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The 1970s saw a breif flurry of TITANIUM bicycle production: the exuberant (and stumbling) birth of what would only later settler down to become an established industry. In most cases, this burst of innovation was spearheaded by auteur framebuilders who, either by luck or sheer determination, were able to locate and utilize the industrial resources that were necessary to realize their ambitions.

Early TITANIUM frame development was hampered by a number of factors: a lack of access to suitable tubing and consumer conservatism being, perhaps, chief among these. In combination with the inevitable techincal mistakes made by any trailbazing industry, these factors meant that the TITANIUM bicycles of the 1970s were largely commercial failures. Nevertheless, they inspired, and the experience gained during these times would go on to become the bedrock of knowledge upon which bigger things would be built.


Bike World - July 1974 (Volume 03 Number 07).
This illuminating article reviews the Speedwell
Titalite, Flema, and Teledyne Linair Titan
bicycles, and gives an overall view of the
TITANIUM bicycle industry at that time.

FLEMA Logo

Depending on who you ask, the German builder of FLEMA bicycles Fritz Fleck may hold the distinction of having built the first TITANUM bicycles of the 1970s.

In an interview conducted by Speedbicycles, Fritz explains that, having always been an avid bicyclist (and later pro racer), he gained the basic skills necessary for frame construction while working as a plumber. "At first, I brazed [bicycle frames] on the floor. Later on I built myself a jig when friends also asked me to build frames for them."

Claiming to have been inspired by, among others, a possible Porsche-built TITANIUM frame, Fritz sourced tubes from the Steinzeug company (of Friedrichsfeld) in order to build his own. Assembling a complete TITANIUM frame at that time would prove to be an arduous process, requiring hand-tapering and machining of all the small parts (droputs and braze-ons) from stock. His first protoype copied the tube diameter measurements of similar steel bicycles more-or-less exactly, and as a result proved too flexible to race safely. "My test cyclist Karl Mertes crashed a prototype in a race. While going downhill he pedalled so fast that the frame developed a bad shimmy and he lost control." It was this experience that would prompt Fritz to add the trademark gusset plates to his limited-production frames. Internal reinforcements in the fork crown are less visible, but still noteworthy.

The July 1974 Bike World review noted the comparatively brutal and unrefined look of the FLEMA test bicycle, and indeed the unfiled welds are rather rough. Additionally, the FLEMA frames are not particularly light, with the end result being that complete FLEMA bikes tend to weigh as much as, if not more than, the lightest steel contemporaries (as we can observe below). Finally, the ride quality of the FLEMA was reported to be essentially like that of a steel frame. Considering all of this, we may be excused for wondering if the use of TITANIUM in the FLEMA frames was, ultimately, worth the price. Of course, from our safely removed vantage point, there's no harm in enjoying their uniqueness, if nothing else.

>>> 1971/1972 "FLEMA Super"


(Images sourced from Classic Rendezvous)

Here we can clearly see the conspicuous use of drilled-out reinforcing plates or gussets in order to address flame flex issues. This Super model sports gold Mafac center-pull brakes, and the frame is virtually free of braze-ons. The 1971-1972 date is an estimate.

>>> 1972 "FLEMA Titan"


(Images sourced from Tour Hautnah)

Here we have some rare images of Günter Haritz with the West German Olympics team, showing off his FLEMA Titan in Munich, 1972. The West German team won the pursuit competition with a final time of 4:22.14. A video of one of the teams races, with the FLEMA Titan visible in action, can be viewed at the Tour Hautnah page linked above. The Titan model appears to be similar to other FLEMA bicycles of the period, with the obvious difference being that it possesses track-style dropouts and has no provisions for brakes. The reinforcing gussets are difficult to see in these pictures, but they are there.

>>> 1972 "FLEMA Campionissimo"



(Images sourced from Speedbicycles)

Externally, the main difference between this Campionissimo and the Super above it is (what appears to be) an aborted attempt at adding internal cable routing through the top tube. This bicycle is a 56 cm (c-c) and weighs 9.4 kg, or 20.7 lbs as pictured.

