Friday, May 30, 2008

A Visit With Seven Cycles

Just returned from a tour of the Seven Cycles plant, which, I recently found out, is about a seven-minute walk from my house here in good ol’ Watertown, MA. Anyone can take the tour – just call and make an appointment.

They have a nice facility, with nice people working there. My tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. Employees seem mostly young, from the folks in the administrative offices to those working the machines on the shop floor. The only people close to my (middle) age were those few who’d been with the company since its inception, lo those 11 years ago. The young’uns were very hip: Lots of bike-messenger clothes, tattoos and urban haircuts. Their gorgeously quirky fixies lined the bike racks just inside the factory door.

I got to see all parts of the process, which was delightful. First, there was a fellow butting titanium tubes (Seven’s most popular material), which helped me finally understand the term double-butted. He was machining some parts of the tube thinner than others, to create varied stiffness and noise absorption capacity. Sweet.

A few steps further down the line, I held up a makeshift welding eye-filter reserved specially for visitors, and leaned right over the shoulder of a Seven veteran welding the tubes of a steel frame together. Again, I learned something new. I’ve always wondered whey the welded joints on many bikes look like they’re layered with many tiny flakes. Turns out these are created by melting a thin rod of metal over the joint one juicy drop at a time. The drops layer on top of each other, and as they dry, they preserve that look for all time.

After a few other stopping points, we arrived at the finishing area, where frames are hand-polished with Scotchbrite, and painted those gorgeous colors that make you drool. Or they might be left proudly naked, with their impervious titanium sheen and a simple, ascetic Seven painted along the downtube.

My guide pointed out a paint guru who he told me is one of the only people in the company who isn’t very into bicycles. She has a design degree, and she helps customers arrive at custom paint designs. She sees a bike more as an intriguing design problem than as a quad-busting fun-machine. You might think having a non-biker in charge of what your bikes actually look like would be a mistake. Let’s just say that I saw one of her products in the showroom, and, simply put, it’s to die for. A drop-dead, one-of-a-kind paint job.

If you live in the area, you really owe it to yourself to stop by and meet the nice, talented, and very passionate people at Seven.

For my next tour, I plan to call up Independent Fabrication over in Somerville and see how they do what they do.

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