On show: North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Part 4

Vertigo Cycles – the best titanium builder you've never heard of

You could be forgiven if "Vertigo Cycles" hasn't made it on to your short list of titanium bikes you'd like to own as the Portland, Oregon shop does no marketing and the one-man operation of Sean Chaney currently only builds frames for a few weeks a year.

But judging by the quality and creativity of his work on display at NAHBS this year, that's likely set to change.

Case in point is the belt-driven singlespeed 'cross bike with the cleanest - and virtually invisible - method of splitting a seat stay that we've seen using a design originally developed by Dave Levy of Ti Cycles. The two ends are butted against each other and kept in alignment via an internal cone and the single bolt that holds it all together feeds in from inside the socket-style dropout. Up top there's just the slightest chamfer cut into the top of the seat tube but it yields a beautifully subtle transition into the seatpost.

His 29" hardtail sports an offset seat tube for shorter chain stays plus some - ahem - motivational imagery and words etched in-house with a little baking soda solution and just the right voltage. Meanwhile, a second 29" hardtail on display is built with gracefully arced seat stays and the driveside chain stay comprises a thin plate just behind the bottom bracket for extra tire and chainring clearance on the BB30 shell. The internal routing is especially trick for the rear brake, which uses threaded fittings at the front of the down tube and back of the chain stay with a length of titanium hydraulic tubing welded in between.

Not to go unnoticed, either, was Chaney's titanium townie. The matching titanium front and rear racks were elegant enough on their own but Chaney also gutted an LED rear light and embedded the emitters themselves directly into the structure with the power wires being run through the fenders.

Save for the townie, the other bikes were all fitted with 44mm-bore head tubes and mixed-tapered headsets with 1 1/8"-to-1 1/2" steerers – no surprise there given that he was the man who came to Cane Creek with the idea more than a year ago.

If you're interested in a Vertigo, you'd best get in quickly – Chaney says he has but four slots remaining for this year's production.

Eriksen moves quickly on disc-equipped 'cross bikes

Not surprisingly, small builders at NAHBS with their shorter build cycles and more flexible production were quick to jump on the new rules surrounding disc brakes on 'cross bikes, with Kent Eriksen showing off a beautifully finished example in titanium.

Though admittedly nothing groundbreaking – what with its Ritchey WCS rigid carbon fibre mountain bike fork and Paragon rear dropouts – we still take this as yet another sign of things to come.

Eriksen also proved that despite all the focus on carbon fibre, titanium bikes still aren't heavy. His one-off ultralight show bike weighed just 5.85kg (12.9lb) though there was one major caveat: the oval-profile seat tube and integrated mast was wholly non-adjustable for height.

As in years past, Eriksen continues to offer full-suspension titanium bikes with Ventana or Yeti rear ends. Options include – but aren't limited to – titanium seat stays and ISCG tabs, not to mention a variety of head tube fitments.

A wolf in sheep's clothing or vice versa?

Fort Collins titanium specialists Black Sheep arrived in Austin with yet another array of wildly curved creations as builder James Bleakly seems almost averse to building with straight tubes.

Highlighting the range was his latest 36" with the giant wheels held together with a swoopy cruiser-style frame, his now-signature truss-style fork, and even a curved seatpost that neatly continues the arc of the seat tube. Are 36" wheels the next big thing? While we'd imagine they would roll over obstacles even easier than 29" ones, our guess is that these massive hoops will remain just a niche market.

Black Sheep also showed off a more conventional full-suspension design with a flex-plate located behind the bottom bracket shell and an aluminum link driving a Fox Racing Shox RP23 rear shock. Bleakly naturally went for suspension up front on this rig, too, via Cannondale's Lefty and 1 1/8" conversion kit.

Perhaps the best display of Black Sheep's creativity, though, was the titanium townie, which again used a curved cruiser-style frame but with a bolt-on rear end – presumably for easier packing and traveling – Bleakly's trick telescoping chain stays to adjust the belt tension, another truss fork, and titanium front and rear racks. Not a bad way to fetch your groceries.

Dean goes for a mix of carbon and titanium

Fellow Colorado builder Dean continues to sing the praises of its new Exogrid road bikes, which are essentially titanium bikes with strategic sections of the tube walls removed and replaced with co-moulded carbon fibre (pictured above).

