Titanium vs Carbon Frames: What are the differences?
Price: Titanium is more affordable than carbon: only $1299& up for a state-of-the-art, USA-made, lifetime warrantied, titanium frame.
Recent demand for titanium bikes is way up, partially due to the recent huge drop in titanium frame prices. Both Lynskey and Litespeed (for example) dropped the prices of their top-level frames by $600 to $1500 this year as a result of the huge recession-induced drop in raw titanium costs. Because of the temporary glut of titanium on the world market, both brands also now offer sub $1500 models comparable in features to previous generation models that were priced at almost $1000 more. Weight wise, this means that you can now purchase a titanium frame that weighs the same as an equivalently priced carbon frame.
Durability: Titanium frames are 10 times as strong and 10 times longer-lasting than carbon.
The really big factor in exploding ti-bike demand has been growing levels of frustration among cyclists with the cost of regular replacement of short-lived carbon frames. Carbon frames can be built to last decades, but that would require them to weigh 3.5 to 4 pounds or more. Instead, most carbon frames are designed to weigh 1.7 to 3 pounds and as a result, their service life is typically limited to about 4 to 8 years. (After which they develop cracks, and need to be replaced.) The lightest and most expensive carbon frames are often even more short lived. In contrast, titanium frames weigh 1.7 to 3 pounds, are designed to last 50-100 years, and due to their ultra-high modulus-of-elasticity (resistance to long-term fatigue), they can ride just like new decades later.
The ride: Current era titanium frames are more shock-absorbent and equally-rigid vs. carbon frames.
Virtually all riders that have tried both will agree that the lively, laterally-rigid yet shock-absorbent feel of current-generation titanium is superior to the muted feel of carbon. (That muted ride of carbon is sometimes even referred to as a ‘dead’ feel.) Like carbon, titanium can be manipulated to create frames of almost any desired combination of weight, shock-absorbency, and lateral rigidity.
Summary: Titanium is now far superior to carbon by every objective measure.
Over a 20 year period, one ti. frame will outlast 2, 3 or even 4 carbon frames. It will offer a livelier, more shock absorbent feel. Because of the durable natural finish, it can be refinished to look like new in minutes with a scotchbrite pad and a can of pledge. Now that a top-quality titanium frame can be purchased for an equal or lower price than a high-quality carbon frame, titanium is the clear, obvious, and rational best-choice frame material for bicycles.
If titanium is superior to carbon, why are most high-end road bike frames still made of carbon?
The overall superiority of titanium over carbon is a very recent phenomena. Many titanium frame prices dropped by $600-$1500 in the past year due partially to a drop in raw titanium prices. Last year things were not so cut and dried. When entry-level USA-made titanium frames started at about $2400, and (for instance) a Lynskey Helix frame cost $4500 (rather than $2995 as it does now) carbon was a far more appealing option. As the economy recovers, if raw titanium costs return to past levels, we may look back at this year (and perhaps next) as a brief golden age of extremely affordable titanium frames, and lament its passing.