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Vintage Titanium vs. Steel rides

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Vintage Titanium vs. Steel rides

Old 12-28-21, 06:13 PM
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celesteguy 
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Vintage Titanium vs. Steel rides

Over the last few years I have collected a small stable of higher end steel bikes. Not necessarily expensive, but pretty nice; Reynolds 853 and Colubus EL/OS mostly. These are set up with steel or carbon forks and some of them are just dreamy to ride. Even with 21mm or 23mm tires, they seem to just float over the rough roads, handle exceptionally well, and feel lively and springy as I have most of them around the 18 lb mark give or take a couple of ounces.

Recently, I have been really interested in titanium. I've never ridden a ti bike before and I've been wanting to get one. I can't afford new titanium, but I have been looking at a few vintage ti frames including Merlin, Merckx, and GT.

The question I have is how similarly would a vintage ti frame feel compared to a nice steel frame. I know it would save half a pound to a pound or so in weight, but would the ride quality be pretty much the same or is ti really in a league of its own? All my friends ride carbon, so I don't have any to borrow to try for myself. Some of my steel bikes ride so well that I have a hard time believing something out there would top them, but I don't have any experience so I can't say what I'm missing. What I'd like to know specifically is if there is anyone that has ridden or owned both higher end steel and vintage ti and can compare what the rides feel like. Are they very similar? Does it vary drastically? I've tried to do my own internet research, but there seems to be a lot of varying opinions, and not a lot of actual comparisons.

Thanks!
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Old 12-28-21, 09:24 PM
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Can I ask what these steel bikes are that ride like a dream?
I have never ridden a Ti bike so I can't help you there.
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Old 12-28-21, 10:39 PM
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Over on Bike Mechanics a thread is running that gets into your question: Another Ti Question Thread. I posted the following:
I have 1 Ti, 2 Al ( 1 for hauling & a Vitus rider) and only 1 carbon left out of my 18, the rest are steel and ride them all. I have one decline in my favorite ride that the last crew seal coating the asphalt did damage with a sweeper to the bike lane with very noticeable swirl marks that deliver a nasty rumble all the way down that I dislike. The majority of steel and the Ti equally handle this well. I fiddle a lot with saddles, posts, bars, stems, most have 28s, a couple 25s when the 28s were less than 4mm from the frame or FD clamp.
I have owned two TI Litespeeds a Classic and now a keeper a Firenze. My daily bikes are high end Italians, Colnago, Tommasini, customs build for me, and a Zurich 853 and Vitus 979. I can not discern the difference between a quality well done steel frame and my TI other than a minor improvement in weight.
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Old 12-28-21, 11:08 PM
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Originally Posted by easyupbug View Post
I have owned two TI Litespeeds a Classic and now a keeper a Firenze. My daily bikes are high end Italians, Colnago, Tommasini, customs build for me, and a Zurich 853 and Vitus 979. I can not discern the difference between a quality well done steel frame and my TI other than a minor improvement in weight.
Thank you, this is just the kind of thread/post I was looking for. While looking for the ti thread I found one on different steels where a member offered a similar opinion as yours that they could not discern a difference between their ti bike and certain high end steel framed bikes in terms of ride quality. All in all, I think its enough to make me save my money rather than try to scoop up a ti frame.
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Old 12-28-21, 11:29 PM
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Originally Posted by jnbrown View Post
Can I ask what these steel bikes are that ride like a dream?
I feel like that'd be telling especially because I feel like there are a couple of real sleeper frames out there (including aluminum ones, actually), and of course theres geometry and weight to factor in, but I will say that the Lemond 853 bikes when fitted with a proper fork fit the bill. Also Bianchi's mid 90s EL/OS frames. One of those is my main ride, and dreamy for not just the ride quality, but the perfect geometry (for me anyway). But there are definitely more, and there are a few that I have that I might thin out in the future that are very close, but not quite there -wonderful bikes, but not dream ride caliber, even with good geometry, handling etc. Its all subjective I guess, but there's no denying that some bikes got it and some bikes don't. I guess I was just wondering if all titanium bikes did.
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Old 12-29-21, 08:00 AM
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If you are looking to try titanium and want a ride similar to steel, I would avoid the shaped (non-cylindrical) tubing.

I have tried a few ti bikes. I had a Fuji that cracked at the chainstay, a Litespeed Classic, Litespeed Appalachian, Litespeed Natchez, and an Airborne Carpe Diem.

