Interview: Jeff Titone of Titus Cycles

Three new trail bikes plus facelift for the El Guapo

Arizona-based Titus Cycles produce some of the most sought-after frames on the planet. Their Horst Link equipped aluminium, titanium and Exogrid trail bikes receive equal amounts of journalistic praise and trailside envy.

But instead of resting on their laurels, they have released three new trail bikes, the FTM, X and X Carbon, and made significant tweaks to their popular El Guapo all-mountain rig.

We spoke to Titus’s marketing director, Jeff Titone, about these new additions, and the tough decisions Titus had to make to reduce overheads during the credit crunch.

New bikes

The Titus Motolite and Racer X are among the most lusted-after and well-received frames in their classes. Although still in stock, Jeff and his team felt they "could make these frames perform even better and get more out of a proven design". With that in mind, they sat down with a clean sheet of paper and came up with two new platforms – the FTM (Full Tilt Moto) and the X.

Redesigned from the ground up, the only thing these frames retain from their predecessors is their use of the Horst Link suspension system and similar geometries. Jeff says: "[We used] finite element analysis to create butting profiles that optimised strength-to-weight ratios for each frame. Both frames also feature the all new ‘Light Rail’ rear triangle, which incorporates an asymmetrical chainstay, a one-piece carbon seatstay and a one-piece moulded carbon rocker arm.”

The FTM (Full Tilt Moto) trail bike features Titus's new 'Light Rail' rear triangle

The result is a weight saving of around 200g over their predecessors, with no compromise in stiffness. Furthermore, Jeff feels that "the reduction of weight from unsprung components allows for the suspension to react quicker for a better overall ride quality”. By tweaking pivot locations, Titus have increased the travel on both frames. The FTM is now a dedicated 5.5in (135mm) trail bike and the X gets a small bump up to 105mm.

For the serious race head, there’s also a Carbon version of the X. According to Jeff, use of an integrated headset and all-carbon bottom bracket main pivot assembly results in a "sub-5lb frame, with an easily attainable overall 20lb cross-country race weight”. 

Titus say the X Carbon can be built up into a sub-20lb cross-country race bike

Old classic

For 2009, the El Guapo has received more of a facelift than a complete overhaul, with striking tube shapes giving the frame a fresh look. To achieve this, Titus use an ‘Advanced Thermal Forming’ tube shaping technique, rather than the now-conventional hydroforming.

Jeff says: "A tube is placed in a mould and then filled with a heated and pressurised gas. This brings the aluminium to a stretchable state and the pressure forms the tube to the shape of the mould. This unique process allows for more complex tube shapes and butting profiles than traditional hydroforming allows." 

Even with the addition of a 1.5in head tube for and ISCG ’05 chain guide tabs, they’ve managed to shave about 180g from the total frame weight, making the 2009 El Guapo even more versatile than the original.

Titus's El Guapo has received a facelift for 2009, with new tube shapes

Suspension setup

Titus have licensed the patented Horst Link suspension design from Specialized for many years, and Jeff sees no reason to change: "It works consistently across all types of terrain, and across all applications in our lineup."

"The location of the Horst Link means that the suspension forces are independent of pedaling forces, and it does not suffer chain-induced suspension movement," says Jeff. "The Horst Link isolates braking forces, ensuring a fully active suspension even during the hardest braking. As a result, it provides comfort, control and efficiency under all conditions.” 

Each Titus frame is designed alongside its own custom tuned rear shock, which is matched to the specific needs of both the bike’s intended use and the relatively low leverage ratios which are inherent with the Horst Link design. The leverage ratio varies throughout the suspension travel, but is always less than 3:1. Jeff says: "Low leverage ratios avoid overworking the shock, improving both performance and durability.”

Surviving the credit crunch

Apart from custom builds, Titus have decided to contract out their titanium and Exogrid bike production in order to reduce overheads. But the American partners making these frames are world-renowned in their own right.

“All stock titanium and stock Exogrid frames are now being produced by the American Bicycle Group in Chattanooga, Tennessee," says Jeff. "But using frame partners is nothing new, as our aluminium frames have been made by SAPA in Portland, Oregon since 2002/2003, when demand far exceeded our Tempe production facilities. Final fitting and assembly of all frames is then made in-house.”

Although Jeff believes “there are some very qualified manufacturers of carbon parts here in the States", he’s impressed with the Taiwanese factory that is making the X carbon. “As the majority of raw carbon fibre is produced in Asia, their know-how means that they have the greatest ability to fully optimise the material and exploit carbon’s potential to the fullest.” 