>>> Undated "FLEMA" TITANIUM Bicycle


(Images sourced from Steel Vintage - ironic, no?)

This is an interesting FLEMA example. It bears no model name, and lacks the usual reinforcing gussets. However, I doubt that it was one of the early prototypes, due to the presence of several comparatively refined features: namely, welded cable routing on the top tube and bottom bracket. The seatpost binder is, however, of the old square type, perhaps indicating that this is an "intermediate" period frame.

>>> 1975 "FLEMA Titan"



(Images sourced from Speedbicycles)

Here we have a relatively late FLEMA Titan (not to be confused with the Olympics winning track bike). In many ways this appears to be the most refined of the FLEMAs that I've been able to find. Braze-ons abound (except on the bottom bracket), the seatpost binder is a svelt and rounded number, and the dropouts are minimalist in comparison to earlier frames. The reinforcing gussets are also smaller, although this may simply be proportional to the smaller frame size, rather than being linked to any chronological evolution. The bicycle is a 49 cm (c-c) and weighs 8.4 kg, or 18.5 lbs as pictured.


Morroni Logo

While the three green mice are cycling luminary Pino Morroni's logo, most of his TITANIUM bike designs were built in close cooperation with (or actually by) Cecil Behringer.

Today, Pino Morroni is considered to be somewhat of an obscure figure in the cycling world--but those who are in the know tend to regard him has having been a visionary, if not an outright genius. There's certainly no arguing that he was an innovator, and at one time his special lightweight components graced the frames of top racers around the world (Eddy Merckx being only the most well known of these).

The Retrogrouch has a good writeup about the life and times of Pino, Classic Rendezvous details several of his impressive creations, and the Pino Morroni, Telavio Facebook Group contains a trove of rare photos. Documents from both Morroni and Behringer are archived at Velostuff. Additionally, the host of the Youtube channel "The Yellow Sheldon," John, has two recent videos discussing Pino's bottom bracket and quick release designs.

That having been said, much of what has been written about Pino can justifiably be classified as heresay. In some cases, details in different stories don't add up. What follows is my best attempt at presenting a coherent picture of Pino's forays into TITANIUM fabrication and design.

Hailing from Italy and having had extensive experience with machining, Pino designed numerous components (most of which incorporated TITANIUM or magnesium elements) including an early sealed-cartridge bottom bracket (patent US3903754A), a highly effective quick release assembly (patent US61117675A), and a family of lightweight adjustable seat posts (patent IT1040933B), which were reviewed in the August 1974 issue of Bike World Magazine. From our standpoint, however, one of Pino's most interesting components was his highly unorthodox wheelset.

   

Sometimes known as "tripple nut wheels," the major components of these sets (apart from the rims) are reported to have each been hand machined by Pino from TITANIUM stock--including the spokes! The design and construction of these wheels was certainly unique in their time: the thick-gauge spokes are threaded on both ends, one end threads directly into the hub flange, while the other end hosts two nuts which "sandwich" the proprietary Ambrosio rim into place. By completely eschewing standard wheel tensioning principles, these wheelsets could be built with radial spoke patterning throughout, and were considered by Pino to have been "unbreakable" (variations can be found with single-cross lacing on the rear wheel, and different methods of securing the spokes to the flanges, including the one which gave rise to the "tripple nut" moniker).

"Shimano’s sales manager, Wayne Stetina along with his brother, Dale, used Pino’s products with great success. Wayne recalled that Pino’s wheels carried him to victory in several races. He road [sic] them in the TTT at the Montreal Games and Dale rode them at the Junior World Championships. Wayne said, 'the wheels were very fast.' Mike Fraysee confirmed that Greg LeMond won a silver medal at the 1979 Junior World Championships astride a bicycle equipped with Pino’s wheels and a bottom bracket." (Pino Morroni Obituary).

Having worked with TITANIUM to construct bicycle components, Pino was, not surprisingly, also interested in building complete TITANIUM bicycle frames. Some time in the early-mid 1970s, Pino teamed up with Cecil Behringer to do just that.

