Titanium’s reputation as the magic frame material has largely been supplanted by carbon, a fact easily confirmed by a quick glance at the start line of any local race. Compared to carbon and aluminum, it’s heavier and not as stiff; and it’s just as expensive, if not more, than carbon. It seems that its greatest attribute is its durability and resistance to rust and corrosion.
The Litespeed Archon is designed to address these issues, claiming unheard of stiffness for a ti frame while retaining ti’s signature comfort. It has a faceted top tube fashioned from 6/4 sheet ti (the rest of the bike is 3/2.5). Tube junctions at the head tube and BB are wrapped, with joints and welds going beyond 180 degrees. Chainstays are asymmetrical to handle the different loads, and seatstays are very thin. The Archon is offered in standard and compact geometry. I got to try a standard frame, teammate Ben Hughes sampled a compact. The Archon frameset retails at $4500.
Compared to our carbon bikes (me on a VeloVie and Ben on a Look), we both initially found the Archon unremarkable, in a nice way. It felt just like a bike should – plenty stiff in a sprint, albeit a tad heavier. Mine felt a bit harsh, so I swapped out the Thomson aluminum seatpost for a carbon FSA. We both thought "It’s a bike" – neither of us were moved to compose odes comparing it to a magic carpet.
Longer rides, however, revealed a darker side. My sit bones were terribly sore after 3 hours, forcing me to get out of the saddle frequently. I wondered if it was due to the shorter seatpost on the standard frame flexing less, but Ben had the same problem on his bike. The harshness was enough to make me dread getting on the bike.
Drunkwerx to the rescue
I put the Archon in our mobile testing facility and came up with these numbers: the front end of the Archon dissipated 26% of the vibration (compared to 29% on the carbon Viner benchmark), the back end 29% (38% for Viner). In a sprint I was able to flex the Archon 7.3mm, exactly the same amount as the Viner. This jibes with our impressions on the road: stiff in a sprint, harsh over the long haul.
Litespeed was able to create a ti bike as laterally stiff as carbon, and they should be commended for that. However, at 1-300 grams heavier than carbon, the ride doesn’t give you goosebumps the way a bike can when it seems too light to be so stiff. The Archon is stiff in a predictable way – its solidity is exactly as expected for its weight. Now, you can Google the Archon and read rave after rave, but for me, this is strictly a bike for bigger stronger riders with deep pockets and an aversion to carbon.