Titanium vs Carbon Frames: What are the differences?

  • Price: Titanium is as affordable as carbon: only $1899 & up for a state-of-the-art, USA-made, lifetime warrantied, titanium frame-set.

    Demand for titanium bikes is way up, partially due to the recent huge drop in titanium frame prices.  Many titanium frame builders dropped the prices of their top-level frames by $600 to $1,000 in recent years as a result of a huge drop in raw titanium costs. Because of the temporary glut of titanium on the world market, many also now offer entry-level and mid-priced 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’ or ‘wooden’ 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, or even 3 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 reason is simple economics.  A high-quality carbon frame can be produced in Taiwan or China for about 70 to 80% less than the cost of producing one in the US.  Manufacturing carbon frames is labor-intensive, but carbon-manufacturing skills are relatively easy to teach.  The carbon itself is extremely inexpensive compared to titanium.  Labor costs in Taiwan and China are dramatically lower than in the US.  Large bike companies can therefore buy very low and sell very high purchasing mass-produced Taiwan or China made carbon frames.  Titanium on the other hand, is a vastly more expensive raw material than carbon fiber.  Unlike carbon, building titanium frames correctly requires skills that take years to master.  The result of the  much higher material and labor costs is that manufacturer profit margins are less than half as much for titanium frames than for carbon frames.  The consequence of that is that even though titanium is a far better material to build bikes with (vastly better in ride, strength, and durability, and with very little weight trade-off), since it is nowhere near as profitable as carbon, it will remain a niche product for the more experienced and better informed segment of the cycling public.