Serious Bikers Ride Titanium

titanium bike

Titanium has, for a long time, been one of the choice materials for serious bicycle enthusiasts. In recent years, though, that upstart carbon-fiber has been making a play for the top spot in the cycling world and other recreational areas. To be sure, it brings a lot of benefits to the table, but there are some characteristics of titanium that it just can’t quite match – which is why the serious bikers keep coming back to this lightweight and strong material.

The best bikes are a combination of the right materials and the appropriate manufacturing process. Not everyone can afford custom, hand-made titanium or carbon-fiber bikes, but the best manufacturers know how to leverage the best characteristics of their materials to produce top-of-the-line equipment.

There are a lot of ways to use titanium in recreational endeavors like this, but it has to be done right. Between the tapering, swaging, and internal butting, there is a lot of potential to degrade titanium’s grain structure, which means it won’t be able to stand up to as much fatigue and stress. When it’s done right, though, titanium provides a unique ride you can’t get anywhere else.

The Rise to Stardom

Titanium is actually extremely common, but the difficulty in harvesting and processing it keeps the prices relatively high. This is likely what kept the metal out of the recreational industries for so long. It wasn’t until the military got involved that people really began to explore what titanium could do.

That’s not to say that the military demanded better bikes and golf clubs. It just means that someone realized that this lightweight, extremely strong metal was worth further inspection.
First, it was used in aircrafts, where every ounce matters, and eventually made it into a bike sometime in the 60s. Even then, they didn’t have many alloys, so the frames were made of unrefined titanium and were fairly soft. As the aerospace industry continued to push for better, more reliable alloys, though, civilian/recreational usage also began to change. (Let’s face it, the biking community is pretty dedicated, but not enough to influence an entire textiles industry.)

Titanium finally rose to biking prominence in the early 1990s. It was lighter than steel, stronger than aluminum, and, at the time, easier to work with than carbon fiber. Of course, Greg LeMond’s appearance in the Tour de France on the Merlin Extra Light prototype helped spark the conversation about the metal. While he didn’t take home the trophy, there was a lot to talk about.

New Developments

In the 2000s, we started to see carbon fiber used more often in bikes and other recreational equipment. Manufacturers had learned to work with it, and it was cheaper than titanium. With the current market all about building lighter, more aerodynamic models, carbon composites seemed to be the road to success for many manufacturers.

However, despite the growing popularity of those composites, for the serious cyclist there won’t ever be anything quite like a titanium frame. There has even been a little bit of backlash against carbon fiber recently as people realize that the ride just isn’t the same.
Titanium offers a balance between strength, weight, durability, and damping, creating a really stiff frame that is – perhaps counter intuitively – still a little extra springy and surprisingly forgiving.

The “springiness” of titanium, if that’s the right word at all, means the bike reacts more to the rider. Compared to carbon bikes, which don’t have any interaction with the rider, this can make a huge difference. Titanium frames tend to give a little at first, but the more it flexes, the more resistant it becomes. This also means that, in the case of a bad crash, there’s a much greater chance that your titanium bike is the one that will get up and ride away. Bikes with a carbon fiber frame are far more likely to be destroyed (or at least damaged enough to require serious repair work). And nothing rides like Titanium.

Titanium Tubing Makes a Difference

front wheel of titanium bike A bicycle frame is basically a conglomeration of titanium tubes engineered to produce the most reliable and smoothest ride. How the titanium tube is drawn at the mill determines the crystallographic texture (grain orientation). This, in turn, has an impact on the yield strength, ductility, and fatigue strength of the metal. When it’s done right, the tubes can provide the best combination of features for a bike.

Even the smallest variation in the tube can have a surprising difference in the ride’s characteristics, and tapering or internal butting can potentially compromise some of titanium’s important properties.  When you get into different shapes of tubes, things get even more complicated.

Even though a lot of manufacturers are opting for these different shapes, the traditional round tubes still offer the best balance for bending and torsional stresses. Some shapes can potentially compromise bending stiffness on at least one plane, but it may still provide the kind of ride certain bikers are looking for.

Future Possibilities

In a more recent development, some people are predicting that the future of titanium in the recreation industry might be in printed materials.

Carbon fiber can be manipulated into a wide range of shapes because it comes in long fibers. Titanium starts off as an oxide – a dust-like material. This has led people to speculate that it may have a very bright future in 3D printing. If this is, in fact, the direction the industry grows, it could mean that titanium bikes can be designed on computers and have frames that are as aerodynamic as carbon-fiber models with parts as strong as steel.

Soon, manufactures may be able to print out extremely complex – and completely aesthetically impressive – components for some of the strongest, lightest bikes on the market.

For more information on Titanium Processing Center visit www.titaniumprocessingcenter.com.

Titanium Processing Center (Corporate)
51513 Industrial Road
New Baltimore, Michigan 48047
Toll-free: 888.771.9449    |    Phone: 586.716.7555    |    Fax: 586.716.8430 

Titanium Processing Center Texas Group
8601 Fawn Trail Bldg. #2
Conroe, Texas 77385
Phone: 936-271-7773    |    Fax: 936-271-7783