A Modern Titanium Touring Bike Overview and Review
By Jim Weaver, Service Manager, Fit Werx, VT
Whether you are getting ready to tour from Fit Werx in Vermont to Fit Werx in Massachusetts or leave from Fit Werx in NYC/NJ to head towards Seattle to make an ocean to ocean transcontinental journey, we are seeing a rise in interest in distance touring bikes over the past few years. Whether the distances are shorter or longer, more people are looking to explore on their bikes again. For this reason, we thought it apt to profile a recent touring build that we completed. A unique combination of traditional touring sensibility and modern cycling technology, this titanium Seven Expat SL is ready to take its rider just about anywhere.
Touring bikes are a particularly unique segment of road capable bike as they may have road based tires and frequently use road based drop bars, but that is often where the similarities with other road bikes end. When you are spending many days in the saddle touring, the fit and set-up of your new bike becomes very apparent and you need a bike designed to be stable and predictable at lower speed and when fully weighted down. When you combine this with being self-sufficient and carrying your lodging, clothing and other things with you, frame geometry/design and attention to detail can really enhance your experience.
Titanium is arguably the best material possible to build a touring bike. Immune to corrosion, durable and strong, and available in a wide range of stiffness, a well designed titanium touring frame will never let the rider down and will put up with anything that is thrown at it. Quality titanium is also lighter than steel and, even on a bike that is not designed with weight as a primary concern, at the end of a 100 mile ride every bit you save helps. At 28.5 lbs ready to ride, including racks, pedals, lights and cages, this is not a 40 lbs behemoth like some of its ancestors.
A great frame is the heart of a great touring bike and frames like the Moots Routt45 and Seven Expat are excellent starting points. A well executed titanium frameset is a thing of simple, functional beauty in its raw form. Being all titanium, this rider matched touring frame is practically bullet-proof, while providing that quality of ride that is unique to titanium. In this case, a very comfortable, compliant and plush ride while still being lively and inspiring. A quality titanium frame feels like it wants to be ridden and helps create a rhythmic extension of the rider. A touring bike must be able to accept fenders, have strong brakes, wide range gearing, and securely support racks front and rear. It should also accept a wide range of tires, allow you to carry extra water (3rd bottle holder) and be equipped to handle the occasional flat in the middle of nowhere with the affixed requisite full-size frame pump. A fork should always compliment the frame and Waterford, a long-time builder of custom steel bikes, built a dependable steel fork that is purpose built and geometry matched to the frame. The fork is also pannier and disc brake ready – perfect! Steel must be painted, and our client chose red to insert some brazen color to the otherwise subtle look of titanium.
Touring bikes have unique gearing requirements. When you are carrying 70 lbs and riding all day, you don’t want to find yourself grinding over the Rockies or the Appalachians and not having a low enough gear to make it. Likewise, hydraulic disc brakes can make a lot of sense for a touring bike as they offer immense power and modulation regardless of weather conditions, so we wanted to pair wide range gearing with the latest hydraulic braking options. While some touring riders like the simplicity and friction capability of a bar-end shifter, this rider did not want to give up the convenience and performance of integrated brake/shift levers. Thankfully SRAM offers options that we could mix and match to provide everything he wanted. The shifters and brakes are SRAM Hydro, meaning hydraulic road disc brakes and we installed brake rotors that are larger than normal for a road bike, 160mm in the rear and 180mm in the front, to handle the extra weight of touring. Standard disc brake road bikes usually have 140mm rear and 160mm front. The larger the rotor, the cooler it runs.
The front and rear derailleurs are SRAM X9. SRAM’s shifter and derailleur designs permit the use of mountain bike derailleurs with road shifters. So, this bike features an X9 rear derailleur that works with a wide range mountain bike cassette with a 36 tooth big cog. The crankset is also SRAM X9 mountain unit, with a combination of 26/39 tooth chainrings. For chainrings of this size, we needed to use a mountain bike front derailleur, hence the SRAM X9 front derailleur. With a low gear combination of 26 teeth front and 36 teeth rear, our client will be able to get over mountain passes with a fully loaded bike – the bike should be able to climb a tree if needed.
A touring bike is only as good as its wheels in some ways. Bruce here at Fit Werx built a set of touring specific, four cross, 36 hole custom wheels on Mavic’s strong and wide XM719 rim to match the needs of the rider as well as possible. We mounted Compass Barlow Pass, 700 X 38 tires on the wheels that were built with a Chris King rear hub. Chris King hubs are practically works of art, with a very distinctive freewheel sound reflecting the fine tolerances inside the hub. As with anything by Chris King, it works like a Swiss watch, and should last a very long time; putting up flawlessly with whatever loads and mileage our client dishes out. Speaking of Chris King, the headset is also of his name, in our opinion the finest headset available, almost indestructible and warranted accordingly. The front hub is a Schmidt Son Delux Dynamo Hub and it contains a built-in generator, powering Schmidt front and rear lights. This vaguely brought back memories of my childhood bikes where we had generators that fell against the side of the front tire to generate current and power a very dim light! Believe me, this hub generator is indeed 50 years more advanced than that old design and it can put out some real candle power! A custom internal wire routing was put into the titanium frame to hide the wire from the generator to the rear safety light mounted nicely on the rear stainless steel rack by Tubus. Very clean and very functional.
Speaking of racks… Tubus makes some of the very best racks in the business; they are very sturdy and will handle pretty much whatever load our client is willing to bear on the bike. They also offer compatibility with a range of pannier bags, and often direct design compatibility with Ortlieb – one of the best bag and pannier makers in the business. Being stainless steel, the Tubus racks match the titanium finish of the frame, and will not rust as well. The fenders are Portland Design Works full aluminum fenders, again sturdy, not flimsy plastic like many bike fenders. The three bottle cages (note the bottle cage under the down tube) are King Cages Titanium. Saddle? Brooks has a new Cambium synthetic saddle that may get some touring riders off leather, but in the end, for such a bike, a classic Brooks Leather saddle is still the standard and we mounted a fitting Brooks B17 Imperial accordingly. The multi-colored “tassel” hanging from the rear of the saddle is not a tassel at all, but a selection of leather laces from which the owner may choose to lace together the bottom edges of the saddle to tailor the taper and fit of the saddle shape. The seatpost is titanium and matched to the frame and, while we have equipped many touring bikes with classic Nitto style touring bars, a sportier 3T Ergonova with a flat section and some flare along with a laterally stiff 31.8 stem (red color matched highlight with the fork) was selected for this steed to match the modern integrated shifters while still providing some of the extra flare for drops stability that many riders prefer when touring.
All in all, this is a truly road worthy, long haul touring bike that offers traditional sensibility with the benefits and function of modern technology. What a cool combination. With the quality of the components, this bike should give many, many miles of reliable and great riding, service.
Thinking about a great touring bike? Give us a call or drop us an email to start a conversation.
Whether you use your bike to race, ride recreationally, race triathlon, ride gravel roads, compete in cyclocross, cut up the singletrack, fat bike on the snow or go on a long haul touring adventure, give Fit Werx a call in Massachusetts, NYC/NJ or Vermont and we’ll connect you with the right person to discuss the options and set-up a time to get fit and start selecting a great bike.