Like a lot of other American products, most US-brand bicycle frames are made overseas, in countries where manufacturing costs are lower. Portland, Oregon's Circa Cycles, however, wants to build its higher-end bikes stateside, yet still sell them at reasonable prices. It plans on doing so using a unique frame-construction process, known as MABEL.
Ordinarily, a given make/model of bike is pre-manufactured in a variety of frame sizes, with the hope that they'll all eventually be sold. By contrast, Circa envisions a system in which potential buyers will go into a showroom, check out the bikes on display, and then order one to be made in their selected size. Of course, made-to-order bikes do already exist, but they're typically made by hand and are thus very expensive.
MABEL – or Modular And Bonded Endless Lug – gets around this problem utilizing lugs (the bits that join the tubes together) that are made from individual CNC-milled aluminum components. When a frame is ordered in a given size, a combination of components is selected for each lug, in order to create the desired angles at each frame junction.
Those components are joined to one another – and to the ends of the tubes that go into the lugs – using an aerospace-grade structural adhesive, along with a proprietary mechanical feature which is hidden inside the lug. Normally, aluminum frames are welded together, but doing so takes much more time and labor.
"The combined system provides enhanced strength, a very clean aesthetic and very fast assembly times," Circa founder Rich Fox told us. "This last piece is critical to our ability to be price-competitive, as well as being able to deliver something really unique: once we’re fully up and running, we’ll be able to go from zero to bike in less than 10 days."
Additionally, the lugs and tubes are finished using an anodizing process, eliminating the time and expense involved in applying paint.
Circa plans on starting with Road and City versions of its Trillium bike, with dropped and flat handlebars respectively. At a weight of 21 lb (9.5 kg) and outfitted with Shimano 105 parts, the Road will be priced at US$2,000. The more utilitarian City will feature an 8-speed internal shifting system, and sell for $1,800 – although a special-edition premium-outfitted Goldie City is also being offered for $3,400.
Fox told us that he's currently setting up his first showroom in downtown Portland, with client appointments starting late this month.