I Bought a Titanium Bike!

paso_de_cortes_12

The Firefly we tested for the Summer Bicycle Quarterly is one of a new breed – an Enduro Allroad Bike with tires much wider than we usually ride. Our usual routes in the Cascades didn’t seem enough of a challenge for this machine and its 54 mm tires, so we took it on a challenging ride across the Paso de Cortés in Mexico, reaching elevations of 4000 m (13,120 ft) –  almost as high as the summit of our own Mount Rainier.

Taking a test bike on a big trip like that always carries some risk. With our own bikes, we know how they perform. We know that they will totally reliable. With test bikes, there can be surprises…

The Firefly did not disappoint. Its titanium frame climbed well on the rough gravel road to the pass. The big tires floated over the very loose surfaces of our side trip up Iztacchihuatl volcano (photo above), where we would have been walking on our usual bikes.

mexico_13

During the sinuous descent into the “Valley of Mexico”, the bike surprised with its incredible cornering grip (above). And during our night-time dash into Mexico City, I enjoyed the scintillating performance offered by truly great bikes, whether they are made from steel, carbon, titanium or aluminum.

reforma

After that memorable adventure, I rode the Firefly in many different settings. I used it for interval training on the big avenidas of Mexico City.

Lost_pass_firefly

I took it to the limit on the loose gravel descents of the Cascade Range. We even tested its performance against the clock to see how much it gives up on pavement due to its ultra-wide tires. (The report is in the new issue of Bicycle Quarterly.)

panaracer_firefly

It came with me to Japan, where it went on a cyclotouring trip that included a visit to the Panaracer factory.

firefly_studio

In Tokyo, the bike drew an admiring comment from a pedestrian. Considering how reserved the Japanese usually are, that was high praise. I agreed with the stranger – I really like the way it looks. The proportions seem “just right”; the logos are tasteful; the craftsmanship is superb; the custom titanium stem and seatpost add a “constructeur” touch. It’s a beautiful bike.

handmade_in_boston

When the time came to send our test bike back to Firefly, I realized how much I would miss it. I don’t have my own Enduro Allroad bike with 50+mm-wide tires yet. More than that, I really like riding this bike. It’s not the first test bike I’ve been reluctant to return, but this one that fills a need in my “stable” that currently isn’t met.

Kevin from Firefly proposed a price, taking into consideration that the bike now is “used”, and that is how I now own my first titanium bike. It’s also my first bike with Campagnolo Ergopower and with disc brakes. I am quite excited about it.

ergopower

Most of my bikes use classic components that require almost zero maintenance. How will a modern 11-speed drivetrain fare on the challenging rides we enjoy? How will the disc brakes work out in the long run? And does titanium offer something that my steel bikes can’t match? We’ll find out soon!

I’ve already started to modify the bike. The White Industries bottom bracket was running roughly after just a few hundred miles, so it has been replaced with an SKF bottom bracket. I installed Compass René Herse cranks to save more than 100 grams and get the 48-32 chainrings that I want to use on the Firefly. I’ve set up the Compass Rat Trap Pass tires tubeless. But most of all, I’ve ridden the bike a lot. And now that it’s mine to keep, you’ll see more of it here and in the pages of Bicycle Quarterly.

Further reading:

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. Bicycle Quarterly's sister company, Compass Bicycles Ltd., turns the results of our research into high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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45 Responses to I Bought a Titanium Bike!

  1. This year’s D2R2 had a lot of heavy washboard that on the descents had me bouncing all over and on the long climbs had me looking down at my Conti CycloCross Speed 700x35c tires for an eternity. After a while, for the first time ever, I realized they were too small for this ride and that the Compass Rat Trap Pass 26x54c tires would be much better. Driving home I realized that my first dirt road bike, a Ritchey rigid/rigid mountain bike did not have the room for them, but my old Ti Litespeed Obed mountain bike did. Setting it up next to the Ritchey, I realized that the head tube was high enough to make it work. Only issue is the high BB, but I’ll drop the head tube angle down to 73 deg with a custom fork.
    Yesterday I read an article on cycle touring the Huascaran Circuit in Peru. This morning before I opened your email, I got the email from Compass that my tires had been shipped!
    Serendipity!

    • The high bottom bracket is a concern only when you stop and must put a foot down. The beauty of wide tires is that you won’t have to stop.

    • keith says:

      I recently converted my new-to-me 90s Litespeed Ocoee into a drop-bar all-road enduro bike, much like Jan’s. The high BB was also a concern for me, but in real riding, I haven’t noticed any negative impacts. My initial concern was that raising my center of gravity would make me inherently unstable, especially during longer rides where it becomes harder to correct your movements.

