Appearing on the periodic table of elements at number 22 is the metal titanium. Discovered in 1791 by the Reverend Walter Gregor, it's name came from Martin Heinrich Klaproth who chose it from the Titan's of Greek mythology. Titanium is truly an amazing metal that is used in both airplanes, aerospace technology as well as special medical tools and of course the bicycle world.
My first introduction to titanium in the world of bicycles goes back to the early 70's. In 1973 two companies almost simultaneously came out with frames made of titanium. One from the USA, the Teledyne Titan and one from the UK, Speedwell, from the Speedwell Gear Case Company in Birmingham. At the time I happened to be working at a bike shop who had hired a fellow from England who did the initial testing on the Speedwell titanium frames. That season Luis Ocana rode several stages of the Tour de France on a Speedwell titanium frame. This was the very beginning of titanium in the pro peloton. A few years passed before other frame builders began to exploit the amazing properties of titanium in racing frames. Today we see many titanium frame makers and a real pronounced resurgence of interest in titanium for gravel bikes.
Frames are not the only area where titanium shows up. Numerous components are made from titanium. I'd like to highlight the area's where titanium crops up in the world of wheels.
Hub makers have for some time used titanium successfully in several areas. Titanium axles have been used by Shimano in some of their Dura Ace hubs. They are lighter than steel yet super strong. Shimano has also used titanium for their Dura Ace free hubs. In my opinion there is no better material for a freehub. Hadley hubs from California offers a Ti freehub. Titanium has an ideal strength to weight ratio and will not rust or corrode.
A Shimano Dura Ace titanium freehub.
Lightweight titanium quick release skewers.
Some of my favourite hub manufacturers have also chosen titanium as their material of choice for both their free hubs as well as other parts. Titanium quick release skewers are very popular and are both very strong and reliable. Companies like Royce in the UK and Gokiso in Japan have made hub models from titanium billets. These hubs are quite expensive but they are incredible.
Gokiso titanium hubs from Japan. Made from solid billets of aero space grade Ti. Undoubtedly the most expensive hubs on the planet.
Royce titanium hubs with a carbon fibre centre.
Spoke manufacturers have not ignored titanium but their success's have remained somewhat elusive. DT Swiss made a titanium spoke which is now discontinued. Today companies like Pillar of Taiwan are producing 3 titanium models at very light weights. Their use is best left to very light riders who are looking to keep their wheel weights at an absolute minimum.
Pillar's X-TRA Lite Ti bladed spoke. A 260mm spoke weighs an incredible 2.6 grams!
Cognoscenti Cycles has a new titanium spoke nipple that takes advantage of all the unique properties that titanium offers. Weighing less than a standard brass nipple and almost as light as an aluminium one, our Ti nipple is perfect for racing wheels and for those who demand the absolute best material for their custom wheels.
Titanium 14 gauge spoke nipples. These utilise a standard 3.2mm square interface on one end and a dedicated tool that turns the other end. At 0.4 grams each, they are light!