As was the case with the old Titus bikes that first used the technology, the theory is that an Exogrid frame will provide the same resilient ride quality and springiness of a titanium frame but with less weight and more vibration damping.

Dean's approach uses a less aggressive machining pattern on the treated top tube, down tube, and seat stays but the visual appeal is no less striking.

Sitting on a nearby table was an unbuilt full-suspension design, using a similar pivotless short-travel configuration to the Black Sheep but with conventional tubular chain stays. Also, while Black Sheep's seat tube-mounted linkage is intended to help control the shock rate, Dean's link is solely used to stiffen up the rear end.

Quiring's 29er borrows technology from Cannondale's bag of tricks

Michigan-based builder Scott Quiring's booth highlight was a 29" hardtail cross-country racer that borrowed two key components from Cannondale's feature set. The Lefty fork was found on other bikes at NAHBS but Quiring was one of few to use the matching dedicated head tube for maximal benefit, including the same large-diameter tube for generous weld surface area, directly pressed-in oversized bearings, and even Cannondale's ultralight one-piece stem and steerer.

PressFit 30-compatible bottom bracket shells were also common at NAHBS but Quiring continues to use proper BB30 shells, along with the tighter tolerances and machined-in grooves required to directly install the bearings into the frame.

Moots's Mooto X RSL offers a slimmed-down, race-ready 29er hardtail

According to Moots' Jon Cariveau, the company could have built its lighter-weight Mooto X RSL 29er titanium hardtail with butted tubing to save even more weight but opted for more durable straight-gauge tubing for its greater impact resistance.

Moots did go with thinner walls and larger diameter tubing relative to the standard Mooto X, though, plus a PressFit 30 bottom bracket and 44mm-bore oversized head tube for front-end strength and good steerer tube versatility.

The company also showed off its own interpretation of the monster cross genre with an 'adventure' build of its Mooto X YBB. The go-anywhere, do-anything bike used a standard Mooto X YBB frame – complete with Moots' trademark softail rear end – but matched to flared drop bars, heavily loaded front and rear racks, a rigid carbon fork, a Brooks leather saddle and handlebar tape, a full-length frame pump, and a SRAM X0 2x10 drivetrain paired with Force DoubleTap levers.

Form offers its own take on the 29" titanium hardtail racer

Arizona-based Form Cycles brought a wide range of machines to NAHBS though its Prevail Ti 29er hardtail was perhaps the most interesting. Seeking to shave as much weight as possible, Form went with double-butted tubing, 5/8"-diameter seat stays and 3/4" chain stays, and a 44mm-bore head tube filled out with a tapered-steerer RockShox Reba fork.

Further building on the monster cross trend at NAHBS was the Titanium Viaje, finished off with S&S couplers, a Niner carbon fork, flared drop bars, and an Old Man Mountain rear rack.

La Ruta gets Funky

Daryl Funk's novel La Ruta full-suspension titanium frame carries on into 2011 with several years of refinement under its belt (pictured below). Funk designed the frame specifically for lightweight cross-country racing and as such features a flat titanium plate behind the chain stays in lieu of traditional pivots and a MacPherson strut-style configuration with no extra link at either the top tube or seat tube.

According to Funk, the current design is "stiff enough" though he still plans to box in the forward shock tabs to bolster what he sees is the main source of any lateral movement in the back end.

Ti Cycles carries the 69er torch

Just when you thought mismatched wheel sizes were done for good, Ti Cycles showed off its own interpretation with a burly triangulated fork along with an unusual rear end treatment complete an extended top tube that's capped off just before coming into contact with the rear wheel.

The singlespeed setup allows for chain or belt drive use courtesy of a neatly split driveside chain stay and there's even an integrated seatmast to finish off the truly unique look.

Kish Titanium takes home the prize

Not to go unmentioned is long-time titanium builder Jim Kish, who has been working with the stubborn material since 1992.

The California builder brought three bikes to the show: a fairly traditional 26" singlespeed hardtail with his own segmented rigid steel fork, Paragon sliding dropouts, and a titanium stem; a subtle 700c runabout with an internally geared rear hub, sparkling White Industries aluminum crank, Wound-Up carbon fiber fork, and Paul Components center-pull brakes; and even a 24" BMX cruiser.

Though perhaps lacking some of the flair of other titanium bikes at the show, Kish ultimately won the show judges over at the end of the day, taking home the prize for Best Titanium bike of NAHBS 2011.

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