For Titus, itâ€™s all about the customer Already well established in the off-road market, Titus have stormed into the road market thanks to aerospace-developed technology that is wowing both customers and rivals. Words: Jason Sumner Photography: Malcolm Fearon/blissimages.com
First published in the Framebuilders Guide supplement of the October 2006 issue of
Tempe, AZ, USA
‘The way we have grown is simple. We are creating bikes that customers are going to be happy with.’
he heat is the first thing you notice during a visit to Titus Cycles on a blue-sky day in early August. The high-end US road and mountain bike maker is based just outside Phoenix in Tempe, Arizona. Trace a line from their offices across the Atlantic Ocean, and you end up somewhere in North Africa. Most of the year that means ideal riding conditions for the company’s 26-person staff, but in these blazing summer months you better get outside by sunrise unless you like sunburn and dehydration. Inside the tan office park façade of Titus headquarters all is cool and calm. Sales have tripled during the last three years, and sales for 2006 are forecast to crest 60 per cent growth for their fiscal year. That growth, plus the ongoing expansion of the company’s diverse product line, has Titus’s energetic 45-year-old chief executive officer, Pat Hus, beaming with excitement. These, indeed, are good times, and he knows it. “It’s an exciting, dynamic environment we are in right now,” says Hus, who’s casually dressed in cargo shorts and Teva sandals the day procycling dropped by to look around his 10,000-square foot operation. “The way we have grown is simple. We are creating bikes that customers are going to be happy with,” Hus says. “At demonstration events we’ve put on this summer, people consistently say ours are the best bikes they have ever ridden. Even people that worked with me at other companies get on a Titus bike and say, ‘Holy crap... I had no idea.’”
Indeed, the top priority for Titus these days is spreading the gospel of its bikes to a larger audience. For years it’s been known as a niche maker of high-end custom titanium mountain bikes. And while that is still a centrepiece property, the revamped line now includes top-shelf stock and custom road bikes that hinge on two patented technologies – Exogrid and Isogrid. Both are the result of a material mating process called Bi-Fusion, which creates a seamless transition between titanium and carbon fibre. It all happens under the roof of Titus and its office park neighbor, VyaTek Sports. VyaTek takes care of the Bi-Fusion process, then brings the tubes next door where they become high-end bike frames. “It’s nice having one of your vendors right next door,” says Hus with a chuckle. “It makes it a lot easier when you need something quick.” To fully grasp the updated Titus story, you must first understand the tale of VyaTek and its president and founder, Howard Lindsay. Back in the mid 1990s, Lindsay was a mechanical engineer with Arizona-based aerospace company Simula. Among the projects he worked on was trying to devise a way to make round metal tubing lighter without sacrificing resistance to bending loads. That spawned two concepts: Exogrid, where parts of a heavier material are cut away, then replaced with a lighter composite material; and Isogrid, where reinforced ribs are strategically placed on the inside of thin wall structures to help resist tube distortion and deflection. Lindsay knew immediately that both concepts had applications in
Above: Frames are lined up for welding on one of four specially-made fixture tables that allow the frames to be kept in one place from when they are mitred until the welding is finished. This not only ensures better quality control, but also a constant flow of work for the two-man welding team.
the consumer marketplace, and after leaving Simula, he bought the intellectual property rights. Soon after he started shopping the idea around the sporting goods world, and found takers with baseball bat maker Louisville Slugger, and tennis racket manufacturer Wilson. “It’s too bad cycling industry people initially missed the boat, because it is clearly a concept that works,” explains Hus, adding that tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams were using Isogrid rackets more than five years ago. “Louisville Slugger also uses the technology on aluminum baseball bats at college level and it has gone completely nuts. They can’t keep the bats in stock. Having carbon fused with aluminum just has a completely different feel. It makes the bats lighter and stronger, but also takes vibration out. Those are pretty good characteristics for a bike material.” Not ready to give up on the two-wheeled world, Lindsay hooked up with Titus in 2001, buying the bike maker from founder Chris Cocalis. Initially, Cocalis stayed on and ran day-to-day operations, but he later decided to move on to other endeavours. Hus has been in the role of CEO since April last year. Today, Titus has incorporated Exogrid technology into both mountain and road bikes, while Isogrid has been channeled into a super high-end road offering. “At Titus we can create a 2.5-pound Exogrid frame that has a really unique ride quality,” says Hus. “It has the benefits of carbon and titanium: lightweight, very, very stiff, dissipates road vibration and is very comfortable. People will go out on an Exogrid bike for a
50-mile ride, and suddenly it turns into a 75-mile ride because they are not fatigued. They have never experienced anything like it.” The Isogrid bike is even lighter, with a 54-centimetre frame tipping the scales just a breath over two pounds. Hus calls it their NASCAR bike, an allusion to the high-tech cars that fight it out each weekend on the popular American motor racing circuit. “It’s extremely light and has the stiffness of a much heavier bike,” adds the Titus CEO. “That’s what Isogrid does. There’s an array of raised ribs inside the wall of the carbon fibre to reduce the amount of deflection and distortion of the tubes. That means it’s resisting the tube’s tendency to bend and flex under load. We are able to get performance levels out of a 2.1-pound frame that no one else is getting. That’s what we are shooting for – a lightweight race bike that is stiff as hell.” Like most American bike manufacturers, Titus has moved some of its production offshore. Today, most of the company’s aluminum mountain bike frames are built in Taiwan, while titanium mountain and road models are handcrafted in Tempe. But no matter where the bikes are constructed, everything begins in the Titus research and development department, the first door on your left as you exit the front lobby. Inside the spacious, white-walled workroom are three computer stations, but today only one is occupied. While several other members of the Titus team are overseas for business meetings, product development engineer Daryl Roberts
Tempe, AZ, USA
‘Because a Titus frame never leaves this jig, we are guaranteed near-perfect alignment from start to finish.’