Cecil Behringer was a long-distance racer with a Phd in metalurgy. It was said that "his specialty was joining the impossible" (Classic Rendezvous). Several articles note that he was frequently called upon by the likes of NASA to consult on difficult technical projects. His frame construction technique, whether working with steel or TITANIUM, was certainly unlike that of any other builder.

The lugged and brazed TITANIUM bicycle that would come to be named the Pi-Behr (for Pino and Behringer) stood apart from other TITANIUM bikes of its time in almost every respect, begining with the metal itself: advanced alloys were used, rather than CP tubing. Unfortunately, while we know that this was the case, there are major discrepancies in the various stories about which alloy was used, and in what form.

One common telling asserts that the first Pi-Behr frame components were milled by Pino himself from solid 6al/4v bar stock--dropouts, braze-ons, lugs, main tubes and all. This version of the story is supported both by Pino's telling of the events himself and certain other detailps, namely, that Cecil Behringer worked for a time in the employ of the Western Gold and Platinum Company, which had patented a brazing filler alloy for use with 6al/4v TITANIUM components, supposedly the same filler used on the Pi-Behr frames (Bike World Magazine). That's one story.

The image displayed at right shows some of Pino's titanium lugs. While not identical to the lugs on the Pi-Behr frame shown below, there were likely many variataions, as each set was custom made. On these examples at least, it is clear that each whole lug was not machined from solid titanium block: rather, individually shaped sections of tube appear to be welded together.

The competing frame material story, supplied by a 2014 Titanium Today article, asserts that industry pioneer Clyde Forney worked with Pino and Behringer to supply them with custom sized 3al/2.5v tubing for their lugged frames. It is possible, of course, that both stories are true, with the earliest frames having been built from 6/4 stock and later frames (perhaps even the welded ones) from 3/2.5 tubing.

In any case, the tubes and lugs (whatever their composition and method of manufacture) were passed on to Behringer, who put his sub-assemblies together by fitting tubes into the lugs and injecting a slurry composed of a petroleum gel and powdered filler metal into the joints. These sub-assemblies were then heated to brazing temperature (perhaps 930-940°C or 1706-1724°F) in an argon-filled quartz furnace, before being finished as a whole frame in an industrial vacuum furnace.

¯\(°_o)/¯

Compared to standard TITANIUM welding practice, the process described above seems almost like something from science fiction. However, Behringer promoted his process on the grounds that it required lower temperatures than TIG welding (which typically operates in the range of 6,000°F), and thus maintained greater frame integrity.

Just when it seems that things couldn't get much weirder, an accident during the cool-down phase of the vacuum furnace used to finish the first batch of Pi-Behr frames prompted a surprising result: nitrogen was introduced into the furnace atmosphere instead of argon, leading to the unintended gas nitriding of the frames. While several from this batch were (unsurprisingly) ruined, Behringer reported to Popular Mechanics magazine that others became "as stiff as steel". It was one of these bicycles that Pino is said to have ridden down the 138 Spanish Steps in Rome in order to prove its strength... This story is almost certainly aprocryphal, and indeed the entire concept of serendipitous frame nitriding stretches the imagination, given both the finicky nature of the nitriding process and its commonly attributed results (imparting surface wear resistance, not whole-component stiffening). Both Morroni and Behringer were salesmen, after all, and may have presented a somewhat glamorized version of events (you can read more about the science behind nitriding titanium at Thermal Processing and Science Direct). In any case, a small number of succesfully nitrided Pi-Behr TITANIUM bicycles are reported to have been produced, in both track and road variants. What is undisputable is that these bicycles were incredibly light: weight figures for complete bicycles have been listed at 10 pounds for the track frame and 12 for the road! Not many were built, and those that were almost invariably went to professional racers. Behringer famously (and sarcastically) suggested that a regular customer wishing to procure one of these frames would face a $10,000 price tag.


(Source: Popular Mechanics, July 1982)

Unfortunately, neither solid dates nor production numbers are available for the Pi-Behr, or any of Pino's TITANIUM frames. Presumably, more non-nitrided Pi-Behr frames were produced than nitrided ones. At some point, Pino apparently abandoned lugged TITANIUM design, and instead had welded frames made to his specification.

