Cheap Chinese Titanium vs. Custom or Name Brand Titanium
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  1. #1
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    Cheap Chinese Titanium vs. Custom or Name Brand Titanium

    I got into a discussion about Titanium frames today as a friend wants to spend $1800 on a Chinese manufactured Titanium frame sold by an obscure branding company that slapped a sticker and components on the frame.

    Is it worth buying ti if you buy down market ti? How do cheaper titanium framesets differ from the more upscale Moots, Seven, Litespeed, (insert custom shop here)... etc...

    Aside from the pretty welds are the 'spensive brands a much better ride?

    Any experience with the cheap Chinese ti frames?

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dajianshan
    I got into a discussion about Titanium frames today as a friend wants to spend $1800 on a Chinese manufactured Titanium frame sold by an obscure branding company that slapped a sticker and components on the frame.

    Is it worth buying ti if you buy down market ti? How do cheaper titanium framesets differ from the more upscale Moots, Seven, Litespeed, (insert custom shop here)... etc...

    Aside from the pretty welds are the 'spensive brands a much better ride?

    Any experience with the cheap Chinese ti frames?
    Places like XACD for example (Ti frame place in China), will make a frame exactly how you want it-tubestock dimensions, angles etc. Full custom frame for ~$800, last I knew...but you have to know exactly what you want, have to proof read a blueprint with more ink on 1 page than a full NYTimes Sunday paper and things are VERY easily missed by accounts. There is a happy owner on RBR who posted a thread about this, as well as a copy of his blueprint. He was only unhappy because he missed the number of water bottle bosses (IIRC).

    Moots and Seven both come in stock and custom sizes. Seven's system is a big 'ol questionnaire filled out with the help of your LBS, a telephone interview to workout details and confirm things-a proofread session with the LBS and then wait until down. Custom Sevens start at $2500 or so and up.

    I was thinking of XACD, Moots, and Seven for my Ti bike. Both Moots and Seven have LBS around here. Came down to the LBS I liked more, and that Moots/Seven are known quantities with names, and reputations, and warranties. It's a large amount of money-so why take a risk?

    And simply put, the odds are quite high that you buy a custom bike frame from them (Moots, Seven, Habanero, etc.) that you'll be happy with it, if you're not satisfied there's also recourse to make you happy....XACD (for example) not so much. You get what you get.
    Last edited by Marc; 02-07-2010 at 09:14 PM.
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  3. #3
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    I have worked on literally hundreds of cheap Chinese-made Ti bikes. Never saw a problem with workmanship over the couple of years I was dealing with them.

    The welds, incidentally, never looked perceptibly inferior to any of the "lookit these awesome custom welds" pictorials that get posted. Maybe I just don't have an eye for that kind of detail (never seen a FG chainline picture that did anything for me either).

    That said, $1800 is way, way more than I would ever pay.

  4. #4
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    PeanutButterBreath is right. 1,800 US dollars sounds like a lot to pay for a Chinese-made titanium frame.

    Half that amount would probably get you a decent frame from Habanero. Why pay more? Spend the difference on other go-faster gear instead.

    Actually, you can choose to pay more if you want to support builders like Moots and Seven. The fact of the matter is that not all of us can afford to do so.

    (I do have a chinese-made titanium frame from another company. Absolutely nothing wrong with the welds or anything else for that matter.)


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  5. #5
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    I guess what is unclear is the type of titanium tubing and strength of the welds. I have heard of people modeling titanium frame designs on other, non-titanium bikes. But it would seem to me that certain geometries and shapes can play to a material's strength and shouldn't be applied across the board.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dajianshan
    I guess what is unclear is the type of titanium tubing and strength of the welds. I have heard of people modeling titanium frame designs on other, non-titanium bikes. But it would seem to me that certain geometries and shapes can play to a material's strength and shouldn't be applied across the board.
    That's certainly true enough - steel tubing dimensions would be silly on a Ti bike, as would aluminum's for the opposite reason. But wrt to 'geometry', meaning the overall shape of the bike and tube positioning, that's based on usefulness and is independant of material.

    I'd have some concern about metallurgy and quality of weld: The differences between good and lousy are invisible to the naked eye, so you are relying somewhat on reputation to make sure you are getting good alloys, that the welding was done in an appropriately inert atmosphere, etc. Being twice removed from a 'generic' manufacturer wouldn't fill me with confidence there.

