Titanium has been used successfully to make road bikes for about 20 years. There are only a few builders who have mastered the art because of one factor. Titanium is tough stuff. It blunts tools, wrecks machines and requires specialist tooling. But on the plus side for us, the riders, it is stronger than steel yet lighter than triple butted 853 or Foco. It is around the same weight as 7000 series aluminium yet it lasts forever as it has an infinite fatigue life. Only carbon seems to compete, but there's something about titanium, something artisan almost.
The American master builders like Seven, Serotta, Litespeed and Merlin have set a pretty high bar when it comes to titanium frame finish and quality. In Europe De Rosa and Merckx make some excellent looking ti race bikes too. But what all these bikes have in common is that they are VERY expensive. Which is why titanium has become the material of the flash or fortunate.
Every Omega model has its own exclusive tube set and each tube within the set is designed with a different purpose in mind. All Omega titanium frames are welded using the TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) and pure argon is used as the shielding gas. Omega use a 6-4 titanium filler rod as they say it is the best filler to weld 3-2.5. It flows very well and it creates very neat welds, whilst being stronger than 3-2.5. All the tubes on the Alchemy are custom drawn and the headtube is individually machined to suit the frame size being worked on.
Essentially when it comes to titanium for bike tubing their are two main types. 3AL-2.5V An alloy consisting of 3% aluminium, 2.5% vanadium, and 94.5% pure titanium. Also known as grade 9, easily formable, excellent corrosion resistance and superb fatigue life make 3AL-2.5V the most used titanium when making an Omega frame.
But the Alchemy gets it's very own set of 3AL2.5V CWSR (cold worked stress relieved) seamless titanium tubes and a stiffer 6AL4V aero down tube. 6AL-4V is an alloy containing 6% aluminium, 4% vanadium, and 90% titanium. 6/4 is mostly used for the machined parts as it's very hard to make into seamless tubes. The dropouts are laser cut from 6mm 6AL4V sheet and all the fittings and welded on parts are CNC machined from 6AL4V billet for the best in terms of strength.
The only thing Omega could learn from Seven and Serotta is when it comes to applying their 'marque'. The stickers just don't do the frame justice. But the overall finish on the metal work is excellent and a titanium bike always looks this good, whatever muck you ride in.
Out on the road
Titanium certainly has good riding characteristics. It's ability to spring like steel means you will find comfort high on the list, but the Alchemy also has that rare quality of a fair amount of racing clout. After riding predominantly aluminium bikes for the past 4 months I was expecting a little surprise from the Alchemy. I hadn't been expected to be blown away, but I was. The Alchemy is effortless to ride, it flies around corners and belts up climbs. You can't help but ride it fast. It is certainly as 'stiff' as they say but what I liked was the way the rear end tucked the rear wheel into the road as if you'd opened a throttle.
The Omega is yet another semi compact frame, however Omega can custom build to your specification. My request would be for a longer head tube and that would be it. The head angle and Look HSC fork combine superbly for quick handling and smooth road holding. I was finding things to ride over it was so smooth. But it was a little low for me. A 10cm drop may be OK for pro riders but not for this 20 year racing veteran with a weight problem.
Omega do not charge for custom sizing and if you prefer the all titanium look then they make the Helix which is £50 cheaper but has an all ti rear seat stay. Mark at Omega says that it is a little less racey but has all the comfort and stablity of the Alchemy. The carbon Columbus Carve rear end also has a lifetime warranty and if you want the bike for racing it's worth considering, just to add a little extra 'kick'.
Campagnolo's Neutron (once the Neucleon) are a bench mark racing wheelset. They now have a set of great looking carbon hubs which received coos of delight from my club mates. Their lightweight and lateral sturdy-ness is going to improve any bike and the combo that Omega selected for this test bike would be my first choice for a practical racing 'superbike'.
Michelin Race Carbon tyres are also a racing bench mark as they are the most reliable gripping tyre I have used in all weathers and comfort wise the supple ride at 120 PSI is pretty rare in the modern 'clincher' market. They also wear well on gritty British roads. Price-wise they are not going to be for training but perfect for racing year-round in Blighty.
Ah Campagnolo. After riding Shimano 105 on the past few test bikes Campag Chorus is like an old pair of slippers - perfectly behaved and full of racing character. Nothing wrong with 105 it's just not as nicely finished as this second in command Italian group. I like the fact that you know when you have changed gear, the positive click from the Ergos is reassuring and they are a better size for my average sized hands.
Campagnolo brakes are just way better than Shimano in the wet and far more predictable whatever the weather throws at you, so you know what to expect when you haul on the levers. The differential braking (a single pivot on the rear brake) is a simple idea but it prevents lock ups and saves a few grams too.
Dear Santa. Will somebody please design a set of Ergo bars which are actually ergonomically shaped. Thanks. Guy.
Actually these USE ones are very nice on the tops, with a flat section next to the stem and a slightly raised 'lump' just before the brake lever hood. But on the drops you are in a different postcode... couldn't reach the brake levers (again) and was just way too low. Also the brake routing was an ugly mess and the bar tape all lumps and bumps. On the plus side they are nicely finished, silly-stiff and lightweight too. Omega's saddle was a bit tough for my liking but they have supplied me with their, more flexible, latest carbon one to try. So a full test on this soon.
Sean Yates (Tour de France stage and yellow jersey winner and team Discovery manager) tested one of these in Cycling Plus earlier this year, he said; “You would be hard pushed to find a better bike anywhere" which is praise indeed. On a more practical level Omega have an unlimited lifetime warranty on all their frames which is unusual for a rcaing bike. But for me the fact that they pride themselves on their ability to make cutting edge frames at a reasonable price is good news for their customers. I know that their are frames on the market with a longer pedigree for racing and finer finishing details, but I think you will struggle to find a better titanium racing 'superbike' for this money. Actually I know you won't find one, I've looked. Omega also have a matter of fact approach to building bikes, there's no techno babble or annoying acronyms or buzz words - just simple names and no frills engineering. I like that and all the Omega customers I have spoken to do too.
|Good: Wonderful. Makes you want to ride, whatever the weather|
|Bad: You won't have a decent excuse to stay indoors...|
Frame sizes: S, M, L & XL
Size tested: 56 (54cm top tube)
Frame tubing: Tapered triple-butted heat treated 7005 aluminium
Fork: Look HSC 4 full carbon
Headset: Campagnolo Integrated
Crankarms: Campagnolo Chorus 170 mm
Chainrings: Campagnolo Chorus
B/B: Campagnolo Chorus
Pedals: none supplied
Chain: Campagnolo Ultra 10
Freewheel: Campagnolo 10-speed 11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25T
F/D: Campagnolo Chorus
R/D: Campagnolo Record
Shifters: Campagnolo Chorus 10 speed Ergo
Stem: Omega 12cm
Tape: Omega Cork
Brakes: Campagnolo Chorus
Wheels: Campagnolo Neutron Carbon
Tires: Michelin 700x23c
Seatpost: USE carbon Pave
Weight: 1.1 kgs frame
Price: frame only £1295.00