05 August 2012

New Acquisition - Ti Travel Bike

Until this past week, my current stable consisted of bicycles with carbon, steel and aluminum frames.

The carbon bike is my Canyon Ultimate CF -- my racing and all around frame.

The aluminum bike is my 2006 Bianchi Pista Concept -- a track bike and my fixed gear commuter for getting around Tokyo.

The steel bike is built from the frame I built (designed, cut and welded) at UBI this February, a cyclocross design, eagerly awaiting trips into the mountains later this year.

What frame material is missing?

Yes, titanium.  My collection has been missing a titanium frame for the past 4-5 years.  This material -- lighter and stronger than steel, rustproof, more compliant and less brittle than aluminum, with more road feel than carbon -- is in many ways an ideal frame material.  At one point in the mid-00s, raw material prices spiked and Ti frames became quite expensive, but prices have moderated since 2008 or so.

Also missing was a "travel bike" -- one that I can take with me when I travel by air and still avoid excess baggage charges.  I got fed up in recent years paying 15,000 yen to ANA, as much or more on Air France, 100~150 Euros on Lufthansa, or $200 on United to or from the U.S. or Europe.  Not only is my bike case large enough that the bicycle is treated as "oversize" and "special" luggage, but in a hard plastic case the bike is heavy enough that it is difficult to squeeze into a 23 kg per bag weight limit, when applicable.  Even with my newer Biknd Helium case and the Canyon carbon frame, I am usually right at the 23 kgs limit -- and quickly go over if I use any of the remaining space in the frame for other gear.  Of course, each airline and cabin/service class is different, so packing for a trip requires great care if you want to avoid unpleasant surprise fees.

The latest insult was my trip to Ishigakijima for the April triathlon.  H.I.S. Travel, the sponsor, warned that there would not be room for all the triathletes bikes' on the flights into Ishigakijima the day before the event and recommended sending bikes ahead by a special Yamato Transport-affiliated service.  I was charged over 15,000 yen, and needed to hand over my bike 2 weeks before the race.  The return shipment, which my hotel in Ishigakijima arranged, via another Yamato-affiliated service, cost less than a third as much, but still took nearly two weeks.  Of course, those who checked bikes on the plane (in rinko bukuro -- it was a domestic flight within Japan, after all) seemed to do fine.

I was pleasantly surprised on my latest trips for the Cascade 1200 in June and Rocky Mountain 1200 in July to be charged only $100 (Delta) and C$50 (Air Canada) each way for trans-Pacific flights.  But other airlines do not seem to be reducing their charges, and why should I put up with this at all?

The solution came via Tim Smith/GS Astuto -- a 3 Al/2.5 V titanium frame with S and S couplers.

The frame was delivered "bare bones", without fork or headset, barrel adjusters for the shifters or even bolts for water bottles and such.  But even if the frame arrived "bare bones", this is a premium product at a very reasonable price.  Indeed, the construction and weld quality looks excellent; it has the complex and time-consuming S and S couplers (which typically add $500 to $1000 to the price of a frame in the U.S., and required Tim to arrange some new tooling for the factory where his work is done in China); it has braze-ons for 3 water bottles, as well as for rear racks/fenders, and seems very sturdy, but reasonably light.

The frame has classic road bike "sportif" geometry.  Not a pure climber or pure sprinter's racing bike, comfortable with a slightly longer wheelbase -- 420mm instead of 410mm chain stays, a bit of extra clearance here and there, a rock solid feeling with a 34.9mm seatpost and single butted Ti tubing -- not trying to shave off every last ounce at the expense of durability.  And it has an additional feature I have not seen before on a Titanium frame -- asymmetric chain stays, like Pinarello and some of other carbon frames in recent years.  The stays are quite beefy to begin with, but the right chainstay is laid out vertically and the left horizontally.  This should provide plenty of stiffness when I put the hammer down, but also some additional compliance over bumps.  The frame should work very well for Audax randonees.

For GS Astuto, my frame was a test case as they are coming up with a "standard" offer, in addition to their more expensive custom-measured Ti frame offer.  As a test case, it took quite awhile to get through the system, but the wait was worth it.  Tim plans to offer these as a "standard" product, in 4 sizes, with or without couplers, and with frame pricing in the 80,000 yen (without couplers) and 120,000 yen (with couplers) range, plus consumption tax.  That price will be very hard to beat, especially in Japan.  And, of course, I am sure Tim is happy to deliver a complete bike, or mix and match other equipment options.

S and S seems like a better choice for me than Ritchey BreakawayBike Friday or Ravello.

After the frame was delivered, I just needed to buy a "press fit" type integrated Cane Creek headset, which I found at the Y's in Futako Tamagawa, walking distance from my house, after confirming there was no current inventory at my preferred shops.  Fortunately, I already had a really great Reynolds Ouzo Pro all-carbon fork gathering dust in my garage that had been removed from another frame several years back, and a box full of a latest SRAM Red (2012) groupset had arrived recently, at a great price from Bike24 in Germany.  The 2012 SRAM Red groupset comes highly reviewed from Red Kite PrayerBicycling Magazine, Pez and others, installation was relatively easy and, to me, the shifting and braking quality seem fantastic, the best I have tried yet.  Of course, the shifting quality may just be the inevitable superiority of a new, clean groupset ....  The ergonomics are great as well.

