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by Matt Wikstrom
July 21, 2015
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Moots have been making titanium frame since 1991 and they’re widely recognised as masters of the demanding metal. In this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom rides the Vamoots CR, a road frameset designed to provide enthusiasts with a large measure of race performance without compromising its versatility.
Moots began life in 1981 and has always called Steamboat Springs in Colorado home. The company started with handbuilt steel road frames followed by mountain bike frames a couple years later. They introduced their first titanium frame in 1991 and have been working with the material ever since.
An alligator-shaped eraser named Mr Moots accounts for the name of the company. One of the founders was fond of the eraser while he was at school and the character spawned its own comic adventures before being recruited as a mascot and namesake for the company.
Moots builds titanium frames for road, MTB, cyclocross, and snow use with a choice of stock or custom geometry. In addition, the frame can be customised with a variety of fittings, such as a pump peg, chain catcher, third bottle cage mount, and/or S&S couplers.
There are four road-specific frames in the Moots catalogue, starting with the Vamoots, which is designed as an endurance/fondo bike. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the Vamoots RSL, a dedicated race bike, while the Vamoots CR fills in the middle ground. Finally, there is Vamoots DR, a road disc bike with more relaxed and stable geometry to suit gravel riding and/or touring.
For this review, I spent a few weeks riding a Vamoots CR, courtesy of Moots’ Australian retailer, Cycling Edge.
Moots uses U.S.-made seamless titanium alloy tubing with 3% aluminium and 2.5% vanadium, a common choice for bike frames. Titanium alloys are lighter than steel, enjoy good fatigue resistance, plus they are highly resistant to corrosion. Of course, carbon composites best titanium on the basis of strength to weight, but the metal enjoys superior impact resistance.
Titanium is a demanding metal to work with and that is why Moots is very exacting in its construction process. Vey high temperatures are required to weld the tubing, but titanium becomes highly reactive as it liquefies at these temperatures. Each tube must be fastidiously clean and Argon gas is used to protect the metal during welding otherwise brittle titanium oxides will form at the welded joint.
Moots tunes each part of the frame with machining, internal butting and swaging. In essence, the tubing is shaped by carving, hammering, and bending the metal to achieve the desired thickness and shape. It’s a practise that demands enormous skill and experience, but it can be used with great precision to modify the performance of the frame.
The diameter of the tubing also has a profound impact on the feel and performance of the frame, where larger diameters generally provide extra stiffness. It’s the most obvious difference between each of Moots’ road frames, but they also vary the diameters of some tubes, such as the top tube, for different frame sizes.
Moots uses two passes to weld the frame. The first pass essentially melts the tubes at the point where they meet, while the second pass fills in and dresses the junction. While the second pass can disguise any imperfections, it is the first pass that ultimately determines the quality of the join. That’s why Moots insists upon on perfectly mitred tubes for their frames.
Moots also applies the same high standards when machining frame fittings such as the bottom bracket shell, head tube and dropouts. Indeed, every part of the frame is manufactured in-house and must satisfy the company’s stringent quality control.
A stock Vamoots CR has a 1.125” headtube, English-threaded bottom bracket, 27.2mm seatpost diameter, and a replaceable rear derailleur hanger. The frame is supplied with a matching carbon fork and buyers have a choice of external cable routing for mechanical gear cables or internal routing for electronic transmissions.
There are nine stock frame sizes on offer for the Vamoots CR, as shown in the table below:
The Vamoots CR uses an external headset that adds around 30mm to the length of the headtube, so while the geometry is race-oriented, it’s not as aggressive as it first appears. For riders looking for a taller front end, there is an option for a 1cm taller headtube for any stock frame size at no extra charge. A detailed geometry table can be viewed at Moots.
Every Moots frame is built to order with a range of options on offer, and as mentioned above, custom geometry. Other options include a 44mm headtube, PF30 bottom bracket shell, pump peg, chain catcher, S&S couplers, rack eyelets, fender mounts, and a third bottle cage mount. In this way, buyers are able to personalise the bike to suit their precise needs, though extra charges apply.
The Vamoots CR is finished in the same way as all Moots’ frames: satin bead-blasting, adhesive decals and a cast headtube badge. The simple finish does little to catch the eye but any observer will be rewarded once they get closer to the bike, where they can take in the details such as the elegant welds. The satin finish is prone to scratches but Moots is able to rejuvenate the finish (bead blasting will remove any scratches and restore the original finish while the adhesive decals are easily replaced).
The Vamoots CR frame can be partnered with a Moots carbon road fork that is painted to match the colour of the frame. An Asian company manufactures the forks according to Moots’ specifications, providing a choice of three rakes (40, 45, 50mm) and enough clearance for a 28mm tyre.
It might be easy to underestimate a Moots frame due to its modest finish but I found an enormous amount to appreciate while assembling the Vamoots CR. The preparation of the frame was exquisite, and while this is made easy by the absence of paint, it does nothing to diminish the diligence of the staff at Moots. All of the parts fitted the frame with satisfying precision and there was no need for any extra muscle to get them to stay in place. In short, the Vamoots CR is one of the best frames I’ve ever worked on.
The frame supplied for review was a size 56 with a 1cm taller head tube fitted with a Chris King headset and Moots carbon forks. Weight for the frameset including the headset, forks, seatpost clamp and derailleur hanger was 1.98kg (frame, 1,400g; fork, 390g). Campagnolo’s Super Record RS groupset was used for the build along with a titanium stem and seatpost from Moots, and finished with Bora Ultra 35 wheels for a final weight (with pedals and cages) of 6.95kg.
