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Independent Fabrication

 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.

The Founders
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 external customers.

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.
  • The 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 business plan.

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 be pink.

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 genders.

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.

 

                 Visit us                                                               Contact Us                                                       Hours

                bikebarn                                                             781-447-7223                                                    Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday \ 10-7          

                Whitman, MA 02382                                            info@bikebarnracing.com                               Thursday, Friday \ 10-9

                242 Bedford Street- Rt. 18                                                                                                           Saturday \ 9-5

                                                                                                                                                                   Sunday \ closed

                                                                                                                                                                   Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve \ 10-5

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