[This article was last updated on March 27, 2017]
Steel is a really nice material for making a bicycle frame, but for many cyclists, titanium is an even nicer choice. Once a very rare and exotic material and a luxury choice for those rich enough to afford it - titanium is notoriously difficult to work with - the cost of a titanium frame has dropped significantly in recent years, to the point where it could almost be deemed, if not affordable, at least a viable alternative to top-end steel and carbon fibre frames.
Titanium is desirable because it’s lighter than steel and stronger than steel and aluminium, and its high fatigue strength means a titanium frame should last forever. It’s those traits that have ensured it has continued to be a popular choice with cyclists wanting a fine riding frame that will last the length of time. Plus of course there is the fabled ride quality, which is reminiscent of a steel frame with plenty of spring and high comfort, but it can be used to build a stiff race bike depending on tubing diameters and profiles.
Most titanium frames are made from 3Al/2.5V tubing (where titanium is alloyed with 3% aluminium and 2.5% vanadium) and 6Al/4V, a harder grade of titanium, is seen on much more expensive framesets. Because it’s hard and expensive to make 6Al/4V into seamless tubes, it’s often used for machined parts like dropouts and head tubes.
The unique colour of titanium ensures it stands out against most other road bikes. Various finishes are available, the tubes can be brushed or bead-blasted and can even be painted if you prefer, but many people buying titanium do so partly for its unique and timeless appearance. A titanium frame will still look good in 10 years time.
Titanium has been used to make bicycle frames for about 30 years. In the early days, there was only a handful of brands specialising in titanium, and US brands like Seven, Serotta, Litespeed and Merlin built an enviable reputation for their expertise with the material. Titanium frames are now commonly manufactured in the Far East which has led to prices coming down quite a lot, into the realms of affordability for many.
Here are 15 titanium road bikes we’ve reviewed — and loved — in recent years.
South Coast-based Reilly Cycleworks has produced the Gradient as a do-everything adventure and gravel bike, with a lovingly finished titanium frame and smart specification in this £2,399 complete bike. It provides a ride that is as lovely as the bike is to look at, with space for wide tyres for heading off into the wilderness or adding dirt and gravel roads to your route, and a high level of refinement.
The name of the first model released by Bristol's Snowdon Bikes is apt – the Paradox. It doesn't look it, but it'll take many a drop-bar carbon whippet to the cleaners. And your lower back will thank you.
The Alchemy Eros is a sublime road bike. It handles with grace and finesse and compares very well to not only the best titanium road bikes but to many of the best carbon fibre frames too.
If there's a downside to the Alchemy it's that the price is prohibitively expensive and puts it out of touch for many. You are buying a frame that is made in the US, though, and there are a plethora of custom options so you can detail a very bespoke bike.
Last year’s road.cc Cyclocross and Adventure Bike of the Year winner, the On-One Pickenflick, is one of the most affordable 3Al/2.5V titanium frames we’ve ever come across, though it's not quite the staggering bargain that it's been in the past. The Pickenflick is a cyclocross bike at heart, but On-One sells it as a bike for adventure riding and sportive use. It has the versatility that a lot of UK cyclists look for, with geometry designed for comfort and features including disc brakes, space for wide tyres and eyelets for mudguards and racks.
One of the newest bicycle brands to launch this year is the J.Laverack, with the debut J.ACK, a titanium frame with disc brakes and internal cable routing. The J.ACK has been designed to conquer any road or off-road surface, with space for wide tyres (up to 33mm) and plenty of clearance around them for mudguards. All cables are neatly routed inside the frame to keep the lines clean.
The new brand of Mark Reilly, formerly of Enigma Bicycle Works, the T325 is the most affordable in the range. His 30 years of frame building experience shows in the frame, which is lovingly designed with neat details such as an externally reinforced head tube, oversized main tubes, space for 28mm tyres and internal routing for a Di2 groupset. At a claimed 1,275g, the frame is a worthy alternative to a carbon fibre race bike.
The Kinesis Tripster ATR can handle a really wide range of riding, and it's beautifully made, comfortable and responsive. There's very little we wouldn't be happy doing on it. ATR stands for Adventure-Tour-Race and that's the clue that it was Kinesis' ambition to make this bike as versatile as possible. The frame is beautifully put together. The welds are extremely neat and the minimal graphics – and laser-etched head badge – are just what you want on a titanium frame, leaving most of the bike as bare metal. Throughout a huge range of types of ride, and lots of commuting and shorter excursions, the ATR confirmed itself as a composed and comfortable ride. It's quick if you want it to be, but also relaxed and easy to pilot. For the most part, it's lovely.
The Kinesis Gran Fondo is now available with disc brakes, a popular upgrade to a popular bike. We gave the original a glowing review back in 2013, and with disc brakes proving popular on endurance bikes, the update has been a success. With wider tyres getting ever more popular, the new bike will accommodate 32mm tyres without mudguards, or 30mm with mudguards. The cold drawn seamless titanium tubeset has internal cable routing and it’s modular for mechanical and electronic groupsets.
Van Nicholas is a Dutch company that specialises in titanium, and the Chinook is a thoroughly traditional titanium race bike. While modern titanium road bikes are all about oversized tube diameters and fat head tubes, the Chinook is all skinny tubes and slender stays. But it still offers a buttery smooth ride with delicate handling and really wins you over. A very refined ride.
The Psychlo X from legendary titanium framebuilders Moots is a extremely talented bike, with bags of speed complemented by comfort and assured handling. It's adept at cyclo-cross racing but is really capable of rides of far bigger scope and imagination than an hour around a muddy field, the mainstay of 'cross races in the UK. It's a popular bike with the growing gravel race and adventure set in the US, and if you want a bike of such capability, the Psychlo X will fulfill your wishes.
US titanium frame builder Mosaic Bespoke Bicycles hail from Boulder in Colorado, founded by Aaron Barcheck who used to work for Dean Titanium Bicycles. That expertise shows in the RT-1, a finale built titanium frame with custom butted, size-specific 3Al/2.5V titanium tubes with a full bespoke option available. The ride performance is, as you’d hope, excellent, with a pleasingly taut characteristic that likes to go fast, all of the time.
The Sabbath September Disc is an audax bike that’s right at home on the daily commute, club ride or sportive, with disc brakes and the titanium frame joined up front by a carbon fibre fork. The September Disc was one of the first breed of new versatile titanium road bikes designed with disc brakes, and the 3Al/2.5V takes up to 35mm tyres with mudguards. If you want one bike to do just about everything, with the exception of racing, the Sabbath is a fine choice.
Disc brakes have been popping up on titanium road bikes with increasing frequency, and London-based Pretorius builds the Outeniqua Disc frameset from predominantly oversized tubing to provide the stiffness for what is to all intents and purposes a race bike, with the stopping power of disc brakes. The geometry keeps the handling fast and nimble, yet the bike can be equipped with mudguards, though tyre width is restricted to 23mm with them fitted. Without mudguards, the frame takes 25mm tyres.
The latest bike from Enigma is the beautiful Evade, which combines oversized main tubes with a 44mm head tube to offer a high level of stiffness. That ensures it offers a rewarding ride for those cyclists that like to press hard on the pedals. It’s rare to see a painted titanium frame but Enigma has done a wonderful job here, marrying the decals to the finishing components and wheels.
Do you ride titanium?
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.