This was to be a review of just one of the Titus Cycle’s offerings; the Titus Rockstar 29er Dual Suspension mountain bike. However, the typical review paradigm was changed due to the change of business that Titus underwent in the past few months. What was to be a review of a singular product from a company, ended up being a review of the entire company and it’s intended future. Somewhere in the midst of reviewing a bike, the review of the capital engine and minds behind Titus became part of the overall review – and it was indeed worth it.

The Build
The Titus Rockstar was a new development for the 2010 product line from Titus. Introduced at the beginning of the 2010 year at the typical outdoor bike demos and product launches of the MTB scene, it was met with fairly decent acclaim among the already widening berth of 29er offerings from every brand across the country. It was almost a johnny-come-lately moment for Titus, if it wasn’t for the obvious standards they hold of building a quality mountain bike still made in the US. The boutique nature of Titus in print ads alone have garnered the Titus image one of upscale nonsense aimed towards the blue collar Joe who would most likely save up their money and sell all their bikes for the opportunity of owning just one ultimate bike. I fondly remember admiring the over the top ads in print magazines that depicted a father showing his son a community college brochure with a huge grin on his face as he spent his son’s college fund on the latest Titus offering. Some Titus models, in full titanium, exogrid carbon, and custom build, very well could have set back a year’s worth of Johnny’s college tuition. Yet, in spite of the flashy ads, the US made bicycle bling, and MTB rockstar imagery the brand conjured up – it fell victim to business bankruptcy and the sale of it’s assets to a foreign company.

This was a tragedy, and definitely one felt close to home as I stood next to my newly purchased gem that appeared to have lost value as fast as the stock market dive in the past two years. Did I buy a bike from a company that would no longer exist and was an immediate relic? The personal irony was that prior to this purchase, I sold a made in the U.S. steel Gary Fisher frame of which parting with, was not easy but necessary to keep the bicycle stable fresh with new U.S. made integrity. Was I that blue collar joe schmuck that got had? No.

Titus Bicycles is now 20 years old. It has gone through iterations of and a generation of craftsmen, welders, and business leaders that have taken the company through the ebbs and flow of the market worldwide. The fundamental basis of the company is to build the best quality stateside built bicycle your money can afford. They did so for many years with little more than print ads and word of mouth. In Chicago, specifically, not a single dealer in the tri-state area of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois even carried Titus Bicycles on the show room floor. Yet, on a local group dirt ride, I can see that Titus was a very popular choice among the seasoned MTB veterans of the midwest. How does that come to be that a brand has such a solid reputation among the forums and word of mouth that buying a $5K bicycle sight unseen is a commonality among this boutique bike brand. The answer was simple – they are built incredibly well and they ride as if they were built to make you a more confident rider. The build of the company was built on the ride quality of their bikes, and it is evident to this very day. As the company floundered for success late into 2010, the relationships between online retail and local brick and mortar bike shops had been strained in trying to deliver this quality product. Speaking with Ben Webster at Titus, he elaborated this predicament with a simple example that the local bike shop felt abandoned by the approach to offer boutique bikes through online retailers in addition to their showroom floor offering. A combination of market glut of product, and unwilling dealers to compromise their sales force against online retail. Titus met it’s bankrupted demise in November of 2010.

The Ride
The Rockstar 29er does as I presumed what all Titus’ do, and that was roll effortlessly through the singletrack. It carved turns and technical sections with the precision of a smaller wheeled bike, and with the grace of a cross country specific geometry while exhibiting an all mountain demeanor when it counted. It was a proverbial jack of all trades with a few compromises here and there but at 27 lbs., it proves that 29er dual suspension technology has gotten into the realm of veritable endurance race machine. It can get lighter with more specific components choices. I didn’t bother, sticking to tried and true ‘all americana’ Thomson bits, and Chicago based SRAM X0 (9 Speed). With suspension provided by Fox Racing, I had a mostly entirely built or engineered U.S. made bike. The selling point to this bike was spot on – Saj Rudolf of Get A Grip Cycles, from where I bought the bike, had a Titus as his main MTB, and it was the only one in the shop. I didn’t have to test ride it to witness the flawless execution of the bike build up close. Saj’s comments of ‘despite the weight and what you think of the build, it rides like it’s a lot lighter’. This is a very interesting concept, a bike that rides like it’s lighter, tells me that it’s purpose built. Saj has a solid reputation of being one of Chicago’s premier MTB mechanic specialists and is an ardent supporter of the off-road cycling scene as well. Hearing this level of opinion was valuable, and I became one of the many that bought a bike, sight unseen.