      My conversion worked wonderfully because my body proportions (longer torso) worked with the longer TT of mountain bikes. If you are thinking of running drops, make sure your reach doesn’t become too stretched out. I think a bypass to this issue would be to use a frame smaller than what you’d normally ride. I’m assuming this is what Hahn did with his ex-Bontrager?

    • James says:

      Christian,
      On your Lightspeed MTB, just be aware that using a custom fork to drop the front end (and thus drop the BB) to 73 degree will also steepen that seat tube to 75 degrees or so. You will probably want to use a big offset seatpost with the seat shoved quite aways back to get a decent position on the bike. This will make your top tube reach pretty ridiculously long requiring a really short stem. This might not produce the bike your dreaming of.

      • Pawl Bearer says:

        My ’99 Litespeed Obed running v-brakes, Rat Trap Pass tires, and a very stiff Surly 1×1 fork with 413mm length from axle to crown. Head angle is 71/72* and seat tube is 69*. The bottom bracket is 301mm from center to ground. A custom fork is a good idea because the 1×1 has only 45mm of rake and way too much trail. Jan’s Seven fork is a much more interesting design. The guys I ride gravel roads with are still learning that the RTP tires are the reason I am riding an old 26″ bike so fast. Switching from Jones h-bars to drops would complete the transformation from Mountain Bike to Allroad Enduro!

      • Those converted mountain bikes can be really neat machines. A local bike shop set up a Litespeed with drop bars – I can’t wait to try it. Of course, if you start from scratch, a custom-built machine intended for drop bars and road components probably is a better choice.

  2. Richard says:

    BQ has always argued the benefits of flexible fork blades, so the straight rigid forks on the Firefly would seem unacceptable. Perhaps the massive volume of air in the 55mm tires makes flexible fork blades unnecessary.

  3. gasconha says:

    Nice bike Jan but I always tough you might have bought the Jones as the bike seemed to pleased you so much and feeling a gap in your stable. Or do you think that your new firefly could do well on a “bikepacking” trip?
    No handlebar bag for this one ?!

    • The Jones was a great bike, too, but it isn’t suited to riding in a pack due to its wide handlebars and overly sensitive brakes. It’s really best for bikepacking, and I don’t plan to do a lot of that. I prefer roads of all sorts, as I like to look at the scenery…

  4. Jonah Jones in Bermuda. says:

    I picked up my Firefly all-road this Summer. Its first ride was the Dirty Kanza half and she was a revelation on the rough gravel track. (I used Clement 40mm tires.) In a couple of weeks we head off to ride the cycle paths between Munich and Venice taking our belongings aboard the bikes. The bike is incredibly comfortable and 200km+ rides don’t leave you beaten up. I’d love to ride her on the European Transcontinental next year. (Fingers closed for securing a place!)
    Kevin, Tyler and Jamie at Firely build beautiful,functional machines.

  5. Concerning the Paso de Cortés, one of the best books I’ve ever read about Mexico was “The Conquest of New Spain,” by one of the officers in Cortés’s small band of conquistadores, Bernal Diaz. Quite a lucid, readable, and honest account of all the trials they went through, the atrocities they committed, and the wonders they experienced, including climbing past Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, the two great volcanoes above Mexico City, probably along the very same route that you rode!.

  6. B. Carfree says:

    I see you’re now using your Rene Herse cranks with an 11-speed drive train. I know you don’t like to make formal recommendations until you’re absolutely positively certain that there are no hidden issues, but I have to ask how it’s going with that combination. I’m beginning to plan my next bike and have been seriously considering 11-speed, but I also would like to give the Compass cranks a whirl.

    I can wait for an answer, since I won’t be building this for about two years; that’s actually fast for me. Going to eleven would keep to my pattern of only running odd numbers of rear cogs. I’ve had bikes with five, seven and nine, but not six, eight or ten cogs unless one counts those few months when I was breaking every Regina freewheel in stock on the West Coast back in 1984.

  7. Michael says:

    Congrats on the new bike, Jan!
    I just finished reading the exhiliarating ride report in BQ.
    Must feel so secure on those wide tires.
    Sounds like a fantastic setup.

    I had to pause and re-read the sentence where you wrote “If I lived in Mexico and could have only one bike, it would be an Enduro All Road bike.”.

    What?!?! Something better than the Herse for a given application?!?!
    I jest in good fun, of course.
    Happy you are finding the best machines for your needs. You have thought about these things and worked on them for a long time.

    One question:
    I’m not understanding the term “Enduro All Road”.
    Is this a type of bike sold on the market these days?
    Or is it your own term you use to describe a bike meant for endurance riding on all surfaces?

