Litespeed has been at the top of the titanium tree for a long time, but is its latest bike still a class apart from the growing number of low-price rustless rides?
While the budget brands source their titanium frames from the Far East, Litespeed still proudly handbuilds its bikes in Chatanooga, Tennessee. It’s always made a point of pushing the engineering envelope with its totally custom formed pipework and the Obed is no exception.
While previously only the much more expensive 6Al/4V titanium alloys could be extensively worked and shaped, Litespeed is now tube shaping its GED framesets from 3Al/2.5V for top line performance at a more reasonable (though still expensive) price. This is particularly obvious on the square QUAD-Tech stays, which create a stiff rear end even with relatively small, light tubes. The dropouts can be unbolted to swap between geared or singlespeed set-ups.
Tube shaping includes pockets for extra tyre clearance, and production frames will have a raised bridge to provide ample room for big tyres. Up front, the subtly shaped piping of the tubeset keeps things tight and light, with neat recessed gussets at the throat of the head tube/down tube junction. Immaculate hand welding holds everything together, and the grey logos almost disappear into the matt finish – spot on for the Obed’s ‘tough guy’ character.
Two complete bike kit levels – XT and XTR – are available and production bikes come with Ritchey finishing kit. But we can see the £1499 frame build-up option being the most popular avenue for turning this into your ultimate trail bike.
In ride terms, the squared rear stays and subtly worked mainframe create a much sharper, more acute ride than most cheaper, springier titanium frames. That means more chatter and kick around at slower speeds, but a real punch under acceleration, plus great fork stiffness and feedback clarity from both ends of the bike. Once you’re into the big ring and feeding its appetite for serious speed, the resilient spring of the titanium comes into its own. It skims across rough sections with an unmatchable ‘floating’ sensation that begs you to keep off the brakes and stay on the power to properly showcase its class.
This feel is enhanced by a long stem and in-line seatpost pushing your weight forward. However, the overall geometry is set up to handle a 100-120mm (4-4.7in) fork, so we plugged in a longer one. With a softly sprung (and therefore saggy) 130mm (5.1in) Marzocchi XC600 fork and 70mm stem, the bike really came alive. Something light, such as the new Fox 32 F120, would be perfect too.
We like the fact that Litespeed offers a Medium and Medium-Large option as standard, and the fit was perfect for us without even going down the full custom route it offers.
Relaxed trail geometry makes it speed friendly too, with an easy assurance that becomes even more marked with a longer travel fork.
The extra travel means you can push the bike hard, and the 73-degree seat angle means there’s still plenty of grip for the front wheel. This changed the Obed from a stable cross-country racer to high-class trail hooligan. We hammered it on our favourite singletrack and charged through rock gardens that previously shook it senseless. The frame is easily stiff enough to handle the extra fork leverage without getting vague or losing control.
The flipside to this is that the back end takes no prisoners over rocks or roots, particularly at slow speeds. If you’re expecting titanium comfort, this frame feels closer to an alloy hardcore hardtail at first, but things change noticeably when you inject some pace. The natural spring of the titanium gives an inspiringly muscular and floated ride that just begs you to give it the big ring, leave the brakes alone and fly. With loads of budget titanium hardtails offering classic titanium rides, Litespeed have moved up a gear to justify their position at the top of the pile.