I did not get some of the fancier options, such as the integrated power meter.  And I could not get a compact crankset -- out of stock at Bike 24 and elsewhere.  Nor did they have in stock a SRAM Red 2012 rear cassette in 11-28 cogs, so I went with a Shimano cassette instead.  (The new SRAM Red rear cassette has noise dampers that apparently make it run much quieter than earlier SRAM groupsets).  I will get one, eventually.

Here is the bike, ready to ride.

Asymmetric chain stays -- right is vertical, left is horizontal.  Another view is below.  And very solid looking Breeze-style dropouts. 

One of the couplers.  It can be tightened (and loosened) with a standard fixie lockring wrench.
Nice even welds, good penetration.  34.9mm seatpost.
More nice welds.  Cane Creek integrated headset.
SRAM Red 2012 standard crankset
SRAM Red 2012 -- nice big shifter paddles, stylish graphics, very nice ergonomics insteady of the Shimano protruding bulb.  Bianchi bar tape -- I had some red cork tape, but it tore easily when I stretched it. The Bianchi tape seems to be of really high quality, and the color is fine with the silver brushed Ti frame.
Tomorrow I will get an extra pair of shifter cables and rear brake cable.  Then I can install the cable splitters, which will make it possible to separate the bike into "front" and "rear" sections for travel without a need to readjust cabling.

UPDATE (June 2013):  Instead of "Ti Travel Bike", the travel bike will now be known as "Voyage, Voyage", which is true to its function, and will remind me of July 2011 Etape Acte II preparation in Issoire, and the rag tag band's rendition of the 1980s new wave pop classic.


Hassan Ashraf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mob said...

Nice built, David.

Itis interesting that SRAM Red gets a lot of good reviews, perhaps I sould try them one day as well.

Assymmeric chainstays means actually ass. drop outs? In a way that one dropout opening is vertically and the other one horizontal? Or somethig else?

And a fixie lockring wrench is the same as a sa-called "hook key"? This is not my favourite tool, as it damages the nuts quite fast, I wonder if this is a good idea for the couplers which you assemble rather often (as compare to a rera wheel sprocket).

But no dout, this is a beautiful modern bike.Modern drop bars just don'thave eough drop and length if compared to classic ones but the tape color is a nice color emphasis.

No dynamo wheels?

How do the cable splitters work? And you would need them for the gear cable as well, right?

Well done.

David L. said...


1. I added another photo of the chain stays taken with the bike turned over so you can get a better sense of what I am talking about. And, no, the dropouts are no different than they would be if the chainstays were symmetric. If the dropouts are not "symmetric," then the wheel will not be true. Of course, when welding the dropouts can be rotated a bit so the right dropout opening points a few more degrees forward or downward, but that is unrelated and these dropouts are very much industry standard -- the same as we used at UBI when I built the Yamabushi.

The point is that the right (drive) side chainstay has vertical stiffness for good power transfer, but the left chainstay is a bit more vertically compliant on bumps, for a smoother ride.

2. As for the "hook" tool, it may scratch the couplers a bit if I am not careful (and do not use a cloth to protect them), but I don't think it will damage them.

3. The bars are Deda Zero -- I believe 44cm edge to edge, and relatively less drop and length than some others as you note -- which is what I had available in the garage. I may switch to some Ritchey bars eventually -- 44cm center to center, more drop and length, as on my other bikes -- but these are quite comfortable for now.

4. The first photo of the bike does show a dynamo wheel, though I'm not taking that wheel to the Pyrenees since night riding is not on the agenda.

5. As for the cable splitters, this is where I found some installation help: http://forums.thepaceline.net/showthread.php?t=75204

And "shifter cable" means "gear cable" -- just different terminology I was using in the post. I installed them and they seem to be working fine. You can take a look in London.

Hassan Ashraf said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Details on splitting and re-connecting the cable splitters can be found on the S and S website
Also packing advice
I found it useful to split the couplers early
Then take off the pedals, saddle, front brake, bars, rear deraileur. Then split the frame and remove the wheels.

CM said...

Did you have to do any cutting,reaming, tapping, chasing or facing to the BB shell or head tube?

The reason I ask is that I bought a Titanium frame online and would like
to have the headset installed
(CK no threadset, not integrated).

The mechanic I asked said okay, but
then when I told him it was Titanium he said "no can do" because titanium would destroy his cutting tools.

The owner of the company (habcycles.com) says no frame prep is required. The frames are ready to build when they leave the factory in China.

So I was wondering how it went for you
when you installed the headset in your titanium frame?

David Litt said...

Hi CM: My Ti bike takes an integrated (or is it semi-integrated) headset. I just pushed the bearing race up inside the bottom and it is "pressfit" into place. No special tools were needed and it seemed to fit fine.
Best of luck!

CM said...

I just got the top cup in, very easily, with a wheelsmfg hub bearing press (Press-1) and 6805 open bore adapter.

Unfortunately the rod is too short to
install the bottom cup.

David Litt said...

Hi CM: This is when I would go to a good bike shop mechanic for help. It was a decade before I started to deal with headsets on my own ... and still not confident. Needed help from Hiroshi at C Speed on the latest one I built, which had an old fashioned type of headset and I had no idea how to tighten effectively, even though it was installed already upon purchase of the frameset.
Also, this kind of specific discussion is probably better for an email than the comment section of a 2012 blog entry -- even if I want to respond I need to find the entry first. So just shoot me an email (you have the address). Best,