This is a success story:
The story of an awkward beginning that passed through
the gauntlet of competition and evolved to emerge
as one of the most refined and best adapted versions
of a triathlon racing bike available anywhere.
In fact, I’ll argue the latest
version of the Litespeed Blade for 2005 is the finest
titanium triathlon bike available from any manufacturer,
and one of the two or three best triathlon bikes of
any material from any manufacturer.
The new 2005 Blade is a highly evolved
and refined product. It didn’t start that way
though. If you follow the evolution of the Blade throughout
the history of the sport during the last decade you
find it in every important corner of time trialing
and triathlons. As the Blade moved through history
it has been changed for the better. That’s good,
because early versions of the Blade left a lot to
For 2005 Litespeed has got it right
with improved cable routing, better tube shaping and
use of materials, improved geometry, lighter weight,
nicer production design that makes better workmanship
possible, a more secure seatpost binder collar and
the elimination of dubious, pseudo-aerodynamic accoutrements
that just plain didn’t work along with a hoist
of other refinements. The new 2005 Blade is all business,
there is no baloney, and it is perfectly adapted and
evolved. This is the workman’s bike, the bike
you buy when you want to go as fast as possible but
have a super durable frame that travels well in a
flight case or roof rack, is reasonably comfortable,
very stiff and has good aerodynamics. The big rides
beautifully, will take a hit from a crash or knock-over
in a transition area and is still reasonably light
and very aerodynamic. In the region of the $5000 +
super bikes, it is very hard to find any fault with
the new 2005 Litespeed Blade. I think it is the very
best of the super bikes.
The Blade’s history traces back
to Litespeed’s early days when very few companies
were doing triathlon geometry correctly. Unfortunately
at the time of the Blade’s introduction, Litespeed
was not one of them. The top tubes on early versions
were too long for almost everyone, and the head tubes
were too low. These early attempts at tri geometry
can be forgiven for three reasons: First, No one except
Quintana Roo and a few small custom builders had triathlon
geometry right in the early ‘90’s. They
didn’t understand what the seat tube to top
tube proportions should be to achieve proper reach.
Thankfully, most of the industry has settled on some
kind of consensus. Second, Litespeed was a titanium
fabricator first, and a bike company second. Since
then they have demonstrated the most valuable thing
a company can have- the ability (and willingness)
to learn and change. Litespeed has learned so much
and changed so much with the new Blade I’ll
argue the only thing this new version has in common
with the original version is the name. And thirdly,
the newest manifestation of the Blade is the result
of use and evolution by more elite level triathletes
and world class time trial riders than any other mass
produced frame in history with the possible exception
of the Cervelo P3, which the Blade pre-dates significantly.
When you trace the history of the Blade
you see the big turning point in its evolution happened
in 1999. At the 1999 Tour de France Lance Armstrong,
a Trek sponsored rider on the U.S. Postal Team, used
a Litespeed Blade re-decaled as a Trek for sponsorship
reasons. Obviously, the bike wasn’t a Trek product,
but a custom made Litespeed Blade with a Trek paint
scheme. Armstrong won every time trail that year on
the camouflaged Blade. The position, mechanical and
aerodynamic experience gained on the Blade heavily
influenced the design of subsequent Trek time trial
bikes, as did significant wind tunnel testing, but
it had a greater effect on the Blade design itself.
It wasn’t long before the cat was out of the
bag on what Armstrong was really riding in the time
trials at the ’99 Tour so Trek had to wipe the
egg off their corporate face by knocking off their
own version of a Blade style time trial frame using
their OCLV carbon construction techniques. Tour team
mechanics liked the 1999 Litespeed, err, ah…
Trek time trial bike Lance used in 1999 since it was
durable, traveled well because of its durability,
and was easy to service. The follow-on Trek carbon
TT bike was significantly more difficult to service,
much more susceptible to damage in a flight case or
roof rack and had a bizarre system of shims to facilitate
saddle height adjustment in a set range of increments.
Like some weird curse all the bizarre mechanical attributes
seemed to infest the Trek TT bike while the Blade
continued its trip up the corporate time trial ladder
toward best in class status.
After the Blade and Armstrong parted
company the Blade continued to evolve forward quickly,
once again under the developmental requirements of
the finest elite athletes. Two years later in 2001
Tim DeBoom won the Hawaii Ironman on a black bike
with Litespeed Blade decals. It clearly was not the
Litespeed Blade being sold over the counter though.
It had lighter, more refined tube shapes, different
geometries and a host of refinements not available
at stock retail for 2001. This developmental prototype
of the DeBoom Blade went on to influence the design
of both the Litespeed Blade and the new Quintana Roo
Tiphoon. The Quintana Roo Tiphoon features a shorter
top tube/seat tube ratio and a more relaxed head tube
angle than the Blade for absolutely sleepy steering.