is trying out different layouts for the placement of pivot points on a 29-inch mountain bike. To the laymen the image on his computer screen looks like a complicated collage of axis points and measurements, but this is Roberts’s language. A long-time cycling enthusiast who once spun wrenches at a bike shop, Roberts is the newest member of the Titus team. He moved to Tempe just three weeks ago, leaving a defence department job in Houston, Texas, where he was designing satellites for missile guidance systems. “This passion I have for cycling is what brought me on board,” says Roberts, who listed road, mountain, cyclo-cross and even single speed when asked what kind of riding he preferred. Back to the task at hand, Roberts explained that he was taking a look at one of
the company’s stock bikes and trying out different dimensions to see what was and was not possible. “The idea here is to get the optimum amount of travel, but there are so many different constraints with the larger 29-inch wheels,” he explains. “This will allow me to give the guys in the shop the information they need for tubing diameters and the lengths on the tubing when they are mitred.” Roberts adds that there is significant interaction between himself and the production department staff. “We are always talking about different clearance issues or the placement of shock pivots,” Roberts continues. “It’s very important that we continually interact.” There is also continuous action back in the production area.
Most of the Titus team are passionate about their biking, including product development engineer Daryl Roberts (right) and welder Sam Davis (left). Both previously worked in the defence industry, with Davis admitting his welding has improved a lot since he joined Titus because welds need to be perfect and flawless on the top-end frames they are producing. Right: The Arizona landscape provides ideal testing conditions, although not in August...
‘We are not just changing for change sake. Every year we get better.’
Titus has four specially made fixture tables, and the goal is to make sure four frames are always being worked on. Before being loaded up, though, the various pieces of tubing must be cut in the cutting area, a crowded room that’s adjacent to the main production area. “To give you an idea of how much we have grown in the last three years, this used to be our production room,” points out marketing manager Jeff Titone, who stands in front of a large shelf that is stacked with various sizes and lengths of titanium tubing. “Right now we have about 80 different tubing options in here.” On the other side of the room, next to one of the milling machines, a green plastic paint bucket sits on the floor. Inside the bucket there are several pieces of titanium tubing and a white piece of paper with the schematic of a bike printed on it. This is a custom road bike in waiting. Soon the parts will be attached to one of the fixture tables, and then lined up for welding. Titone says the large metal tables, which rotate in several directions, are another key to Titus craftsmanship. “We’ve made a significant investment in each one of these fixtures,” explains Titone, who used to be a high-level amateur triathlete and still rides regularly. “It’s a one-piece fixture that allows us to keep the frame in one place from when the tubes are mitred all the way to when welding is finished. It never leaves this jig. They are locked in here. A lot of our competitors will weld
on a front triangle, then go somewhere else in the building and weld on a rear triangle. At the end of that process there is a lot of physical alignment that needs to take place. But because a Titus frame never leaves this jig, we are guaranteed near-perfect alignment from start to finish.” It is production manager Jack Kopeski’s job to make sure that promise is kept, and with a decade of experience in the bike business he seems the right man for the job. Each morning after his bike commute, Kopeski takes a look at the production schedule and talks to the sales staff to see where their priorities for the day should be. After that he loads up any empty jigs, ensuring his two welders always have a frame to work on – a must considering there are eight frames waiting in the current queue. “From start to finish it usually takes about two weeks to get a custom bike out the door,” explains Kopeski, who figures he splits his personal riding time 50-50 between road and mountain bikes. “There’s a place called South Mountain that’s only about four blocks from here, so we all go up there a lot on the mountain bikes.” One of the relative newcomers to those rides is welder Sam Davis. Like design engineer Roberts, Davis came to Titus by way of the aerospace industry. He did welding work on Apache helicopters and