Titanium for Cycling

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I’ve been riding my cyclocross bike back and forth to Lawrence the past week on gravel.  I’m sort of stuck in a rut, but not a rut that I’m concerned about.  Anyway, I was thinking yesterday how perfect the material of titanium is for cycling.

I got thinking about this because I ejected a bottle from my cage on a descent with braking bumps.  I was thinking if I had King ti cages on my cross bike that my bottle wouldn’t have been in the dirt and still on my bike.  That got me thinking about frame materials, etc.

We have gotten so obsessed with weight that the other aspects of the frame materials have taken a backseat.  Like in the trunk.

Given, carbon frames are normally lighter than titanium.  But, you can build light frames from titanium.  And nice frames.

I think for any bike you are riding off-road, titanium is the perfect material.  With the different choices of tubing sizes and thicknesses, you can fine tune how stiff, resilient, or supple a frame is.  Tuning the ride is a big plus.  But being virtually indestructible is what really sets it apart.

I have crashed titanium bikes 100’s of times and never touched the frame.  I was racing in Canada, in the muck and slime, and was planning to bunny hop a log, at speed.  When I pulled up, my hands, which were wet, covered with mud, came off the bars.  I hit the log, square, and my shock fork snapped off at the steering column.  And it was an aluminum steering column, not carbon. My frame didn’t have a ding.  The headtube was perfect, the down and top tube were perfect too.  If I would have been riding a frame built out of any other material, it would have been destroyed.

The same goes on the road.  My new Eriksen road frame is as stiff as the Trek I was riding before.  I know you think that is bullshit, but just ride one.  Oversized tubes, with 1″ chainstays makes the frame super stiff, yet light.

But, the real deal is that I don’t have to worry about the bike.  When I was riding carbon, I was constantly checking my frame to make sure there wasn’t any small cracks.  I’d check down by the bottom bracket and especially up by the headtube before each and every race.  When I got a scratch in the paint, I’d always worry that it was a crack.

I don’t have to do that with titanium.

We don’t all have a couple cars with spare bikes following us around in races at all times.  How many bike changes to you see the “Pros” make.  Lots.  Everytime they fall down, something is wrong with their bikes.

I think I wrote this last year, but at Joe Martin last year, Frankie Andreu, manager for Kenda/Five Hour Energy, came up and asked me why I was riding titanium frames.  I told him because I was sick of changing the parts on my bikes everytime I crashed and ruined a carbon frame.  I was riding Eriksen frames off-road, both MTB and cross, so it made sense.

Plus, the bikes never wear out.  I’ve had a Ybb sense the late 90’s and it rides like it did on day one.  I can’t tell you how many times that has been thrown off cliffs or hit the ground.  It is pretty much indestructible.

Same goes with the King titanium cages.  The cages are pricey for bottle cages, somewhere around $50 depending on where you get them.  But, they are great.  They don’t break.  They don’t get loose.  And they hold your bottle like a water bottle cage should.  All this carbon, etc. for cages is total bullshit.  I have yet to use a carbon bottle cage that works.  They don’t hold your bottle and they break.  Valueless.

I have total confidence in the bikes I ride.  I don’t even think about having a catastrophic frame failure.  When I fall, I am pretty sure I can just go and pick up my bike, if I can, and get on it and ride it again.  I can’t say the same when I rode carbon frames.

IMG_6953The King Titanium cage.  A lifetime bottle cage.

I got this ZIpp cage for my road bike.  It weight something like 19 grams, but is valueless.  Notice the crack at the top mounting hole.  That happened putting it on the first time.  Zipp normally makes very good cycling components, but this is an exception.   I have two of these and have been meaning to just ship them back to Zipp and tell them they are worth about a penny a gram.

I got this ZIpp cage for my road bike. It weight something like 19 grams, but is valueless. Notice the crack at the top mounting hole. That happened putting it on the first time. Zipp normally makes very good cycling components, but this is an exception. I have two of these and have been meaning to just ship them back to Zipp and tell them they are worth about a penny a gram.






32 thoughts on “Titanium for Cycling

  1. jeremiah

    Carbon is a dream material for bike manufacturers. Those who buy them are *just* weary enough of them that they replace them fairly often. That means more sales. And on a large scale, once you have your processes down, carbon is actually rather cheap to produce. Especially if you reduce the ratio of carbon-to-resin (and make it more in favor of the resin). There’s no telling what kind of ratio a carbon manufacturer is using. There are *far* more varieties of carbon then there are of titanium.

