Ever since Titanium’s heyday in the 90’s it has since been regarded as an exotic and luxury material. Something that only the wealthy cyclists could afford. Fast-forward twenty years and today’s Titanium frames are far more affordable. But generally, they are still considerably more expensive than comparable Aluminium models. So, what is it about this material that makes it the ultimate metal in cycling? Why is it held in such esteem and what makes it worth the extra money? Let’s investigate…
A History of Titanium
We’ll start with a brief history lesson about the discovery of Titanium and how it became the material we see and love today. Titanium was discovered by William Gregor of Cornwall way back in 1791. Though the actual naming of this new discovery can be attributed to a German chemist by the name of Martin Heinrich Klaproth. He opted to name it after the titans of ancient Greek mythology – smart.
Interestingly the chemical symbol for Titanium is Ti. If you have heard anyone within cycling circles refer to it they will almost always refer to it simply as ‘Ti’. This may of course just be a happy coincidence but probably not, you decide.
During the Cold war, the USSR pioneered the use of Titanium. Using it in the construction of submarines and military aircraft. The US quickly followed suit and this led to the entire supply of this material being allocated to weapons of war! Only upon the thawing of the cold war was the commercial industry able to lay their hands upon this wondrous new material.
Within the cycling industry, the use of Ti can be attributed to 3 companies. Each of whom started to experiment with it in the late 1960’s. The first production models started to appear in the early 70’s. However, these early prototypes had one crucial flaw, they were too soft! Once again, it was the military science division that solved this issue. It was found that when combining titanium with certain alloys the end result was a much stronger and resilient material.
The Properties of Titanium
So, what is it about Titanium that makes it such a fine fit for the cycling industry? And, what are the reasons why you should buy Titanium?
- Durability – Its high fatigue strength means that a properly engineered Titanium frame can last a lifetime, literally.
- Weight – It’s lighter than its nearest comparative metal, steel.
- Strength – The strength to weight density is higher than any other metallic element. Yes, you read this correctly, ANY other element!!
- Compliance – Like a steel frame, Titanium has great damping properties.
- Corrosion-resistant – Titanium is not subject to the same oxidisation that affects steel bikes (rust).
- Stiffness – A well-built Ti frame is extremely stiff, which improves power transfer and results in better pedalling efficiency.
The reason for the cost of Titanium being higher than comparable carbon or steel frames is that it is a uniquely expensive material to work with. The specialist equipment required to work the material and the skilled workforce required to craft the frames don’t come cheap. This cost has reduced dramatically in recent years and is reflected in the price of Ti bikes today.
Why you should buy Titanium
In short, it is the combination of durability, strength and the ride performance that entices people into investing in a Ti frame. It’s tough, like really super tough and will shrug off impacts that would write off most other frames.
Ti frames are stunning! A guaranteed head-turner and compliment receiver, there’s something about the classical tubing profiles and brushed finish that is very pleasing to the eye. They also allow the frame builders to get a little more creative. On premium framesets, it is not unusual to find subtle finishing touches applied for that extra bling factor. (see image below).
Finally and possibly most importantly of all is the ride quality. Any fans of steel frames will tell you that the comfort they offer is second to none. Titanium also offers this same level of comfort. They have a natural ability to damp vibrations that are transmitted through the frame. This, in turn, provides for a more forgiving ride quality and helps to reduce rider fatigue. So, don’t think of a Ti bike as a luxury purchase, think of it as more of a long term investment. If you buy Ti it can truly be a companion for life.
Fancy giving cyclocross a go? Read our blog about this exciting sport here.
What makes steel bikes so popular? Read our blog here to find out the benefits of this classic tubing.
Our Top tips for surviving the winter months and starting the new season in great shape. Read them here.