Litespeed T5 Gravel custom build review£2,000.00

Titanium dream machine for on/off road adventures

BikeRadar score3/5

If you've built a reputation on handcrafted titanium since 1986, why change now for your first gravel bike?

Legendary Chatanooga builder Litespeed’s new T5G is a pure-Ti beauty, adorned in our case with the latest 1x drivetrain from SRAM, carbon disc wheels from Zipp and the very best finishing kit. (Most Litespeeds are built to order, so we asked LItespeed’s UK distributor Wiggle to put together an appropriately high-end bike.)

The T5 is Litespeed’s endurance bike, which has a taller head tube and shorter reach than its racier T1, T3 and T7 models. The T5 Gravel adds thru-axles, huge clearances and Litespeed’s signature bracing bar across the stays for the disc mounts.

The bracing strut is strong, but we’re unsure of its aesthetic appeal

The T5G frame is made from cold-worked 3Al/2.5V titanium. Its oversized tubeset is most notable for its massively oversized 44mm diameter head tube, which houses a carbon 1 1/8-1 1/2 steerer fork. The front is 2cm taller than the bike on which it’s based, the angles are half a degree slacker and it also has a fractionally shorter wheelbase.

These tweaks have little effect on the bike’s on-road feel. The mid-length wheelbase gives the T5g nicely reactive handling and it feels flickable and quick to turn, though the off-road Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres hamper that to an extent. They roll well enough, even if the block pattern tread creates a little road rumble. But in corners, especially at speed, things get a little sketchy, as their soft compound causes the soft blocks to deform, so you do get a bit of two-wheel drift when leaning into a turn on fast descents.

Despite these issues the T5G works well on the road, and a lot of that is down to the wheels. Zipp’s shallowest Firecrest design 202s are light, stiff and exceptionally smooth thanks to the new 77/177D hubset. With improved bearings, spoke tension and wheel stiffness these are among the best disc wheels around.

Our build was a bit under-geared for the road

SRAM’s new 1x Force 1 drivetrain is the most striking piece of kit. This combines a single chainring with an ultra-wide cassette. A neat ‘clutch’ on the rear derailleur stops the chain bouncing over rougher ground, while the chainring’s uniquely profiled teeth hold the chain securely. Off road it’s a revelation, with quick, consistent fuss-free shifting and no chain noise.

Cassette choices include a 10-42, which combined with a 44t ring gives around 97 per cent of the range of a 50/34, 11-28 pairing. Our test bike’s 40t ring and 11-32 cassette gave a range that ’cross racers would be happy with, and was fine for climbing, but we found it all too easy to spin out on the road. Ideally we’d want to experiment with the gearing to boost the T5G’s all-round abilities.

Braking from the SRAM Force hydraulic brakes is brilliant – noise free and easy to feed in just enough braking power exactly when you need it. Elsewhere the T5g is a greatest hits of top-flight kit, Fizik, Thomson and Easton components hitting all the high notes perfectly.

On dirt the T5G is supremely capable, the Schwalbe rubber offering masses of controllable grip. Only a short patch of sticky mud gave us any grief with the tyre loading up. It exudes smoothness over bumps, filling you with confidence to go that little bit faster. The carbon fork does an equally good job, swallowing up bumps to make the front as plush as the rear.

The T5G is also a bike you want to show off, but sadly our bike’s decals proved fragile. We contacted Litespeed’s UK distributor Wiggle, which told us the decals had already been changed to a baked-on formula, and it offered to replace ours. So we know its customer service is top class.

Price for tested build: £5000 (about $7,660 / AU$10,630 at time of publication, but international prices will vary)

Specs as tested:

  • Size tested: M
  • Sizes available: S, M ,M/L, L, XL
  • Weight: 8.4kg
  • Frame: 3Al/2.5v Titanium
  • Fork: Carbon,1 1/8 - 1 1/2in steerer
  • Frame alignment: Head-tube and fork dropouts very good, rear dropouts perfect
  • Crankset: SRAM Force 1, 40, 175mm
  • Bottom bracket: SRAM PF30
  • Cassette: SRAM Force 11-32T
  • Chain: SRAM Force
  • Derailleurs: SRAM Force 1
  • Gear levers: SRAM Force 1
  • Wheels: Zipp 202 Firecrest, 12mm thru-axle front and rear
  • Tyres: Schwalbe Racing Ralph Evo LS 33mm
  • Wheel weight: F 1.34kg R 1.72kg
  • Stem: Thomson 110mm
  • Handlebar: Easton EA70 42cm alloy
  • Headset: Chris King
  • Saddle: Fizik Gobi Kium
  • Seatpost: Thomson Elite 31.6mm
  • Brakes: SRAM Force Flat Mount

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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