Titanium sweet spot?

Having sampled the joys of a steel-framed audax bike for the 2010 Tour of the Hills, this year I turned to titanium – in compact race bike trim – in the hope of an easier time on the hills.

What I got was an easier time all round, in part because it didn’t rain and there was no need for the mudguards fitted to the steel bike.  Did weight saving make the difference? The 3kg gap between the two machines is more than the weight of a pair of SKS guards and more than the difference between a good titanium and a lightweight steel frame of the same size even where the latter wears a steel fork. It’s the difference between a SRAM RED-equipped racing cycle and a Shimano Ultegra-equipped tourer; quite a lot.

But not enough, surely, to account for the ease, speed and competence of my “ride”. Built as a one-off for me three years ago by Mark Reilly at Enigma Bikes, it features, uniquely for an Enigma, carbon-fibre chainstays in “monobox” form along with titanium seat stays. The ride is superb and the bike as a whole for some reason unusually quick, especially on descents.

On the Tour of the Hills this year it proved, as ever, a fine companion and, in carrying me around with such composure, reminded me of another titanium-framed stunner that once graced my stable. Back in Y2K I was riding a 7700 Dura-Ace-equipped  Litespeed Vortex as ridden a couple of years previously by Tour de France contender Alex Zuelle. The frame and fork ( a LOOK HSC – the first truly excellent monobloc carbon road fork) still look great despite having suffered a decade’s hammering at the hands of a triathlete mate and, if the fork  had a 1 1/8″ steerer in place of the 1″ example then the norm, would still be a contender against current ti offerings.

On it I rode the 2000 edition of the Tour of the Hills and, finishing ahead of the second rider home by over half an hour,  had one of those sublime days when you don’t really feel the pedals. At the time I thought it was down to my then-exceptional form; reading young George’s warm preliminary assessment of the new Van Nicholas Zephyr and thinking about last weekend, I’m now inclining to the view that it was all down to the particular merits of titanium. Maybe it simply suits the conditions of the Tour of the Hills.

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