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Are Raw Titanium Bikes Too Boring?

Is this a hot take? I'm not that into raw titanium bike frames these days because they all kind of look the same. How is a special snowflake like me supposed to stand out? I need colors. Give me all the colors!

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Features

Take a look at the image above. It’s a bit monochromatic, right? This is what I saw when I filtered the current TPC bike inventory to only show titanium bikes. 

Why am I looking at titanium bikes? My wife is ready to upgrade from her entry-level aluminum gravel bike, but she’s hesitant about carbon fiber. She wants something tough and low maintenance that will survive many years of abuse, but she also wants her bike to feel lightweight and sporty. Sounds like titanium fits the bill, right? But when I showed her a page filled with gray bikes, she responded with, “Nah.”

Anodized titanium bikesI felt similarly underwhelmed. Then I went to Instagram and pulled some photos for some painted and anodized titanium bikes from Mosaic, No. 22, and Firefly. Immediately my wife was into the idea. Heck yeah, the bike search could begin. 

I love bikes of all kinds, however, this little exchange made me reflect. As a rapidly aging dad who wears Crocs and grass-stained New Balances, my sense of style impresses no one, but even I’m unlikely to buy a raw titanium bike these days.

So now I'm left wondering — are raw titanium bikes too boring? For less ostentatious riders, the answer is, "Of course, not." But for riders who like their bikes to stand out (like me), we need a bit more color. 

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Why Raw Titanium?

Lynskey titanium frame

Bike nerds already know the answer, but just in case, I’ll enlighten you. In cycling, titanium is the king of metals. Its corrosion resistance and strength-to-density ratio are better than any metallic element.

When people talk about “forever bikes,” titanium bikes are often the paragon. They are darn near indestructible. But they also appeal to performance-oriented riders because they are lightweight (compared to steel) and they provide a springy ride. 

The corrosion resistance is key. Unlike steel, titanium doesn’t need a layer of paint to protect it from rusting. If the surface becomes marred or stained, it can be buffed back to a pristine finish with a scouring pad and some elbow grease.  

Many titanium bikes have raw unpainted finishes simply because they can get away with it. In many ways, leaving a frame raw is the ultimate way to showcase the beauty and strength of the material. Back when bikes were mostly steel, having a raw, unpainted frame let everyone know you were riding something seriously nice. In these modern times though, a raw titanium finish might not be enough to stand out anymore. 

Hollywood Chris clonesRaw titanium bikes are a bit like the sandy blond Hollywood Chris clones. They're all very handsome, but they're not very unique or interesting. I'd rather watch Adam Driver or Timothee Chalamet's weird faces instead. 


The Rise of Anodization

No 22 2018 NABHS bikeA little color makes a huge difference. No. 22's anodized bike won the People's Choice Award at NAHBS in 2018. Photo: NAHBS

Anodization is nothing new. In the 1920s it was used to protect seaplane parts from corrosion. If you rode mountain bikes in the 1990s, you likely lusted after bright anodized aluminum components. For whatever reason though, anodized titanium bike frames didn’t take off until recently. 

Anodized titanium really came onto my radar back in 2018 when No. 22 won the “People’s Choice Award” at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. No. 22 wasn’t the first to try it. Supposedly, Teledyne was already offering anodized titanium frames in the mid-70s. But No. 22 was the brand that made me realize what was possible.  

For me, raw titanium frames could never inspire the same lustful feelings that a well-painted bike could. But when I saw my first anodized titanium frame, I finally felt it. These colorful titanium bikes looked new, different, fresh, and oh so hot. 

My Lynskey GR270. Adding a little blue goes a long way. 

The next year I bought my first titanium drop bar bike (I’ve owned a couple of ti hardtails before) — a 2019 Lynskey GR270 gravel bike — just because it had anodized logos. It wasn’t as extravagant as what No. 22 was doing, but that extra little splash of blue was enough to make me pull the trigger. 

A Vamoots CRD. Even old-school brands like Moots are getting on the ano bandwagon.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen titanium anodization become one of the hottest trends in cycling. At TPC, anodized titanium bikes sell much, much faster than raw bikes. Long-established titanium brands like Moots are now following the lead of younger brands and adding anodization options to stay competitive. We've seen a huge influx of crazy anodized titanium components too:

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What’s great is that if you own a raw titanium frame already, you can still anodize it. It's now a blank canvas to create whatever you want. Custom anodizing often can cost under $1,000, which makes it very competitive with custom paint.

Agave Finish Works custom titanium anodizationAnodization techniques have gotten better and modern designs can be mind-blowing. Photos courtesy of Agave Finish Works.

My former TPC co-worker, Peter, actually started his own anodization business, Agave Finish Works. His work is absolutely beautiful and Peter is the nicest dude ever (he still sends me a hand-written Christmas card every year!). If you’re looking to anodize an existing Ti frame or any Ti components, he’s the guy I recommend. 

What’s the Best Titanium Finish?

Mosaic GT2-45 TPC

Some looks can only be achieved with paint.

Of course, anodization isn’t the only option. Paint is an option too. Our friends at Mosaic have been painting bikes for the last decade ever since taking over Spectrum Paint and Powder Works in Boulder. They’re experts at prepping titanium to ensure paint adheres and lasts, and their titanium bikes are absolutely gorgeous. Paint can be preferable to anodization in some cases because it provides a much wider range of hues and more design freedom. 

Now, there’s also Cerakote, which is a thin and protective ceramic coating. I first saw cerakote aluminum components from Thomson appear back in 2018, and No. 22, the brand that originally sparked my interest in anodized frames, is now using Cerakote to create frames with a half anodized and half painted look. 

No 22 Cerakote bikeNo. 22 is creating wild-looking frames by combining anodization and Cerakote. Photo courtesy of No. 22. 

Anodized surfaces don’t actually have any pigment, the color is determined by how light reflects off the surface. So when you add a clear-coat for paint, it changes the look. No. 22 started using Cerakote because it’s durable, about 1/20th of the weight of paint, and it doesn’t need a clear coat. By using Cerakote with added metallic flakes (most Cerakote is matte), they’ve created bikes with stunning transitions between the anodized and Cerakote surfaces. 

What’s the best finish for a titanium bike frame though? I hopped on our company Slack and put out a simple pool for some of the bike geeks here at TPC. Their responses are telling:

Best titanium bike finishOur poor Ride Guide, Joey G, was the only supporter of full raw titanium frames. The majority preferred some aesthetic pop in the form of anodized logos, tasteful flourishes, or over-the-top anodization. Regular old paint wasn’t far behind.

Our Master Tech Carl did bring up a good point though:

Best titanium bike finish is rawOne of the reasons I think modern anodized frames work so well is that they still showcase the material. The entire frame isn’t just anodized a solid color. You still see the raw titanium poking through, reminding you that, yes, this is a titanium frame — it’s expensive, it’s indestructible, and it's made of the king of metals. 

All-city cosmic stallion tiThe Cosmic Stallion Ti has a lot of color but leaves plenty of raw Ti exposed.

Paint focused brands like Mosaic are keenly aware of this. Many of their bikes feature unpainted rear stays that allow them to showcase the metal underneath. The All-City Cosmic Stallion Ti my wife is now considering is only half painted, and I think it looks amazing. 

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Really, I think any finish looks good on a titanium bike frame as long as there’s still some of that classic raw finish in view. With the color options now available and current sales trends, I have a feeling that fully raw titanium bikes might soon become rarer than anodized and painted titanium bikes. 

But I could be totally wrong too. Plenty of riders still love stealthy matte black bikes. Some people just don't need a bike that shouts.

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