Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Sage Bicycles
Looking for a new bike is not getting any less complicated these days. Every year there’s a new portmanteau or category that promises to combine your favorite bikes into one “quiver killer”, or just do one thing slightly better than it has ever been done before. But what if we looked at bikes not so much for their ability to be on-trend as to defy trends. As a product tester, I get to ride dozens of mountain bikes each year. But when I actually pay for them, I tend to look at bikes a bit differently. If my wallet is coming out, I look for a bike that I am going to enjoy riding for a long time. I seek to build one machine that combines all the characteristics I like from the best bikes I’ve tested. One that won’t be reduced to a functionless heap if, or when, I lay it down a few (dozen) times on a trip to Moab. The ability to invest in one bike to cover a broad range of uses, that will last for years to come, is why I think more mountain bikers should consider titanium.
Up until recently, I wouldn’t have started a bike build with the question of “What material do I want?” Now, I absolutely do. In recent years, hardtails, gravel bikes, and bikepacking trips have been the things that have excited me most. There’s a strong case for titanium frames in each of these categories. The robustness, ride quality, and wide range of custom options from builders such as Sage, Moots, and Mosaic has spurred a renaissance in titanium construction as more riders invest in bikes that will stand the test of time and trends.
The most common argument I hear for titanium is durability and ride quality. Ti bikes can shrug off hits that would send a carbon frame to the warranty department or the dumpster. Even if you get a warranty replacement, the chances are you’re going to be bikeless for a few months and have to spend a lot of time or money on building up your replacement frame. I travel a lot for stories and for fun, and really value a bike I can throw in a box in fifteen minutes and rebuild outside an airport halfway around the world without having to inspect it with a magnifying glass.
Of course, you could go with steel or aluminum if you just wanted a durable bike, and both have had their moment as custom or mass-market frame materials. Steel allows for a classic look, but it tends to be a fair bit heavier than titanium and when you’re shelling out the big bucks for a frame that you’re going to keep for years, it’s nice to have one that doesn’t feel like a boat anchor uphill. Aluminum makes for a great value hardtail frame, but the nature of the material means that it’s hard for custom builders to get the best out of it and while aluminum might yield a light and stiff frame the ride can be jarring. Titanium offers a uniquely comfortable ride feel, the durability of steel, and if done right it can weigh only a little more than a carbon frame.
Unlike the (admittedly beautiful) custom-painted steel bikes we see at NAHBS every year, titanium bikes are mostly left without paint. This means that the more you ride your bike, the better it looks. Buy yourself a fancy carbon hardtail, and you’ll find exactly the opposite is true. Indeed, it is possible to refinish your titanium bike at home. Oregon based builder Sage Titanium even offers new decals so that riders can refinish their bike and refresh or rethink their colored accents if they wish. For just the cost of a new set of decals and grips, you have a new looking bike. Throw in a new fork or groupset, and you get that new bike day feeling but with the same predictable and bombproof frame you have loved for years.
Of course, Sage will refinish your bike for you if you would prefer not to do it yourself, that is just one of the many advantages of working with a small frame builder. Like bikepacking? They will put mounts on your frame so you can use a bolted bag and avoid knee-rubbing straps. Never want to lube or replace a chain again? They can build you a belt-drive bike, or one with polydrops if you want to go between single speed and geared set-ups. You can get a custom finish, or custom geometry if you like. You’ll also be able to develop a relationship with the person who builds your bike, and it really will be your bike. Nothing sucks more than spending a small fortune on a dream bike only to see two more just like it at the trailhead.
It is possible to buy titanium frames cheaply online, but you’ll miss out on all those custom touches and you won’t have a chance to inspect the quality of the welds before you lay down your cash. Not only that, but working with a local frame builder means buying one bike that will last longer, be shipped a shorter distance, and not end up in a landfill in a few years. It’s a considerably more sustainable option with a much shorter supply-chain than carbon or imported frames.
Buying a forever bike means sticking with a forever geometry. This is where an experienced frame builder can help, by talking through where you ride, your riding style, size, and goals, they can help you pick out a frame geometry that is perfectly suited to you and that you’ll enjoy riding so much you won’t want to try the latest trend every other year. Titanium builders are not constrained by the massive sunk costs of making molds that constrain carbon frames to one geometry for several product years. This means that brands like Sage—who offers three different hardtails—have a perfect bike for almost anyone even though they are by no means a mass production outfit. If they don’t have one in their line, give them a call and they’ll make you one that suits your tastes.
I rode titanium bikes across Mexico, around Rwanda, and all over my local trail network last year. At nearly every trailhead, people asked me questions about my bike, and they kept doing so all year. That doesn’t happen on even the latest carbon hardtail, the buzz goes away once something new from another brand drops a month after your bike is released. I’m not alone in this assumption either, indeed I think the majority of my bike industry friends own titanium bikes. When you get to ride a lot of bikes, you get to know what you like, and when you know what you like you want to have it forever, and that’s when a titanium bike is for you.
Want to learn more about the versatility of titanium? Check out Sagetitanium.com for more information.