Somerville and Boston
The history of IF starts in Somerville, Massachusetts. Somerville is
next to Cambridge and our current address is located just 2 miles from
downtown Boston. Greater Boston is arguably the center of East Coast
bicycle development. With more universities and colleges than most
towns have gas stations, there are hordes of bicycle riders, athletes
and techies for whom bicycling is a way of life. It also explains how 6
people from Texas, New York, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Virginia and
Connecticut ended up working together in the Boston area to form
Independent Fabrication, Inc..
The Fat City Legacy All but one (me) of the founding members
of IF were veterans of Fat City Cycles of Somerville, Massachusetts, a
pioneer in the development of mountain bikes. Fat City Cycles closed
its doors in Somerville in October of 1994, when it was sold to a
holding company which had acquired another bike company (Serotta) in
Glens Falls, New York. The holding company moved the Fat City equipment
to Glens Falls, but left its most important assets behind, the Fat City
employees. For you history buffs, the owner of the holding company was
Archibald Cox, Jr., son of the courageous Watergate prosecutor.
What had drawn the original Fat City employees together was the passion
shared by all for building the best bikes possible. Chris Chance,
founder of Fat City, provided a unique outlet for this passion where
kindred spirits gathered and were nurtured. Each of these former Fat
City folk value their time with Fat City and are very respectful of
Chris Chance who made that experience possible.
It is this passion for bicycles that saw former engineering student,
Lloyd Graves, racing, wrenching, fabricating and forming strong
opinions as to what works and doesn't in bicycle design and
fabrication. It was this same passion that drove Lloyd to take the lead
in pulling together the former Fat City employees to form IF.
It is this passion that prompted former liberal arts major, Jeffrey
Buchholz to become an extremely talented machinist and tool maker. His
various bicycles are Jeff's only means of transportation. Purchasing
used milling machines at auction, Jeff re-engineered them to perform
the various tasks of frame fabrication. As we have had the opportunity
to see how others make frames, we are truly proud of what Jeff's skill
and ingenuity have contributed to our company.
Mike Flanigan's attention to the details of fine welding and
painting is an expression of his passion for bicycles and is the reason
why many consider IF welding and painting to be the best in the
industry. Mike has biked cross the USA and would do that full time if
he could. It is his experience and judgment that are the foundation of
the Independence and Club Racer.
Steven Elmes' passion for biking is expressed in his experience as
mechanic, racer and sales guru. His experience on the race course and
as mechanic for the US Cyclocross Team made him particularly sensitive
to the needs of high performance bicycle riders.
Bicycling is an essential part of Jane Hayes' life. Jane had worked at
Fat City but left prior to Fat City leaving Somerville. Jane is an
active racer as well as daily rider which means she was able to
understand the bike stuff behind the financial and program numbers
which she prepared. IF was served well by her passion.
Getting It Together The former employees of Fat City
approached the Somerville Community Corporation (which had been a major
source of funding for Fat City) and asked for help in starting a new
employee-owned company. The original group included: Lloyd Graves, Mike
Flanigan, Jeff Buchholz, Ben Cole, Sue Kirby, and Steven Elmes.
Bill Shelton, CEO of Somerville Community Corporation, called me as my
mission is to establish employee-owned manufacturing companies. Bill
asked if I would consider helping the group to form their own company.
I brought a passion for developing a different way of organizing a
manufacturing business. My vision was of a democratically controlled
workplace where all employees were owners of the company and where
everyone worked to continuously improve the processes by which the
products and services were crafted so as to delight both internal and
At my first meeting with the former Fat City folk in Mike Flanigan's
living room, it was clear that all present wished the new company to be
employee-owned and based on shared values of:
making the very best bike frames through continuous process improvement
treating people with dignity and respect
creating jobs within the bike industry which are secure and viable career choices
providing equitable compensation with particular concern for the lowest paid workers
providing opportunity for input into significant decision-making
being responsible with regard to environmental issues
giving something back to the community, and
empowering everyone to contribute to the future of the company.
City of Somerville, through the Somerville Economic Development
Partnership, provided $5,000 to support a feasibility study of the
project. The money was used to purchase help from The ICA Group in the
conduct of the study. The ICA Group is a Boston-based, non-profit
organization specializing in the development and support of
worker-owned enterprises. Gail Sokoloff of ICA, and the IF team worked
together to complete the study. The study showed that the project could
be successful and this work served as the foundation of our first
The study was completed in early 1995. Applications were made for
financial support to the Somerville Economic Development Partnership,
and the Campaign for Human Development of the United States Catholic
Conference. The company was incorporated in May of 1995 and began with
workers’ limited money, tools and sweat equity (our most significant
investment). We set out to build the company without having any outside
investors, i.e. only people who work at IF would own IF.
We envisioned the company as focusing on the manufacture of high-end
bicycle frames. While the founders had significant experience in both
steel and titanium, we elected to focus our limited resources on the
crafting of steel frames. We set as our goal to make the best steel
frames in the industry. We have constantly improved every model that we
make and how we make them in pursuit of that goal.
We proposed that customers be able to specify a wide range of colors
and options and receive a precision-crafted frame designed for them to
compete with the best bikes in the world. The first mountain frame, the
Deluxe, was built in March of 1995, five months after the departure of
Fat City and even before we had determined a name for our new company.
Women and IF We also focused on the needs of women riders
from the very beginning, seeing women as an under-served segment of the
bicycling public. We pulled together a group of serious women mountain
bike riders as a focus group and asked them what they wanted in a
mountain bike. They told us they wanted their bikes to be every bit as
tough and competitive as bikes made for men, that the bikes should be
designed to a woman's proportions (longer legs and shorter torso), that
the bikes should be available in smaller sizes and that they should not
We developed the Special based on this counsel and made it as small as
10". We have also followed this advice in the development of each of
our other models, offering versions with shorter top tubes and in
smaller sizes. The shifting sands of political correctness have meant
that it is now possible for women to ride pink bikes if they want (men
too). The pink colors we introduced for 2001 were well received by both
The Name Battle
Among the harder fought battles was naming the company. Nerves got
seriously frayed before settling on Independent Fabrication.
"Independent," was important as we were a group of very independent
thinkers and doers. "Fabrication," was important to us as we wanted to
convey the care and craftsmanship with which we build every frame.
Agreement on the name was not achieved until a friend of the company,
Gary Mathis, stepped forward with a beautiful rendition of how the name
would look as a down tube logo and how the head badge would look with
the IF Crown.
Gary contributed his significant artistic talents in crafting our head
tube IF Crown and the down tube logos. The crown and castle are themes
derived from a Revolutionary War monument in Somerville. Gary also
created our first stickers and T-shirts, including: the notorious naked
man sticker, the controversial martini glass sticker and T-shirt, the
Somerville castle and the full dress trike which appears on stickers
and T-shirts. We knew Gary had hit a home run with our head badge
design when Erol Oran of Atlanta Pro Bikes showed up with it tattooed
on his calf.