The Magic of Titanium
Titanium. I first heard the word in fifth grade science class. Number 22 on the periodic chart of the elements. Chemical Symbol of Ti, just below silicon and carbon and above germanium and zirconium. Discovered in 1791 by William Gregor, a clergyman in Cornwal, England, who discovered it in the sand of a nearby beach. Named for the Titans, the mythical first sons of the Earth. I again heard of Titanium as an important strategic metal, used in the manufacture of jet engine and aircraft parts.
Nearly three years ago, just after I joined our club and bought my new Centurion Accordo bike, Bicycling magazine had an article reviewing the available Titanium bike frames. The Fuji frame was so well made, said the article, it is not painted so the precision of the welds can be seen. A Titanium bicycle frame, Is that something I could have? Tour de France, is that a race I could enter?
A year and a half ago, while riding alone in the Twilight Zone, near Tom's Atlantic Cyclery, I came across a young rider on a Titanium bike. He was a bit lost and mentioned that he would probably ride 100 miles today by the time he was finished. I remarked at his bike. He said "yeah." A young man, casual about Titanium and casual about riding an unplanned century.
The cover of the June 1991 Bicycling Magazine announces "The bikes LeMond pays to ride." The article is about the Merlin Titanium road bike frame. The article gives thumbs up to "Quite possibly the ultimate bike frame," and thumbs down to "It's such a hassle to take a second mortgage." The article describes the "ride of a lifetime" and says "Unless someone steals it, a Merlin could be the last bike a person has to buy. It wont rust, and, thanks to a lack of paint, wont ever look scratched and worn." The 57cm frameset tested weights 3.35 lbs with another 1.2lbs for the fork. The complete bike weighs 20.4 lbs.
Thursday, July 4th I was riding along Holland Road and was overtaken by a middle aged man riding a bike with a Merlin Titanium frame. We talked for a while. He said he liked the frame, then went on his way. The September Bicycling Magazine has a discrete ad in the corner of the page. Eddie B. is holding the frame above the words "It's the best bike in the world." Call 617.628.7855.So I did! I asked the woman at Merlin Metalworks how I could get one. She suggested I stop by the Peddler in Red Bank, one of their authorized dealers. That Saturday I strolled into the Peddler and asked if they carried the frame. "Would you like to see one? We have one hanging up right back there." So I actually held the frame in my hands. It was so light it seemed like an illusion. I was surprised they had one in stock, they were surprised I asked how I could get one. Tony (a.k.a. "Ducky") looked at me, frowned and asked "How tall are you?" Hearing 63" he shook his head, went to the back room, handed me a brochure "Here, read this, see if that helps, I think the 61cm size would fit you." Eventually I asked the price. "Retail is $&*A#@ but for you I'll give to you for $*&A#@. Decide quickly, the prices go up September 1st."
An important birthday was quickly approaching. All I talked about was the frame. My wife asked "Would you like that for both your Birthday and Christmas gift?" Such a loving wife. We decided to go for it, but we wanted to shop around. We called bike shops throughout a 100 mile radius. Each shop we called quoted the full retail price. Several said how difficult it was to get the frame and how lucky we were they could get it for me. In late October I learned that demand for the frame was so great that Merlin was not accepting any new distributors. That did it. Saturday October 19 I walked into the Peddler in Red Bank, spoke to Ducky, and reminded him I was in two months ago interested in the frame.
"I'm still interested".
"The two months cost you $200"
None the less, we shook on the deal, I wrote a deposit check and he promised to place the order on Monday. Delivery was expected in 7 weeks, December 7, Pearl Harbor day.
Saturday November 23 I stopped by. Ducky said Merlin had called, the bike would be in in a few days. He would call as soon as he got his hands on it. I told him I had a headset, could he press it in when the frame came? "No problem." Our family went out of town for Thanksgiving and returned about 4pm Friday, November 29. No message was on the answering machine. My heart sunk. I called anyway, yup, it's in. I was in the shop by 4:20 p.m. The frame, MY FRAME, was behind the counter. I held it and it was no illusion. I handed him the headset and asked him to install it. "The toolbox is in Long Branch. Leave the frame here and you can pick it up on Monday."
"It's 68 degrees out on November 29, the frost bite series starts Sunday and you want me to wait 'till Monday! Where do I have to take this to get the headset pressed in while I wait?" A few phone calls later I was dashing to the Long Branch shop. A half hour later the fork was installed and I was on my way home for dinner. I assembled the wheels, seat (sella Flite, Titanium) and brakes and was back in Red Bank 10 am Saturday to be fitted with handlebars and stem. Stem was no problem, the handlebars were available in Eatontown. The 56 mile long Tour de Peddler completed, the bike took shape shortly after lunch. A test ride in the neighborhood, a few adjustments, a call to our busy club president and then the first ride, in shorts on the last day of November. It was so quiet! The ride is so smooth! Riding without hands was effortless! I hit 38 mph down Van Schoick without peddling! A few more adjustments and I would be ready to debut at the Frost Bite series. 9am Sunday, it rained! I will have to settle for only the rest of my life to enjoy it.
How much does it really cost? If you have to ask, you don't understand Titanium.
Lee Beaumont, December 1, 1991