American Bicycle Group, the parent company
to Litespeed and Quintana Roo (among other bike brands)
used DeBoom’s input along with other athletes
and consumers to hone and whittle the tubeset and
weight of the Blade and tweak ride quality and aerodynamics.
The bike evolved and improved further. It got lighter,
more mechanically simple and less gimmicky.
Earlier versions of the Blade featured
a zany “cow catcher” front end that paid
lip service to frame aerodynamics. At one point, several
industry aerodynamic experts suggested this feature
may have aerodynamic benefit, but there was little
consensus and the odd feature was eliminated since
it was expensive to make, looked ridiculous to some
consumers and added weight to an already portly frame.
At the time, the method of routing the drive train
cables on the Blade was also, at best, primitive.
I’ll argue it was just plain bad. Large oval
orifices were bored in the down tube through which
a naked cable housing with no guides whatsoever was
supposed to pass. It looked like the bike left the
factory with a vital production step missing. At that
stage of the Blade’s development and evolution,
they hadn’t figured out the cable routing. They
have it figured out for 2005 and it is superb.
Before you minimize the role of cable
routing in frame design allow me the analogy that
the cable routing of a frame is like a person’s
spinal cord. If stimulus does not travel efficiently
and smoothly through the brake and drivetrain cables
(or your spinal column) then the operation of your
brakes, brake levers and derailleurs is compromised.
That Dura-Ace kit you just paid thousands for feels
like Tiagra. The new Blade cable routing is silky
smooth, easy to service and provides a direct connection
to brakes and transmission controls. Another key concern
with cable routing is the ease of replacement and
adjustment of housing lengths. Cable and housing length
is either right or wrong, and it effects the performance
of your components profoundly. If the cable routing
of a frame facilitates easy and fast removal and replacement
then the bike can be serviced much easier and will
probably be serviced more often.
Armstrong’s use of the Litespeed
“Trek” Blade in 1999 set the bike on an
evolutionary path that ran through 2001 with Tim DeBoom
at Ironman Hawaii and continued on. Just as Armstrong
had pummeled the competition in the 1999 Tour de France
time trials, winning every one, DeBoom showed the
newest version of the Blade was up to the highest
level of world champion triathlon competition by winning
Hawaii in 2001 on the new, refined prototype Blade.
The bike just kept getting better and better after
Following the 2001 season and DeBoom’s
victory at Hawaii Litespeed continued to refine the
Blade with input from a new generation of top triathletes.
Cameron Brown won Ironman New Zealand in 2004 on a
further refined version of the Blade that featured
all the lessons learned from improved cable routing,
better tube sets, greatly improved geometry and many
other pleasant surprises.
The Blade that Brown used in New Zealand
‘04 had a moderately sloping top tube to improve
stand over height. This is a nice design since it
enables the rider to take advantage of the exceptional
stiffness of the bottom bracket while climbing out
of the saddle. With a lowered top tube, you can swing
the bike back and forth between your legs farther
to maximize power output during out-of-the-saddle
efforts. There is simply more clearance.
Normally with lowered top tubes there
is a commensurate additional degree of seat post showing.
This long seat post waving in the breeze is an opportunity
for flex under heavy seated pedaling efforts. A round,
narrow, 27.2 mm diameter lightweight seatpost only
has minimal resistance to flex in all directions,
so lowered top tube designs are normally a compromise
when they have over 250 millimeters of post showing.
Litespeed countered this issue by installing a generous
seat tube extension above the top tube to buttress
the flex a rider feels in the seat post during heavy
seated pedaling efforts. The design adds some weight,
but the Blade is first and foremost a flat land, aero
time trial bike design so the extra stiffness is worth
the weight trade off.
Has the design evolution worked? Well,
American Bicycle Group has scored 25 Ironman titles
on titanium bikes from Quintana Roo and Litespeed.
If you buy into the “Win on Sunday, sell on
Monday” marketing concept then ABG’s entire
stable of titanium steeds are winners.
The Blade’s new palmares is particularly
impressive on every continent where Ironman is contested.
French sensation Francois Chabaud was devastating
at the incredibly competitive Ironman Austria, carried
the tricolor to victory at Ralph’s ½
Ironman in California and used his Blade like a scythe
to cut through the competition at the French Long
Course Championships where he scored like a legionnaire
on holiday in Ibiza.
German uberbiker Timo Bracht cut down
all comers at Ironman Florida on his new-school, sharpened
Blade with a commanding bike split. Throughout ’03
and ’04 the new Blade was used by ABG sponsored
pros to trim the competition on the bike course and
the bike shop sales floor. Clearly, the new Blade
had been honed to a new edge.
