Unlike a painting or a sculpture, a Seven is not meant to be stationary. It’s functional art. A Seven is meant to go.
Anyone who has purchased a Seven knows that the first step involves answering questions. Questions about how you ride and where you ride. Questions about your current riding habits and about your future goals. Then measurements are taken from you and your current bike. After signing off on the paperwork, there’s a wait. Until that magical moment when you and your Seven are united, what exactly happens?
Recently, some of our employees were able to visit Seven Cycles at their home in Watertown, Massachusetts. Higher Gear wants to give you a peak behind the curtain where all the magic takes place…
From the outside, the building is understated and inconspicuous. The interior is just as quiet as the outside. Where are the light machines, the smoke and mirrors? In this house of wonder, this house of magic, there isn’t even music.
Upon entering, the first thing you experience is the quiet hum of people working away at their desks. On the way to the factory – which occupies 9,000 square feet of Seven’s total 15,000 square feet (the rest is 4,000 square feet of office space and then space for employees – lockers, a break room, bike parking, etc.) – you walk through a display of Seven jerseys hanging on a wall and some of Seven’s first bikes. You’re asked to don a pair of safety glasses before the factory door is opened to – tada! – Seven employees hard at work. Hmm.
Still no smoke, no light display, no music. But there is definitely magic. It’s just a little more subtle – and a lot more real – than Oz.
When asked what stood out most about his visit to Seven, Fredo responded, “Everything is cool there.”
That said, what impressed Fredo most about Seven is that they choose to do everything – everything – by hand. Nothing is computerized.* Relying on manual calculations allows Seven to make adjustments on the fly. For bikes that look like objects of art, that look highly mechanized, they are made by hand, each and every one of them.
While Seven is known for their custom bicycle frames, which make up 95% of the frames they ship, Seven Cycles does offer stock frames in more than 200 sizes. Each of those, too, is built by hand and built-to-order.
Seven has modeled its process after the Toyota Production System. It’s a clean process of “just-in-time manufacturing.” The “continuous process flow” is designed to eliminate waste and error.
They describe the “tortoise versus hare” approach in terms that off-road cyclists can comprehend: descending downhill requires a finesse. It’s not about going fast, it’s about finding the right line to prevent snags and to come out on the other end with a beautiful outcome.
Each bike is personal. Beyond the dimensions. Beyond the materials. Well before the customized paint and decals. Tubes are sized, cut and bent to meet the specific riding demands of a rider – so that not only the lengths of tubes are custom but also the widths and angles.
Each bike has a name. So a bike (even before it’s a bike) isn’t known by its frame model or an order number. Instead, each bike is known by its rider’s name. It’s YOUR bike, even before it’s a bike.
That said, every bike begins the same way on the factory floor – as an empty box. Inside the box, one person will add the materials that will be used to become the finished product.
The first step in building the bike, once the specs are decided, is choosing the tubeset. The tubeset is chosen based on the rider’s style of riding, build and preferences. Once the tubeset is chosen, the manufacturing can begin. The tubing is prepped. Small parts are chosen accordingly and then the tubeset goes on to machining.
Each of the materials is hand selected, cut down and put in the box. After bending the frame and piecing together some of the front end and back end, the parts go into a custom frame jig – designed to fit every bike that Seven makes, from the smallest to the largest – where all the frame pieces will be united. Then the bike is broken back down into its components, put back into the box and moved to the welders.
While it seems like breaking the bike down, only to have the welder set it back up seems like twice the work, it’s all done on purpose. Setting up the frame twice, by two different people, ensures that all the pieces are correct and that the final product is exact to specifications.
Another rule of the Toyota Productions System that Seven employs is “the right process will produce the right results.” All efforts go to get quality right from the first. Avoiding having to go back to correct mistakes means a more efficient process and a stronger product, in this case a bike frame that doesn’t suffer the stress of being re-formed. Using constant visual controls, the perfection of the final product is ensured. Having two different people set the bike in the jig is only a part of this.
One of Seven’s machinists will build a frame from start to finish. Each is working on only one bike at a time. One welder will then see a bike through from beginning to end, surprisingly, outside of the frame jig. Instead, the welder will frequently return the frame to the alignment table, a solid granite surface, that allows him to check for accuracy in alignment. Once again, those constant visual controls are vital.
Once the frame moves to the welder, it is constantly brought back to the alignment table. The heat from welding causes the metal to expand and retract. On the table, the welder can verify that the frame is straight and adjust welds accordingly.
With the welding complete, the bike moves on to the final machining area. A CNC machine is used to thread the bottom bracket shell. (*This is the only computerized machine used in the process of making a Seven frame.) Just like everything else at Seven, this CNC machine does things differently. While most work to thread one side of the frame, requiring the machine to be stopped and the frame to be turned over, Seven wanted something better, more accurate. They demanded a way to thread both sides of the bottom bracket without flipping the frame. And Seven made it happen.
After the alignment’s been verified, the bottom bracket’s been threaded and all the prep work is done, the frame moves on to final finishing. The finishing area is where the frame is transformed into a beautiful (functional) work of art.
What’s interesting about the finishing process is that it still accounts for half of the time that the frame is in the factory. Before being painted (or not), a finisher hand polishes the frame, removing any traces of the the welding process. While a seemingly thankless job, it takes as long as the machining and welding and it’s what gives the titanium its beautiful sheen after all it has been through to this point.
After being cleaned and prepped, the frame will receive decals, wax and, if chosen as an option, paint.
When the clear- or matte-coat is dry, the bike is ready to shipping to your favorite local bike shop.
Et voilà! An object of beauty is born. It’s not really magic. Or is it?
Curious to know what some of Higher Gear customer’s custom Sevens look like? Check out our gallery. (And be sure to like us on Facebook, as we love to show off our customer’s beautiful creations there.)
Now, the big question is, What will YOUR Seven look like?