Sunday, January 19, 2014

Budget Ti Frames

I'll admit to a Ti frame bias. No doubt some of it results from reverse-snobbery; now that everyone and his (or her) mother is on a Carbon Fiber frame, Titanium has suddenly become the young retro-grouch's alternative to steel. But part of it too is about longevity. When I was culling the bike herd last summer, I had to pick between my Kestrel CF frame and my Habanero Ti frame. Honestly it was no contest. I can easily see myself riding my Ti frame for the next decade. Not so the CF.

Back when Ti bikes were the Next Big Thing, frames from the big makers (Litespeed, Seven, etc...) ran into the multiple thousands of dollars. A Litespeed frame still costs North of $3K, but the difference is now nobody rides them. Seriously. You used to see them all over the place. Now maybe occasionally at a triathlon, but that's it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the carbon fiber revolution; we seem to have entered a renaissance of Ti frames. There are quite a few custom and semi-custom Ti builders, from out-of-my-price-range (Moots and Independent Fabrication come to mind) to well within my price range.

This, then, is a very brief tour of a few of the options available in the budget Titanium world.


When I bought my first Ti frame (Summer 2004), the main options seemed to be Habanero and Airborne. Habanero is still going strong, despite a website that hasn't changed appreciably in at least a decade. That alone should tell you that the word-of-mouth is good. Airborne, meanwhile, appears to be defunct. Interestingly Habanero shows up on the first page of google results for 'titanium bike frame'. A remarkable feat for a small shop, and no doubt in part thanks to Sheldon Brown's "Century Special".

The owner, Mark, is a really cool guy. Very helpful and friendly. He doesn't have a huge selection of frame styles available, but what he does have tick most of the boxes. A couple notable frames he is missing, however, are the full-suspension MTB and fat bike.

Generally a standard frame is around $1K, and a custom frame is probably in the neighborhood of $1500. But in my experience he's willing to make minor modifications to a 'standard' frame for a small up-charge.

Here are a couple habanero builds from my stable:
Road Bike

Rando Bike

Carver Bikes

I had not previously heard of Carver, and I'm not sure why. They seem to specialize in mountain bikes, with a some very interesting frames, such as a full suspension fat-bike (the Trans-Fat). A couple that I find very intriguing:

Ti 99'er: A 29er front and back for $1200. What's not to like?

Ti O'Beast: Fat-bikes are cool. Titanium fat-bikes, therefore, are very cool. At $1400 the frame is getting a little pricey when a Pugsley frame + fork can be had for $600.

Better, Carver seems to have a complete lineup of components. While Moots charges premium prices for their components, you can get a Carver fat-tire fork for $300, either CF or Ti! Remarkable. Though to be honest the Ti rotors are a bit.. unnecessary.


Lynskey isn't really a 'budget' option, as complete builds tend to be $4000+. But right now they've got a 30% off sale (though even then, they're still not 'budget'). But they do occasionally have great deals on lightly used merchandise in their "loft". Right now, that means you can get an XL hard-tail for $2300.

That's a bargain no matter how you slice it. If only they had a similar deal on a 29er...


I almost wasn't going to bother including this, but here it is anyway.. Motobecane (yes, that Motobecane, of bikesdirect fame) is selling a Ti 29er. Either as a frame + fork for the amazing price of $1099 (thank goodness they are sold out) or fully built from $2199 and on up. Those prices are great, but to be honest if I'm going frame + fork, I'll pay a bit extra to get a brand I trust a bit more. If I'm going fully built, that Lynskey for a couple hundred more seems like a better deal, even if it does have tiny tricycle-sized wheels.

That said, props to Motobecane for putting together a really affordable Ti 29er.

Other Options

Honestly any inexpensive Ti frame is coming from China. It's possible to order direct from China (or this, or this) but I suspect the opportunities for problems are legion. In my opinion paying a premium to Habanero or Carver is a small price to pay for someone who knows how to navigate the Chinese system, and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Anyway, So What's The Point

I'm not in the market for a Ti bike today. The next bike I've been thinking about is a 29er, and until today I would have assumed it would be a Habanero. But to be honest Carver has me intrigued. They seem so be a little more pricey than Habanero though, and I suspect they don't offer minor customizations as Mark does.


Max said...

The one material (not including bamboo) I don't have a bike made from!

Your list focuses on knobby tires. That's fine, of course. Perhaps road Ti frames are usually cheaper. It seems as if the Lynskey Silver Series is available on sale for less than $1200 with some frequency; that's a $2500 full build with Ultegra and normal wheels. (, based in Bloomington IN, is currently offering the Silver road build with Ultegra drive-train for $2300. Frame only for $1100.)

Same re-seller is also offering titanium Richey breakaway cross framesets and bikes. Check out the build on the website with Zipp 101 wheels and Sram Red. Lovely. I'm this close to calling and asking them to send me that exact bike. Prices for framesets not stated, but they are asking $999 for the steel breakaway framesets, suggesting ~$1500 for a Ti frameset.

Just FYI, same seller is offering Pugsley framesets for less than $500. Not titanium, however. They do have a picture of a Lynskey fat-bike but not mention of price.

sam said...

Good point about knobby vs road. This little sojourn down titanium lane started because I'm looking for a 29er, so that's why the focus on knobby.

$1500 for the Ritchey Ti frameset would be a steal. I thought it was more in the $3K range.

It's very hard to make much sense of that bicycledoctor webpage. Have you been to their shop? I wonder if it's a reputable establishment..

Max said...

Reputable, yes. It's a local guy in Bloomington of some note. You can pick up at the shop, including coming by to check out the wares in advance.