Why would you choose the wonder metal for your next frame?
Titanium is the metal of choice for many aerospace applications. It’s half the weight of steel for a tube of the same tensile strength and twice as strong as aluminium alloy. Titanium is also more resistant to fatigue and impact than aluminium alloys, so it copes better with bumps and bashes. Titanium bikes are highly prized, if a niche item compared to aluminium and carbon framesets.
Another advantage of a titanium frame is that it doesn’t corrode, unlike steel. So typically, titanium frames come in an unpainted brushed finish often with mirrored highlights, showing off the metal’s distinctive grey lustre, although you can have a painted titanium frameset if you want.
How are titanium bikes made?
Road bike frames are made of an alloy of titanium with other metals, typically aluminium and vanadium in varying proportions dependent on the desired physical properties, which improve durability and physical properties over the pure metal. Frame makers often cite “aerospace grade” tubing.
Titanium tubesets can be cold drawn as well as being hydroformed, like aluminium alloy. So although titanium frames may come with round main tubes with external cable routing, tubesets can have other shapes and allow internal cabling too. An extreme example of this is Lynskey’s Helix framesets, which use helically twisted tubing that Lynskey says helps to resist torsional forces.
As with any metal frameset, the frame tubes are cut to length and mitred before welding. Welding titanium tubesets is more complex than making alloy frames, as titanium reacts with oxygen. So completing the welds can take as much as five hours of labour. The tubing then has to be tapped to fit the components bolted and screwed to the frame and the final finish and logos added.
Although most titanium framesets are welded, there are other options. French bespoke framebuilder Caminade has just launched its AllRoad frameset, which uses titanium tubes glued into carbon lugs, for a more economical option than its all-titanium welded frames.
How do titanium bikes ride?
Titanium has a higher ability to deform in response to road imperfections than other metals used for bike frames. This means that a well designed titanium frameset will deal with bumpy surfaces better, leading to a more comfortable ride. A titanium frame is typically paired with a carbon fork to amplify that road comfort.
One marque that has a titanium frameset in its otherwise aluminium alloy line-up is Mason Progressive Cycles. Its Bokeh all terrain machine is available in both metals. Swapping from alloy to titanium bumps the price of a SRAM Force 1 build up from £3100 to £5200. And there’s a waiting list for the titanium Bokeh, with only five frames built to order each month.
But, says Dom Mason: “For an endurance, AdventureSport, multi-terrain bike like the BokehTi, titanium is almost ideal. It’s light, tough, comfortable and if designed right it gives you incredible response and propulsion.”
The increased sophistication of the tubesets now available means that the ride can be tuned to offer the qualities required for the type of terrain to be tackled.
“Titanium frames from 10-15 years or so ago used to have a rather ‘noodly’ feel to them!” continues Mason. “The limited tubesets available meant that the frames were designed with comfort as the prime factor, but they tended to feel rather ‘soft’ and flexy when stomping out of the saddle and didn’t really track or put the power down well.
“We engineer our way to the ride qualities we want by working closely and directly with the tube maker, Dedacciai, and with Reynolds UK, who 3D print our thru-axle/flat-mount titanium dropouts,” says Mason.
As with any material, getting the right ride requires careful design: we’ve tested overly harsh titanium bikes as well as ‘noodly’ ones.
Looking for something else? Check out:
Our pick of titanium bikes we’ve tested
Kinesis GFTI Disc
Kinesis designs its GFTI Disc for endurance rides: the GF in its name stands for Gran Fondo. Kinesis shapes its tubes to add compliance, particularly to the rear triangle. There’s also internal cable routing which can be adapted for electronic shifting.
Following a spec upgrade, the GFTI Disc now takes thru-axle wheels and wider tyres with mudguards. It’s a comfortable ride on UK roads, although you can induce a bit of wheel rub when climbing out of the saddle.
At the time of testing, the Enigma Excel was UK designed but, unlike Enigma’s pricier frames, built in Taiwan. When we tested, Enigma used double butted titanium alloy tubing for the Excel. The complete bike felt stiff and responsive on winter climbs in the Peak District.
We loved the compliant ride, coupled to the climbing stiffness and the quality and durability of the brushed titanium frameset.
Enigma builds the current Excel – its top model – in the UK, using a custom 6Al 4V alloy tubeset.
Of course, there’s a wide range of titanium road bike choices on the market – browse our reviews section for more product suggestions.