Named after the Titans of Greek mythology famed for their legendary strength, titanium is twice as strong as aluminium and nearly half the weight of steel. Frames made from titanium have incredible longevity, a supreme ride quality and look superb. Depending on the design and tubing diameters, frames can either be built to be springy and comfortable, or for a stiffer, speed-focussed ride. Titanium is more robust than aluminium, steel or carbon, and is resistant to the hardest of knocks and those slow-growing unseen cracks from bolt-tightening, rough roads, drops and crashes.
So why isn’t it more popular? Working in titanium, we meet a lot of people who hear about our venture and immediately ask ‘why should I buy titanium?’ It seems like a hard sell, with a lot of misconceptions as to why more people in the arena aren’t working with – or riding – it.
The raw material is still expensive and notoriously difficult to work with, and in a market dominated by carbon, titanium frames have an uphill struggle to prove their worth in the mainstream market. We explain why below.
When working with titanium, relatively little of the heat generated during machining is ejected with the waste material. Instead the heat is transferred to the tool, necessitating slower cuts. Meanwhile, welding titanium must be done in an argon purge or shield; flooding the weld with this inert gas dispels harmful products like oxygen and nitrogen which, if given the opportunity, would be absorbed into the sponge-like molten titanium resulting in a weld with the brittleness of glass.
This makes working with titanium a time-consuming process that requires highly skilled specialists. In a market driven world, this means that companies don’t stand to make big margins with titanium. Carbon, however, is easier to work with and offers scaled manufacturing, which reduces failures and cuts costs. Those working in carbon have been able to scale-up, fast, resulting in a highly competitive market which has driven innovation. Titanium construction, however, isn’t scalable, given the time and specialism required. You’re also limited to the tubing shapes on offer in the market, which is driven by the big guns of aerospace, nuclear and defence industries who order titanium tubes by the ton.
When the carbon manufacturers are the ones sponsoring the big teams, putting their weight and money behind advertising, it’s very hard for smaller outfits to break in and speak on the international stage. (For the record, it’s very difficult to compare titanium and carbon directly when discussing material properties, due to the large range of carbon frames on offer. We’re not attempting to highlight carbon’s weaknesses, only to explain titanium’s strength and why titanium frames have so far been presented as a niche choice.)
So why buy titanium?
Titanium has a famously forgiving ride quality. If you were to buy raw frame building tube off the shelf you can expect the least dense material to be aluminium, then titanium, followed by steel. Aluminium’s properties mean that the tubes need to be larger to compensate for this comparative weakness, giving it a relatively stiff ride. Steel’s density make it heavy, and the skinniness of the tubes required for a light frame notoriously springy. Titanium is neither of these extremes, sitting nicely in the middle with modest tube diameters ensuring sufficient compliance within the frame and a material density low enough to satisfy weight targets.
As with any frame, choosing the best titanium option for you depends on what sort of ride you’re looking for. The main thing to consider is the grade of titanium used. There are two grades; 6AL-4V, the higher strength-to-weight – and therefore slightly stiffer – option tends to be more expensive due to the way it’s manufactured. The other grade, 3AL-2.5V, gives a more forgiving ride and is more commercially available in tube, making this option the more affordable. If in doubt, talk to the manufactures of the frame. They’ll likely be smaller than carbon outfits and will happily discuss why they think their bike is best for you. They may even be able to arrange a test ride. Consulting the warranty is also a good idea, as many titanium brands are good at offering long warranty packages – for good reason. Remember that your titanium bike will become your ‘go to’ for years to come and might even outlast your own cycling career.
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