Wednesday was Moots demo day at North Central Cyclery.
Were there some Moots bikes there?
Yeah, a few.
Ok…so there were a lot.
Just another day at a midwest bike shop, right?
I had a chance to ride a lot of Moots, and I’ll give some thoughts in the days to come. I also had a chance to do an extended test-ride on a Vamoots RSL with a 44mm headtube. We hit the area roads with Jason, our very friendly Moots host, and a couple of guys from the NCC crew (Tobie and Dan).
It was overcast, but we had a break in the rain and we took it.
Jason, being accustomed to photos, is smiling in every single picture. Tobie, being accustomed to talking, is……..
So why Moots?
Regular readers of the blog know that I value local businesses. I prefer shopping at my local bike shop to buying online. In a perfect world, I’d like to buy American made products, from artisanal shops.
On the other hand, when I ride a bike, I want to know that it’s the best bike for the job. It has to function well. Preferably perfectly. I’ll talk about how my Moots does that in the days to come. But separate from my Moots, I spend a lot of time on my Trek Madone, which while it is handmade in the USA, it certainly isn’t from an artisan’s shop. Trek is many things, but it isn’t a ‘small’ business–it’s a giant corporation.
So for me, the perfect bike is one that functions flawlessly, and is made in the USA, by a small business that has people I can relate to. If push comes to shove, the most important factor there is perfect function.
Looking nice helps, too.
Moots seems to be in something of a sweet spot. They’re a relatively small manufacturer. Small enough that they have a highly personal relationship. When I was talking with Jason, he would tell stories about individual welders and fabricators. They’re not just a small manufacturer where you have a great personal relationship with their marketing or sales team–you can have a personal relationship with their whole company. If you want a ‘stock’ build, you can get it. If you want a full custom, they can do just about anything. If you want something in between, like my Moots, you can do it. And heck, if you want, you can drive out to Steamboat Springs and watch them build bikes.
Right. There. In. Colorado.
About the only thing that they don’t build in-house is the house-brand carbon fork that they sell (and I believe that’s made at the same facility that makes ENVE carbon forks, because ENVE too outsources its carbon forks to ______ (Taiwan?)).
But the fact that they’re a small, US manufacturer with an artisanal shop doesn’t mean that you’re foregoing anything in product development. They have an amazing in-house R&D facility. They have amazing fabrication capabilities…and for jobs that they can’t currently do in-house (like some very sophisticated tubing butting), they have no compunctions about sending an individual, partially fabricated piece of tubing to another company to perform a specialized function. They don’t cut corners–their tubing butting is done mechanically, not chemically.
In another life, I used to work on Jeeps. In the realm of Jeep fabrication, when you’re building a roll-cage, bumper or other structure, you can use one of three types of tubing: ERW or DOM. ERW is tubing that is made by taking a sheet of metal, rolling it into a tube, and then welding the seam. The seam always leaves a weakness in the completed tube. DOM is the abbreviation for “drawn over mandrel.” DOM tubing is made by taking ERW and drawing it over a mandrel and die to process the weld site and produce a stronger tube. Seamless tubing is made by extruding or rotary piercing tubing to make a single, unified piece of tube with no welds and no weak spots.
In the world of Jeeps, you used ERW for basic stuff, and DOM where it counted. No one used seamless tubing. It’s too expensive and too rare.
In the world of bikes, many manufacturers of titanium bikes use the Ti equivalent of ERW or DOM–tubing that has a seam that creates a weak spot. Sure, they try to locate the seam to ‘protect’ that weakness, but it’s a weakness nonetheless. Until today, I didn’t know this, but Moots uses seamless Titanium tubing, extruded from a big-honking piece of titanium. (And yes, that’s the technical term). No welds. No weak spots.
They order a truckload of seamless tubing and they test it themselves. Anything that doesn’t meet their spec (wall thickness variation, strength problems, other structural deficiencies) is sold. To other titanium bike frame manufacturers, among other potential buyers.
The tubing that survives the inspection is then formed on their in-house tooling. They custom-build tooling to make every piece of the frame (with the exception of the aluminum chainstay on the MX Divide, that they farm out to another shop). As Jason explained, they might make 50 sets of Psychlo X chainstays, and then put them in a bin until they use them all. Everything is fabricated in house.
As noted above, for incredibly complicated butting, rather than use chemical butting or other imprecise methods, they ship partially machined tubing to Reynolds for internal, mechanical butting. Everything is done in the best way possible.
This isn’t mass-assembly, hammer out parts, throw them in a jig, weld it together, box it up and send it out the door. It isn’t 2,000 workers on an assembly line. It isn’t shipping crates of bikes coming into the country on ships. When my Moots came, it had a tag with the name of every person who had worked on any part of the bike. And each of those people lives in Colorado and has a life here in the US.
Am I waxing poetic? Sure. No doubt. but it’s a compelling story. Why Moots? Well, if you want steel, carbon or aluminum, look elsewhere. But if you want Ti, there aren’t many companies that compete on a level playing field with Moots. They’re small enough that they’re personal. They’re big enough that they’ll be there to support you in 10 years, and big enough to have great R&D. Their products are perfect. Perfect raw materials, perfect manufacturing, perfect design. They’re made in the US, by people who earn living wages. They look beautiful, and have a unique aesthetic. And they ride amazing.
Doing a heads-up comparison between a Moots and just about any other Titanium bike seems a bit unfair. Sure, the Moots is a premium product. No doubt. But it’s also a better product.
Don’t get me wrong…I don’t think every Moots is the best bike in its’ respective category. More on that in the next few days. I do think every Moots is pretty darn amazing. I do think Moots as a company, and as a ‘corporate model,’ is pretty amazing. Why did I get a Moots? Because for the purposes that my Psychlo X is going to be used for, it is the very best bike on the market, from any source, in any material.
I was happy to meet Jason and see what a personable guy he was. I was happy to hear reasonable answers to my questions. But what really amazed me was hearing him talk about the individual fabricators and designers, and their work to design and refine both the tooling and the bikes that Moots builds. The answer was never, “well, the factory in Taiwan couldn’t meet that spec.” Rather, the answer was along the lines of “Jim tried to design tooling that could accommodate that bend, but we found that…” For me, for some reason, that’s a more comforting answer. A more personal answer. And I’m getting that answer, and the ‘small business’ approach that I want, without giving up anything in design, technology or construction.
Why Moots? Because there is no tradeoff.
Thanks for the great ride, Jason.