Steel Vs Titanium
Knolly Tyaughton Titanium Review
Knolly Tyaughton Titanium
Titanium… The wonder metal so light, hard, and shiny that some people make bicycle frames with and some use it to keep their bones together. Working with Ti (as the cool kids call it) has its challenges. Being a material with the aforementioned characteristics, it is not easy on the tools or the people holding them. The bits wear out more quickly, welds are trickier, and paint… well it just doesn’t stick to titanium. The last one is not entirely true but there is a phenomenon called the Ti Effect that is so rampant that no frame builder will brave tough cycling critics and paint over the natural finish of Ti on a product. The material has an aura that defeats all pigments and invokes an unspoken invitation; touch me and leave greasy fingerprints all over me.
This results in nearly all Ti bikes looking the same, which makes preserving a distinct brand identity a challenge. Can Knolly’s Titanium Tyaughton win the hearts of mountain bikers over the steel, ‘budget’ option?
When I reviewed the Steel Tyaughton just over a year ago, the plan was to get the Ti version shortly after for direct comparison. The idea of a complete Ti build was floated but I wanted to see if there were any discernible differences between the steel and the Ti frame by using the same components. So the waiting game began...
10 months later, there was a frame ready for a swap. Knolly’s Burnaby headquarters was packed to the ceiling with bike boxes. Noel appeared through a cardboard maze to hand me the Medium frame. I figured the supply shortages were sorted for the time being and there would be lots of excited owners, eager to take home bikes and frames they ordered a while back.
My first thought out loud was; I wonder if I’ll be able to tell the difference between the two frames. Noel jumped right in to remind me that, if they had done their homework right, I shouldn't be able to tell any ride quality differences.
What? Nothing? Nope..
Well what's the point then?
The first few Ti Tys were welded in Canada. Some lucky long timers jumped on these before the word even got out to the public. They roamed the Shore and beyond with unmatched exclusivity but soon there would be copies made in Taiwan that put them in their place, with matching attention to detail. Knolly decided to use their own tubing and hydroforming on the Ty to squeeze out every little bit of advantage over the Steel one from their hardtail.
Compared to the Steel version, the Ti Ty has significantly larger Top and Downtubes. The increase in diameter was possible with the use of titanium and butting it to shave the extra fat. The Ti frame weighs 2lbs (907g) less than the Steel version in the same size. That alone may be good enough reason to pick the Ti over Steel for some riders.
I was dreading the frame swap I had to do to get the Ti going with my busy schedule but once I sat down and visualised the process, I quickly realised it was a chill, 2 beer job. One during and one for after while admiring the bike. The Rear derailleur and the brake routing are external. The cables come from the same side of the bars and go around the headtube. A shrink wrap at the first zip tie spot keeps them tidy together and made the swap even easier.
On the steel frame, the dropper housing follows a rather unrefined path down the side of the down tube, loops under the bottom bracket and enters the seat tube just in front of the rear tire’s forehead to meet up with the dropper post actuator. As primitive as this is, the path it allows for the cable to follow 2 larger radius turns that require no special skills to route while avoiding weak points or extra friction. The titanium frame however has a more refined visual approach to the whole system.
The larger tube diameters and overall strength of the material makes internal routing feasible. There are no internal guides for the housing but there is a little hatch that can be opened just in front of the bottom bracket to guide the dropper housing through the rather sharp turn up to the seat tube. This design choice disappointed me as it seems like a fashion decision rather than a user interface one. This will eventually be a weak spot for unwanted friction on the rusted cable. A 31.6mm seatpost is nice and if you desire, the AXS Reverb will take care of this routing issue quite nicely. The SDG Tellis seatpost however lost its grip on the cable end a couple of times making it a rather frustrating routing and length calculating process. Once installed, this is not a regular occurrence but merely a beer justifying moment to sit back and take a swig of your preferred juice in the workshop. Knolly also provided some foam for the housing to keep the sound to a minimum in the frame. The whole tear down and rebuild process took about 45 minutes start to finish and only a slight adjustment to the derailleur was required to get the Ti Ty shifting nicely. The brake mount and the brace are really cool elements of the frame and I admired the shapes as I lined up the caliper with the rotor.
The built up bike gathered some ooohss and aaaaahhs in the shop by fellow titanium enthusiasts. The ironic moustaches twitched in envy... I cracked open another beer. The Knolly made a looker of a bike, and with the 150mm Fox 36 up front, it rides damn well too. Definitely well enough for testing the flexibility of these 39 year-old ankles. The tire choice will change after this article goes live. The MaxTerrafiying DHF up front has no place on a Shore bike, and the 2.3 DHR II is just a Covid spec. I have some meatier, stiffer and way grippier tires in the pile to put on this thing. The uphill sprightliness may take a hit with the heavier rubber, but I think it will be worth it for the quality of the ride they will provide. As Noel promised, the Titanium Tyaughton does indeed ride, just like the steel one. There is a little more cable noise coming from the down tube with the dropper routing being internal.
The stock Raceface Next R bars and 60mm stem came off immediately. I find the Next R components to be too stiff for comfort. And 60mm stem was too long for the already long reach of this frame. The Medium, with the 468mm reach and steep SA, has a good cockpit length for my longish arms. I am 5’9” with a wingspan of a 6’2” person. I like roomy top tubes and the 75 degree seat angle is perfect for a front suspension-only bike. The deeper you are in the travel, steeper the head angle, Seat angle and longer the reach is. The modern hardtail sometimes gives you false confidence by putting you in a familiar, slack, roomy almost-enduro bike riding position. And while your mind is working a million miles an hour trying to dissect the trail and find the smoothest lines, it nips at your ankles and lower back with shark teeth because you forget you're not on your both-end-squishy bike. All is well however on this Ti boat as the ride is calm and controlled unless you wander too far off the beaten path and end up on some steep chutes and big G-outs. That is no place for a bike like this. Sure you can get down those once or twice but don’t push your luck kid. This is the sensible bike.. Go for a run on the blues, maybe a black, find some single track, climb until your legs fall off. Oh also, technical climbs are way harder when you don’t have as much traction on the back wheel.
But all is well. Hardtails are easy to justify in any fleet; you just have to decide if you want one or not. Titanium Hardtails like this Knolly creation will require a longer conversation with yourself and possibly your financial advisor. They may tell you that it is a great investment! It’s a bike for life! They could also remind you that it costs 7900 CAD for an XT build and you are out of your mind. But then you’ll show them the incredible headbadge to rule all the headbadges; a CNC-machined thing of beauty. Would I spend my own money? Probably not. There are way more sensible ways to spend that money to get a torture machine like these Shore hardtails. The Steel frame is still excellent and is a better value with the awesome parts it comes with. Kona's Honzo ESD is again a wicked value for how much fun it offers.
I was in the market for a Titanium hardtail, I probably would have made a few better life decisions. Maybe I would have splurged for something a bit more custom and exotic. Moots? maybe a Naked? Or lasso Dekerf and put him to work. Thats where I think the magic of Titanium hardtails are. Custom applications. But Knolly has come up with a tasty hardtail with the Titanium Tyaughton. It rides so sweet that you want to ride it more and more. I just wish I was 10 years younger with fewer back and ankle issues. Oh yea, my knees are also seized shut...
If you have the means to rock this semi-exotic ride...by all means.