Independent Fabrication have come a long way since their 1995 inception back in Sommerville; Angles & Poise were lucky enough to visit the place IF now call home.
Having been a long time fan of Independent Fabrication, rider of a Crown Jewel and a Steel Deluxe as well as IF being a massive part of the New England Bloodline it was great to finally visit the place Independent Fabrication currently reside. A beautifully converted factory building in sunny Newmarket NH, an hour or so north of Boston, is home – Chris Rowe & Gary Smith were kind enough to share their time and give us a snoop round.
Manufacturing for IF and Bailey Works as well as a retail store sit under a single roof in a mixed use space. The overall front of house setup was very impressive, great retail design within the architecture of an older building stocked with some amazing IF’s as well as a few other brands to keep things balanced. It was great to see the full IF range when usually you’ll only ever see one or two bikes together. In every corner stood a glossy reminder of what IF is all about – a Crown Jewel was in the stand, several Deluxe Redux’s gleamed. Steel, Ti and carbon lined the walls in the guise of Factory Lightweights, Deluxe’s and XS’s . A Fat Chance Yo Eddy hung on a wall as a knowing nod to where it all began.
The little door to the right is what we’re all here for though – onto the ‘shop floor.
First stop was a skim through Bailey Works fabrics, production tables and machines. Bailey Works are very under represented in the UK, but some really nice messenger and travel bags come out of the work room – I’ll do a fuller review at some stage of what Bailey Works I can get some time with.
Stepping into the Independent Fabrication ‘shop the romantic in me said ‘this is where the magic happens’ but in reality laid out before us was a really tidy fabrication facility set up for the hard work of bike building and it was great to follow the journey a frame takes through the line.
First up are flat bed mills and drills where tubes are prepped as well as production of custom dropouts and solid machined components. Amongst the heavy machines sit the all important proprietary IF jigs where custom specified steel and Ti tubes are all held in place and with delicate tack welds the frame takes shape. Unlike the early days every frame IF build is custom fit, so the care that must go into the jig and tack process must be mind bending. The box of newly cut Ti XS tubes was testament to the detail in tube prep and the tolerances of tube junctions pre weld was microscopic. Most of the machines and tooling made its way over from Sommerville meaning everything has a really sense of authenticity and honesty about it even in a much newer space.
Moving over to the golden veiled welding area you pass boxes of XS Ti tubes, buckets of remnants and the odd fork lying around to where to where Brian Kelly and Keith Rouse pull it all together with meticulous order. Every step in the tack and weld process is planned to create the straightest of frames fresh out of the jig. Old and new TIG welders, in the hands of the men in charge, produce some of the nicest welds you’ll see on a big frame anywhere. Welding takes place in nothing more sophisticated than a workshop stand – albeit a workshop stand with hulk like proportions. After the welding process alignment and reaming steps ensure any slight imperfections are ironed out to produce an arrow straight frame, honed to the micron ready for paint.
We then step over to take a look at Chris’s office – a state of the art spray booth that would probably make McLaren jealous. It’s perfectly lit and odourless; a place where the dark arts of perfect paint congregate. IF aren’t ones to scrimp on flair and with talk of gold leaf, painters choice and wild combinations that IF are famous for you can see why the IF spray booth is more than just a place to put on a layer of colour on a perfectly fabricated frame. It’s the place your IF finds itself; it’s personality applied layer after layer to give every painted IF a coat to be proud of. Paint mixing has it’s own dedicated space and the palette available is mind bending.
Next stop; carbon. With all this talk of tacking, and all things hot it’s easy to forget the Corvid, but in the east wing sits the jigs, components and tools that pull together the ENVE composites materials to produce one of the industries most recognisable carbon flyers. Custom designed, the Corvid uses probably the most elaborate lugs on the planet – we’re talking Americas Cup, F1 carbon engineering here. In a specific jig the lugs and tubes are aligned and bonded, again custom fit and specified for each individual rider.
Finally we meet graphic wizard Ryan who’s finished everything off and sending on their way the perfectly formed and finished fruits of everyone’s hard work. Days worth of labour (not to mention countless years of combined experience) packed into nondescript frame boxes destined for the grubby little hands of IF Riders across the planet – from Taipai, to New York to London and Tokyo.
One thing that’s really clear from the visit is that IF has come a long way over the last few years. The twists and turns of its journey like a winding alpine descent have led it to a place where a small, passionate team produce some of the best bikes on the planet. The ideas, passion and talent IF team has is unquestionable. IF is in rude health.
Great to meet Chris who probably painted my Absinthe Green Crown Jewel and confirmed what I suspected – that Absinthe is about as special as it comes in terms of touching up – the patina will have to stay as it is…