me some clean steel, and I can MIG you up something that will look nice, after a pass with a flapper wheel.  Give me some rusty steel, and I can 6013 you together some welds that are ugly, but will hold.  I’ve never seen a human do welds of this consistent quality, up close and in person.  It’s amazing.

After welding and before finishing, each frame is put on a test-table, and is checked with a dial indicator and micrometer for any degree (or should I say any thousandth of an inch) of bend, asymmetry or imperfection.

Suffice it to say, there really isn’t any.

I have a Ti Vaya, which anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I love.  It was one of the ‘made in the USA’ Ti frames from before Salsa shipped production overseas.  The welds aren’t even in the same ballpark (and, based upon their appearance, I’m guessing they were hit with a flapper wheel before finishing).  The Moots welds are truly spectacular…and you can see them on every frame that goes out the factory’s doors.

Seeing the welding occur firsthand, by itself, was worth the trip.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds

About these ads

Moots Cycles: The Difference is the People.

The next post will be about welding.  I’m delaying that for two reasons: 1) the people are more important than the welds; and, 2) I want to make GMatt wait just a little longer.

Who are some of the Moots people?

We are.

But who else?

This guy above, who hole-saws the seatstay miters to match the down tube…and then patiently files them with a tiny hand file, to welding joint perfection.  This guy shows the kind of artisan manufacturing skill that you’d expect in a tiny shop with one guy building a frame a month…but he does it in a venue where across the room, there’s a guy doing CAD work on the next prototype frame that will be custom built and CNC’d to perfection.

This guy above, who looks at every frame after welding and literally touches every part of the bike–every corner, every edge, every weld, to make sure that they feel perfect.  (Of note, Moots does not dress or sand any welds).  He faces every BB and steerer, and chases every thread.  He makes sure every derailleur hanger is perfect.  In his quest for precision, he not only faces the steerer to a perfectly flat plane, but then he goes back and daintily files a tiny, imperceptible bevel on the edge, so it isn’t a sharp corner to touch when a new owner picks up the frame for the first time.

It’s this guy (below), showing that once a frame is hydro/ultrasonically cleaned for welding, anyone who touches the frame has to wear gloves to keep oil off of the frame.

Good Lord, it’s these guys who do the amazing, awe-inspiring welding.

This isn’t robotic welding.  Every welder had his TIG machine set up to his specific preference on heat, frequency, and duration.

It’s this guy (below) who claims to have found an imperfection in a frame’s finish after being blasted, and who thus restarted the frame finishing process to ensure that there were no imperfections.  I say “claims to”, because I couldn’t see the problem he was pointing out.

It’s the gal who was doing the blasting (I didn’t take my camera out in the blasting room, because of the media), or the gal who blasted up Emerald Mountain with us on that first bike ride.

It’s this guy (in green):

That’s Jason.  Jason not only hung out with us and served as tour guide in Steamboat, but he’s also been an incredible resource at other times.  He came out to the Gravel Metric with the Moots demo van and some fantastic water bottles.  He’s been a proponent of Axletree.

More than that, Jason is the factory rep for dealers, and yet he’s an advocate for owners.  When I ordered by Di2 Moots, I talked to North Central Cyclery, my local dealer.  Jason reached out to me, knowing I was already a Moots owner, and went the extra mile(s) to talk through options directly.  He talked about cable routing, and Di2, and geometry.  He talked about custom build options.  He took my measurements and generated different spec sheets showing what I could do with head tubes and frame sizes, and with different geometry options including the new Routt geometry that I ended up going with.  He sent me pictures of the bike while it was being made.  He responded to Facebook messages at 10:30 at night, explaining the best options to future-proof my frame.  He even sent an extra decal for me, knowing my predilection towards stickers.  (Jason also happens to, quite literally, have a world of bourbon.  My kinda guy).

There are some great people at a lot of bike companies.  I love a lot of the guys at Salsa, and I know a couple great people from Trek.  That said, I don’t know any other bike company where I can get a world-class bike with first-rate technology, and can talk directly to the company president if I’d like to, or can go and literally watch the whole bike being built.  I don’t know of any place where you can meet the people–all of the people–in one spot, and yet have a bike that is competitive with anything in the world.  I don’t know of a place where the people are as OCD about the details as I am, and yet as chill as the Moots folks are.

I think Moots is a pretty extraordinary company that makes some of–if not the–very best bikes in the world.  The reason that they’re great ultimately isn’t the CNC or the miters–it’s the people making the decisions and running the machines.  It’s the people.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds

Moots Cycles: The Difference is the CNC.