The starting price for a Vamoots CR is $5,800, which includes a frame with stock geometry, carbon fork, and a Chris King headset. Custom geometry is an extra $750, while adding a Moots titanium stem and seatpost to the package costs $880. Once an order is placed, buyers can expect a waiting period of 6-12 weeks, depending on the season.
All Moots frames are supplied with a limited lifetime warranty. For more information, visit Cycling Edge and Moots.
I always look forward to the first ride on a new bike but in this instance, my anticipation was a little keener. After all, the Vamoots CR was going to be my first metal bike review since starting with CT in 2011. Better yet, it was titanium, a material I’ve only ever had a few fleeting encounters with.
My first impression was immediate and profound: silky smooth, yet alive in a way that I’ve never experienced with a carbon bike. I didn’t understand it at first, but after a few more rides, I started to think of it in terms of a deeper connection, both with the bike and the road.
Carbon bikes often isolate me from the road, so I proceed in something of a vacuum. The same sense also applies to the other contact points so that there is no connection between one end of the bike and the other. It makes for a highly refined ride—a bit like the quiet ride offered by a modern car—but it deprives the senses to some degree.
The Vamoots CR, in contrast, felt like it was constantly humming or filled with a gentle buzz of electricity. There was also a strong connection between the saddle and the handlebars that I’ve rarely experienced with a carbon bike. The longer I spent on the bike, the more I appreciated this sense, as if I had found a new grounding in the world.
The bike surprised me as I ventured onto rougher roads, though. My hands vibrated on the handlebars and the calf muscles shook in my legs. The silky, smooth ride was lost but my “connection” with the road clearly was not. It might have been unbearable were it not for how enjoyable the bike was on any other road surface.
According to Tom Kellogg, the paradoxical behaviour of titanium is due to its non-linear modulus. The metal is able to absorb small forces but then it becomes resistant to larger forces. Thus, it provides a frame with a measure of compliance as well as rigidity. The amount of compliance depends on the design of the tubing (i.e. thickness, diameter and butting), and in this instance, Moots sacrifices some comfort in order to provide a larger measure of race responsiveness for the Vamoots CR.
Indeed, I found that the Vamoots CR had a robust and sturdy feel that was well suited to aggressive riding. Out of the saddle or seated, the bike was sure and responsive though dedicated racers will probably find it lacking a little. That’s not really surprising given that Moots set out to build a bike that was more versatile than their dedicated racer, the Vamoots RSL.
The steering of the Vamoots CR was a little slow at low speeds but spot on for high speeds, making for a stable, well-mannered bike. As such, the bike was well suited for descents, and I was able to relax the whole way down. Overall, the steering and handling helps the versatility of the Vamoots CR, making it an easy bike to ride under most circumstances. Not an ideal choice for racing criteriums perhaps, but still capable nonetheless.
I enjoyed tackling climbs with the Vamoots CR. As I’ve already mentioned, it was stiff and sturdy under load, so I never felt like my efforts were wasted on the bike. However, it wasn’t as agile as a lightweight carbon bike and it lacked the hair-trigger responsiveness of great climbing rig. Regardless, I could still appreciate the hum of the bike while making my way up any climb.
A high-end frame benefits as much from a high-end build as any other level frame, but there is immense satisfaction in how well the two compliment each other. In this regard, Moots’ titanium Cinch seatpost deserves a special mention: the design is elegant, even beautiful; it is a perfect match for the frame, requiring a minimum of effort to secure it in place; and the saddle clamp succeeds where so many other designs have failed by separating fore and aft adjustment from saddle tilt.
Moots manages this by using separate bolts for each function: the outer bolts clamp the saddle to the post, allowing fore/aft adjustment once loosened; a smaller bolt runs through the centre of the saddle clamp that allows the angle of the saddle to be adjusted. The precision of Moots’ craftsmanship really shines here because there is no need to undo the bolts very far before either adjustment can be carried out. And because there is no need to juggle both adjustments at once, it is so simple to set the saddle in a specific position.
There are some downsides though: first, the Cinch post is very expensive; second, it is only available in two diameters, 27.2 and 30.9mm; and third, the satin titanium finish won’t appeal to many buyers unless they are pondering one of Moots’ titanium frames.
For the amount of money involved, few will ever contemplate a Vamoots CR, but for those shopping at the high-end of the market, it provides a distinctive alternative to carbon. Some will be attracted to the unique finish of titanium, others the high level of precise craftsmanship, and then there is the quality of the ride, which I rank as the greatest temptation. Taken together, the combination borders on irresistible.
It is with some frustration that I must leave my description of the ride quality open to interpretation. Words can only go so far. Ultimately there is no substitute for personal experience, so if the bike appeals, I’d recommend a test ride (and if you’re just curious, I’d also encourage your indulgence).
What about carbon versus titanium? There is no argument that one is superior to the other in certain circumstances; after all, they both have their advantages and disadvantages with a balance that will vary according to an individual’s needs. The Vamoots CR is a traditional chassis, arguably out of touch with the current market trend towards improved aerodynamics, but Moots have capatilised on the strengths of titanium to produce a versatile bike well suited to years of diligent use.