    For a US buyer, $1800 would be a silly price to pay for a frame, as you can get Lynskey or Litespeed's base framesets for a less than that at MSRP. If the Chinese bike is alleged to have an aggressive schedule of alloys, butting, and tube shaping there might be some reason to re-consider the value proposition, but still there's the question of reputation and trust to consider.

    Please note that I'm not making a nationalistic argument, but only the rather unknown reputation of the original builder.
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  7. #7
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    That was pretty much my feeling on the matter.

  8. #8
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    I never have looked at Chinese production techniques but after looking at some of the web sites of the custom makers like Zanconato and Strong (and having a custom steel Strong), I just find it difficult to believe that the Chinese can match the precision and quality of the custom guys. I am also convinced that the minute differences in precision translate into better ride qualities, but JMO, YMMV.

  9. #9
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    Here is a made in USA alternative and competitely priced.

    http://www.pridecyclesusa.com/index.html

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by danl1
    I'd have some concern about metallurgy and quality of weld: The differences between good and lousy are invisible to the naked eye, so you are relying somewhat on reputation to make sure you are getting good alloys, that the welding was done in an appropriately inert atmosphere, etc. Being twice removed from a 'generic' manufacturer wouldn't fill me with confidence there.

    For a US buyer, $1800 would be a silly price to pay for a frame, as you can get Lynskey or Litespeed's base framesets for a less than that at MSRP. If the Chinese bike is alleged to have an aggressive schedule of alloys, butting, and tube shaping there might be some reason to re-consider the value proposition, but still there's the question of reputation and trust to consider.

    Please note that I'm not making a nationalistic argument, but only the rather unknown reputation of the original builder.
    I'm glad you brought up the weld thing. Pretty welds don't mean precise miters. Also, what is the quality of the tubeset ? Having some experience in being a rep for a ti bike company the welders always mentioned inconsistent quality when it came to foreign sourced TI. They didn't want to use it...

  11. #11
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    For $1800 you can get a used Moots or Seven from here or ebay. I just bought a Lynskey Cooper CX for $1595 complete with Alpha CX10 fork (carbon fork but alloy steerer). It's a straight guage ti frameset with eyelets for racks & fenders. Lynskey is the founder of Litespeed.

    I also got a complete Serotta Concours CX (double butted titanium cyclocross) for $2300 from the Serotta forum.

    The big difference will be customer service, if you encounter a problem. Plus, you'll be getting a bike with a reputable build quality.

    I'm glad that carbon fiber is the material du jour. Ti frames are relatively cheap and they'll last a lifetime.

  12. #12
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    Ti is tricky to work with, so you want to know a bit about who built your bike and their experience/expertise. For example, the dropout compliance with spec is important because if they get it wrong, you can have a wheel that's not centred in the stay or your wheel bearing can wear prematurely (ie bad vertical compliance for the dropouts once you tighten qr).

    So the frame may not fail, as in break, but there's lots of little things that can be annoying if you get a sub-std builder.

    Also, you need to clean & purge the tube to prevent oxygen presence during welding. Lots of cheaper ti frames will show the tell-tale signs of oxygen contamination on the inside of their tubes when you cut them open. An improper ti-weld can mean dimished strength and a bike that ultimately fails. Most won't notice this from the outside until the bike fails.

    Perhaps the biggest gain is getting the ti frame that fits your body. There lots of small builders that can give you a custom ti-frame (I own one) for same or less than the price of a stock-size frame from the big names. The small guys won't have the fancier tubesets like lynskey, but you can still get the bike that fits and rides the way you want it.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by dekindy
    Here is a made in USA alternative and competitely priced.

    http://www.pridecyclesusa.com/index.html
    Nice prices, but they don't seem to list any frame weights?(I just glanced thru quickly).

    They should call themselves 'Tennessee Titanium'. That's memorable.
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  14. #14
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    I read with interest this racial bias when it comes to frame materials amongst these forums. When it comes to all these ebay carbon frames that keep popping up here all the time, the consensus from the forums is that they're great, they're the same factories that supply all the major brands so the quality must be good, then there's the multitude of praises from the owners of these frames, blah, blah, blah......

    When it comes to asian Ti frames its the other way around. We have the gamut from bad Ti alloys, questionable welds, questionable quality, low tech???, blah, blah, blah....... Why is this?? I'm just curious as to why this division in opinions between materials from the same source?

