Thursday, 21 August 2014

Titanium artistry or carbon engineering?

I am still up in the air when it comes to Carbon vs. Steel / Titanium.  I've never actually ridden a titanium bike, but I have ridden aluminum, steel and lots of carbon.  I love my carbon bikes.  They seem to move over the road with ease and quiet all the little bumps that would drive me crazy on my aluminum frame or the old steel bike I had.  That being said, there is definitely some mystique to the handcrafted boutique frames, especially built by the artisans of titanium. I really should go out and ride a titanium bike made by a professional.  I just haven't had the time.

My experience working in a bike shop was limited.  We sold two types of bikes - like many shops - the high end carbon and the low end aluminum (and some steel).  We sold mainly mountain bikes and a few carbon road bikes in the form of LaPierre and Orbea.  Didn't ride them much either, and didn't care for the Orbea at all - felt dead to me and uncomfortable.  I currently ride a Cervelo road bike and I love it.  It has several thousand kilometres on it now and its starting to show its age - creaky here and chipped paint there.  Not many stock parts on it anymore, most parts have been switched out along the way.

Which brings me to my interest in Titanium.  I've read and heard that the frame will last forever with limited changes in performance over its lifetime and will be light, strong and comfortable all at the same time.  Not to mention, my father was a welder and I learned to appreciate the fine art of running a beautiful welding bead and the proper finishing after.  I love bikes almost as much as I love to ride.  To own a masterpiece by Firefly, Seven, Eriksen, Independent Fabrication, or a few others would be like buying a painting you will never get tired of looking at.  The cost is prohibitive for most though - $3000 or more for just the frame and then you end up at over double that, easily if you install worthy components and a wheel set that matches.

Firefly beauty.

The artistry of the boutique titanium frame is totally opposite to that of most carbon bicycles.  The titanium craftsmen work in a small shop with a fine eye for detail and finish.  They take a non-rare metal and use their training to work with the "difficult" material to create a tool for us cyclists.  Most carbon on the other hand is made in Taiwan or China, hundreds at a time, by workers who probably make bikes half the day and golf club shafts the other half.  Just kidding.  But the point is fair.  The artistry is lost.  The real art for carbon bikes comes in the paint job - like Ritte.  A company that has created a brand out of a great story and a great paint job.  Colnago, Cervelo, Pinarello, Bianchi, BMC, Specialized etc. have a brand, millions investing in marketing, and race teams to sell their products.

Some argue its all in the engineering.  I agree with this partly.  There should be a premium on expertise and knowledge.  Certain high end carbon bikes feel much better to me than others.  So if they are all made in the same factory, it must be the design, not the production.  The cost of the frame for most companies is probably $100-200 dollars to produce!!  So the other $3000-5000 dollars is engineering and PROFIT?  It seems absurd that we pay this much for carbon bike frames.  At least if I buy a hand-crafted titanium bike built by a small shop, I pay the small business owner to continue being an artist and open his doors to more customers.  I can see exactly what I'm getting for materials and I know who is fabricating my bicycle.  Just as many of you know, look on and see the "fake" or "real" Colnago C60 or the Cervelo R5 for a few hundred dollars.  THEY ARE MADE IN THE SAME FACTORIES.  Is it quality testing that differentiates the products?  Is it factory seconds because the paint job is flawed?  I don't know.  I do know that I don't trust big companies.  I've worked in them.  It is all about the marketing and perception, and ultimately, profit.

The Cervelo R5

Maybe an R5?

Everyday I think about ordering one of those Hong Fu FM166 disc brake road models and testing the quality of the product myself.  It might be $400-600?  Or I could order the Colnago C59 disc for $5000?  I'm not sure which model the FM166 actually is, but I know there is a smarter bike nerd than me out there who probably knows.  But there is also the part of me that wants to support the Firefly's of the world.  Even if the two bikes perform exactly the same for me, the artisans of the world deserve my support!  I don't race, I just like to ride fast and enjoy the experience.  I don't need Contador or Cavendish's bike because I'm never going to ride like them, but the idea of paying 1000% mark-up kind of makes me puke in my mouth a bit (yes, I realize it's not just bikes).

Someone write me back and tell how they like their FM166.

What do you think of carbon? titanium? OEM carbon frames?

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