The Lure of Titanium Bikes

Over the last few years, Bicycle Quarterly has tested quite a few titanium bikes. There is a simple reason for this: Titanium is a great material for an up-to-date, thoroughly modern bike.
In recent years, the pace of innovation, especially with respect to tires, has been incredibly rapid. Just a few years ago, “gravel grinders” were riding 28 mm-wide tires. Today, many riders use 32 mm tires on the road, and much wider ones on gravel…
Carbon bikes require expensive molds, which take time to engineer and manufacture. That is why most carbon bikes available today were designed 3 or 4 years ago. Metal, on the other hand, is more easily shaped, so new bikes can be introduced as the technology evolves. And titanium builders have been especially keen to make bikes that perform equally well on gravel as they do on pavement.
Since Bicycle Quarterly has provided much of the inspiration behind the current “Allroad” bike trend (together with visionaries like the organizers of D2R2 and a few others), it’s only natural that we’ve been testing these exciting machines.
All the titanium bikes we’ve tested have been great machines. That has allowed us to take them on some amazing rides. Not only are these adventures great tests of the bikes, but they also make for a great read, even if you aren’t in the market for a new bike.
The Firefly impressed me so much during our ride over the 4000 m-high Paso de Cortés in Mexico (above) that I bought the test bike! It’s designed as a racing bike with ultra-wide (54 mm) 26″ tires. Riding the bike all over the place, I found that it really has delivered on the promise of combining the best of a racing bike with the go-anywhere ability of wide tires.
The Litespeed T5g was great fun during our search for the “Lost Pass” in the Cascades. Built up with 650B wheels, the bike’s nimble handling was impressive, and the smaller wheels allowed fitting wider tires than with 700C wheels. A win-win scenario made easy with modern disc brakes.
The Moots Routt was another machine that offered amazing performance. Intended as a classic “gravel grinder” (if there is such a thing), it was equipped with 700C x 35 mm tires. Our ride to Bon Jon Pass seemed like a perfect mid-summer adventure, until the heavens opened and drenched us with a deluge. But the rain was warm, and the Moots was fun until the end.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Jones 29er, which looks like a mountain bike, yet was able to climb with the fastest bikes we’ve tested. Most of all, riding the Jones to a deserted cabin in the wilds of the snow-covered Olympic Peninsula was a great adventure. (Thanks to Fred for designing a perfect test for this bike!)
These four bikes cover the spectrum of modern titanium Allroad bikes, with 700C, 650B and 26″ wheels and a variety of frame configurations. If you are in the market for a modern Allroad bike, you’ll learn much about these bikes, and about what to look for in a modern bike in general, by reading these four issues.
We now offer these tests in a convenient Bicycle Quarterly 4-Pack at a special price. Click here to find out more or to order your set.
Photo credits: Fred Blasdel (Photos 1, 6), Duncan Smith (Photo 2), Hahn Rossman (Photos 3, 4).

29 Responses to The Lure of Titanium Bikes

  1. Dan Roehre December 13, 2016 at 7:19 am #

    I am wondering out loud if using a steel fork is better with a Ti frame. Seems most Ti bikes come with carbon forks. After watching the videos from carbon specialist Raoul Luescher on carbon forks, it seems risky to ride a carbon fork on an adventure bike.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 13, 2016 at 7:32 am #

      High-end carbon forks have a relatively good reliability record. (Mid-priced carbon forks are best avoided – they fail with alarming regularity.) However, steel is much easier to shape. Our Firefly test bike uses a steel fork, because that was the best way to get a geometry that is optimized for wide tires.

    • Kirt December 13, 2016 at 11:34 am #

      I put a steel fork on a Seven I owned to till a few years ago, swapped out the carbon, and the handling changed [for the better] massively.

  2. mathias scherer December 13, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    Titanium, if used with it’s inherent characteristics in mind,also is an option for forks. If you’re ok with the looks of a truss fork chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think, but even with a more conventional design I find they work really well for allroad-bikes.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 13, 2016 at 7:52 am #

      The Jones we tested had a titanium truss fork…

    • Rider X December 13, 2016 at 10:14 am #

      Mathias could you expand on why a truss design is required? I am keen to learn more.

      • Marco December 13, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

        I assume it’s because titanium is more flexible compared to other materials (for the same strength), so a truss fork provides additional rigidity.

      • Rider X December 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

        Why not use thicker tubing instead of trusses?

      • ourizo December 16, 2016 at 1:05 am #

        One of the most desired mtb forks back in the 90`s was ( well….is) the Kona P2 titanium fork. Straight blades, round tubes. People used to love it, althougt it was (again, is) too expensive and rare, so I can´t confirm that.

      • Marco December 16, 2016 at 3:22 pm #

        @ Rider X,
        increasing wall thickness only would increase weight, increasing tubing diameter and using thinner walls would make the tubes too thin and less strong. I presume conventional titanium forks use somewhat thicker and bigger tubes, giving up some (or all?) of the weight advantage to have an adequately rigid and strong fork.