I previously talked about how Moots uses their onsite CAD designer and CNC machines to make custom aluminum jigs for frame building, like these:

(that one used for bending a tube) and these:

But…it’s not just aluminum that they CNC.  They also make parts from titanium on the CNC machine.  Some parts are made from DOM tubing, and some parts are made from solid blocks of Ti.

For example, these 44mm head tubes are CNC’d at Moots, starting out as one thicker, substantially heavier piece of tubing.

Here, you can see the original hunk of tubing, before being CNC’d down to the svelte head tube.  The CNC process reduces weight by about two-thirds.

By doing the head-tube manufacturing on-site, Moots can do custom geometry from an itty-bitty bike for someone with…ahem…low clearance, up to incredibly huge head tubes on bikes for NBA all-stars.

That head tube is just as big as it looks.  It was MASSIVE.

They also use the CNC to cut threads into the bottom brackets on english threaded BBs.

Solid block of Ti on the left, neatly CNC’d finished product on the right.

Here, you can see a CNC machine doing three separate operations on three sets of parts in various stages of completion.

The end result is not only finished products, but also piles and piles of Ti shavings, which are duly recycled.

Hey, don’t look over there.  That’s just the custom, long-tail, 29+ Moots trail-building bike, freshly back from being loaned out to a trail advocacy group for actual use in building mountain bike trails.  That has nothing to do with CNC.  Oh, wait–there’s a CNC machine in the background.  Carry on.

Clamp in progress:

Seriously.  Walking the shop floor after hours was like being in an art installation.

E-gads the bikes.

They have the in-house capacity to design, test and build the parts…and the parts that make the parts.  The gents we spoke with were talking about some of the recent bikes they’ve built, where they prototyped changes in tubing angles by 1/2 degree at a time, or where they’d change the bend in the down tube ever so slightly, and prototype over and over and over again.  Moots has all of the prototyping capacities of the biggest manufacturers out there…and then they immediately translate the prototype into a finished product, once it’s perfect.

Seriously.  It’s pretty damn impressive.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds

 

Moots Cycles: The Difference is the Miters.

The factory floor is covered with milling machines, each one of which is set up for a specific task.

The workers take the bent tubes, load them into the custom CNC’d jigs, and slowly cut the miters in the tubes to precise angles.

After they cut, they test fit the tubing in a master bike frame jig.

If the joint is in any way imperfect, they take a hand file (such as a small rattail file), and dress the joint to perfection.  This creates two things.  It creates piles of titanium shavings from the hole saws…

And it creates joints that fit like this:

Perfect.  Impeccably tight.

Those joints aren’t welded…they’re just held in place in a jig.  You can’t even slide a piece of paper in between the pieces.

Beautiful, amazing joints that are ready to be hand TIG-welded.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds

Moots Cycles: The Difference is the Bends.

Moots bikes are handmade in their factory in Steamboat Springs.  Each bike is handmade to a specific set of plans, based on the size and options for the bike.

Moreover, they don’t just make the bikes…they make the jigs.  They CNC their own solid aluminum tubing jigs and related hardware to use in bending and welding up the frames.

Here, you can see one of their custom jigs in action, with an already bent tube being mitered with a hole saw in a 3 axis milling machine.

Really, really beautiful Bridgeports and other vintage milling machines.

They make a lot of their own bending machines as well.

As they start to build a bike to their plan, they start assembling a pile of tubing.

That pile of tubing grows and grows, until all of the parts of a bike are there.

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch them bend some of the tubing–some bends are done by hand, and some are done with incredible amounts of hydraulic pressure.  Each bend is done with great precision, accommodating the amount of spring back that the material will have, such that the finished tubing is exactly to the right degree.

The men and women that do this work–they’re artists.  They make it look easy.  And what happens to those tubes once bent?  You’ll see in the next post.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds

Moots Cycles: The Difference is the Tubing.

I’m going to talk for a few posts about my recent trip to Steamboat.  At the outset of those posts, I’m going to talk a little bit about why I believe Moots is an extraordinary company.  For today, I’m going to talk about tubing.

Yes.  Tubing.

Tubing is the heart of any bicycle, whether it be built from carbon, bamboo, aluminum, steel, or (my personal favorite) titanium.

It should be relatively self-evident that a tube shape is not a normal shape for metal to come in.  You can make metal in a sheet relatively easy, or can make it into a block.  You can even make it into a solid casting or forging relatively simply…or take a solid piece of metal and CNC it out into a complex shape.  But a tube…a tube is an irregular shape.