  8. Christophe says:

    Nice bike, I am sure you will have a lot of fun with it. This bike does have several features in common with the bike I made myself back in 2014, and with which I rode PBP last year : Titanium, Campagnolo Ergopower, disc brakes, wide tubeless tires (I currently use 700-35s, and previously even narrower -28s for PBP-, but the frame is designed to accept up to 50s at least, and I will probably try to find suitable tires when my Bon Jon Pass are worn).

  9. Matt says:

    What type of bike bag do you plan on using? Are you going to stay with the low rider racks and panniers, or try to mount a handle bar bag? Any provisions for lighting?

    • Currently, the bike is set up for day rides. I am thinking about rack solutions…

      • Cris says:

        I am really pleased with my Gilles Berthoud front rack on my 26″ wheel Rodriguez UTB. It’s possibly the only rack on the market with adjustable struts to easily level the rack.

        Hypothetically speaking, if you had to ride your new Firefly at the next PBP, which of the Compass tires would you choose?

      • I am glad the Gilles Berthoud rack is working well for you. We found that at high speeds on rough roads, all the bolts on these racks tend to come loose – that is why we prefer non-adjustable racks that are custom-made for the bike. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Gilles Berthoud’s bike for the Technical Trials didn’t use their production rack, but a custom-made one…

  10. Jona says:

    “Kevin from Firefly proposed a price, taking into consideration that the bike now is ‘used'”
    So you get to use the bike from new, then buy it as a “used” bike? Nice deal.

    • Yes, I was very happy about it. I wish I earned so much that I could just buy all the bikes I want, but the main reason Compass has almost no competition is that producing very high quality parts in small numbers isn’t very profitable. And don’t even ask about publishing a bike magazine…

      • Jona says:

        Well, I certainly appreciate your efforts, Jan! What you have taken on in both Compass and BQ must not be easy but it is laudable. I feel your pain about buying the bikes you want as all my money goes to my daughter’s sport. I can’t really complain as I don’t ride the bike I have enough. However, I still dream about a Jeff Lyon frame with Compass components and the simplicity of only 5 or 6 cogs in back!

      • If I were you, I’d see whether the Jeff Lyon wasn’t somehow do-able. The bike we tested from him was wonderful in every way, and yet remarkably affordable.

  11. Martin R says:

    Congratulations on the new bike! Please update us on how your crank set works with the new Campy components. I currently run a Rene Herse 46-30 on my bike and have no luck using any of my Shimano components. I recently installed Shimano 6700 bar end shifters and Suntour Cyclone front derailleur to help me with the shifting up front. I am hoping to add the new Campy Potenza 11 speed set up in the near future.

    MB

  12. druzianich says:

    Were you riding the SRT today? Every time I see one of the long sleeved blue jerseys I ask “are you Jan?” Did not have time to ask this morning, however.

  13. Nestor Czernysz says:

    I look forward to your long term component review.

  14. Bob S says:

    I’m curious if the Herse crank/SKF bottom bracket combination improved the chainline at all? Terrific bike – I am looking to add a similar machine to my stable.

  15. Tom says:

    That “New Type of bicycles” very much reines me of my 89 Specialized RockCombo. I’ve Ben travelling this on of road with 26×2.2 Schwalbe tyres.

    Downhill quite sloppy frame. And I miss the lowrider mounts

    Specialized RockCombo

  16. Jan Heine on a non-ferrous bicycle! And on 26 inch ‘Mountain Bike’ wheels/tires. Is nothing sacred?

    What’s next, a Fat Tire bike with the new Compass Heart Bypass model tires?

    • I know your comment is in jest, but the 26″ tires actually are made by Compass Bicycles. It’s another “dead” wheel size that we found to work well for certain applications. It isn’t the first wheel size we’ve resurrected.😉

      As to non-ferrous bikes, I’ve been racing an Alan cyclocross bike since 1994. It’s still one of my favorite bikes.

      At Bicycle Quarterly, we don’t believe in simplistic slogans like “steel is real”. We enjoy great bikes, no matter how that greatness is achieved.

      • Henry says:

        When you talk about smaller wheel sizes like 26″ and 650b wheels, it’s clear that there are major advantages for smaller bikes and riders. But do you think these advantages really carry over for taller riders? I’m 6′ 2″ (188 cm).

      • The advantages of samller wheels are:
        – more nimble handling (especially important when using wide tires)
        – stronger wheels
        – easier to fit in the rear triangle between road cranks
        – easier to avoid toe overlap

        All of those carry over for taller riders. Except perhaps the last one, which wouldn’t be a problem for a rider your size. For me (5′ 11″, 181 cm), most bikes with wide 700C tires still have toe overlap.

  17. Michael says:

    What material is the fork made of? Looked carbon in the pic but I wasn’t sure.

  18. Mike Stöckel says:

    great to see you enjoy this “newschool” bike ! you make a very inspiring work😉
    best regards from the east of germany

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