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by Matt Wikstrom
July 26, 2017
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Wittson is a bespoke framebuilding workshop based in Lithuania. Working exclusively with titanium, the father-and-son operation can build a frame for any riding discipline. Aside from its custom creations, Wittson has a few standard offerings, such as the Suppresio, a race-oriented frame that capitalises on the strength and beauty of titanium alloy.
In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom reports back after spending a few weeks riding Wittson’s Suppresio frame.
Vidmantas Zukauskas had been creating titanium bicycle frames for over 20 years before he decided to hang out his own shingle. It was his son, Mindaugas, who prompted the decision when he expressed an interest to join his father in a family-run workshop.
For Vidmantas, or Vitas for short, it was just another step in what has been a life-long fascination with bicycles. The journey began in the early ‘70s when Vitas enrolled in “Cycle Sport School”. As a boy from a poor village in Lithuania, it was the only way he would get the opportunity to ride and race a road bike.
Vitas graduated cycling school to race professionally, the next step in his career. He won Lithuania’s national road title in 1977 and made the podium of the Tour of Lithuania three times (’77, ’79, ’80).
Upon his retirement from competition, he turned to coaching. This phase of his career would last 12 years, five of which was spent coaching Lithuania’s national team. It would bring him into close contact with the bike industry and those relationships would prove invaluable to the next phase of his career.
After more than two decades of involvement with the athletic side of the sport, Vitas was suddenly given the opportunity to enter the manufacturing side. It was 1994, and a group of investors had approached him for some help. They wanted to establish a titanium framebuilding company in Russia and could see that his experience and industry contacts would be invaluable to the venture. The fact that he spoke both English and Russian meant he could also help bring the new factory’s products to the West.
And that’s exactly what he managed to do. The new factory was strategically located near one of Russia’s best titanium welding schools, so it was able to recruit highly skilled staff (think aerospace engineering and titanium submarines), and the quality of the first frames, designed by Vitas, captured the attention of Ernesto Colnago.
The factory would go on to supply all of Colnago’s titanium models, as well as a number of other smaller companies. Vitas used the opportunity to master the craft of working with titanium and continued working for the factory until there came a point a few years ago, when his son started to express an interest in the craft.
That was when Wittson was born.
Now Vitas works side-by-side with Mindaugas is his own workshop in Lithuania. The workshop is happy to build any kind of bicycle frame, as long as it is titanium, and offers a wide range of fittings and options, common or otherwise. Wittson is also one of just a few framebuilders that also builds titanium forks.
As a small framebuilder, Wittson does not hold stock. Everything is made to order, but Vitas and Mindaugas have created a few standard products for those buyers that do not need a custom build. At present this includes one road bike frame, the Suppresio, a new road disc frame, the Illuminati, and an MTB frame, the Bestia.
Wittson recently gave me the opportunity to spend a few weeks riding a Suppresio, and it proved to be classy road bike that was elevated by the magic of titanium.
Given Vitas’s extensive experience with the material, it’s not surprising that Wittson works exclusively with titanium to build all of its frames and forks. He’s also very particular about the tubing he uses, choosing to source all of it from one company, VSMPO Titan Scandinavia.
There are over 30 different grades of titanium alloy created by mixing the metal with small amounts of aluminium and vanadium, and in some cases, other heavy metals. The bicycle industry typically makes use of Grade 5 and 9 alloys, where the former is prized for its strength, while the latter is available in seamless tubing and is much easier to weld.
One of the reasons Wittson chooses to use tubing from VSMPO Titan Scandinavia is that the company does not use recycled titanium. This is common amongst Chinese suppliers, but it corrupts the quality of the alloy, which in turn, can make it more difficult to work with. The choice may add to the cost of the final product, but it goes a long way to ensuring its quality, too.
In the case of the Suppresio (and all of Wittson’s other frames) cold-worked stress-relieved Grade 9 titanium alloy tubing is used throughout, while the bottom bracket shell, dropouts, and other small fitting are made from Grade 5 titanium alloy.
The Suppresio is a race-oriented frame that has been stiffened in key areas. This includes the front end of the bike where there is an oversized head tube, tapered (1.125-1.25inch) fork steerer, and a bi-ovalised top tube. Elsewhere, there is an integrated seatpost, PF30 bottom bracket, and hydroformed chainstays. The rear dropouts (with a replaceable derailleur hanger) are made by Paragon Machine Works and all cables are internally routed through the frame.
The head tube is a custom-creation by Wittson. The upper-half is a standard 44mm tube that makes use of a press-fit cup (Chris King Inset 1) while the lower-half tapers outwards to provide an integrated seat for a 47mm bearing (Cane Creek). It’s a curious mix of parts that demonstrates Wittson’s innovative spirit.
Wittson offers the Suppresio in a choice of six frame sizes, as shown in the table below:
The fit of the Suppresio is quite aggressive with a relatively short head tube at every frame size. The chainstay length (406mm) and bottom bracket drop (67mm) is uniform for all frame sizes, and Wittson recommends a fork rake of 43mm for all sizes except XXS, which is designed for 45mm of rake.
It’s important to note that a fork is not included with the frame, though Wittson can supply one, carbon or titanium, for an extra charge. Buyers are free to select any brand and can even opt for a different rake, if desired.
One of the advantages of working with a bespoke framebuilder is that there is always scope to customise and personalise the final product. In the case of the Supressio, Wittson is prepared to make a variety of minor changes free of charge. Such changes include a BSA-threaded bottom bracket shell, standard seatpost, standard head tube, and fittings to suit electronic or wireless groupsets.