Boeing 747s at his former gig, but says his job at Titus is more challenging. “When I first started here my boss pulled me aside and said: ‘Hey, your welds need to improve a little,’” Davis recalls. “Coming from an aerospace background your welds have to be perfect and flawless, but the looks are not necessarily the number one thing. They just have to be crack proof. Here, of course, we don’t want the welds to crack, but when someone is going to spend $5,000 on a bike we need it to look perfect, too. My welding has actually improved a lot in the year and a half I’ve been here.” Davis has also become a better bike rider. A casual enthusiast before joining Titus, he’s since built his own dual suspension Moto Lite mountain bike and says he has become “addicted” to riding. “I’m still a little slow,” the wide-eyed Davis admits. “So these guys take me out and pound on me. It’s the only way to learn.” Once a bike moves out of production, it makes a quick stop in the polishing room before heading over to assembly. There the holes for the water bottle cages are drilled, inserts and cable guides are installed, and a full quality control checklist is completed. Just like in production, the guys in assembly love to ride. Joe Albert, who oversees all the Ti frames, is a regular on the fat tyre trails around Tempe, while fellow assembly worker Ben Webster is a semi-pro mountain biker who dabbles in the occasional road race. “Basically, we use our alignment tools to make sure everything is
Tempe, AZ, USA
‘Our story and heritage remains our custom bikes. That remains a major part of what we are doing.’ just like it’s supposed to be,” says Webster. “Then we look for any dents, scratches or chips. We’ve got to make sure everything is perfect before we send it over to shipping.” When it’s all said and done, CEO Hus figures Titus delivered in excess of 3,000 frames, or complete bikes, in 2005, and expects that number to increase significantly this year. It’s a quantum leap considering the company was started in a garage by a couple of guys who were simply frustrated with their lack of consumer choices. Who could have guessed the idea would morph into a bike like the Titus Full Custom Racer Isogrid, a cutting edge titanium-carbon fibre road frame that retails for $4,000? “That’s what makes our bikes unique,” says Hus, who has been in the business since he was 14, and worked for Cannondale and Litespeed before landing at Titus. “We are not just changing for change sake. Every year we get better.” The improvements will continue next year. In 2007, Titus will enter the full-carbon road market, unveil a carbon version of its flagship Racer X cross-country bike, and roll out a new six-inch travel mountain bike. There are also plans to bring back the Maxm component line, where Isogrid and Exogrid technology will be incorporated into road and mountain seatposts. Isogrid technology will also be incorporated in the brand’s mountain bike handlebar offerings. There will also be straight carbon and aluminum component offerings bearing the Maxm name. The Exogrid road bike will
With the company’s sales tripling over the past three years and 60 per cent growth forecast for 2006, Titus CEO Pat Hus has good reason to be happy with what he describes as a ‘one-off custom’ focus designed to benefit the customer.
also get a facelift, with enlarged diamond cutouts on the top, seat and down tubes, and the addition of Exogrid seat stays. Titus will also lessen the slope and add a size to its stock road bike quiver. But don’t let these changes fool you. At its soul, Titus remains the same company that sprouted from a suburban garage back in 1991. “Our story and heritage remains our custom bikes,” says Hus, leaning forward in his black leather office chair for emphasis. “That’s where this company started and that remains a major part of what we are doing. A lot of companies will tout their custom programme. But we know a lot of that is hype. We call it off-the-shelf custom. They have pre-cut and pre-mitred tubes, then they take a bunch of measurements and say we think you need this. We don’t work that way. We don’t make a single cut until the customer signs off on their measurements. That’s what Titus is all about, the customer.”
Certain sacrifices have to be made to obtain the 2007 Titus Ligero. The Ligeroâ€™s patented Isogrid technology employs an array of raised carbon ribs on the inner wall of each tube, allowing our designers to create a bicycle so stiff, and yet so light there's really no other road bike that compares. And unlike other carbon frame makers, we can provide a custom fit. To find out more give us a call at 800.85 TITUS or visit us at titusti.com.
CONTACT: UK: 01479 812 019 fattreadbikes.co.uk; US: 480 894 8452 titusti.com; Europe: titusti.com