    Titanium will never be cheap relatively speaking because it costs so much more to refine it. When alumiunum was the material of choice, people had no problems with the welds or quality as such. Back in the 90's, Specialized, Trek, Bianchi etc. sold a lot of aluminum bikes which many here have ridden with no problem. So then these asian made aluminum frames made way for todays carbon frames and people here seem to have no problems with them either.

    What I will say is that its apples to oranges when one is making the comparison of a custom made Ti bike with a mass produced one. Of course the difference in the quality to details is going to be huge. But if you know what you are looking for & are on a tight budget, I don't see why there should be such negative opinions.

    In most cases when a person buys a custom frame, unless he knows someone that has the exact frame, there is no way of really trying it out. We buy on faith. Simple as that. Its the bike you saw in the magazine & always wanted. So you go out & order it. On faith. Sometimes you ask some guys for their opinion. Unless I hear some story of complete catastrophic failure, no one really knows until you take it out for yourself & ride it. Asking some guys about their opinion about a bike in question when they don't even own that particular brand is just foolish. Just my 2 cents.

  15. #15
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    There is a difference in the quality of Ti made in the US and the stuff from China...you get what you pay for....The US stuff costs about 150 to 200 more a frame from a builders stand point to use US ti over China stuff. Is the stuff from China junk...no its ok..but the stuff made in the US is better for the long run it will have less problems. If its a small builder in the US he is going to build you a really quality frame and use the best materials..because he has to warranty the frame and doesnt want to see it again to fix...Why is Ti so great? You can just cut and cut and weld time and time again on it..For Example: you can cut off a 1 inch head tube and weld back in a 1 1/8 head tube and you have a new undated frame... what a stiffer frame..cut out the down tube and put in a bigger pipe.

    What you have to watch for with a Ti is who is welding it together and how tight the tolerances are on the tubes butting. Soom loose fit it and weld. Not the best wat to do it in my option. Also, where most cracks acure is when someone contaminates the air when welding it being done..

    Should you buy a Ti frame from China at $1800.00...you can but why would you at that price you can get someone in the US to build a better frame that fits your weight with better materials for the same price or less...

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by gamara
    I read with interest this racial bias when it comes to frame materials amongst these forums.
    I agree somewhat, though I think it has to do more with cheap labor and low QC than race.

    Quote Originally Posted by gamara
    When it comes to all these ebay carbon frames that keep popping up here all the time, the consensus from the forums is that they're great, they're the same factories that supply all the major brands so the quality must be good, then there's the multitude of praises from the owners of these frames, blah, blah, blah......

    When it comes to asian Ti frames its the other way around. We have the gamut from bad Ti alloys, questionable welds, questionable quality, low tech???, blah, blah, blah....... Why is this?? I'm just curious as to why this division in opinions between materials from the same source?
    Well, it is true that some of the highest quality CF and aluminum frames are coming out of Taiwann. That said, a) China is not Taiwan and b) none of the high quality "name brand" Ti frames are coming out of Taiwan or China (AFAIK).

    Quote Originally Posted by gamara
    Titanium will never be cheap relatively speaking because it costs so much more to refine it. When alumiunum was the material of choice, people had no problems with the welds or quality as such. Back in the 90's, Specialized, Trek, Bianchi etc. sold a lot of aluminum bikes which many here have ridden with no problem. So then these asian made aluminum frames made way for todays carbon frames and people here seem to have no problems with them either.
    Here I agree. There are different considerations when welding Ti, but it is not rocket science. Any material can be of low initial quality, adulterated or poorly manufactured into a frame. No material is beyond the capabilities of Taiwan or China's manufacturing sectors. If you wouldn't think twice about riding a Chinese steel, Al or CF frame, there is no reason to exclude Ti based on the peculiarities of Ti manufacturing.

    Its also worth considering Ti's current place in the market. I'd say that Ti frames are disproportionately high-end and custom, which adds to the sense that Ti frame building is a rare skill that may be inherently unsuitable for mass production by anonymous, low-paid factory workers.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by SystemShock
    Nice prices, but they don't seem to list any frame weights?(I just glanced thru quickly).

    They should call themselves 'Tennessee Titanium'. That's memorable.
    .
    Pretty hard to list frame weights for custom jobs.

