Drawing on decades of titanium craftsmanship served Litespeed quite well with the Cherhola SE, an endurance road bike with loads of clearance that allows it to do double duty as a gravel bike.
The chatter-absorbing metal fell out of favor for road racing long ago, but for long rides on and off the tarmac, titanium may well be the ideal material.
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Cherohala SE features
- 3AL/2.5V titanium frame with carbon fork
- Fits up to 40mm tires with plenty of clearance
- Rack/fender compatible
- Flat-mount calipers, 160mm rotors
- Available as frameset or as full builds with Shimano 105, Shimano Ultegra, Shimano Ultegra Di2 and SRAM Force 1
- Tested as Ultegra Di2 build with 32mm Continental GranRace clinchers and 40mm Panaracer GravelKing tubeless
- 17lb / 7.7kg in size M/L in road configuration
Cherohala SE on the paved road
Two things largely determine a bike's handling: its geometry and then its wheels and tires. The Cherohala SE has endurance road bike geometry, meaning that you sit a little more upright than on a race bike, but the angles aren't as slack or sleepy as a dedicated adventure bike that you would load down with cargo.
It's a good, middle-of-the-road formula that works well. Similar geometry can be found on popular endurance road bikes such as the Specialized Roubaix, the Cannondale Synapse, the Trek Domane and others.
What's unique here is the enormous tire clearance. You can fit full-on 40mm gravel tires here with plenty of room for mud clearance.
Testing the bike with its stock 32mm Continental GranRace clinchers, the Cherohala SE treated me to a delicious taste of titanium. It had been years since I last rode a titanium frame, and I had forgotten how soft and creamy the material feels when enlisted for a frame.
Litespeed included a 31.6mm zero-setback titanium seatpost, which looks like a pelvis buster — and would be if made of aluminum. But within minutes of the first ride, the give of Ti was apparent.
Sure, 32mm clinchers at 70psi will make anything feel good; but fat tires and titanium feel great.
One problem with titanium's give is that it can't be restricted as readily as carbon flex can be tuned. So standing up to sprint means a little bit of give at the bottom bracket. But this machine isn't intended as a track bike or a crit racer.
I rode the Cherohala SE with the voluminous road tires on a fair amount of dirt roads and gravel paths, and loved the ride. Cadillac, magic carpet, a rush of plush... all the clichés apply.
Litespeed sent the bike with non-stock 3T C45 PRO wheels, which are heavy and fairly lifeless. The stock DT Swiss E1800 wheels are better.
As for the Shimano Ultegra Di2 electric/hydraulic group, it's hard to find anything to be critical about. Shifting is flawless and tunable. Hydraulic braking is superior to rim braking and vastly expands your tire choice. And you can even configure the buttons on the hoods to control your Garmin.
Basically, it is all the functionality of Dura-Ace Di2 but with a little extra weight for a substantial savings.
Cherohala SE off the paved road
Litespeed also sent a pair of Stan's NoTubes ZTR Grail wheels with Panaracer GravelKing tires set up tubeless. With this setup installed, the Cherohala SE really came to life.
Combining 40mm GravelKings with titanium makes for a smooth ride. At 185lb / 84kg, I would usually run the GravelKings at around 35psi.
On top of the softened ride, titanium offers another benefit when off road: there is no paint to chip, no carbon to crack, and really no worries about little rocks and other detritus getting kicked up at the frame as you ride.
At 6ft / 183cm, I went with a M/L frame instead of an L to get a lower stack. The geometry works well for gravel. I did a number of gravel group rides on the bike, which always felt sure-footed and stable.
One notable difference between the Cherohala SE and a dedicated gravel bike: storage. While this frameset does have fender mounts, it only has the standard two bottle mounts. Which leads us to...
Cherohala SE vs Litespeed Gravel
Litespeed's Gravel bike is the dedicated off-road 700c machine, built from heavier-duty tubing and armed with mounts aplenty (third bottle mount under the down tube plus the top tube bento box mount).
The Gravel's geometry is slightly longer and lower, with a slacker head tube — but the intent of use is the major difference between the bikes. The Gravel works better as a 1x bike, with clearance for up to 45mm tires.
Bottom line: a plush and pricey ride
The Litespeed Cherohala SE revived my interest in titanium, as the material seems ideal for gravel. On and off the paved road, the Cherohala SE delivers a lush ride. It won't accelerate like a carbon criterium bike, but that's not the point. The endurance geometry works well for rides that go long or over rough surfaces.
Having lots of clearance allows the bike to do double duty, although you do pay an aesthetic price for a fork that looks a bit out of place on the road.
The hand welding in the southern American state of Tennessee makes for lovely, professional detail, a remarkably smooth ride, and, unfortunately, a remarkably high price. The Cherohala SE is beautiful in appearance and ride quality, but there is just no way around the price. Were this bike two-thirds the price, I would score it 4.5.