It’s easy to forget that titanium has only been used as a mainstream frame material for around 15 years. Litespeed set up business in 1986, and were one of the first companies to really get their fingers into the ti pie, there aren’t many companies with more experience that Litespeed.
As we all well know, titanium is notoriously hard to work with, we’ve never tried ourselves, but we take their word for it. So Litespeed have put all this hard-earned knowledge to good use, producing a long line of legendary frames. They even built their own factory in Tennessee so they can hone each frame individually – they keep outsourcing to a minimum.
The Tuscany sits bang in the middle of the Litespeed range, and is aimed at people who ride hard, but may not be competitive. And it’s a real head turner… From the bold in your face red decals (which we personally love) to the heavily manipulated tubing, it’s a stunning package.
Considering the limitations in the material, there are huge differences in how the different manufacturers are turning out titanium frames, and Litespeed are really going to town to make them stand out visually as well as dialling the geometry and riding characteristics.
We mentioned all that expertise that Litespeed has earned over the many years of producing titanium frames. Well one place is in the tube profiling they employ. The ride properties of titanium are well known, but by shaping the tubes you can alter these ride properties. Geometrically Enhanced Tubing, or G.E.T. for short, is Litespeed’s name for tube shaping process.
According to the Litespeed website: “By shaping the tubing in different directions, we are able to counter and offset the frame stresses during even the most extreme riding conditions. By constantly evaluating the stress loads imposed on a bike frame during the most extreme cycling situations, our engineer/geeks have arrived at shapes that counter these stresses.”
So, this means the only round tubes on the Tuscany are the seat tube, bottom bracket and head tube. All the remaining ‘tubes’ are expertly crafted into quite breathtaking shapes, from 3AL/2.5V grade titanium, and all cold-worked. First to catch your eye is the top tube, an Enhanced Diamond – it’s essentially a square tube rotated on its edge, with distinctive edges, these improve lateral and vertical stiffness.
This aesthetic is continued into the down tube. The Flared Diamond is a vertically orientated fat oval at the head tube, and morphs into a horizontally orientated fat oval at the bottom bracket. Also, the tube is essentially four side along the entire length, with quite sharp creases which you can’t help but stroke.
Another part of the bike which your fingers and eyes are drawn to is the seat stays. Theses ‘blades’ have one long single arc from top to bottom, and through 95% of their length are tear drop shaped, returning to traditional tubes for the weld points. They’re designed primarily to improve the aerodynamic properties, and the curve increases vertical compliance. The chain stays are more ‘normal’, round tubes which suddenly flare out half way along the wheel and rush out towards the rear dropouts. These are as simple as simple gets, but reassuringly chunky.
All the welds – as you’d expect from a company with the experience that Litespeed has – are exceptionally smooth and very neat. The finish is naked titanium, and the red and black decals are very bold. Some testers weren’t impressed at all, it’s clearly a love or hate them thing, but you’ll know where you stand immediately the moment your eyes fall across the bike. The final touch to the design is the headbadge – Litespeed’s familiar marque.
A frame of this level will probably mean that the rider will want to fine tune the specification, so the basic complete spec we tested wasn’t exactly how we’d want the bike set up and for close to £3k we’d definitely want our own choices – it’s just a personal thing.
Our Ultegra equipped bike came with a Real design HP Pro fork. This was our first time on the re-designed and upgraded Real fork and we were suitably impressed. It’s stiff and tracks superbly well, and with the wide blade profile matches the frame tube profiles and looks fantastic. The forks were held in place by a Cane Creek S3 Aheadset, smooth and reliable, and above the Aheadset an ITM 31.8mm Mantis stem and matching ITM Mantis Wingshape handlebar. Most of us immediately took to the handlebars, particularly because of the aero flat section either side of the stem, which are a real boon when cruising, but did find them a little unforgiving on less than smooth road’s. The editor, however, couldn’t even look at them, he’s such a luddite.
Perch duties were given to a Fi’zi:k Aliante Sport Ti saddle, held in place via a Thomson inline seat post. There isn’t much to say about the Thomson post really, though personally I find them more faff than a single bolt design. The Fi’zi:k saddle at first wasn’t that comfortable, but in the name of research we persevered and it turned out to be reasonably comfortable – it’s quite wide with deep sides, and a decent amount of cushioning and flex in the rails.
Real also supplied wheels, in this case SuperSphere’s. With a polished chrome finish matching the rest of the bike they looked good. They performed well too, and are a reasonable weight at 1430g a pair. They were stiff and direct feeling, and were mighty strong too, we’ve used this bike for a couple of months of commuting and they handled all the potholes just fine.
Providing supreme grip, Continental’s Attack Grand Prix and GP Force tyre combination are excellent. These are front and rear specific tyres, the front 22mm and the rear 23mm, with a different tread pattern for the different demands each tyre undoubtedly is put through. They provided ample grip when hooning along and down country roads, fended of punctures on the harshest London roads, and are wearing well. Recommended.
So, it all sounds good so far, so the ride should be nothing short of amazing? However our immediate impressions were a little muted. We found the steering a little slow to begin with, a combination of the long stem and bar reach attributed to this, it made the ride a little neutral at first, however we quickly became accustomed – The Tuscany, it turns out, is a very stable bike to ride.
All that fancy tube profiling doesn’t just look fab, it creates a bike which responds to your input immediately, and very accurately. Sprinting for town name signs or trying to hang on to the back of a pizza delivery scooter (don’t try this at home), and the frame tracks straight and true. The stability of the bike in all situations is impressive; it’s this quality which makes it such a nice bike to ride. Most riders of all levels will get on with the Tuscany, and be able to wring the most out of it confidently.
With the attention to detail on the rear triangle, the frame is incredibly stiff when you’re laying down the power, but pleasingly (for us in London at least) it is also vertically compliant. There’s just enough give to take the edge of the harsher roads, and on longer rides we were still feeling fresh and ready for more. The Tuscany makes you want to ride further.
And faster too. The Tuscany picks up speed quickly, not seat of the pants style, but you often find you’re going very fast indeed, without realising just how you got there. Because titanium is a hard material to work with, some companies, we’ve found anyway, have a tendency to miss the mark and produce something with a less than pleasing ride, over stiff or too flighty. The Tuscany though hits the mark perfectly, getting the balance just right.