Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The stuff that dreams are made of.

No, not gold, but Ti, as in Titanium.  I have been wondering for a long time if Ti is not the perfect material for a hard tail mtn bike.  It is durable, subtle yet classy looking, still looks like a traditional 'tube' frame, should ride well and pedal really well.  It is so expensive that one has to be sure whether the jump in is worth it.

So right now I am on a fine example of a high end Ti single speed.  And it has been very interesting to say the least.  The geometry of this one is a bit unique and not perfectly to my liking and the fit is only 90% there, but the rest is overshadowed by the material the frame is made from and, of course, how they used selection, etc.  It has been an eye opening ride and brings some practical reality to the trail winding through my mind...the one I imagined a Ti SS cruising through.  Based on my time so far on this bike, If I had jumped in, would I have liked the swim?

So what was I expecting?  A magic carpet ride combined with pedaling performance and light weight.  Longevity and toughness.  Looks that make you go "Ooooo...Ti!"  Some thoughts then.

  • The ride -  Smoooooth with a capitol 'smuu'.  Yeah, this thing is pretty darn amazing in that way, making any alu frame and really most of the steel ones feel pretty rough in comparison.  It is not just smooth though, it is a little dead too.  It still rings like any metal frame does when it is hitting bumps, in that I mean the vibrations still are transmitted through the frame, but they are dulled a lot.  That is good for comfort and it helps the bike track well, keeping wheels in contact with the ground.  But...
  • Compliance is flex - And that smooth ride comes at a cost, that being a less than awesome snap forward when pedaled hard and a bit of vagueness when pushed hard.  Not bad really, but it is certainly not what many of the hydroformed alu or carbon bikes are.  And it does not quite have the 'pop' of steel...that great spring feeling...that feels like you are on a live bike, not a dead board with wheels.  Ti seems to be not as dead as alu, but not as lively as good steel, including one from the same maker as the Ti version.
  • Weight - yeah, it is light, maybe a pound in the frame over steel.  Nice.  All good there, but really the wheels and fork matter more and a pound saved in the wheels is amazing.  Still, lighter is lighter.
  • The inheritance factor - So Ti can be willed to your kids, it lasts so long.  Darn tough stuff.  And not just for pedaling fatigue, but impact resistance.  I had the bars swing around and smack the top tube once when I was moving the bike around and, if that had been carbon, I would have been concerned...alu too, maybe.  Dents suck just like cracks do.  This frame?  Never even gave it a second thought.  The brake lever would go first.  But think of this.  Ever had a bike get out of date?  Depending on when you bought (in the past, shall we say), 5 years could mean you have no disc brake tabs and out of date geometry.  Moving forward a bit, you might not have a 44mm HT...if that matters.  The point is this...time marches on and specs and such move with it.  Now some of that is important and some is not so much, but if, in the future, all the better forks are only in a 1.5 tapered motif, then what do you do with your "I will keep it forever so the cost is ok"  Ti bike?  Many folks get a new bike every 5 years or less, plenty of time for a good steel, alu or CF bike to remain intact.
  • "You look marvelous, really you do" - Yeah, Ti will always have that Ti look that is dead sexy and the cache' of Ti is undeniable.
So I am still interested in a Ti SS frame, but I will tell ya this.  Two recent rides on carbon were eye  opening.  They rode really, really well, yet set standards for BB deflection.  On an SS, I want everything I can get to go into the ground so a stiff BB is ideal, but only carbon can give you that AND still ride really well, at least so far in my experience.  And alu is seeing some refinements that will make a beer can frame even better, longer lasting, and too, at least comparatively.  

Then steel, of course...steel seems to get very, very close to Ti and seems to have a snappier feel, but at an increased weight.  

It has been revealing and a bit of a reality check.  I am looking to get on a carbon frame this next season for SS duty.  Honestly I am expecting it to be the best SS frame I have ever ridden as far as delivering it all...ride, pedaling, handling, and weight.  

I will watch out for swinging brake levers a bit more though.  You may not be able to have it all, but I am curious how close I can get.

1 comment:

Guitar Ted said...

cWell, as you know- I've ridden a few of these titanium wonder bikes, and I own one of my own, (albeit one with "generous clearances, shall we say?)

I've thought about that "what if standards change" thing, and I guess unless it is something drastic, titanium can be modified. For instance, I could get a 44mm head tube welded on my Salsa, and not have to worry about a re-paint, with no downsides as to annealing the frame, or making it softer. (Yes- it would cost a lot of money, but the point is, it could be done and still you have a "legacy frame")

I was also just looking into stainless steel. Titanium weight, stiff, yet lively like steel should be, no paint/corrosion issues, but cost? Wow! It is as expensive as titanium from many custom shops. Hard to work with, but I understand it is coming on as a favorite for new projects. Salsa Cycles is bringing the first production frame in the Vaya Travel soon at a good deal for Stainless @ 2200.00 for the frame. Maybe someday it'll come down more, and we'll be riding SS bikes made outta the stuff.