Mountain Gear

Singletrack.com Factory Tour: Titus Cycles

Like Bonnie and Clyde or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, craniums seem to work best in pairs. Together, Titus' Ron Hoffman and Chris Holman — designers and engineers by trade — make for bikes that are downright stealable.

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Just over a month ago, Singletrack.com had the good fortune to visit the Titus Cycles workshop in Tempe, Arizona.

A Titus team: Industrial designer Chris Holman (left) and engineer Ron Hoffman (right) pose with early models of some of their projects. Photo by Zack Vestal
A Titus team: Industrial designer Chris Holman (left) and engineer Ron Hoffman (right) pose with early models of some of their projects. Photo by Zack Vestal

It’s a compact space in a tidy industrial park, bathed in Arizona’s characteristic sunshine. Engineering, customer service, and marketing offices occupy the front of the building, and warehouse space for fabrication and bike storage rounds out the back.

Our tour guide, Marketing Manager Jeff Titone, said that Titus was still settling in to some degree, having just moved into this space a year ago. The shop used to be half a block away, but the company was growing and needed more space.

“We were pretty aggressive last year,” said Titone, referring both to the move and to a host of new designs now available for the burgeoning 2010 riding season. At Interbike last fall, Titus showed several all-new carbon fiber mountain bikes including the FTM Carbon and a redesigned X Carbon. Also new for 2010 are the Rockstar 29er bikes, which are available in aluminum or titanium.

Titus doesn’t do any actual frame building in Tempe. With the exploding popularity of carbon fiber, the company now depends on the sophistication of overseas suppliers for their carbon bikes. All the aluminum frames are welded in Portland, Oregon and shipped to Arizona for final assembly and quality control. Most titanium is similarly outsourced, but Titus does keep a welder on retainer for custom work.

Even so, the Titus shop in Tempe is the think-tank where new designs originate, thanks to a core group of committed individuals.

The H-Men: Two Halves to a Whole

Titone introduced us to the guys who make new designs happen for Titus. The dynamic duo of Ron Hoffman and Chris Holman are largely responsible for the new bikes, in both form and function. Holman is an industrial designer and Hoffman is an engineer, and together the pair brought the new bikes to life.

“We both have a passion for two wheels and come from motocross,” said Hoffman. The two have been working as a team for the better part of eight years, and started their own company a few years ago. They’ve been working for Titus for almost two years, and the fruits of their labors are apparent in the new bikes.

This two-man team’s past experience with design and engineering doesn’t fully register in the context of a small bike frame shop, at least at first. For example, Hoffman started as a contract engineer with big projects in the motorsports industry, including working on a Nissan engine for Indycar racing. Names like John Deere and Goodrich also come up, when they talk about their various exposure to different technologies and materials from other industries.

However, Hoffman points out that “a good design process is a good design process.” With strong fundamentals and knowledge, he said, “You can design almost anything.”

“It’s been fun to look at technologies and see how they apply to bikes,” Hoffman added.

In tandem with Holman, he’s seen and done enough in the engineering world to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the mountain bike drawing board.

Engineering an Engine Bay — or a Bike Frame

The results manifest in sometimes surprisingly simple ways. For example, riders of the original FTM frames complained of creaks and noise. Hoffman knew from his motorsports experience and engine development work that flat panels in structures can act like the diaphragm on a loudspeaker, amplifying noise. Therefore, the new FTM Carbon was designed with graceful curves and almost no flat sections on the main frame.

Sure enough, on a test ride of the new FTM Carbon later in the weekend, we discovered that it was impressively quiet and muted.

Two brains really ARE better than one

Tag-team partnerships are the quintessential stuff of American folklore. Like Bonnie and Clyde or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, craniums seem to work best in pairs.

It’s no different at Titus, where Hoffman and Holman synergize to create a whole that’s greater than the two halves.

“Together we do things that neither one could do on their own,” said Holman, adding that in attacking things from different angles, the two work out problems more easily. “We run into different roadblocks because we look at things just slightly differently.”

“We count success if everyone has a voice,” added Hoffman.

Clearly, with bikes like the X Carbon and FTM Carbon leaping off the drawing board and onto the nearby South Mountain singletrack, Titus is headed in the right direction.