For more information on Pino's later frames, jump to his article in the "Titanium in the 1980s" section.

>>> "Pi-Behr"


(Images sourced from Classic Rendezvous).

As if being constructed of lugged and brazed TITANIUM wasn't unique enough, the Pi-Behr track model at left also features a left-hand drivetrain and has small diameter tubes brazed into the frame at various points in order to counteract flex and vibration (a practice borrowed from aviation design, which Pino would carry over onto many of his steel frames). The red frame at right being shown off by Mr. Morroni himself appears to be another Pi-Behr, painted, for reasons unknown, with red primer. It is reported that, at one time, Pino's TITANIUM forks could be ordered retail from Richard Sachs.


Speedwell Logo

We are lucky to to have at our disposal a large sum of information regarding the Speedwell bicycles. The Classic Rendezvous page on the manufacturer has quite a few photos and other information. There is also a good write-up on the Rotorburn forum. And, of course, there is the 1974 Bike World review.

The Witton, Birmingham-based Speedwell Gear Case Company was, in the late 1960s, familiar with TITANIUM fabrication through its work on racing cars and aircraft. It was around this time that the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) approached Speedwell with an ambitious project to build TITANIUM motocross frames. While the BSA endeavour would prove to be both insanely expensive and largely unsuccesful, Speedwell did gain a great deal of experience with two-wheel TITANIUM frame production in the process, and, some time around 1972, decided to produce a TITANIUM bicycle. Noted bicycle eccentric and ultra-long-distance racer Peter Duker was evidently heavily involved in the production effort.

Speedwell knew that they would need help building confidence in the mysterious new metal, and their ability to craft it properly, if there was to be any hope of winning over European customers (of course, a TITANIUM FLEMA had already been raced in the 1972 Olympics, but this had evidently not done much to awaken interest in the wider market). Knowing that race results fueled sales, Speedwell set their sights on Bic team racer Luis Ocaña and, using UK distributor Ron Kitching as a go-between, a deal was struck, leading to the delivery of a Speedwell TITANIUM bicycle frame to the Dauphiné Libéré stage race in 1973 for testing. The frame would go on to be used in several mountain stages of that year's Tour De France, with the end result being Ocana's victory over Eddy Merckx (Rotorburn).

We may never know the exact reason why the Bic team decided to have Ocaña only ride his Speedwell during certain stages of the tour, but we may speculate that part of the issue was--you guessed it--excessive frame flex. While the Bike World reviewers of a Speedwell in 1974 noted the exceptionally clean and classic appearance of the frame, their judgement regarding its ride quality was harsh indeed, calling it "not suitable for any category of serious riding," as well as "spongey," "mushey," and "dead." No doubt this was the result of Speedwell's slavish adherance to classic (meaning, steel-based) frame design parameters. Others complained about the Speedwell's "rangy wheelbase, gappy clearances and relaxed angles"(Rotorburn).

Interestingly, Roger St. Pierre, writing for International Cycle Sport in 1975, suggests that, by that time, the performance problems associated with earlier frames had been worked out. He must have been very impressed indeed, because the next year he had Speedwell build an experimental track frame to to his specifications (using even thicker tubing). Having tested the track frame, St. Pierre called it "the most responsive track bike I've yet ridden" ("The Move Toward Titanium").

Concerning the details of the evolution of the standard production Speedwell TITANIUM bikes, little can be gleaned from their outward appearance. At least on a superficial level, if you've seen one Titalite, you've seen them all. A Speedwell representative, speaking for St. Pierre's International Cycle Sport article, explains that the extremely complicated fork design found on standard production Titalite's is an improvement over early prototype examples, which used a more standard fork crown arrangement, but I haven't been able to find any pictures obviously depicting the prototype fork. Presumably, the changes that led to later Titalites receiving more favorable reviews had to do with subtle tweaks to frame geometry and tubing thickness/diameter. Things like the number and location of braze-ons, as well as the absolutely massive welds, remained, seemingly, constant.

