Two American companies, Lynskey and Litespeed, have responded to the global recession by developing their cheapest ever titanium road frames.
The US$1,575 Lynskey Cooper is an American-made, 3AL/2.5V titanium road frameset built by the first family of titanium, the Tennessee-based Lynskeys.
The US$1,599 Litespeed Xicon 3AL/2.5V titanium road frameset is also hand-made in Tennessee and its release at the same time as the Cooper is surely no coincidence – the Lynskeys founded Litespeed in the mid-1980s before selling the company in 2000.
"It's not our goal to offer the cheapest American-made titanium bike in the market," company spokesperson Mark Lynskey told BikeRadar. "We believe in cool as much as good value.
"When we opened our doors three years ago we realised we could only do so much so fast. Our philosophy has always been to look at the economy of the bike market and offer a value model to fit into our line. The Cooper was developed for the customer who could never afford a titanium bike before but wanted the main benefits of titanium, namely performance, stiffness, durability and comfort."
According to Lynskey, the oversized, cold-worked and shaped Cooper frame, which has been in development for two months, isn't a run-of-the-mill straight gauge and round tubed cheap frame developed to meet a price point.
"We believe the Cooper to be just as race worthy as our higher-end models," he said. "The difference is in the details, like CNCed dropouts and manipulation (tapered, ovalised and butted processing) of the tubing, features that mean more to some than others. Our Houseblend Cooper was designed for the rider looking for a hand-made road frame that has the style and details of higher priced frames without the guilt of spending too much."
The Lynskey Cooper, now available in the US and in two weeks in the UK, comes standard with a natural matt satin finish and a choice of black or white decals. A medium frame weighs 2.7lb. Sizes are X/S, S, M, M/L, L, and XL, available three ways: as a frame only ($1,295), a frameset that includes an Alpha Q CS-10 fork ($1,575) or as a complete bike with a SRAM Rival drivetrain, Ritchey Pro cockpit and Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels ($2,595). Natural brushed finish frames are $1,595. All frames include an unlimited lifetime warranty. For more information, visit www.lynskeyperformance.com.
According to national sales manager Mac McEneaney, Litespeed, a division of American Bicycle Group, have been developing the Xicon for nearly two years, working closely with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology (JPL) in Los Angeles to develop the tubing. Litespeed had previously worked with JPL on a robotic planetary spacecraft for NASA. Once they were satisfied with the new tubing, they developed the Xicon in-house in two weeks.
"With Litespeed's heritage in aerospace and titanium, it's a natural fit," McEneaney told BikeRadar. "We also have the equipment necessary to shape the tubing quickly in-house, allowing us to streamline production and control all aspects of manufacturing."
The Xicon will be available in five semi-compact geometries. The new frame will come packaged with a Xicon-branded carbon fork and Cane Creek SE headset. Weight for a medium frame is 2.6lb. According to McEneaney, complete, race-ready bikes can be built for as little as US$2,495.
Every frame will be hand-crafted in the company’s Ooltewah, Tennessee, factory and will carry the company’s standard lifetime warranty. They will be available from May.
“This is the kind of breakthrough that our dealers need right now, and we’re excited to be able to provide it in the heart of the spring selling season," said American Bicycle Group CEO Peter Hurley. "And the best news is that this is just the beginning. We have a lot more up our sleeves as we head into 2010.”
For more information, visit www.litespeed.com.
Titanium – a history lesson
Litespeed and Merlin pioneered the titanium bicycle frame in the mid-1980s, at a time when most frames were made of steel. The benefits of titanium were clear – it's lighter than steel, stronger than aluminium, stiff and durable, but with a hint of give for a more comfortable ride. However, high raw material costs and the labour-intensive process to mine and mill the titanium (see video below), along with the need for an oxygen-free welding environment and the hardness of the material from the framebuilder's perspective, justified its premium pricing.
As aluminum, then carbon, passed steel as the preferred material for road frames, titanium was somehow passed over. Never a popular material with the big manufacturers like Trek, Specialized, Cannondale or Giant, it was relegated to the boutique builders. Thanks in part to the handbuilt movement of recent years, titanium is now growing in popularity once again.