  3. Stephen Bamford December 13, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Masterfully said in both the email newsletter as well as Bicycle Quarterly’s Winter 2016 issue. Mr. Heine has such determination and resolve in matters of cycling, his work seems very well steeped in the traditions of other great artists and engineers throughout cycling’s short history. Well done!

  4. Nelson December 13, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    Why the shipping costs (at least to Brazil) are so high?
    4 pounds (~8 issues ?) should cost around 30, not 60…the shipping is nearly the cost of the issues…
    There is not a cheaper option?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 13, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

      Each Bicycle Quarterly is a 100-page book printed on quality coated paper, so shipping 4 of them is expensive. Even so, International Flat Rate Priority Mail is $32 (as you suggest), not $60+. Make sure to select the right shipping option. If the web site overcharges you, we’ll refund the difference.

  5. Kirt December 13, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    Had a Seven with S and S couplers for several years, made many trips to France and Italy, and the ease of packing, the lack of airline fees made for a most excellent set-up. I’d have a Ti frame over hi-end carbon any day. Only beef is that the raw metal finish is cosmetically challenged – sweat, spoils from bottles, fingerprints – I’d add a nice coat of paint rather than an un-finished frame.

    • Steve Palincsar December 15, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

      Or a clear coat. My 25 year old Ti Spectrum road bike still looks great, and its decals are perfect. I have had to touch up scratches with clear nail polish, but that’s invisible at anything but nose-to-the-tube distances.

  6. Robert Cochran December 13, 2016 at 1:50 pm #

    The first and last photos in this article show you with pretty minimal riding wear, yet you are cycling on snow. I presume the winds are pretty strong once you leave the shelter of the trees. Is the minimal kit just for photo shooting purposes? Or is that how you normally ride? How do you keep yourself from slipping into hypothermia and frostbite? Especially considering toes and hands need a lot of protection.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

      During spirited riding, I generate significant heat. Even so, I wore three or four layers of wool… I find that unless I descend, hats make me overheat, and shells don’t breathe enough to prevent clamminess.

  7. Jim December 13, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    Jan,a friend of mine ran across you on FS rd 75 by Randle last month,which bike were you out testing?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 13, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

      It would be a spoiler if I told you! But yes, that was a fun ride. And it was fun meeting your friend. He told me about you, and I said: “Your friend probably knows about BQ.” It’s fun to realize this was true!

  8. Stuart Fogg December 14, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

    You mentioned the disc brakes on some of the bikes didn’t work as well as you had hoped. Last summer I fitted a new fork, centerlock wheel, mechanical caliper, and 203mm disc to the front my old bike. I found the braking powerful, the control and fade resistance very good, but the pads wore quickly. Replacing them with SwissStop E-bike pads fixed that. I’ll be using HY/RD calipers at both ends of my new bike, thanks for your feedback on those!

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 14, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

      Most bikes we’ve tested had 160 mm discs at the front. With hydraulic calipers, you get plenty of braking power. With mechanical calipers, the power is OK, but lagging behind the best rim brakes. The HY/RD calipers (hydraulic, but cable-actuated) really impressed us on several test bikes…

    • 47hasbegun December 15, 2016 at 3:44 am #

      Sintered metal pads are the solution to that quick wear.
      It’s funny how a lot of disc brakes come with cheap resin pads, since most folks get disc brakes for longer pad life and better stopping in the wet, yet those resin pads are the worst of the bunch as far as those two criteria are concerned.

      • Rider X December 15, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

        Resin is cheaper and quieter. Sintered metal pads often squeals when wet. The choice probably reflects a desire to make the experience as good as possible for the first few rides at the cost of longevity. But I am sure money savings was probably part of the equation too.

  9. julianactive December 15, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

    I have a titanium 29er mountain bike that I put 44 c Snoqualmie Pass tires on. It’s my all road and gravel grinder now that my Trek Stache with 3 inch wide 29plus tires has taken over most trail duties. The compass tires are awesome! Roll fantastically and do surprisingly well on gravel surfaces.
    Please make a 700 c tire as wide as the fat trap pass. I think you would sell a ton of them. At least I would buy a pair!

  10. Jason Miles December 15, 2016 at 11:48 pm #

    Jan do you have any Ti components in the works? Maybe some Ti racks could be interesting.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 16, 2016 at 7:57 am #

      Titanium has the same ratio of stiffness to weight as steel, so in applications where stiffness is required, it offers no weight advantages. I suspect that most racks fall into that category. However, there are components where stiffness is not the only requirement, and there, titanium makes a lot of sense.

      • Stuart Fogg December 17, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

        How about titanium forks? I’m not totally comfortable with the durability of carbon or the weight and corrosion of steel.

        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly December 17, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

          See the discussion above. Steel isn’t heavier than titanium. Having ridden 60-year-old bikes hard, I can tell you that corrosion isn’t really an issue, even for bikes that have been neglected, with rare exceptions.

  11. Laura December 17, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    I bought my Salsa Colossal Ti this year and it’s a dream!! Beautiful baby blue paint with red paint and raw material accents. Eats up road noise like no one’s business and transfers energy to the pedals with complete efficiency. If I have anything left in my tank, the bike is willing to go!