My old specialized Tarmac 2005 E5 finally died a month ago. It developed a hairline crack in the driveside (aluminium) chainstay, after 115,000 kms of trusty service. Seems this is very difficult to repair. If you weld it, the joint is extremely weak, and needs a complicated series of heat treatments. Since I had already repaired a crack in the carbon-fibre seat stay, and the join between the head tube and top tube had developed some play, I decided to get a new frame.
After a lot of deliberation, I decided to go with titanium. Partly because I'm drifting away from the culture of 'latest and greatest'. I guess I'm just not buying the hype anymore. And besides, I don't race - I'm just a social rider.
So why titanium?
a. I'm over 50.
b. It lasts forever - no metal fatigue, no rust
c. It's very low maintenance
d. The ride quality
e. Eddy Merckx broke the hour record on a titanium bike
I must admit, I also really like the simple, retro look of unpainted, brushed titanium.
I did a lot of looking around, and finally decided on the 57 cm Falco Eleonora model. I liked the tapered head tube and large down tube and BB of this model. I'm just over 6 foot tall and was worried that a thinner frame may flex too much.
It's always a bit scary buying something that you can't actually try out from overseas, but Falco bikes have a good reputation with lots of good feedback. So I took the plunge. Binny was really knowledgeable and unbelievably helpful. He alway emailed back the same day, usually within a few hours. After I ordered the bike, it got from Hong Kong to Australia within 6 days, for only $90 postage.
I was totally impressed with the frame. The finish and welds were beautiful, and it felt wonderfully light. More like a work of art. I had ordered it without the spike fork, since I want to get an Enve fork at some point in the future.
Then came the most frustrating part - having the frame sit on the sofa upstairs for the next few weeks while I waited for some bits and pieces to arrive. The first issue was my old s-works carbon fork. This fork has a straight 1 1/8 inch steerer, while the new frame expected a 1 1/8- 1 1/4 inch tapered steerer. I initially ordered some Wheels Manufacturing headtube reducers from Amazon to fix this. But when these arrived, it was clear they were not suitable for integrated headsets. What you really need is a crown race with a 1 1/4 inch outer dia and a 1 1/8 inner dia. Such a crown race reducer proved incredibly difficult to find. Chris King make a 'devolution baseplate', but when I emailed them about it they said it only worked on Chris King headsets. Don't know if this is strictly true - it certainly looks like it would work. Anyway I decided not to gamble on this.
Luckily, I have a friend that does machining work, and he was able to craft a custom aluminium crown race, identical to the included token crown race, but with the 1 1/8 inch internal dia. While I was waiting for this, I also ordered the SRAM truvativ adapter for converting PF46/30 BB to standard BSA. That way I could use my old Dura-ace 7800 cranks on the new frame while I decided to get either Rotor 3D+ or Cannondale Hollowgram cranks. In the long run, I want to go with 30 mm spindle PF30 cranks.
When everything was finally ready, I spent a few days transplanting my old bike onto the new frame. Getting the old crown race of my s-works fork was difficult, but the new crown race fitted perfectly. Unfortunately, the token headset didn't come with sufficient spacers. Everytime I attempted to fasten the top allen key bolt, the bottom of the headset would rub against the top of the headtube. I managed to fix this by making a plastic 1 mm washer and inserting it on top of the compression ring (actually, on top of the thin metal washer that sits on the compression ring). That fixed things beautifully. The headset bearings could now move freely. Should probably mention that I used anti-seize paste on all metal-metal contact areas.
So that was the difficult bit out of the way - I could now use my old forks on the new frame. I had the PF46/30 - BSA adapters put in by the bike shop, so that I simply had to screw in the the dura ace bottom bracket bearings. Installing the cranks was relatively uneventful, and everything seemed to fit well. My initial plan was to use a titanium seat post, but I ended up deciding that a black carbon fibre seat post looked nicer. I like having the titanium frame balanced by black forks, cranks, seatpost, wheels and headstem.
The rest of the build was relatively straightforward. I literally used every component off my old tarmac. There are still some hacky bits that I will get around to fixing. Sticky tape to prevent cable rub (yuck) and the cheap plastic bottle cage (at least the colour is titanium). Not to mention the ugly green rear tire. But for now, it works!
I've now done nearly 1000 km on the bike, and the overwhelming feeling is - 'I should have done this YEARS ago'. The feel of titanium is wonderful - solid but very gentle. The most noticeable thing is how it takes the edge off bumps in the road. It feels like you are riding with very tiny shock absorbers. I spent most of the first week deliberately riding over rough surfaces just to experience this. The bike also leans into corners beautifully, and is much more stable than the tarmac when riding with no hands. No sure why the tarmac was more twitchy, since the fork is the same, but maybe the Eleonora has a longer wheel base. I suspect the geometry of the two frames is very similar, since the fit feels perfect. Even though I am fairly tall, I prefer a frame on the smaller side, which will be both lighter and stiffer. Then I put the seat post up to fit.
I notice a lot of titanium bikes get 'pampered'. People refuse to take them out in the rain or get them dirty. This will not be one of those bikes. I intend to ride this bike a lot - it is my only bike. So I will be commuting and doing social and community rides, hopefully about 15,000 km/year. Good chance to test the durability of titanium. And yes, I'm even putting on clip-on mudguards for winter (shock, horror).
Here are some photos of the new Falco bike build, and my old bike. Remember, this is still a work in progress, and I hope to post some updated photos when I fit the new cranks and fork (hopefully I can work out how to upload images - otherwise I will add them later)