New for 2011/12 a titanium Gran Fondo frameset enters Kinesis's Racelight range, using the tried and tested geometry of the scandium version which we're testing alongside the GF_Ti as an experiment in comparing frame materials directly. The GF_Ti is all about taking advantage of titanium's ability to deliver a frame that's comfortable, durable, and long lasting.
Our test model has had a busy time with a mix of miles in the sun, rain and the odd hurricane thrown in for good measure encountering pretty much anything its likely to get thrown at it. As a bonus the scandium Gran Fondo has been ridden alongside on the same roads and in the same conditions with virtually the same finishing kit giving us a real insight into how much or how little the frame material does make.
Designed in the UK the Ti3AL/2.5V (2.5-3.5% Aluminium, 2-3% Vanadium) frame is manufactured in Taiwan from stress relieved double butted tubing. Titanium frames are renowned for their slight flex which is often attributed to the ride comfort so to keep things tight at the business ends the downtube is ovalised, horizontally at the bottom bracket, vertically at the headtube. This along with the larger diameter created by the intergrated headset gives a greater surface area to weld to, ideal for stiffness and longevity, speading the loads and forces over a larger area. Kinesis have been using integrated headsets for a long time and have no reported frame damage or reliability issues so the use of this style is obviously not a problem from their point of view. At the tail end the chainstays continue the beefed up theme from the BB area while the slender curved seatstays highlight the designers intent to use the comfortable 'give' of the titanium tubes.
The overall finish of the frame is a work of art with tidy welds throughout including double passes on the higher stressed areas. The real beauty is in the detail though, the engraved logo on the headtube is the first thing you notice and it really gives the whole frame a look of quality. Everything is welded including bottle bosses and rack eyelets, there is not a rivet in sight all adding to the longevity of the frame. A neat 'chain keeper' on the right hand stay to keep the chain tension tight when the rear wheel has been dropped out is a nice touch, something I never knew I needed until it was there. Industrial looking machined 7mm thick dropouts housing fixings points for rack and mudguards are in contrast to the bullet ended seat and chain stays they are welded to. A neat finishing touch is the machined titanium seat clamp, mating with the frame beautifully and matching the engraved headtube for looks.
The classic style lends itself to whatever build you're after, both the high end race orientated look our test model was adorned with or a more retro vibe (think Brooks saddle, 32 spoke wheelset) wouldn't look out of place. The brushed natural finish and subtle graphics all add to this neutral style and actually hide the varying tube profiles.
Available as a frameset comprising of frame, carbon forks, carbon seatpost, headset and titanium seat clamp giving you the flexibility to create a build relating to budget, ability, pose level etc. We'll take a quick butchers at what ours came with though just to whet your appetite.
The Reynolds Thirty Two carbon clinchers are first thing to catch your eye, a 32mm deep mid -section race wheelset weighing in at scant 1351g. A price tag of around 1700 quid though is pretty steep but the overall ride quality goes someway to reflect this. Using 20 DT Aerolite spokes front /24 rear mated to DT240S hubs with the nipples inverted inside the rim stiffness is high and the lightweight rim certainly aids acceleration as you flick up through the gears. Reynolds supply their own brake blocks with their carbon rims and braking in the dry is brilliant with excellent modulation as the heat gets into the rim, twisty descents see you creating gaps between you and following riders due to how late you can brake and scrub off speed without fear of locking up. The flipside of this is in the wet, you're better off taking your feet out of the pedals and slowing down using your socks. Basically it's a case of nothing, nothing, nothing, brakes grab and lock up!! To be fair this isn't exclusive to the Reynolds wheels as all carbon braking surfaces are pretty much the same.
The mechanical side of slowing down on our build was taken care of by TRP's magnesium calipers and price per gram these are even more extreme than the Reynolds wheels at just under £400 for 210g of material, a mere 50g saving over the alloy / Ti versions (£120) that we've tested on the scandium Gran Fondo and no noticeable improvement in braking power at all though!!
The 11spd Chorus levers, front and rear mech took care of the shifting duties and worked spot on throughout. The shift was light yet still refined and these were some of the best Campag shifters I've used to date.
FSA supply the SLK UD carbon / Kevlar handlebars paired with a matching aluminium stem. This setup has been on quite a few top end test bikes we've had pass through and it never fails to impress. The bar is stiff but the carbon allows enough flex to compliment the comfort of the frame and the shallow drop works well with the higher front end. The SLK Light compact chainset completes FSA's dominance and certainly looks the biz with the wide hollow crank arms and machined chainrings while the 50-34 setup is perfect for long hilly hours in the saddle.
The Oval saddle deserves a special mention, I know saddles are a personal thing and I seem to get on with most but the Oval has seen me rub chamois cream into areas that I never knew existed. No matter how I adjusted it was the same, more than likely due to the large width leaving a lot of material rubbing the inside of your legs as you ride.