  2. Houston

    Totally agree with this. I have been riding a Titanium bike for the past 3 years and I love it. I did crash it once and bent my derraileur hanger, but that is not a problem with Titanium because you can just heat it up and bend it back. I will never by a bike made of another material.

  3. KRB

    I’m still riding a Serotta ti road frame I got in 1994 and it’s been my only road bike during that time.

  4. Not a Sucker

    I bought a Merlin about 10 years ago, brushed finish. A little stainless appliance polish and it gleams like the day I got it, did break down and get a more modern fork a while back. When I get bored with it I just buy a new kit – from England, of course. As far as the MTB, thinking about a Ti 29er. My MCR dents in soft breeze and rusts like no ones business. Carbon will never be an option

  5. Pepsi Frank

    Carbon is fine if there is a team car behind you, titanium, steel and aluminum for the rest of us. My 12 year old Litespeed still rides and looks like new.

  6. MYMD

    Couldn’t have said it any better, Steve. Ti is really the only way to go if you’re worried about longevity. You buy a frame made out of the stuff you undoubtedly save money in the long run. Yes, Ti frames are expensive but it would literally be the last frame you ever have to buy. It is a lifetime investment. I have YBB from 1994 that looks and acts like brand new. Five years ago I had Kent build me a road frame. Absolutely amazing.
    Those Steamboat boys obviously know what they’re doing.

  7. Bolas Azules

    A lot of durability in components and frames has been given-up in the last 15-20 years all in the name of weight and stiffness. What do I know, I was using 450g. Fiamme Red label rims all those years but you could ride through anything. Remember hitting a giant pothole in a race, must have been 7″-8″ deep and hit it square on at full speed. Bruised both of my hands so badly I had a hard time holding the bars for a few days and both wheels were true as could be. Old pros always took durability and comfort over a pound or two on the bike…..but to this day I’ve never ridden a Ti bike. Just never have.

  8. Thomas Prehn

    I dig my Ritchey Ti Breakaway! I have worn out two carry cases and the big just keeps going and going… that said…I do like a carbon CX bike for the smooth ride. (dirty kanza here I come!)

  9. Bill K

    I’m a fan of stainless steel bottle cages. They are cheap and never wear out. Sure, they are 40g each, but I’m too cheap for Ti. Same goes for frame material. Lightweight steel gives up a pound over Ti, but there’s the cost factor to think of. Same goes for wheels. I race on the same rims you rode, when you raced for Mike F. (NOS)

  10. Gordon

    Amen! I’ve been riding ti for the lat 15 years. I strayed off course once for carbon but went back to ti very quickly. I know it is more expensive to have a custom bike made but if you average out the costs over the long run, plus factor in that you have the opportunity to have a bike built around you and your riding style you will get more bang for your buck. I’ve never once worried about my frame after a crash.

  11. MS

    Hrmmm, time to rethink Motobecanes. I see they make Ti bikes.

    Ever use an Arundel carbon bottle cage? I’ve had a set for 8 years and the damn things will barely release my bottle when I go for it. I think I would have to hit a hole that would destroy my wheels for the bottles to come out. Helps when you wash your bottles more than I do though.

  12. Rick Bullotta

    I don’t know anyone riding a Ti MTB who *hasn’t* broken it (and from some of the marquis framebuilders). The indestructability of Ti is a myth. The high end frame builders do stand behind them though. Most of the guys who still ride Ti have had 2-3 frame replacements.

  13. usedtorace

    Ti is the way to go. I recently had a pretty horrific crash on my 2007 Litespeed that I bought used last year and the thing is totally fine. Carbon or aluminum would have been completely ruined I believe. They also look super nice and are timeless and classy.

    I just wish my body was as resilient as titanium!

  14. Ron

    Just a couple of months ago I saw a Ti 29er with a Niner carbon fork where the TT was snapped completely in 2 and the DT was bent to the point that the wheel was touching the DT. Carbon fork was fine….Although it was a Carver Ti frame so I guess the quality could be questionable.

  15. Rick Bullotta

    Well, I know a few Carvers (650b and 29er) that are perfect after 3 years of riding and racing and quite a few Sevens, Lynskeys and IFs that have cracked and snapped, so I’d say it’s unfair to knock Carvers just because they’re affordable. They design/build a nice frame.

