Review: Litespeed Ultimate Gravel Bike – Chattanooga-Made Titanium

Litespeed is one of the better known companies producing titanium bicycles in the United States. They were among the earliest companies to mass produce titanium bicycles but not the first, that honor arguably belongs to Teledyne Titanium during the 1970’s. At that time, commercial grades of titanium were the norm in titanium frame production, but that variant of the exotic metal was ill-suited to the job.

Photo by GravelCyclist.com

Better known for utilizing more suitable 3AL/2.5V titanium (3% aluminium, 2.5% vanadium and 94.5% pure titanium), Litespeed, then known as Southeast Machine, a custom machine shop that specialized in exotic metals, produced their first titanium frame in 1986. After a period of trial and error to build a show worthy bike, Litespeed took their first show bike to the Long Beach bike show in 1987; the floodgates opened and the rest is history.

Photo by GravelCyclist.com

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since those formative years, but Litespeed, part of the American Bicycle Group, is very much alive and well in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Photo by GravelCyclist.com

2019 sees a vastly different world from 1987. Disc brakes and thru-axles on road bikes, “all-road” and gravel bikes, 12-speed electronic drivetrains, 13-speed 1x hydraulically actuated drivetrains and a ton more tech. Barring some short-lived experiments with aluminium and carbon, Litespeed has stayed true to titanium. Nowadays, they’re bending and sculpting titanium to the point that a single sheet of 6AL/4V titanium, can be manipulated to become a multi-faceted and tapered top tube. Check out this video tour of Litespeed’s production process.

Racing at unPAved Pennsylvania. Photo by Pete Bakken / Keystone Photo.

The Litespeed Ultimate was first introduced as Litespeed’s premier 3AL/2.5V race bike in 1987. It was raced to a USPRO National Championship, and for those who have been around cycling a while, will remember the L.A. Sheriff’s cycling team, winning races on their polished Ultimates, all across the United States.

Pennsylvania countryside. Photo by GravelCyclist.com

The Litespeed Ultimate Gravel is a homage to that original bike, but optimized for bigger tyre clearance, comfort and according to Litespeed, some potential aero gains courtesy of the bike’s truncated airfoil downtube.

Taking a break on the C&O. Photo by GravelCyclist.com

So, how does the new Litespeed Ultimate Gravel ride? I’ve had the bike in my possession for many months, where it has served as my gravel race bike at events such as unPAved Pennsylvania, 3G Georgia Gravel Grinduro, and the entire length of the C&O Trail out of Washington, D.C. Additionally, I spent many hours and training miles riding the bike on my local, and not so local gravel roads.

WTB 650b x 47mm Sendero and the Ultimate. Photo by GravelCyclist.com

In the video review below, I cover everything mentioned above, riding it with 650b and 700c wheels, and a lot more.

Prices start at $US 4,425 for a Shimano 105 build, up to $US 10,500 for a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 build. Frames are also available, starting at $US 3,499.

Litespeed Bicycles


Article and video by Gravel Cyclist. Jayson O’Mahoney is the Gravel Cyclist: A website about the Gravel Cycling Experience.

10 COMMENTS

    • no, no. Lynskey and Litespeed is not even comparable.

      AMBG is the owner of Litespeed, Lynsky famely sold LItespeed in the early 90’s.
      AMBG also bought Merlin Metalworks a few years later in the 90’s and produced Merlin’s on the very same roof. (Merlin brandname was sold off 5-7y ago but production facilities and interlectual property stayed with AMBG).

      Quality of Litespeeds (and AMBG produced Merlins) is way higher – no doubt the best out there when it comes to off the shelf Titanium frames. Bycycle design and especially capability in terms of manipulating and shaping titanium tubes is far superior to anyone out there.

      Lynsky have now been in buisness for +10y, yet they still have quality issues and details on their frames shows they are not very good at the design phase. Lynskey does a lot of OEM work, and those frames also often shows quality issues.

      Litespeed delivers a quality product that is at least as good as what Moots and Seven does – if not better, but in a larger scale which is why they can compete on price with the more exclusive butique brands. (Seven’s founder came from Merlin when AMBG moved the production facility).

      AMBG stopped doing OEM work about 5y ago. They used to produce all Spectrum ti frames (Tom Kellog, who designed a lot of the best Merlin’s) and a lot of custom stuff. They also used to do TI tubeing and welding work for NASA, including for the actual Mars Rover.

    • agree, BSA or T47 is a better choise. However press fit is less of a problem in Steel & TI frames – and i doubt that Litespeeds BB tolerances is not spoton. Aka its just like a headset. You rarely see a classic headset creek, damage the frame etc.

      BSA/T47 way easier for the home mechanic – however if pressfit is done right which it rarely is in massproducedcrabon and alumiun frames its not that bad.

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