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Litespeed Cherohala SE review

Two-for-one titanium trickster

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The Litespeed Cherohala SE is an endurance road bike with off-road options

The Litespeed Cherohala SE is an endurance road bike with off-road options (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The rougher the road (or trail, or cowpath...) got, the more the ti frame shone

The rougher the road (or trail, or cowpath...) got, the more the ti frame shone (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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You could put fenders/mudguards on if you wanted

You could put fenders/mudguards on if you wanted (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Some dedicated gravel bikes lack adequate clearance when Di2 motors are paired with 40mm tires. The Cherohala does not have this problem

Some dedicated gravel bikes lack adequate clearance when Di2 motors are paired with 40mm tires. The Cherohala does not have this problem (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The Di2 wire pops out behind the chainrings

The Di2 wire pops out behind the chainrings (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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3T components figure heavily in many Litespeed builds

3T components figure heavily in many Litespeed builds (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Metal isn't lighter than carbon, but it can be prettier, in an industrial-arts way

Metal isn't lighter than carbon, but it can be prettier, in an industrial-arts way (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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No need for metal inserts when the frame is metal

No need for metal inserts when the frame is metal (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Paired with a 50/34 crank, the 11-32t cassette makes molehills of mountains. Or, at least, it makes it easier to get up steep hills

Paired with a 50/34 crank, the 11-32t cassette makes molehills of mountains. Or, at least, it makes it easier to get up steep hills (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The Ultegra Di2 derailleur tucks neatly under the cassette

The Ultegra Di2 derailleur tucks neatly under the cassette (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Fender mounts are discreetly included

Fender mounts are discreetly included (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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I used Stan's XTR Grail wheels for the gravel configuration

I used Stan's XTR Grail wheels for the gravel configuration (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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I took to calling the GravelKings the GravelFlings, as the tread tending to throw fine gravel up at the down tube. As a roadie, I found the tubeless tire to offer loads of grip without feeling too slow

I took to calling the GravelKings the GravelFlings, as the tread tending to throw fine gravel up at the down tube. As a roadie, I found the tubeless tire to offer loads of grip without feeling too slow (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Internal routing makes washing the bike easier. Yes, it also makes changing your hydraulic line more complicated. But how often will you do each of these?

Internal routing makes washing the bike easier. Yes, it also makes changing your hydraulic line more complicated. But how often will you do each of these? (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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I like the DT Swiss lever more than cleaner looking Allen-key thru-axles that require, well, an Allen key

I like the DT Swiss lever more than cleaner looking Allen-key thru-axles that require, well, an Allen key (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Clearance for 40mm GravelKings? Not a problem

Clearance for 40mm GravelKings? Not a problem (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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I also tested the bike quite a bit with Stan's Grail wheels and Panaracer 40mm GravelKing tubeless tires

I also tested the bike quite a bit with Stan's Grail wheels and Panaracer 40mm GravelKing tubeless tires (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Titanium flexes more than alloy or carbon. Riding dirt, I loved the feel. It doesn't accelerate like a ProTour race bike, though

Titanium flexes more than alloy or carbon. Riding dirt, I loved the feel. It doesn't accelerate like a ProTour race bike, though (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Cherohala is a National Byway in the US near Litespeed's Tennessee headquarters

Cherohala is a National Byway in the US near Litespeed's Tennessee headquarters (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The plush ride of titanium is tangible on dirt

The plush ride of titanium is tangible on dirt (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Clearance is not going to be an issue... although aesthetics for roadies might

Clearance is not going to be an issue... although aesthetics for roadies might (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Shimano's Ultegra Di2 is very similar to Dura-Ace Di2 in feel and performance. It just weighs a little more

Shimano's Ultegra Di2 is very similar to Dura-Ace Di2 in feel and performance. It just weighs a little more (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Handbuilt in the USA is a rare and an unfortunately a costly thing

Handbuilt in the USA is a rare and an unfortunately a costly thing (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The welds are all tight and tidy

The welds are all tight and tidy (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Cane Creek, another Southern US company, provides the oversize headset

Cane Creek, another Southern US company, provides the oversize headset (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Even without switching tires, the Cherohala SE is right at home on off the road with the stock 32mm Conti clinchers