There are two common ways to make a structural tube.  The most common way is to start with a piece of sheet, bend that sheet into a tube, and then weld the seam together to make a tube.  This is commonly referred to as ERW or electric resistance welded tubing.  ERW tubing is relatively easy to make, but results in the tubing having a welded seam.  That welded seam is always a point that has a different amount of strength than the rest of the tube–it is a stress point, and a potential weak spot.  When you’re bending tubing, you try to put the welded seam in the inside of a bend, as that minimizes the stress on the welded joint.  There are two problems with this, however: 1) the welded joint is still a weak spot; and, 2) if you have a tube that bends in more than one direction, you cannot have the seam on the inside of all of the bends, so you will have a bend with a weld in the weakest possible spot.

It’s not a real disadvantage, but ERW tubing is also an inelegant solution…and if you see the welded joint on the inside, it’s ugly.  You can polish the exterior of the tube to eliminate the obvious joint, but it’s still not doing it pretty.

The other form of tubing is known as DOM or drawn over mandrel.

Moots uses DOM tubing.

What is DOM?  DOM means that they essentially take a solid block of titanium, and pull it over a heated up mandrel–think a heated up solid rod or bullet.  As the block of titanium is pulled over the mandrel, it makes the ‘hole’ in the middle of the tube.  The outside of the tube (the walls of the tube) are formed into the shape of the tubing.  You can vary the wall thickness and diameter of the tubing by changing the tooling on the mandrel.  DOM tubing may also be referred to as seamless tubing–because (as the name implies) it is seamless. Why is that important?  No weak spots.  None.  You can bend it in any direction, without having any weaknesses.  You can do complex bends in multiple directions, without having to worry about seam orientation.

There are a surprising number of bike companies that use ERW tubing.  Among those that use DOM tubing, many use imported tubing.  What about Moots?

Moots uses tubing that is made in the USA.  More specifically, tubing that is mined and manufactured in the USA.

Sandvik Special Metals in Washington makes the tubing to order for Moots, and ships it over in wooden crates.  The tubing can cost upwards of $30/foot, so a 20 foot stick of tubing represents a significant investment in itself.  A wall of tubing (as shown above) is tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The lead time on ordering the tubing is measured in years, not days…so Moots is presently ordering tubing that will be used in bikes that they haven’t yet designed.

In the factory, there’s tubing everywhere you go.

Everywhere.

Everywhere.

So in short, Moots is using the an amazing material: titanium.  They’re not just using titanium–they’re using DOM tubing.  And not just any DOM tubing–they’re using DOM tubing mined and made in the US.

I’m going to talk about tubing more.  Get ready for it.

The whole Moots Series:

Moots Tubing

Moots Bends

Moots Miters

Moots CNC

Moots People

Moots Welds

Fitness

I spent most of last week up in the mountains at Moots’ headquarters in Steamboat.  Fair warning…my posting over the coming days will largely consist of amazing mountain scenery and an in-depth discussion of Moots.  But before I get to that, I wanted to touch on a slightly less direct topic: fitness.

You see, I travelled with three of my best friends.  When we arrived in Colorado, we drove up to Estes Park, and headed out on a hike up to Sky Pond.  We spent the days following that riding mountain bikes in the mountains.  All this done by flatlanders from Illinois.

We hiked at a good clip, and mountain biked with locals.  Sure, our hearts pounded, but we rode and rode and rode.  I remember going skiing just a few years ago, and the act of getting out of the car would cause me to lose my breath.  Trying to hike up the mountain a bit was incredibly laborious.  I would mutter under my breath about the thin air, and would attribute my difficulties to altitude.

The point of this post, then, is to recognize that over the past several years, I’ve gotten into much better shape.  I’m not flaunting or bragging about that–but I’m recognizing it, and acknowledging how deeply thankful I am for the luxury of fitness.  I realize,  more than most, that fitness is a combination of choice, stubbornness, ability and luxury.  I have an incredibly busy schedule, but I make time for fitness (and my family lets me do so).  I have a body that has some physical limitations, but which enables me to do many things.  I have limited natural abilities, but my stubbornness enables me to stay on the bike longer than I perhaps otherwise would.  Being fit–being thin–being able…these are incredible combinations of gift and accomplishment, and it has never struck me so clearly as when I was in the mountains, just how lucky I am to enjoy them.

I’m also incredibly lucky to be surrounded by friends who make positive lifestyle choices, and whose bad habits are things like riding bicycles…instead of some of the other habits I see exhibited by people in the world around me.

So fitness.  Thank you for fitness.  Much Fitness.