The aluminium version of the El Guapo is also made in Taiwan (the titanium version is made in-house in Tempe), but by a different partner, Kinesis. This, Jeff states, “is mainly because of their Advanced Thermal Forming technique that we needed to employ in order to get the tubes just as we wanted. As far as I know, they are the only ones employing this forming technique in the bicycle world. However, this process has been used in the automotive industry to build car chassis and such.”

Although Titus have seen a slowdown in sales of their high-end titanium and Exogrid frames, Jeff says it "hasn’t been drastic". He adds: "It seems as if those who can afford the price of those bikes and frames still have money to spend." In fact, Titus have enjoyed a profitable first quarter, particularly in the UK, where there has been a significant rise in Exogrid sales. 

Jeff is encouraged by this sign that people are spending again. More specifically, he feels that it proves that “it is possible to be successful in this current marketplace – you just need to be creative and offer a compelling reason for people to purchase your products".  To attract US customers, Jeff and his team have "developed some unique component packages to offer customers even greater value for the dollar”. See the website for full details.

Back in the UK

Although steady sellers Stateside, Titus have had difficulty gaining a foothold in the UK, despite favourable reviews. But Jeff feels their new UK distributors, Axel Imports, have “shown the ability to promote our brand well". He says: "A key cornerstone in this is that they have committed to keeping a solid inventory across the range of frames and complete bikes.”

The bikes are competitively priced for an American brand, with the aluminium FTM and X coming in at a respectable £1,750, and the El Guapo retailing for £1,599.

Clive Gosling from Axel imports is pleased with their progress so far, saying: “Over the past 12 months of involvement, we’ve been able to satisfy the strong demand at a very competitive price from the many UK enthusiasts who have seen glowing reviews from the USA mags and on the net.

"The FTM and El Guapo are selling particularly well, showing that lightweight longer-travel bikes are the trend. The FTM is particularly well regarded, as it's one of the lightest in its class, being a full pound lighter than some of its competitors. Complete bikes are available, but most dealers offer the bespoke custom build service instead.”

What is Exogrid?

Titus build frames in aluminium, titanium and carbon. But they also offer unique Exogrid tubing on a number of models. Exogrid is a patented technology, licensed from VyaTek Sports (former owner of Titus), that claims to combine the best attributes of carbon fibre with those of traditional metals. 

Exogrid frames are among the most expensive on the planet, but Jeff feels able to justify the expense “due to the many steps in the process needed to make even a single tube, and the resulting ride quality”. In addition, they are stunning to look at. 

The base structure is made of titanium, which then has a major portion of the surface area meticulously removed using laser machining. The structure is then painstakingly fused with an advanced carbon composite inner structure.   

"Because of the characteristics of the two different materials involved, Exogrid structures are lighter than their pure metal counterparts, and have significantly improved performance in both bending and torsion," says Jeff.

“Exogrid structures also possess unique vibration damping qualities, due to the dissimilar natural frequencies of the fibre-based composites and base metals.”

How about hardtails?

Titus enjoyed a 50 percent increase in titanium hardtail sales in 2008, compared to 2007, and figures for 2009 are also looking good, despite the slowdown in the economy. Jeff feels that this is because “titanium’s unique ride quality, combined with its added corrosion resistance, means that it offers a unique reason to buy that is hard to match in other materials”. 

What he believes sets Titus's Fireline 26in and 29in hardtails apart from the competition is “the double-pass welds that we employ, which not only leave an aesthetically pleasing ‘stack of dimes’ weld, but lend to a stronger weld as well". He adds: "Another distinguishing feature of our hardtails is the convertible dropouts, which allow the ability to switch between geared or horizontal dropouts for singlespeed use.”

Jeff’s background

Jeff’s passion for bicycles started with amateur triathlons, which led on to road and then off-road riding. After becoming disillusioned with his career in the pharmaceutical industry, he decided to turn his hobby into his job, bringing with him “transferable sales and marketing skills, which have helped me along the way to my current position”. 

Working initially for Cannondale, he jumped at the chance of working for Titus. “I knew of Titus as a premier brand," he says. "And I was excited to help grow a small company.”

As marketing director, he is happy to wear many hats. “It really keeps the days interesting," he says. "I handle all the public relations, organise trade shows, manage our demo fleet, catalogues, photoshoots, editorial and advertising. Some days I can even find myself working in assembly, building the frames, or I’ll be taking sales calls. This hands-on approach helps keep me grounded, and in touch with both my employees and with the customer.”

Jeff puts his products to the test whenever he has the chance

What's next for Titus?

While Jeff sees 2009 as “a revolutionary year”, he thinks 2010 will be even better. “We’re going to build off the momentum we created this year and offer some groundbreaking designs for 2010," he says. "[You'll] see some things not yet seen in the mountain biking world. It’s really good stuff, and I get giddy just thinking about it!” 

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