Even without switching tires, the Cherohala SE is right at home on off the road with the stock 32mm Conti clinchers (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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I winced when I saw the 31.6 straight seatpost, thinking it would be harsh. Then I rode it, and was immediately reminded of titanium's forgiving nature

I winced when I saw the 31.6 straight seatpost, thinking it would be harsh. Then I rode it, and was immediately reminded of titanium's forgiving nature (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Prologo's Scratch 2 T2.0

Prologo's Scratch 2 T2.0 (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Praxis does the big bottom bracket

Praxis does the big bottom bracket (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The Ultegra discs are lighter in color than their Dura-Ace siblings, but I don't think I can tell a difference in the stopping power

The Ultegra discs are lighter in color than their Dura-Ace siblings, but I don't think I can tell a difference in the stopping power (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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I rode the bike with 3T's Discus C35 PRO wheels, which at 1,787g aren't exactly feathery, but the 19mm internal rim width plumps up the 32mm Conti clinchers nicely

I rode the bike with 3T's Discus C35 PRO wheels, which at 1,787g aren't exactly feathery, but the 19mm internal rim width plumps up the 32mm Conti clinchers nicely (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Internal lines keep things clean, visually and literally

Internal lines keep things clean, visually and literally (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The Litespeed Cherohala SE — plush titanium goodness at a price

The Litespeed Cherohala SE — plush titanium goodness at a price (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)

This article originally appeared on BikeRadar

Drawing on decades of titanium craftsmanship served Litespeed quite well with the Cherhola SE, an endurance road bike with loads of clearance that allows it to do double duty as a gravel bike.

  • Highs: Luxuriously damped ride quality, high-performance Ultegra Di2 disc group, versatility
  • Lows: Costs $2,000 and $3,000 more than comparable bikes from Cannondale or Canyon
  • Buy if: You want to invest in American-made titanium

The chatter-absorbing metal fell out of favor for road racing long ago, but for long rides on and off the tarmac, titanium may well be the ideal material.

Cherohala SE features

  • 3AL/2.5V titanium frame with carbon fork
  • Fits up to 40mm tires with plenty of clearance
  • Rack/fender compatible
  • Flat-mount calipers, 160mm rotors
  • Available as frameset or as full builds with Shimano 105, Shimano Ultegra, Shimano Ultegra Di2 and SRAM Force 1
  • Tested as Ultegra Di2 build with 32mm Continental GranRace clinchers and 40mm Panaracer GravelKing tubeless
  • 17lb / 7.7kg in size M/L in road configuration

Cherohala SE on the paved road

Two things largely determine a bike's handling: its geometry and then its wheels and tires. The Cherohala SE has endurance road bike geometry, meaning that you sit a little more upright than on a race bike, but the angles aren't as slack or sleepy as a dedicated adventure bike that you would load down with cargo.

It's a good, middle-of-the-road formula that works well. Similar geometry can be found on popular endurance road bikes such as the Specialized Roubaix, the Cannondale Synapse, the Trek Domane and others.

What's unique here is the enormous tire clearance. You can fit full-on 40mm gravel tires here with plenty of room for mud clearance.

Clearance is not going to be an issue... although aesthetics for roadies might

Testing the bike with its stock 32mm Continental GranRace clinchers, the Cherohala SE treated me to a delicious taste of titanium. It had been years since I last rode a titanium frame, and I had forgotten how soft and creamy the material feels when enlisted for a frame.

Litespeed included a 31.6mm zero-setback titanium seatpost, which looks like a pelvis buster — and would be if made of aluminum. But within minutes of the first ride, the give of Ti was apparent.

Sure, 32mm clinchers at 70psi will make anything feel good; but fat tires and titanium feel great.

I winced when I saw the 31.6 straight seatpost, thinking it would be harsh. Then I rode it, and was immediately reminded of titanium's forgiving nature

One problem with titanium's give is that it can't be restricted as readily as carbon flex can be tuned. So standing up to sprint means a little bit of give at the bottom bracket. But this machine isn't intended as a track bike or a crit racer.

I rode the Cherohala SE with the voluminous road tires on a fair amount of dirt roads and gravel paths, and loved the ride. Cadillac, magic carpet, a rush of plush... all the clichés apply.

Litespeed sent the bike with non-stock 3T C45 PRO wheels, which are heavy and fairly lifeless. The stock DT Swiss E1800 wheels are better.

