I wish the Titanosaur, our drop-bar 36-inch wheel bike, was out in the real world right now. The time it takes to create new products always frustrates me. We’ve had so many enquiries from tall riders keen to have a gravel bike that both fits them and looks good. Ticking both these boxes for riders taller than 200cm is near impossible right now. We’ve been riding around on our test bikes for well over a year now, so where are we up to?
Good things take time, and at the moment everything in the bike industry is taking a hell of a lot longer than normal. With the bike industry riding the highs of the new COVID world, industry growth rates have been reported at between 30 and 100% for 2020 depending on which report or sector you look at. The growth has continued into 2021. This means that production partners, who are accustomed to subdued growth rates that track slightly higher than population growth, are buckling under the load of new business. The Titanosaur project has been slowed down as a result.
We’ve settled on the geometry. A size chart has been researched and drawn up. We’re happy with our fork option. We’ve got a build kit that makes sense but unfortunately, we’re still some way from a product that we can sell. How far away? I really don’t know. I do, however, know it’s time to give you a bit of an update. So here goes…
Standing next to the Titanosaur for the first time, I was worried about jumping on. I get the same feeling now, over a year later, when I haven’t ridden it for a while. It just looks so big. It feels like I’m about to jump on a unicycle, or at least something I won’t be able to control. Those fears melt away after the first few pedal strokes every time.
We got the physics right on the Titanosaur the first time around. The front of the bike and trail figure were carefully engineered to make this 36-inch wheel bike handle like any other bike in our range. It worked on paper and it works in the flesh.
Descending is where this bike excels. The big wheels are massive gyroscopes spinning at the front and rear of the bike and provide an incredibly stable descent on rough terrain at high speeds. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Climbing is as you’d imagine; tough on the extremely steep stuff. The whopping angular momentum in the wheels works for you on descents but keeping the big wheels turning on 20% grades is tough. A 50+ tooth cog on the cassette is important for this bike.
Here’s the funny thing though – our geometry seems very different to other 36-inch wheel bikes on the market. After a lot of Titanosaur test riding, I wouldn’t change a thing. Actually, that’s a lie. I have changed one thing; we moved the bottom bracket up a touch to allow for slightly more pedal clearance when riding up staircases.
At the concept stage, I had a very specific purpose in mind. I was thinking that the Titanosaur might work well as an outback touring bike. It made sense that the huge wheels would roll more smoothly than a 29er over the horrific corrugations that our Australian desert thoroughfares are known for. We have spent a lot of time touring the lesser-known dirt roads of the more remote parts of Australia during Race to the Rock and on other missions. While it’s true that the big wheels roll well over corrugations in practice, the advantages over a standard 29er were not at pronounced as I was hoping. Why? We are let down by very basic tyres.
Here we go with a really basic crash course in corrugation physics. If we rode with solid rubber tyres, a bigger diameter would always result in a smoother ride. Think of a scooter with tiny wheels. There’s no way you can roll up a gutter, the angle of attack of the wheel is too small. If you’re blasting towards a gutter on your scooter, you either plow into the gutter, which towers above your tiny scooter wheels, and go over the bars or bunny hop up it. With a 36-inch wheel bike, rolling up a gutter is a breeze. You don’t need to bunny hop up it. The wheels tower above the gutter allowing you to easily roll up it. Bigger wheels smooth out the bumps. That’s not the full story though. Tyres come into play. Deformation is important.
When you hit a corrugation, first the tyre squishes (or deforms) and it’s only after the squishing finishes that the rim comes into play. With a large, slow tyre deformation and a huge wheel diameter, the bike shouldn’t jolt upwards when a bump is encountered, rather the jolt should be more like a gentle rise. A reduced and faster tyre deformation with a small diameter will produce an abrupt jolt upwards. So you need a big wheel and a slow, large tyre deformation for a smooth ride. Sounds logical, right?
There is only one tyre option for the Titanosaur, the Vee Rubber 36” T-Monster, and while it does the job, it is a long way away from a modern MTB tyre in terms of quality. The T-Monster has a small bag and doesn’t deform like a modern MTB tyre over rocks and corrugations. The sidewall integrity isn’t great, resulting in a fast deformation at comfortable tyre pressures. The small bag means there’s not much to deform. This means the advantage of the big wheels on corrugations isn’t what I was hoping for. I would love to try the Titanosaur with like-for-like tyres to give it a proper test; I’ve even considered stitching two of my favourite 29er tyres together to make a custom 36er tyre (yes, it has been done before by unicyclists) but I don’t have the patience for that.
Why not make some better 36-inch tyres? I would love to, but depending on who you speak to you’ll need a large minimum order quantity of 1,000 or more, with huge set-up costs. Other, more practical tyre producers could help us, but they have a full schedule until 2023. It’s a shame, because the T-Monster, with its wire bead, weighs in at 1,460 grams. Scaling up the weight of our favourite 29er tyres in proportion with the diameter, you can work out that a decent tubeless ready 36er tyre should weigh just under 1,000g. That sort of reduction in rotating mass would drastically change how the Titanosaur climbs. It would be amazing. Unfortunately, making our own 36-inch tyre is not going to happen any time soon.
So, if it’s not the outback tourer I was hoping for, is it still worth pursuing the Titanosaur project?
A Gravel Bike for Tall People
Tall people usually have a choice. Get a bike that fits or get one that looks good. Bikes for tall people usually have enormously oversized head tubes. The frame looks out of proportion to the wheels. It’s unavoidable. For people standing taller than 200 cm, 700c wheels start to look comically small. While bikes scaled up around the same standard wheel size work fine, they rarely look good.
I know I’m biased, but I think the Titanosaur looks amazing. With it’s raked out front end, and long wheelbase, the Titanosaur has a dragster-like appearance. When photographed from an angle, the huge wheels distort in a way that makes it look like the shot has been squished from the sides. I’m not a car person, but it reminds me of a Rolls Royce Phantom for some reason.
We’ve had a lot of tall riders getting in touch, explaining that they have struggled to find gravel bikes that fit them and look good at the same time. It seems that the Titanosaur is appealing to these people. It seems to be the perfect gravel bike for tall people. The T-Monster tyres work perfectly well on gravel, and while we wish we could improve on them, they will do the job for the time being. It’s not worth holding this bike up until we have another tyre option. We’ve even found at least one carbon rim option that works well and proven that T-Monster tyres can be reliably set up tubeless.
The Titanosaur has found its niche.
Just a final reminder. This bike is not for introverts. You will get stopped by people who want to talk about the Titanosaur. “That’s not a normal bike is it?” You’ll hear that a lot.
I think of it like walking a puppy on the beach. It’s a great way to meet people and works faster than any dating app I’ve seen.
Unfortunately, it has been a case of one step forward, two steps back with this project. Due to production scheduling issues, we need to do more testing with different production partners. Our production schedules are solidly booked, with lead times for our standard products forever extending.
This means more prototyping and laboratory ISO testing in the months ahead. We need to make sure this bike, in its final form, will support significantly more weight than our current models.
In the meantime, we are testing another carbon rim option, this time with titanium spokes to reduce the weight a little. Hopefully our next Titanosaur prototypes don’t take too long. Who knows, in the next six months we might need a few test riders taller than 200cm? Sorry to keep teasing you with this stuff. We really do wish we could move faster on this one.