Of course, buyers are free to modify the Suppresio even further, though it will add to the final cost of the frame. Wittson’s suite of options includes a variety of head tubes, bottom bracket shells, dropouts, fittings, and finishes.
The stock Suppresio honours the beauty of titanium with a simple raw finish. The frame is hand-brushed, the logos are sandblasted, and there is a titanium head tube badge. The sleeves for the integrated seatpost recall an earlier era when lugs were de rigueur, yet they blend in with the modern oversized head tube, integrated cables, and hooded dropouts. Overall, there is a lot to admire about the Suppresio despite its subdued presentation.
The frame sent for review was a size S that weighed 1,972g with all fittings including the headset, uncut post and topper. Uncut Enve Road 2.0 forks added another 372g. When assembled with a Campagnolo Super Record RS groupset , Pro Vibe alloy cockpit and Falcon saddle, and a Roval CLX 50 wheelset, the bike weighed a total of 7.49kg without pedals or cages.
Like the majority of small framebuilders, Wittson sells its frames direct to the customer. Prospective buyers can browse Wittson’s website to explore all of the options on offer before getting in touch via email or phone to start the ordering process. Once all of the details have been agreed upon, a 30% deposit is collected and the frame will go into production. The lead-time for all orders is 30-45 business days, with the balance due prior to dispatch.
The Suppresio sells for €2,489 (~AUD$3,730/US$2,760/£2,140), which includes the frame, Chris King/Cane Creek headset with a choice of colours, titanium seatmast topper, bidon cage bolts, worldwide delivery, and a lifetime warranty. Import duties and taxes aren’t included in this price, though, which in the case of Australian buyers, will amount to an extra ~15%.
For more information about the Suppresio and the rest of its titanium frames, visit Wittson.
It took me about a week to get acquainted with the Suppresio, then another week or two to really appreciate what it had to offer. It was a quiet performer that proved to be quite versatile and extremely reliable while providing the kind of ride quality that titanium is known for.
During my early rides, my impression of the Suppresio suffered because it was a little heavier and not quite as responsive as the carbon bike I had just finished reviewing. Composites will always trump metals in both regards, so it wasn’t surprising that the bike was having a little trouble living up to this expectation.
Over time, though, the Suppresio proved to be a capable performer. The chassis always felt stout and sturdy, and if I had to classify it, I’d call it a tireless workhorse. The bike could be ridden aggressively in short bursts and it would respond well, but I found it was more satisfying to use it for longer, steadier efforts.
I really enjoyed driving the bike while staying seated on the saddle. With a set of high-profile wheels installed, the bike rolled well, and there was a pleasing hum. Swapping to low-profile alloy wheels changed the pitch a little, and if anything, added extra electricity to the feel of the bike. Either way, once I found my rhythm, I could ride the Suppresio for hours just to enjoy the sound and feel of the bike.
There was less satisfaction when jumping out of the saddle to stamp on the pedals. The bottom bracket and chainstays always felt sure and sturdy under load, but there wasn’t an excess of stiffness on display to impress more demanding riders such as pure sprinters.
While there is a fair amount of hype and reverence for this kind of stiffness, its true value has yet to be proven. James Huang explored this issue in a recent podcast, discussing experiments that have failed to demonstrate an energetic loss between the cranks and the rear wheel along with the possibility that a flexible bottom bracket might return energy to the rider.
I didn’t attempt any of these experiments while riding the Suppresio, but at no point did I ever feel like it the bike was undermining my performance. In fact, the modest responsiveness seemed to suit the workhorse personality of the bike. Nevertheless, for those buyers that prefer a rigid bottom bracket and rock-hard chainstays, I don’t expect the Suppresio will satisfy.
The Suppresio steady performer in the hills. At an even pace, there was nothing to separate the bike from any other. At times, there was a glimmer of agility to inspire my efforts, however the Suppresio wasn’t in the same league as a gifted climbing rig (to be honest, neither were my capabilities). As such, the bike was the perfect match for my measured approach to climbing.
I found the Suppresio was very stable, especially at high speeds, with neutral steering that tended towards slow. At low speeds through tight corners, I didn’t have much freedom to move the bike around, and I found I was better off taking a wide line to preserve my speed. Be that as it may, the bike was generally predictable and quite forgiving, so it was easy to stay on it for long periods.
My favourite characteristic of the Suppresio was its serene ride quality. This is something that titanium is well known for, and I really started to cherish it after I’d been on the bike for about a week. In general terms, titanium consistently takes the edge off the shocks and vibrations travelling through the chassis, but there is more to it than that.
Trying to put words to it is futile, though. I’ve yet to discover an equivalent for it, so the only way for anybody to understand it is to experience it. Even then, it’s a nuance that not all riders may appreciate. Be that as it may, I’ve developed quite a bias for it and was able to consistently enjoy it during my time on the Suppresio.
Titanium frames have a reputation as “lifers”, the last bike that any rider will need to buy. There are many reasons for this notion, such as the fact that the metal is highly resistant to corrosion, and thanks to its generous elongation properties, quite resistant to fatigue.
As such, the extra expense of the metal is forgivable, yet Wittson’s pricing is quite reasonable. Indeed, when compared to similar framesets from Moots and Legend, it comes close to a bargain.
I spend a lot of time characterising specific traits for any bike I review, and while it’s a useful approach for identifying specific strengths and weaknesses, it gives no consideration for the way they come together.
The Suppresio is a good example where the sum appears to be much greater than its parts. I can’t explain it, but the bike was always a pleasure to ride, regardless of how I was using it. That doesn’t mean it will be the ideal bike for every rider — the success of any bike will always depend upon on how well it serves the needs of the rider — but for those hoping for a well-rounded performer with a distinctive ride quality, the Suppresio might be a great match.