I was recently in Berkeley, CA,visiting my daughter who was working there for the summer. Prior to leaving, I contacted Calfee to see if a visit was possible while i was near their factory. They said yes,and I told them i would call if/when I got close to their place.
I don't have great eyesight, so I didn't want to drive the CA freeways. I worked out an Amtrak/Santa Cruz bus combo that got me close to their factory at about 11AM.
I called, and Steve picked me up and delivered me to their place on Monterey Bay. The setting is quiet and peaceful, on some land owned by a church. Now about the tour.
This was not a factory in the sense I imagined-there are no production lines. Each type of frame-Luna, Tetra, Dragonfly, Bamboo,Tandem, Recumbent, has its own "assembly"area or room. A jig is located in the middle of an area, maybe 15 or 20 feet square, and all frames of a type are built on that jig. Around the jig are the tubes, lugs,and other parts needed for that type of frame. They have full machine shop capabilities and turn their own headtubes and I suspect other parts.
I had imagined that there was an assembly line, where some work was done,say the main triangle , then it would pass on to have the rear triangle installed,but it was not that way. Each frame was completely hand built, 1 at a time,in its own room.
I now understand the semi-custom nature of even the stock bikes. When a Calfee frame is ordered, the riders weight is listed on the order form. Also,things like headtube/seattube extensions can be chosen on the order form, along with finish options and decal choices.
Working from the order form, the builder can choose stiffer(I'm not sure about softer) tubes, or stiffening sheets can be added, or other measures to build the frame to the weight of the rider. So even a stock frame is semi-custom, though no geometry changes are done. The jig is changed to make a different size frame.
Forks are individually checked on a jig, to make sure thay are in spec in all directions. Those that don't meet spec are returned to the manufacturer. Forks are finished to match the frame. My understanding is that even clearcoat forks are refinished.
Tetra and Dragonfly frames are also available as custom, so custom lugs or hand wrapped joints are also possible.(The Luna is only available in stock geometry).
They may change only one tube, or as many as they think will make the frame correct for the rider. Each type of tube (Luna,Tetra,Dragonfly) comes in several
stiffnesses, so the variations are extensive.
The Bamboo room had a huge assortment of tubes, sorted by wall diameter and thickness. I was surprised at how light the tubes were, and the large assortment of tubes stored there.
I saw several Bamboo frames, and they are stunning. Something about them seems more like art than machine. I even got to see the show bike that had steer horns.
After being built, the frames are trimmed/prepped,and the rear dropouts are aligned, using a reference wheel. No wonder my frame is the straightest frame I've ever measured or owned.
Calfee has their own paint shop in the same building, so they control the finish process. The customer chooses the finish and decal kit they want. There are no delays in dealing with an outside painter, so they also offer in house repaint/refinshing service.
I saw lots of other brand frames hanging up, and then I remembered they now offer repair service for all makes of carbon bikes. I assume that many companies that sell carbon bikes have no means to repair them.
I saw several custom tandem frames hanging, which made me think they are doing quite well with tandems. I'm really attracted to the new "open" style tandem frames that don't have a lateral tube.