Fuji: I honestly do not recall the ride too well, as it broke fairly early in my ownership. This was not the CP version, though it is from the early 90's.
Classic: I was not too impressed, though I would not call it bad. It reminded me of a mix between a Klein and a steel bike, but I really disliked the ride of the Klein on Illinois roads.
Appalachian: It is just ok, but takes 32mm tires and fenders, so I like it. I bought it to take over for the Airborne
Natchez: I did not expect much out of it, but it was super cheap. That said, I think it is my favorite of the ti bikes so far.
Airborne Carpe Diem: This felt more stiff than I would like, but I guess I should put this solidly in the cyclocross realm, so it did not work out well for me.

Technically, I do own a CP Fuji, but it is pretty much wall art for me.
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Old 12-29-21, 08:19 AM
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My experience with a couple early TST/Sandvik-made frames echoes what Beech333 said about tubing shapes. Traditionally shaped ti tubed frames are awfully flexy, not quite as much as my squashed tubed Blade knockoff Airborne. A strong rider will either "plane" or complain the frame is too noodley for them.

I'd actually not recommend a 1" headtubed ti frame, I"m sure there are good ones out there, but the ones I test rode as a mechanic weren't much fun
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Old 12-29-21, 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by easyupbug View Post
I have owned two TI Litespeeds a Classic and now a keeper a Firenze. My daily bikes are high end Italians, Colnago, Tommasini, customs build for me, and a Zurich 853 and Vitus 979.
Is this a different "Firenze" than what most Firenzes on this forum are about?
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Old 12-29-21, 09:16 AM
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the comment I'd offer - and sorry if it's a sweeping generalization - is that some of the earlier titanium frames are prone to cracking.

I've seen a Seven and a Merlin that cracked (one at the bottom bracket, one on the downtube where the shifter bosses are) and not repairable.

so inspect carefully.

/markp
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Old 12-29-21, 09:19 AM
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I had a really strong itch about the ride qualities of Ti that I needed to scratch, particularly after a friend who’s a former racer and trainer thought my size (5’ 10”, 170lbs) would work well with that material. My first was a vintage Merlin, and I really loved the way it rode. Light and responsive, definitely my best climber, even though I didn’t have it geared particularly low. Ultimately decided to move it on as it was a tad too small and could barely fit 25mm tires. Next was a Carver, intended for wider tires and more of my non-racing riding style, but even as the lightest bike in my fleet (with a CF fork), it always felt sluggish and unresponsive. Moved it on. Latest is a Waltly, custom made in China, and based on the geometry of my Black Mountain Road, my favorite steel rider. Checks all the boxes, including 700 x 38mm tires, and my bike for fast weekend rides, solo and group tours, and bikepacking. Kinda generic and ugly but it does what it’s intended to do really, really well. Got the majority of my riding miles in 2021.

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Old 12-29-21, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by The Golden Boy View Post
Is this a different "Firenze" than what most Firenzes on this forum are about?
Sorry, don't know, this is it when naked.
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Old 12-29-21, 09:37 AM
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I’ve said this before, but I think that used 90’s titanium bikes are the bargain of the used bike market. I have ridden several ti bikes, but not until I scored a used Moots a few years ago was I impressed. I must say that not all the Ti bikes previous to the Moots were not a good fit for me, so I feel it affected the end ride result.
I love the Moots and it’s ride is fantastic, and I can’t see it ever leaving my collection. I ride it regularly and I find it comfortable over a long day and able to handle rough roads quite well. It’s also my lightest bike, but it’s not built up to be superleggero, because I build more for reliability. Is the ride incredibly different from a quality steel frame? Not really. I think a well executed steel bike will ride as good…just different.
There are a lot of good examples available that you should be on the watch for, other than what you’ve listed above…Moots, Holland, Davidson to name a few.
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Old 12-29-21, 10:23 AM
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Originally Posted by easyupbug View Post
Sorry, don't know, this is it when naked.
OK- Litespeed Firenze.

I thought I had an idea of your collection and tastes- Just google "Firenze bike" and you'll see why I was confused.
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Old 12-29-21, 11:37 AM
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Originally Posted by The Golden Boy View Post
OK- Litespeed Firenze.

I thought I had an idea of your collection and tastes- Just google "Firenze bike" and you'll see why I was confused.
Cheers, took a lot of nerve to call that a Firenze, being Italian for Florence, a city second only to Rome in beauty.
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Old 12-29-21, 12:06 PM
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Originally Posted by celesteguy View Post
O
, but I have been looking at a few vintage ti frames including Merlin, Merckx, and GT.
s!

Finding a Ti GT Edge would be a coup ! Did not make many at all
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Old 12-29-21, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Dylansbob View Post
My experience with a couple early TST/Sandvik-made frames echoes what Beech333 said about tubing shapes.
I think the early Ti Fuji's were made by Sandvik, including the one of mine that broke.