    My large, stiff frame (590mm x 580mm with long chain stays and large diameter tubes (38mm DT, 35mm ST)) came in at 1500g.

    A more standard 55 cm frame would probably come in under 1400 g.

    These are straight gauge frames so they'll be a couple of hundred grams heavier than an equivalent frame from butted tubing.

  18. #18
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    China is not Taiwan
    Thanks PBB!!! You made my day. I love when people get that right.

  19. #19
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    I work with metals all day long. I don't know much about manufacturing of bike frames, however I do manufacture some components for jet fighters. Ti alloys are about 10-20 times harder to cut than most steel alloys. It does take a skilled employee to do it right and efficiently. When I have to manufacture something from Ti, I need from my boss the best metal cutting tools and it takes time.
    Can Chinese do it? probably yes. For last few decades we've been exporting manufacturing technologies all over the world.

  20. #20
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    As a Chinese & owner of Chinese Ti frame, I have to say I've been happy with my bike for last 4 years. What I missed sometimes is the stiffness around the BB, but given the comfort level I'd accept that.

    There's two companies sold Ti frame in China, and both have good background AFAIK.

    The XACD actually backed by the big ti-alloy industry in mid-china....they smelt ti and made all the tubes... bike frame is just tiny part of it. The drawback is that I suspect they know little about cycling, hence they rely on customers to determine what they want it to be.

    The other manufacturer called Hi-Light. These guys were actually does rocket science ;-) They were people weld the Chinese rockets so they know how do the welding.

    Ti is something rare as you can see these two manufacturer have their source.

    Overall Chinese ti-frame builders knows little about cycling, knows a lot about the material, and how do do the welding. They were simply ti-workers to make some extra money by making some bicycle frames.

  21. #21
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    That IS a good point. China has done a remarkable job acquiring US technology for producing advanced weapons and jet fighters. No reason to think they haven't sent that technology to the bike sector.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by kubuqi
    The other manufacturer called Hi-Light. These guys were actually does rocket science ;-) They were people weld the Chinese rockets so they know how do the welding.
    Good grief. Well, its not brain surgery. . .

    But, there you go. I think the issue of technical prowess is settled.

    However, you raise an interesting point about design. All of the Chinese Ti frames I am familiar with were built to the specifications of Americans or Europeans. Not that a Chinese designer couldn't do it as well or better, of course. I suppose that ride quality is really a matter of who placed the order, and how picky they were able to be about the compliance of the final product.

  23. #23
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    Well, for my part, its a rare treat to get something right.

  24. #24
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    From my experience with Chinese manufacturers, Chinese products and people doing business with Chinese manufacturers, the Chinese companied have problems with QC due to a different industrial culture (Soviet model where Taiwan is rooted in the Japanese model). That culture is changing, but it has been difficult to instill in the workers a sense of responsibility in the final product. Furthermore, Chinese managers are under pressure to get the job done while reducing costs. This leads to cut corners and falsified processes. There are lots of murky deals between companies and there have been several cases of inferior materials being substituted for the original specs. Since the government officials ore on the take, it is difficult to enforce regulations. Still... it is hard to condemn an entire industry. I guess it just leaves question marks.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by veloduffer
    For $1800 you can get a used Moots or Seven from here or ebay. I just bought a Lynskey Cooper CX for $1595 complete with Alpha CX10 fork (carbon fork but alloy steerer). It's a straight guage ti frameset with eyelets for racks & fenders. Lynskey is the founder of Litespeed.

    I also got a complete Serotta Concours CX (double butted titanium cyclocross) for $2300 from the Serotta forum.

    The big difference will be customer service, if you encounter a problem. Plus, you'll be getting a bike with a reputable build quality.

    I'm glad that carbon fiber is the material du jour. Ti frames are relatively cheap and they'll last a lifetime.
    Absolutely!!! A high quality ti frame from any of the major palyers such as Serotta, seven, litespeed. etc is a bike that will last for many many years. And used ones are a bargain, as most folks these days want carbon. So why not get a bike with a bit of experience for less than what you would pay for a bike with questionable quality? Not to mention, if you buy a used american ti bike, the original owner has already taken the big depreciation hit. Buy a chinese frame for $1800 and what do you think it will be worth in 2 years? Probably $300-$400. BTW, I happen to have a 56cm Serotta Legend ti in perfect condition that I'm considering selling, feel free to PM me if interested.

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