    The obvious pattern seems to be Ti holds up Ok for road and CX but has some challenges for MTBs. Crashes are usually not the cause of issues. Landing jumps, rocky/rooty terrain at speed, all probably contribute to Ti failure on MTBs.

  16. Jackie Gammon

    Oh! I love this conversation! I too, ride a ti frame and have rode this since 1993 when it was custom built for me. AS a shop owner, I own plenty of other bikes and they certainly are nice… but when I really want to be comfortable, well out comes the Ti.

    Like many good things in the cycling world, styles and materials come back around and hopefully Ti will as well.
    Thanks for all of the great reminders Steve!!

  17. Driver

    You should give the Arundel carbon cages a try. I’ve been using them for 10+ years and have never lost a bottle. Great company out of Ft. Worth TX.

  18. Dave

    I’ve been riding a ’09 Lynskey R330 without issue, averaging 6,000 miles per year since I bought it new from the boys in Chattanooga. Looks and rides just like the day I got it. No hard falls….yet. But at my age, I’m way more worried about my body breaking than my bicycle frame.

  19. Bob Gregg

    Steve, I’m pretty well known around these parts for riding and road racing exclusively the last 19 years on my 1996 Litespeed Classic. Crashed it many times, and not even a dent. Replaced the components several times since but I’m still on DA-10 speed because it works better than the new stuff, still. I just smile at the nice new plastic aero frames (I’m retro, I’m repulsed by everything “aero”) many of my pals get every couple years. Without trying that hard, my race trim bike comes in at 17.25 lbs. Plenty good for the 140 lbs. of me. In fact, I’m sending that frame in this week for a refurb. since I’m recovering from a week-long illness brought on being prescribed a too-powerful antibiotic by my dentist. He used a howitzer instead of the .22 that was required. I pulled the Joker card and C. diff. colitis nailed me out of the blue due to pure bad luck. It went long enough before diagnosis I was in danger of losing my colon. I would’ve ended up like Dewey. Thankfully, I remain intact.

    Anyway. Steel may be real, but Ti is forever. Guaranteed.

    Sioux City, Iowa.

  20. Bob Gregg

    I use King Ti cages, too. Bomb proof forever. When the frame is back, I’m outfitting it with as many Ti bolts as I can find on the rebuild. Been wanting to do that for years, too. Anyone know where a guy can get ti bolt replacement kits?

    Bob 2.0
    in the SCI

  21. Thom

    My primary road bike for the last decade and a half has been a Litespeed Vortex, originally built for Scott Moninger in 1995. Built with virtually identical components and with the same wheels it is lighter than the carbon Specialized Tarmac SL3 that I rode for a couple of years; both tip the scales under 16 pounds. I sold the Tarmac to a friend. It fell over at a store stop a couple of months ago and is now broken at the point of impact.

    I also have a Litespeed Appalachian that I bought new in the 1990s and have ridden for uncounted tens of thousands of miles for commuting, errands, gravel rides, ‘cross racing, touring, and trails. With a Kelly steel ‘cross fork it’s the best handling bike I have. I find myself diving through corners around town with full fenders and a pannier rack. I rode it single-speed for a couple of years when I also owned a Moots ‘cross bike.

  22. Jim

    I have been using these for YEARS. Used to get them at cost through QBP. Great product!

  23. Nathan

    C-diff…. FMT (fecal matter transplant) has a reported success rate close to 100%. Just a suggestion if you are still in search of a solution.


    Bob, try racebolts.com for Ti and aluminum specialty fasteners for bikes ( and motorcycles and cars as well)

  25. JB

    “It fell over at a store stop a couple of months ago and is now broken at the point of impact.”

    This is why I don’t think I could ever *buy* a carbon frame. I want a bike, not a piece of porcelain.

  26. Larry T.

    Metal = good. Plastic = well, plastic. Titanium or steel? Steel, as Superman wasn’t called the “Man of Titanium” after all, was he?

  27. Doug Daniell

    Of all the bikes I ride, my favorite is a TI Habanero CX bike. I use it as a winter road bike with full fenders, and a gravel adventure bike with low gearing and fat tires. It rides great and descends very well in both applications. It is plenty stiff for sprints. I have an AL Cervelo S1 which is very fast. Yet I often dind myself reaching for the Hab.


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