It’s a cold mid-winter day in the Colorado Rockies, the time of year of when most outdoor enthusiasts have tucked their bikes into the back of the garage, and pulled out the ski quiver. But out on the western edge of Steamboat Springs, in a three-story building on Copper Ridge Drive, cycling is always front and center. Welcome to world headquarters of Moots, longtime maker of fine titanium road, mountain and cyclocross frames.
The night before, RoadBikeReview made the sometimes sketchy drive up and over a snow-slicked Rabbit Ears Pass, then down into Steamboat. Now, led by marketing manager Jon Cariveau, we’re going to find out just how a handmade titanium bicycle frame comes to life.
Our tour starts in the main showroom of a 15,000-square foot building that houses the company’s manufacturing, administration, and sales staffs, plus two upper-floor employee apartments. All told, 25 people punch the clock at this clean, no-frills locale. Cariveau, an elite level amateur cyclocross racer in his spare time, has worked at Moots for 16 years. Who knows how many of these tours he’s conducted.
“We have an open door policy here at Moots,” he explains. “So on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the general public can come in and tour the facility starting at 10 a.m. We get more visitors in the summer, but even in the winter people will come by when they are taking a day off from skiing.”
[youtube width=”600″ height=”361″]
First stop on the tour is this showroom, whose highlight is an array of point-of-purchase displays showing off the bike maker’s latest wares in road, cross and mountain bikes. Each bike is spec’d with top shelf components, and each one sports that famed grayish bead blast finish that’s been a staple of Moots bikes for years. No fancy paint jobs here.
“We do that for its consistency and the fact that we don’t have to deal with paint and breathing it,” explains Cariveau. “Of course if a customer wants to get their bike painted, we can prep the frame for paint and send it off to their favorite painter. But most people don’t. There’s just something about the look of titanium that people are really drawn to. And if your bike happens to fall over when you stop at the coffee shop, you don’t have to worry about the paint chipping. Ti doesn’t chip.”
Moots started down this road of craftsmanship over showmanship back in 1981, when original founder Kent Eriksen started building road frames in the back of a bike shop. Steel was the material of choice then. Mountain biking didn’t officially exist. (The origin of the Moots name comes from a rubber alligator-shaped eraser head Eriksen owned as a child. Squeeze the eraser and it made a noise that sounded like, “Moots!”)
For the first decade, Moots worked with nothing but prestige steel tubing, adding its first mountain bike in 1983, around the same time guys like Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey were messing around with fat-tired bikes in Marin County, California. Finally in 1991, Eriksen, who eventually sold his stake in the company, switched over to building exclusively with titanium.
“Ti had become more available to builders and it just made sense to switch,” says Cariveau. “You didn’t need to paint it, and the lifespan was much greater than a steel frame. The idea was to build a product that would last since handbuilt frames are so expensive to begin with. With titanium, there’s no rust, no corrosion. And as anyone who’s ridden a ti bike knows, it has a really special ride quality.”
Today, Moots is cranking out about 1500 of these “special” frames, plus an array of seatposts and stems. Eighty-five percent of the frames are stock sizes, with custom jobs accounting for the remainder of production. Everything is sold exclusively through a distribution network that includes 125 authorized North American dealers, plus distributors in Europe, Asia, Australia, and beyond.
Moots mountain bike frames range from $3250 for the MX 29-inch hardtail, to $4995 for the MX Divide 29-inch dual suspension. The road line starts at $3495 for the Vamoots CR (frame and fork), and tops out at $4630 for a Vamoots RSL (frame and fork).
“Even in the winter, things don’t slow down much around here,” says Cariveau. “Part of that, we think, is because in this age of cookie-cutter carbon fiber bikes everywhere, people are growing weary, and circling back to something that is of high build quality and high value and longevity. They are looking to invest in something that will serve them well.”
Moots wasn’t always so confident in its building material choice. In the early 2000s, as the bike industry made its headlong charge into all things carbon fiber, the company found itself at a crossroads. But while many of its craft-builder competitors succumbed, Moots stayed true to its roots.
“Sure we investigated some of the material-blend technologies that were out there, but in the end with our build principals we didn’t want to go there,” recalls Cariveau. “Now we are the mainstay in titanium bikes, and we have huge brand loyalty. It was a decision that served us well in the long run.”