Every time I write an article for Procycling, I reread it several times before I am convinced that it is balanced, factual and that it reads well. Once I am convinced that everything is in place, I pass it to my wife Sally, who invariably pulls it to pieces. So why don't I spot these flaws myself? We'll come back to that later...
The beach in the small town of Hoylake in Merseyside, England, is the location for my first encounter with the Titus Ligero Isogrid. It is the signature lattice-style lugs of the frame that catch my eye first. I've already done my homework on the Ligero before it arrives, so I know that, although the elaborate shape of the cut-outs in the titanium lugs is almost certainly for aesthetic purposes, it serves a practical purpose too. The carbon patches bonded into each recess also help to anchor the carbon tube into the lug. When I run my finger over these joints, the carbon is totally flush with the burnished metal, making it feel as if the two materials are one, affording a real sense of quality to the craftsmanship.
Regular readers will know that I always rate function over form, but that doesn't mean that I'm averse to something just because it looks nice - on the contrary, I'm the first to appreciate it when someone manages to come up with a have-your-cake-and-eat-it design. In this case, I'm delighted to find that by blending titanium and carbon in this fashion, the Titus designers have managed to combine the visually pleasing with the practical - a rare trick indeed.
The Easton EC90 carbon forks, with their all-carbon drop-outs that flow into the blades, work well with this frame. If you do become the proud owner of this bike, it would be worth keeping an eye on how tight the quick-release mechanism is done up, though, as this kind of compression force will probably impact on the bare fibres of the drop-outs over time. Like the forks, the rear wishbone and stays are also from the Easton stable, and provide the final layer of a carbon-titanium-carbon sandwich. These are both visually balanced and functional. I'm slightly disappointed, then, to see that attached to these are
comparatively cheap-looking rear drop-outs that don't gel with the crisp precision of the titanium main triangle. If these were, for example, CNC (computer numerical controlled) machined from the same metal to match the lugs, this would be more in keeping with the bike's overall standards. Indeed, Titus have done exactly that with the other version of the Ligero frame, which doesn't have a carbon rear. These aren't the only incongruities in the frame, either. The manufacturers have chosen to braze discreet titanium gear-cable stops onto the titanium headtube, which are, without doubt, of a quality that matches the lug work. But just a few centimetres above, they have disappointingly opted to simply pop-rivet the brake-cable guides on.
Along with the headtube badge, which is stuck on with tape, and the cheap, mass produced-looking front mech hanger, the Ligero seems to have been concieved as a high-quality design, but finished with less care. I would expect to see titanium fittings brazed on throughout, an internal headset and engraved headtube badge on a frame of this calibre - there's no doubt that it deserves it.
Many manufacturers are now chasing the lowest weight conceivable in order to claim "world's first" status for their product and I have tested many such machines for these pages. Whilst it is a fascinating evolutionary battle to watch, it's worth bearing in mind that a low-weight frame, and certainly anything under 1kg, pays a price in loss of stiffness. This flex/ weight equation is crucial in terms of bike performance because the more flex you have, the more energy you use. So, while your super-light frame might save you effort, it could well cost you too. But where do you draw the line?
Riding along a familiar stretch of coastal road in on a calm, late-winter morning, it takes me only seconds in the saddle of the Ligero to realise that I am in full agreement with Titus on their interpretation of the weight and vertical stiffness balance. It's exactly what I would choose and the resulting feel is so good it's hard to articulate. The Ligero is seriously lightweight, but it is also pleasingly stiff and comfortable. The box-section at the rear of the bottom bracket that accepts the chainstays and the solid titanium tube that accepts the carbon wishbone also contribute towards its rigidity. The more-pliable-than-usual seatstays help to make this such a comfortable ride. Such are my impressions of the Ligero after just a few seconds. After a few minutes, the bike and I have built up an impressive rapport and I'm wishing I didn't have to send it back to the manufacturers.
The Ritchey carbon bars are sufficiently stiff and the climbing position on the tops is exceptionally comfortable. This is complemented by the indentation under the main bar to accommodate the brake cables - a really nice design. The Ritchey carbon post doesn't look out of place on this frame, either. It works well and is easy to adjust, providing as much latitude as I could ever need. Overall, the Shimano groupset is a functional as ever, which brings me nicely on to the wheels. The Dura-Ace wheels, too, are very functional. With machined rims, reinforced spoke holes and super-chunky hubs, they give a weighty, reliable and robust feel. I would be perfectly happy to use these as quality training wheels, but for racing I would prefer something lighter and less stout. Considering Shimano's intuition for subtlety of purpose of their componentry, it surprises me that they don't seem to have achieved the same levels of insight with their wheels. The Continental Attack and Force tyres are, as Continental tyres always are, reliable, puncture-resistant, heavy in feel and slightly too hard a compound in wet conditions. Like the wheels, I'd be happy with these tyres for training, but little else. While I'm on the move, I decide to fine-tune the gear-cable tension. In doing so, I discover that the design of tucking the adjusters right behind the headtube, although visually neat, makes them almost impossible to use one-handed without stopping, which surely negates their whole raison d'être. To be truly usable, they need to protrude another couple of millimetres and be set a centimetre further down, away from the headtube.
When you have lived with something for a time, you become comfortable with everything about it, including its flaws. This is why I would never submit an article without having someone else proofread it first. With the Ligero Isogrid, it feels like the "proofreading" stage of design has been missed out.
Regardless of these incongruities, I could envisage the Ligero feeling at home on the cobbles of northern France or the slopes of the high Alps, and not many bikes can claim that. In fact, the quality of ride makes up for the missed details so well that the frame is one of my all-time favourite rides. A fitting note on which to end my last ever bike test for Procycling.