There’s a topic that been coming up more and more at Seven Cycles over the past year or so. It crystallized for me a few weeks ago while I was giving a technical manufacturing tour to some visitors. I was walking some or our retailers through our production process; nothing unusual there. What was unusual was the number of questions regarding titanium. These weren’t the typical I-already-know-the-answer-type-of-questions that I sometimes hear. These were real, fundamental questions about titanium; questions that belied both a lack of knowledge about the material and a true interest in understanding the material’s properties, benefits, and uses.
Essentially, the questions and interest struck me that titanium appears to be the new wonder material for those that didn’t grow up with it. It feels similar to how it was 20-years ago. I think there are a few obvious reasons that titanium is once again confusing—and alluring—to people; the primary reasons include:
- Six or more years of continuous carbon marketing bombardment. Carbon bikes have taken the lion share of press, public interest, and sales training over the last 6-years or more. Understandably, more bike store employees have focused on gaining expertise in carbon than they have invested in exploring the subtleties of titanium.
- The average tenure for a bike store employee is less than 6-years. These people didn’t grow up in a titanium-centric environment.
- The folks that have been around longer than 6-years know something about titanium. Those that know don’t question, and no learning occurs when there’s no questioning. And, more common, unfortunately, those that know are no longer in the retail environment; a lot of titanium expertise has been lost with that exodus.
- Carbon bikes, in general, aren’t fairing so well—at least not in ride quality and durability. Interestingly, these are two areas in which titanium excels; if a person is looking for product solutions to some of carbon’s primary challenges, titanium appears to be the best solution.
From the couple dozen questions about titanium I heard in that one tour, a quick example was:
“Isn’t titanium flexible—and therefore not good for larger riders?”
Interestingly, I felt the same way when I started at Merlin 23-years ago. The first Merlins were mountain bikes and they were absolutely flexible—partly by design. Back then there were no suspension forks so the frame acted as the suspension unit. In that environment, titanium was ideally suited. And, the designer—Joe Murray—clearly felt there were benefits to a very compliant frame. In fact, in the early days, all the titanium frames—road and mountain—were flexible. Flexible for some of the reasons I mentioned above, and for some other reasons. I’ll post about that later.
Today, however, titanium frame design—and stiffness—requires no kinship to early historical work of titanium frame builders. Seven can—and does, when requested—easily build titanium frames that are stiffer than the stiffest aluminum frames on the market. Not sure what anyone would desire that type of ride, but that’s okay.
Over the years, I’ve written lots of pages and articles on titanium, its alloys, and its uses. It seems like it might be the right time to start posting some of that information for the new generation of cycling’s technical enthusiasts. Stay tuned for some bone shaking titanium posts.