Out on the road the overall comfort shines through from the moment you set off, the 2m radius seatstays (found to be the best compromise after many designs tested) absorbing the majority of road buzz before it reaches your rear end. This allows you to get off at the end of the ride feeling a lot less fatigued at your contact points. Weighing in at 7.9kg (17.4lbs) our test ride was by no means heavy but the GF Ti feels so much lighter on the move, yeah the carbon rims will remove a lot of revolving weight but mostly it is down to the sorted geometry it shares with its scandium sibling. The taller headtube and lengthened chainstays (in relation to their race frames) make sure weight balance is spot on front and rear which is most noticeable on the hills. While climbing you don't get the usual feeling of pushing the bike up through the pedals, it just feels like its attached to your feet and coming with you, almost like running in mid air.
On the downs that balance allows for great control through the corners with just a small shift of body position, the frame again absorbs the bumps along with the carbon fork allowing you to stay on your selected line. The fork works well with the frame matching the ride perfectly, stiffness is there but a small amount of flex keeps the comfort where it is needed. At the tail end of a sportive or audax on unknown roads this is always a welcome advantage, any tightening bends or surface imperfections can be dealt with even when your reactions might not be as sharp as they were at the start. Everywhere else the frame just gets on with its job and a lot of miles can be covered with very little effort. This isn't to say the GF Ti is uninspiring to ride, it is just on the lively side of neutral and any effort you lay down will be transferred straight through the pedals to the tarmac.
At £1399 for the frameset the Gran Fondo represents good value for money, there are cheaper (and many more expensive) titanium frames out there but the overall finish and ride are worth paying for. It is comfortable, fast and fun to ride and the ability to build it up to your own specification ticks pretty much every box. Toe overlap was the only real negative and that was without mudguards, not a major issue out on the open road but hit some traffic and it could soon become a concern. While we're on the subject of mudguards, if you want to go full length you're limited to a tyre width of 23mm, 28mm is possible though if you're willing to go commando. The review of the Ragley Cragg Vale back at the beginning of the year highlighted that this is an issue for some with a lot of riders wanting to run at least 25mm in the winter months. If you're happy with 23mm tyres, as an all rounder the Gran Fondo Ti is a cracking bike taking the sharp handling and performance of the scandium version but with added comfort. At just under 1.5kg for the frameset it is pretty light while being built to take a knock or two, trust me I tested it (the bike shrugged off a couple of scratches while 4 weeks on I've still got whiplash and a broken bone in my foot) and the beauty of titanium is a quick hand polish and it is as good as new. All in all the titanium frame delivers the best of all worlds, speed, lightness, comfort and longevity with only the toe overlap spoiling the party. It is one of the most sorted frames I've ever ridden and for everything except for out and out racing it will provide everything you need.
If you're going to the Cycle Show this weekend have a go yourself as word on the street is that the GF Ti is going to be available for test rides.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Kinesis GranFondo Ti frameset
Size tested: 54
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
A titanium frame with a carbon fork and seatpost designed in the UK while being manufactured in Taiwan
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
"This totally new frame uses the proven geometry of the Granfondo Sc and our own Custom Drawn Ti3AL/2.5V tubeset, the outcome is a superbly finished, smooth riding frameset, designed to go the distance and last for years. If speed, comfort, distance, adaptability and durability top your list, then this is the frameset for you." A frameset that will do everything you ask and last you a long time.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Beautifully designed and crafted
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
3Al/2.5V titanium tubing, butted and pre-stressed to create the ride feel from day one
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
All the info you'll every need is here http://www.kinesisbikes.co.uk/technical/racelight/gf_ti
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It fitted like a glove to be honest, everything in proportion and well balanced
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very, stiff yet that small amount of flex to give a sublime ride
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
A perfect balance of stiffness and comfort
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes very, no feeling of flex anywhere
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Yes, a problem in traffic if you forgot about it
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? lively enough to keep you on your toes
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Perfectly balanced and very easy to ride even when you're tired after a long day in the saddle.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Even the horrendous saddle couldn't take away the comfort from the frame
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
FSA's SLK chainset is very stiff enabling you to get the power down
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The whole setup works together
not really what its about
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Campags Chorus shifters provided a beautiful precise gear change
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
Perfect in everything but the rain with lightweight and great braking. They didn't feel much different to the Reynolds wheels on the scandium version which are £700 cheaper though
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The shallow drop bars, while expensive work well and provide comfort
Did you enjoy riding the bike? yes
Would you consider buying the bike? yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? yes
About the tester
I usually ride: Genesis Flyer My best bike is: Ribble Gran Fondo
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,