I thought about getting it fixed by someone reputable, but the cost was high and I feared another crack forming. I suspect that repairs might not hold up well, due to needs for environmental/frame cleanliness that I have heard of.

I actually prefer the use of 1" forks. I use a steel fork on my Natchez, which was scavenged from the Fuji that cracked. I also really like the flexiness of this frame. I'm no racer, with no imaginations of being one. I just like the long rides at what I would consider a casual pace, with the frame absorbing much of the road/trail chatter.
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Old 12-29-21, 12:15 PM
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I got all high end steel, mostly italians.
90's era Ti frames is where it's at for me.
rode a lot of them, various makes.
settled on a Merlin Extralight. Best of the bunch by far. Light and nimble.
compared to my steel frames, it's a bit smoother on bumpy roads. Not by a lot but i can feel the difference.
call it a 10% smoother ride.
you don't need it but, sooo cool
90's frame are cheap and have a non slopping top tube, wich i like.
check tire size clearance. Mine takes 28.
for comparison, all my bikes ride on 28.
Most of them have Dura Ace C24 wheels.
most of them are built with 7800 Dura Ace groupset.
all of the frames have the same dimensions. Same 90mm quill stems and compact bars.
get one, you need it
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Old 12-29-21, 01:21 PM
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Thank you everyone for their input!

I think I will probably hold out for a vintage Merlin or GT when the price is right. I do love the traditional non sloping top tubes as well. Seems like I'm not losing too much to my quality steel frames in terms of ride.
I would agree that used vintage ti is the deal of the used bike world. The Fuji frames pop up every now and then at insanely good prices, as do the Airbornes. I've noticed some pretty great steel up for grabs too as people "upgrade" to disc brake frames.
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Old 12-29-21, 04:09 PM
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Had a 1999 Litespeed Classic. Fit great and had a super comfy ride (similar to a vintage 531 frame). Ultimately, it has too much flex and didn’t seem to transfer power well. I would hold out for a Merlin.
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Old 12-29-21, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by celesteguy View Post
I feel like that'd be telling especially because I feel like there are a couple of real sleeper frames out there (including aluminum ones, actually), and of course theres geometry and weight to factor in, but I will say that the Lemond 853 bikes when fitted with a proper fork fit the bill.
What do you consider a "proper" fork on the Lemond 853 bikes?
Just curious
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Old 12-29-21, 05:02 PM
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Originally Posted by daverup View Post
What do you consider a "proper" fork on the Lemond 853 bikes?
Just curious
Either full carbon, or full steel. A few models came with a carbon fork with aluminum steerer which made the front end transmit some harshness compared to the rear which sort of floats. Not a big deal, but after switching forks, I thought it changed a good ride into a great one. I went steel on a Poprad and full carbon on a BA.
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Old 12-29-21, 05:35 PM
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I have had a Road Classic and a Cyclocross from Habanero cycles. Both were excellent frames and performed up to my expectations and needs. One thing of note, I found going from a carbon fork to a steel fork made a world of difference in ride quality. I used a Miyata 912 fork on the Classic and a Surly Quickcross fork on the Cyclocross. Neither fork is particularly high end, just mid-grade cromo. but they made the bikes ride easier, that is less harsh on the rough stuff than the carbon forks.
Both are 1" steerers. The Surly was very agreeable to me and is what I use on my custom touring bike. I see it as the most comfortable fork out there.
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Old 12-30-21, 10:51 AM
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I have never ridden a ti frame, but whenever I have heard a strong, experienced rider mention Merlin, it’s been nothing but superlatives. If I was looking to buy, I would focus there, with the only caveat being tire clearance as nlerner mentioned. Sounds to me like some will take 28, others max out at 25. For me that would be a meaningful distinction; ymmv.
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Old 12-30-21, 11:19 AM
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I had a late 90's Cambridge built Merlin Extralight with a 1" threaded Look fork. Beautiful welds on that thing.

It was nimble, light, and a great climber.

Made me feel like Superman whenever I rode it.

McNeil Canyon, Chelan by Matthew Pendergast, on Flickr

It is the benchmark that I compare all bikes to for ride quality.

It was a little smaller that an ideal size for me so I let it go but man, that was a great bike.
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Old 12-30-21, 11:46 AM
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I've had lots of different frames, from steel and aluminum to carbon and ti. My best all-rounder has been an '05 Bianchi S9 with carbon stays. It's a bit cushy, which is good for someone my age, but it performs admirably and I've put thousands of miles on it.
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