By Rick Schultz
Over a decade ago, bicycle component manufacturers started moving from steel to titanium. At the time, they didn’t understand that titanium is a notch sensitive metal. The first pedals to use titanium for the spindles (axles) snapped and several cyclists were seriously injured. Several years ago, a friend who was a bike shop owner got a pair of titanium skewers to test. During a 40mph descent on a group ride, he hit a small rock in the road and the front skewer snapped, he crashed and again, he was seriously injured. So what do these two incidents have in common?
- If these parts would have been made from steel, this would not have happened
- In both cases, the threads were cut and not rolled.
Background: In my previous career, I started a titanium fabrication business and it just happened that my first client was the US Navy Special Warfare Group (NSWG). The project was a non-magnetic, indestructible titanium knife for the US Special Forces that eventually went to all of our allies. I joined forces with an engineer who worked at one of the worlds leading titanium plants and the first thing he taught me is that titanium is a notch sensitive material. Always use gradual curves, round over and smooth out everything, every curve and never, ever use a sharp point (i.e., notch). I built the knives and over the last 20 years, there have only been a handful of broken blades. My next project for NSWG was building threaded titanium rods used as EOD demining probes. Not one has broken, why? Because I rolled the threads instead of cutting the threads. It was more expensive to manufacture, but the only way to fabricate threaded titanium parts.
Going back to the titanium skewers and pedal axles. Both were cases of the manufacturers not understanding the nuances nor the differences in fabricating titanium vs steel.
So, the decision you need to make is “How much weight savings am I gaining vs. the safety / integrity of the product?”
As an example, is 1.53 ounces saved in non-rotating weight worth the cost of this part failing at high speeds?
|QUICK RELEASE SKEWER||STEEL||TITANIUM|
|WEIGHT / PAIR (claimed)||3.2 oz||1.67 oz|
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he’s a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He’s the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick’s full bio.
No to titanium
Kerry Irons says
How about “no to titanium when improperly used or specified”? I have been riding Ti frames since 1998 with over 230,000 miles on two frames. Zero issues. Campy Record ProFit pedals with Ti axles for over 150,000 miles. Zero issues. You can use Ti properly and safely. Just not in stupid applications like QR skewers.
I would add “when improperly used or specified or improperly fabricated”. In general, pick your titanium parts carefully with special emphasis on selecting the right manufacturer by asking the right questions.
Michael Chritton says
Was just about to change my stem bolts to titanium but will now stick with stainless steel. Perfect timing for this article.
Roy Bloomfield says
I’ve been using Ti spindles and Ti skewers for over 12 years now – and I ride a lot – with ABSOLUTELY no issues. Maybe part of the reason for the flawless track record is I don’t tighten the skewers more than I think necessary, and regarding the pedal spindles, I weigh 138lbs.
Brian Nystrom says
Like Roy, I’ve used Ti skewers for nearly two decades and have never had the Ti part fail. I’ve also used pedals with Ti spindles, Ti seatposts and numerous Ti bolts without any issues. I own two Ti frames that worked well for ~13 years, before I switched to carbon fiber. FWIW, I weigh ~170 pounds.
I HAVE had the threads in the aluminum pivot pins of ultralight Ti skewers strip if the skewer was overtightened. I ended up making tubular steel pivot pins and screwed the Ti skewer rods into them. Problem solved and they’ve worked fine for more than a decade.
Roy Bloomfield says
“…is 1.53 ounces saved in non-rotating weight worth the cost of this part failing at high speeds?”
With all due respect, this is (in my opinion) overly alarmest, with shades of Chicken Little as well. You’re apparently basing your opinion on two negative incidences out of possibly tens of thousands of examples of riders successfully and without incidents using Ti skewers and Ti pedal spindles. Come on man . . .
Tom Alford says
I’ve had Zipp titanium skewers for many years with never a thought or issue.