How and why: Titanium in bicycle manufacturing

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For the moment, in the bicycle industry, two main materials reign supreme: aluminum and carbon. Their availability, increasingly large scale of usage, and constantly advancing technologies that regard them make manufacturing competitive bicycle out of them a thing within almost anyone’s budget. Of course, high quality will always have a higher price, but this is another topic. But talking about quality, what other alternatives are there to these two materials? Besides steel, which reached a high level of performance available for a descouraging price, we’ll always have titanium. Its feats are widely recognised, a strong reason to give this material a thorough presentation.

Being the 4th most spread metal on the face of the Earth, titanium was discovered somewhere at the end of the 18th century. Even so, its price remains high due to the processes required in order to extract and bring it to its workable form, this actually being the sole obstacle between titanium and mass-production of titanium goods.

Its properties made titanium one of the most sought after materials during the Cold War, the period which also saw the development of the usage of this material. So, the metal trickled-down from military use to civilian use, and is especially proper for bicycle manufacturing thank to its:

  • Increased stiffness. Compared to steel, titanium is similar in terms of stiffness-to-weight. It can be turned into a frame that’s either very stiff, or either soft, but thanks to its density, it allows reaching a competitive stiffness for a weight of 900-1.000 grams.
  • Strength. This is where titanium rules supreme, leaving carbon, aluminum and steel far behind, with an elongation percentage of 20 to 30%. However, carbon may reach similar values, but this technology is a well-kept secret by top manufacturers, and it’s basicly used for bicycles that have about the same price as titanium-frame ones. Coming back to the metal, even a bicycle manufactured out of the most common grades (titanium alloyed or not) can surpass in terms of strength sofisticated carbon frames. For an even more clear image on titanium’s strength, such a frame that would have the same strength as a steel one would only weigh half as much. Still, the stiffness issue implies the usage of larger tubes, which subsequently increase the weight. Bottom line – you’ll have to crash really, really hard to damage a titanium frame.
  • Durability. Titanium not only stands as one of the most strongest materials for bicycle frame building, but also as one of the most durable. So, if a serious crash will hardly put your titanium frame in peril, time will have even a more difficult task in damaging it.

Titanium bikes were widely marketed in the 70’s, only after alloys that enhanced the metal’s properties were discovered. And even if some manufacturers turn to the material’s military origin in order to make a better impression, the truth is that all titanium comes from the weapons industry.

Constantly in progress, the development of titanium didn’t happen in the best possible moment, sharing its period with carbon, a much more workable material, and therefore much cheaper. The main drawback of titanium is that it requires highly skilled labour in order to turn it into a competitive bicycle frame. Welding must be done with pinpoint accuracy, and there is no cutting corners in terms of manufacturing processes that must be applied, all this adding up to a significant cost.

Why to buy a titanium bicycle?

Eventhough it isn’t the absolute winner when it’s put side by side with other materials, titanium manages to reach the balance everyone seeks for, between strength, weight, stiffness and comfort. Basicly, titanium can absorb shocks better, breaks harder, and lasts longer than carbon or aluminum. As evidence, most titanium frame manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty for their frames against manufacturing defects.

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