The Ultegra discs are lighter in color than their Dura-Ace siblings, but I don't think I can tell a difference in the stopping power

As for the Shimano Ultegra Di2 electric/hydraulic group, it's hard to find anything to be critical about. Shifting is flawless and tunable. Hydraulic braking is superior to rim braking and vastly expands your tire choice. And you can even configure the buttons on the hoods to control your Garmin.

Basically, it is all the functionality of Dura-Ace Di2 but with a little extra weight for a substantial savings.

Shimano's Ultegra Di2 is very similar to Dura-Ace Di2 in feel and performance. It just weighs a little more

Cherohala SE off the paved road

Litespeed also sent a pair of Stan's NoTubes ZTR Grail wheels with Panaracer GravelKing tires set up tubeless. With this setup installed, the Cherohala SE really came to life.

Combining 40mm GravelKings with titanium makes for a smooth ride. At 185lb / 84kg, I would usually run the GravelKings at around 35psi.

I also tested the bike quite a bit with Stan's Grail wheels and Panaracer 40mm GravelKing tubeless tires

On top of the softened ride, titanium offers another benefit when off road: there is no paint to chip, no carbon to crack, and really no worries about little rocks and other detritus getting kicked up at the frame as you ride.

At 6ft / 183cm, I went with a M/L frame instead of an L to get a lower stack. The geometry works well for gravel. I did a number of gravel group rides on the bike, which always felt sure-footed and stable.

The rougher the road (or trail, or cowpath...) got, the more the ti frame shone

One notable difference between the Cherohala SE and a dedicated gravel bike: storage. While this frameset does have fender mounts, it only has the standard two bottle mounts. Which leads us to...

Cherohala SE vs Litespeed Gravel

Litespeed's Gravel bike is the dedicated off-road 700c machine, built from heavier-duty tubing and armed with mounts aplenty (third bottle mount under the down tube plus the top tube bento box mount).

The Gravel's geometry is slightly longer and lower, with a slacker head tube — but the intent of use is the major difference between the bikes. The Gravel works better as a 1x bike, with clearance for up to 45mm tires.

Internal routing makes washing the bike easier. Yes, it also makes changing your hydraulic line more complicated. But how often will you do each of these?

Bottom line: a plush and pricey ride

The Litespeed Cherohala SE revived my interest in titanium, as the material seems ideal for gravel. On and off the paved road, the Cherohala SE delivers a lush ride. It won't accelerate like a carbon criterium bike, but that's not the point. The endurance geometry works well for rides that go long or over rough surfaces.

Having lots of clearance allows the bike to do double duty, although you do pay an aesthetic price for a fork that looks a bit out of place on the road.

The hand welding in the southern American state of Tennessee makes for lovely, professional detail, a remarkably smooth ride, and, unfortunately, a remarkably high price. The Cherohala SE is beautiful in appearance and ride quality, but there is just no way around the price. Were this bike two-thirds the price, I would score it 4.5.

 

The Litespeed Cherohala SE — plush titanium goodness at a price 

BikeRadar verdict - 3.5/5
"The forgiving titanium may be the ideal material for gravel, but boy is it expensive"

Specification

  • Name: Cherohala SE Built by: Litespeed Price: £4,949.00
  • Available Colours: Titanium
  • Available Sizes: S M M/L L XL
  • Bottom Bracket: Praxis
  • Cassette: Shimano HG701
  • Chain: Shimano Ultegra, 11-32t
  • Cranks: Shimano Ultegra, 50/34
  • Frame Material: Titanium
  • Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra Di2 8070
  • Handlebar: 3T Ergonova Pro
  • Headset Type: Cane Creek 40 Series
  • Rear Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra Di2 8070
  • Saddle: Prologo Scratch 2 T2.0
  • Shifters: Shimano Ultegra Di2 8070
  • Stem: 3T ARX II Pro
  • Weight (kg): 9.4
  • Wheelset: DT Swiss E1800
  • Year: 2018
  • Weight (lb): 20.6
  • Brake Levers: Shimano Ultegra Di2 8070
  • Chainstays (cm): 43
  • Seat Tube (cm): 55
  • Top Tube (cm): 55.2
  • Wheelbase (cm): 103.4
  • Head Tube (cm): 16.2
  • Stack (cm): 62.5
  • Reach (cm): 38.5
  • Bottom-bracket drop (cm): 7.1