The ride of the company is much the same as their bikes – steady, adaptive, and even when it crashed, it managed to get picked back up and thrown back onto the singletrack with confidence once again. This is due to the purchasing of the brand by On*One, a UK based company. The reception to this news was not taken well in the various MTB forums of public opinion. Then again, many armchair small business administrators seemed to have an opinion on the demise of the brand and why and how it could have been prevented. All the public opinion aside, I was intrigued by the happenstance purchase to see which direction the company would go. I called Titus up and spoke with Peter Hollingsworth shortly after viewing the liquidation process of selling remaining frames at close-out online through the Titus site. I did have a minor sadness as I now saw the same frame I had purchased 60 days prior at over 45% less than what I paid for – so my conversation with Peter was more investigative for my own curiosity. Hearing the positive and accented voice on the other end of the line gave creedence to the fact that indeed, a European company is now at the helm. Despite any of the negativity flowing through online forums and internet chatter about the fate of Titus – Peter gave a refreshingly forward view of the American brand and how happy he is to be continuing in the tradition of great American built mountain bikes. Peter offered calm view of how things were to be handled with warranties, the attention he and the new additions to Titus are striving to give to loyal Titus product owners, and the plan to how Titus will recoup the loyalty of those who were swayed by the change or on the fence of what to do after they had purchased a new bike in late 2010. I won’t be an armchair small business administrator on this topic – but I will say that the plan was sound, and the focus was genuinely on the consumers that made the product great. Much like the Rockstar’s 1/8″ to 1.25″ headtube that provides stiffness and control to maintain the most demanding lines on the singletrack, the company is poised to the same, very much in line with the build of their own product. If the quality of their builds are still integral to the quality of the employees and leadership they align themselves with, there is only one way for this mountain bike company to go – up.

The Final Thought
I raced my Titus Rockstar at the Iceman this past year. I did the Iceman in 2005 on a 26″ dual suspension MTB that weighed 27 lbs. I toed the frosty line in icy Michigan in 2010 with the 29er dual suspension weighing in at the same weight. Testament to the forward advancement of lighterweight components for MTB and the more solid introduction of carbon materials mated with aluminum have helped bring the contention of weight down to a minimum. Yes, I know that fitness is the key to improvement and not necessarily just the bicycle, but I did improve my time by over 20 minutes from 2005, finally making into the upper echelon of the 3,500 competitors of the race. This is by far a hardtail’s race – and I felt that the dual suspension (not locked out) handled it superbly while defining some of the greatest characteristics of this bike. The bike is designed to be ridden fast regardless of the terrain. Every acceleration on the flats of the double track, proved to be a positive push forward as opposed to the sinking backwards into suspension bob or loss of energy – it was propulsive.

The climbing is where it shined, traction was there in spades and with certain climbs lathered in mud were met with my stand and mash upwards with aplomb as it tracked through the mud with nary a spinned wheel and neatly carved through the minor singletrack effortlessly to the dismay of hardtailers being left behind me. I know that I can drop at least another 2 lbs. off of this bike making it a true weight contender amongst the full carbon 29ers on the market – but why? It handled with aggressive quality and accelerated out of turns and on the flats without feeling like a mushy representation of a hardtail. The bottom bracket is lower than most 29ers on the market and that is not entirely bad, considering it lends itself to divebomb through corners and the singletrack as aggressively as you can handle it and leaning forward and spinning provides ample power to climb up the most steep gradients without lofting your front wheel. I’m 5’8″ and its the first dual suspension MTB that I felt that I was riding ‘within’ the geometry of the bike and not ‘on top’ of the bicycle. My Titus is a size small and I have no toe overlap or overextended reach on the handlebars (110MM stem with a 6 degree sweep back on flat bars). I’m looking forward to tackling the season of endurance and marathon mountain biking events on this bike and perhaps the only lightweight option I’ll add to the bike is a lightweight race wheelset to further amplify this bike’s racing capability.

Titus the company is on the upward slope to redefining who they are and getting back to the roots that made them so popular in the first place. If their upward trajectory is anything like the ride quality of their bikes, they will get to the top safely once again. Speaking with Ben Webster on the future of the product line, I was happy to hear and report to all of you that the 29er is going to be a bigger route for their new product lines – so expect to see announcements of their new product offerings. Titus has learned their valuable lessons of boutique brand volatility in the market place. They aim to reconnect with the core of their products’ success which originally was founded on Titanium builds – expect a regression to and progression of titanium product offerings with the help of another core American builder, Lynskey Performance. The headquarters of Titus will move from Tempe, Arizona, but it won’t leave the US and neither will it’s locally sourced work, materials when available, and ultimately the craftsmanship behind the frames and builds. The brand will focus less on keeping up with the chaotic outdoor demos and trade show bandwagons by introducing changes to their lineup on an as needed basis and not a pressured-to-show-new-ideas format. There are quality bikes that thousands of riders across the US are still riding on with the Titus name, and Titus clearly wants to maintain and rebuild that relationship with you. I am still glad I bought a Titus and I thank the company for spending time with me to talk about these topics – they are showing the quality of resources behind the brand and look forward to seeing the new 2011 lineup.

News March 30, 2011: Titus most recently made the move to start accumulating financial resources to purchase Canadian mountain bike legendary product company ‘Race Face’. They are devoting certain sales of remaining Titus stock to help finance this endeavor – yet another sign that On*One is serious about being a great product for the true mountain bike crowd.

  1. jason on Wednesday 30, 2011

    I’ve rode everything from full carbom scotts with fsa cranks to specialized with xtr,all great sweetass rides. But my 22lbs.all black TITUS racer X with dues cranks ,2.1 tires, riser bar,90-130 front 100 rear kicks their ass up & down the mountain.

  2. pimbot on Wednesday 30, 2011

    So, how goes it long term? Still loving the bike?

  3. The Bonebell on Wednesday 30, 2011

    Erich – still have it and still love it. Putting a seat dropper seatpost to make it a fuller versatile all mountain ride!