Speedwell allowed their TITANIUM frames to be branded by a large number of outfits over their aproximately five-year production span, as some of the pictures below show. Quite a few were also painted, which is somewhat unusual for TITANIUM. The company is reported to have closed down their frame manufacturing operations in 1977, never having achieved robust sales figures.

>>> 1973 "Titanum Speedwell"


(image sourced from Classic Rendezvous).

Luis Ocaña rides an early Speedwell "Titanium" during the 1973 Tour De France.

>>> 1974 "Speedwell Titalite"



(Images sourced from Speedbicycles)

This 1974 Titalite features extensively drilled components and a complete Campagnolo Record grouppo. Detail shots show the characteristic large filed welds and complicated fork. The bicycle is a 55 cm (c-c) and weighs 7.4 kg, or 16.3 lbs as pictured.

>>> 1976 "Titanium Speedwell" Track


(Image sourced from Bike World Magazine "The Move Toward Titanium").

The experimental Titanium Speedwell track bike, built to Roger St. Pierre's specifications.

>>> 1976 "Crescent Executive" branded Speedwell Titalite


(Images sourced from cykelhistoriska and r/Vintage_bicycles).

Crescent Bicycles started out as an American manufacturer, but was somehow transformed into a Swedish company around the begining of the 20th century. The Crescent Executive model of 1976 utilized a Titalite frame, and came with Campagnolo Nuovo Record grouppo, swept-back handlebars, rear rack and fenders as standard equipment.

>>> "Lamborghini Bike" branded Speedwell



(Images sourced from Speedbicycles)

This in an interesting one: multiple sources report that Lamborghini purchased and rebranded 500 Speedwell frames as commemorative bicycles some time in the early 1980s (1984 is typically referenced). This would seem to contradict the 1977 cut-off date that is often given in historical accounts of Speedwell titanium production, unless Lamborghini simply purchased old, unsold stock. In any case, some of the bikes seem to have been released with a special frame plaque detailing the commemorative release, but not all of the putative Lamborghini bikes posses them (these may of course be counterfeits). The most obvious features on these bikes, aside from the frame decals, are the custom Lamborghini branded components.

>>> Brochures & Patents

   


Teledyne Logo

In the United States, at least, the Teledyne Titan is probably the best known and most well documented of the early TITANIUM bicycles. Articles, reviews and analyses can almost be said to abound, comparatively speaking at least. As such, I won't repeat details needlessly. It should be noted that the July 1974 Bike World review was most favorable when it came to Teledyne's offering, indicating that the Titan is worth investigating for its mechanical merits as well as its historical significance.

For more information, I recommend checking out the Classic Rendezvous Teledyne Titan page.

Pez Cycling News has an illuminating article on Barry Harvey, the man behind the Teledyne Titan, which contains a number of rare photos. Likewise, a very detailed review from the March 1974 issue of Bicycling! can also be found here. This post by joluja on BikeForums also contains interesting images of original Teledyne paperwork included with the purchase of a Titan.

My humble contribution to online research is the July 1974 Precision Metal article on the Teledyne Titan, which details the extrusion and investment casting processes used to make the frame's components.

Fun Fact: Before beginning his work with Teledyne Linair, Barry Harvey had famed framebuilder Albert Eisentraut help him build what was probably the first TITANIUM bicycle made in the United States. Eisentraut's role was presumably that of a close consultant, considering that the frame was likely welded inside of a vacuum glove box, or else required very advanced welding skills and shielding equipment.

       
(Images sourced from PezCyclingNews and Bicycle Guide Magazine Dec 1986).

In particular, the above image depicting a Teledyne booth at an unnamed trade show in the mid-late 1970s contains tantalizing details. It appears, for example, that Teledyne intended for customers to be able to order color electro-anodized frames! Also, the track bike promiently featured may have been the first prototype constructed under Esientraut's tutelage (or a later custom Teledyne product). Either way, it is outfitted with an impressive complement of drillium components, including the crank arms themselves!



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