Titanium is often heralded as a ‘wonder metal’ amongst cyclists. And look, I don’t disagree – it’s a really nice metal. But the amount of times I’ve heard it described as like ‘riding on a cloud’ is staggering. Yes, the shiny gold appearance and the smooth beaded welds are beautiful, but in terms of ride quality – titanium as a material makes barely an iota of difference when compared to other metals.
This is from a guy who’s spent lots of time on dozens of ti bikes including my recent 2500km bike trip in Japan.
I can explain myself here.
Firstly, let’s talk about comfort. The diamond frame design of a metal bicycle frame is structurally very rigid, resulting in very little vertical compliance. Therefore, it’s your tyres, seatpost and seat that largely dissipate the vibrations coming up through the road – each component up to 25mm of flex vertically. Not only are vibrations dissipated through the bike, but the things you carry in your panniers or bikepacking bags also help to make the bike to feel smooth.
I’ve found the key characteristics to a ‘right’ feeling touring bike are: frame stiffness, a smart frame geometry and whether you can achieve a body position that’s comfortable when cycling all day long. The material itself is way down the list. You’ll be able to find flexy aluminium bikes, weak steel bikes and uncomfortable titanium bikes. 😉
You can read my in-depth steel vs aluminium vs titanium comparison HERE.
Ok, What’s The Deal With Titanium Then?
Scratches buff right out of titanium
Titanium is really scratch resistant. Even after years of abuse, you can bring titanium frames back to life with a good sand and buff. I think that this is the no.1 reason why titanium is great material for a touring bike – and it’s definitely the reason I’d go titanium for bikepacking where the bags scratch the frame.
Titanium won’t rust
Another cool thing about titanium is that you can leave it in sea spray as long as you like and it won’t rust.
Titanium is lighter than steel
With the right engineering, you can build a titanium frame about 20% lighter than a steel frame of equal stiffness and strength. That means a 2.6kg steel touring frame may end up being closer to 2.1kg in titanium.
The thing with weight is that it needs to be put in context. Weight is a rider, plus bike, plus gear. If you weigh 80kg, your bike weighs 12kg and your gear 8.0kg – that 0.5kg saving is only 0.5% off your total weight.
Through my weight testing, I’ve found that 1.0kg is worth, at most, one minute per 100km of cycling (in the mountains). Unless you have really deep pockets, titanium is an expensive way to save weight, and I’d recommend finding other ways to do that.