Just like that, it changes. One day the country is gripped by winter, the next, summer has erupted, drowning the landscape in colour, warmth and light. Where’s spring? Who cares –let’s make the most of the sun while it lasts. After last month’s frigid ride in Cromer, we decided to head south in pursuit of spring and good roads on which to ride three luxurious titanium bikes. Arriving in Beaulieu in the heart of the New Forest National Park, it was clear that we’d got lucky. With clear blue skies, temperatures hovering in the low 20s and three dream bikes from Moots, Pretorius and Enigma, we were set for a good day.
Twenty years ago, titanium was the material everyone dreamed of. It lasts forever, has the weight of aluminium and the magical ride quality of steel, and because it’s such a hard-wearing material, it doesn’t need to be painted. Ti frames are left raw because they can be – flaunting their DNA as well as the rider’s wealth and good taste. Titanium: it’s not just a bike, it’s an investment, and a statement. That’s the way we felt back then.
Tour de France riders such as Alex Zülle and Richard Virenque rode Ti, not their standard Peugeot bikes. Lance Armstrong even rode a re-badged Litespeed titanium time-trial bike for the first of his Tour wins in 1999. Yeah, they were all dopers, but their choice of bikes was first-rate.
But things have changed. Twenty years ago, the choice was steel or aluminium, with titanium somewhere up in the stratosphere. Now, carbon fibre has become the default, and whether you’re after low weight or super stiffness, comfort or exclusivity – carbon has the market sewn up. And yet, for riders in the know, titanium still holds an allure.
‘I chose titanium because back in the 1990s I rode a friend’s
titanium Colnago,one of the ones that was made in Russia, and I loved it,’
says Jean-Claude Pretorius, who supplied the Pretorius Outeniqua we’re riding here.
‘When I stopped racing, I always knew I wanted to go back to using titanium –it’s an awesome metal to use, the way it ages and the way it rides.’
It’s a story that’s echoed among riders and builders alike. Carbon is seen as sterile, efficient; titanium as organic, magical. It’s nonsense, but you can’t argue with dogma.
We start our ride in Beaulieu, home to the National Motor Museum, and head immediately south, towards the sea. Jon has forgotten to bring a pedal spanner to secure his Speedplay pedals, so the first few miles are taken tentatively while we keep our eyes peeled for any likely-looking soul who might have some proper tools to hand. We see the sea when we arrive in Lepe, and it’s busy. It may only be a Thursday in April, but a combination of school holidays and blazing sunshine means the car park is packed. Fortunately, the roads aren’t.
We fail to find a spanner, but by the time we remember, the pedals have tightened themselves up sufficiently (thanks to the pedalling torque) to cause no issues. Which is lucky, as by now we’re testing the bikes properly, sprinting for signs and launching unprovoked (and frankly, unnecessary) attacks on each other. Jon is riding a bike from Enigma, a mid-sized operation from Sussex. At £3,099 for the complete bike with an Ultegra groupset, it’s the cheapest bike here, but at 7.82kg it’s bang on the money in terms of weight, and the finish is perfect – the subtle gold mirror logos particularly draw the attention. Enigma sells bikes in both titanium and steel and has 11 complete models in the range, covering road racing, sportive riding, touring and mountain biking. The Evade sits in the ‘fast endurance’ category and is available in five sizes, from 53 to 59cm, or with custom geometry for an extra charge.
Having stopped to take photos of the bikes on the beach, by the time we roll back through Beaulieu it’s lunchtime, so we stop for a bite to eat. By pure coincidence, our decision to stop coincides with Beaulieu’s version of rush hour – not cars but cows, a dozen of which are casually strolling down the high street, bringing traffic and onlookers to a halt. ‘Does this happen often?’ I ask the owner of the deli, who’s stood in her shop doorway watching the chaos. ‘A couple of times a week,’ she laughs.