1998 Litespeed Vortex Titanium 650Bx35 conversion

Titanium Frame + 650Bx35mm + Selle Anatomica = Flying Carpet?

One of the things I very much enjoy is to rethink a vintage bike and turn it into something new and exciting that the original manufacturer did not intend…

Titanium bikes have a special place in my heart. It is such a wonderful and noble material and one that can last a life time of riding.

When well designed and manufactured, it offers:

  • All day riding comfort that can rival that of a steel bike with a significantly lighter metal

  • Lack of corrosion (compared to steel or the battery effect of carbon/aluminum interfaces)

  • Bare metal unpainted look almost like jewelry (and freedom from the fear of scratches that come with that great looking paint job…)

  • Almost no fatigue life (as compared to aluminum)

  • Significant forgiveness to impact and crashes (as compared to carbon)

  • Repair ability (good titanium welders are tough to find but they do exist)

  • Availability of “made to measure” services at some boutique builders

Of course, titanium bikes were at the pinnacle of bike manufacturing (surpassing steel and competing with aluminum) as a material of choice only for about a decade towards the end of the 90’s and early 2000’s and eventually could not compete with the emergence and subsequent dominance of carbon frames as it cannot rival it in terms of its combination of lightweight and stiffness in the design of modern high performance bikes.

In addition, it was always a bit limited for mass production by the high manufacturing costs and the need for highly skilled (artisan/artist) welders.

For mass market manufacturers carbon has one additional significant, and much less talked about, advantage. In large quantities, with only a few “tee shirt” mold sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL) carbon frames are actually quite cheap to manufacture as long as it is done in low labor cost areas which is the overwhelming majority of the frames and brands and with the right combination of high performance “space age material/NASA/Fighter aircraft/Formula 1” image and “pro-team sponsorship - big name branding” the industry is able to sell frames that cost a few $100’s to produce for a few $1000’s therefore enjoying beautiful margins that can pay for all the sponsorship required to fuel the exclusive image…

As a result, Titanium became rather a niche material with some boutique artisan making and signing project bikes for well healed riders. It is enjoying some limited revival with the crash and scratch prone gravel/cyclocross/touring users looking for something special but will never be mass market.

This leaves us with an installed base of about 30 years’ worth of titanium bike production that will never rust, and will never die unless someone crashes them badly or drives over them after forgetting it is gathering dust in the garage. So while it is still more expensive than your average steel vintage bike (at least the many that do not come with an elite pedigree), it is quite easy to find good used titanium frames in the $500 to $1000 range and complete bikes in the $1000 to $2000 range and unlike any other frame materials if it is not visibly and obviously cracked, dinged or bent it is pretty much as good as new once you remove the dust, dirt, grease, paint and stickers if you so wish…

So in 2012, I finally decided I needed to have a Titanium bike, after dreaming about it as a kid (Ocana, 1973, Speedwell) when it was truly an exotic space age material. EBay brought me a fine sample of a 1998 Litespeed Vortex made of the higher end and more exotic cold worked Ti 6Al-4V alloy rather than the more common Ti 3Al-2.5V. The bike was apparently owned by an older gentleman and had not seen too much riding for nearly a decade but it came with the original Campagnolo Record Titanium 9 speed group and an upgrade with some early (ca. 2001) Zipp 303 Carbon tubular wheels.

2012 Ebay Find: 1998 Vortex with Campy Record Titanium 9 speed and early Zipp 303 tubular

Ebay 2012 Find: 1998 Litespeed Vortex, Campagnolo Record Titanium 9 speed