What makes the new Blade such a great
race machine is a lot of proven and evolved ideas,
none of which are new. The 2005 Blade takes on some
stiff new comers in the form of ABG’s own Quintana
Roo Lucero carbon tri bike and other carbon copies
like the Kuota Kalibur. While some Litespeed insiders
switched briefly to the QR Lucero carbon bike when
it was introduced, most ironically went back to the
Blade or some version of it. Compared to the proven,
evolved and refined Blade the Lucero and Kalibur are
at best, luke-warm. I’ve ridden each of these
bikes and given the choice between any of them and
a Blade, I would take a new 2005 Blade hands-down
for a long list of reasons.
The Blade is a composite of advanced,
multi-shaped titanium tubes of three different alloys.
The weak link in most super-high performance tri bikes
occurs between the seat tube and the head tube. The
center of the bike, mid way along the down tube and
top tube, simply fizzles out and is too flexible.
The result is a hefty degree of deformation when you
are putting a lot of power into the pedals and opposing
it with your upper body, as in a hard, out of the
saddle climb in a big gear. Not so on the Blade. The
Blade uses hefty 6/4 vanadium titanium alloy tubing
for the top and down tubes to shore up this vital
area for excellent stiffness. The tubes are elegantly
multi-shaped, no small feat when working with 6/4
titanium, so that the top tube in particular is relentless
in resisting torsional stresses at the top tube/head
tube union. This is critical on larger frame sizes.
The head tube, seat tube and rear triangle of the
Blade are 3/2.5 vanadium titanium which is softer
and more malleable providing enhanced ride comfort.
The seat tube is bladed it’s entire length and
features a substantial cut-out for the rear wheel.
The gap between the rear tire and the seat tube can
be precisely adjusted using the beautifully made rear-facing
dropouts that are precisely water-cut from a third,
softer titanium alloy that facilitates the use of
newer light weight quick release skewers with minimal
A notable feature of the Blade’s
design is the signature Litespeed curved seat stays.
I will argue these improve ride quality significantly.
Pundits say this is only lip service to additional
ride comfort and a marketing ploy. Pundits are wrong.
If you do enough long rides on a titanium bike with
straight seat stays (I have) and switch to a curved
seat stay Litespeed design you will notice an increase
in ride comfort. From my experience the people who
say it doesn’t work have never tried it. The
design is so effective it is also seen on Guru’s
Aero-Ti triathlon bike with curved carbon seat stays.
The 2005 Blade uses a beautifully machined
proprietary seatpost binder collar atop the bladed
seat tube. The collar locks the seat post in place
and holds the adjustment without fault. If you’ve
dealt with the shims and attendant hassles of other
aerodynamic, bladed seat post triathlon bikes from
other manufacturers you will really appreciate this
about the Blade. It is an excellent and practical
design element- no problems whatsoever. Litespeed
deserves recognition for this beautifully designed
and flawlessly executed feature that other companies
haven’t figured out yet.
You can expect the finest performance
from your component kit on the Blade since the alignment
and dimensional relationships are laser straight.
Campagnolo and Shimano kits work with equal perfection
when carefully installed on this frame. Cameron Brown
was on a Campagnolo turned out Blade at IM New Zealand
for his 2004 conquest.
Ownership of the Blade is a trouble
free experience. This is the bike you buy if you are
putting your frame into a flight case frequently and
turning it over to the airlines. The 6/4 and 3/2.5
titanium construction is like armor against flight
case hits and roof rack dings. Forces that would devastate
an aluminum frame won’t even ding the Blade.
There is a lot of peace in knowing that when you pull
your bike out of the flight case after a long trip
it will be intact almost regardless of the condition
of the case. If you fall off your bike a lot or make
a habit of being hit by cars the Blade will probably
out live you. Even the front derailleur mount is a
brutally tough welded titanium design. If you are
worried about the longevity of the frame I can assure
you that the fatigue limits of this frame material
are never even approached during the hardest rides.
You’ll expire of natural causes a long time
before a Litespeed Blade does.
To their credit, Litespeed has actually
made the Blade a real tri bike: It has a true 78 degree
seat tube angle through size 55 centimeters and only
relaxes a bit to 77 degrees at 57 centimeters and
surrenders to 76 degrees at sizes 59 centimeters and
61 centimeters where a rider’s femur bone usually
looks like it came off a Brontosaurus. When you compare
this seat tube angle to the other “super bikes”
you find this is about the steepest one. The other
super bikes mamby-pamby around a cowardly compromise
geometry with a 76 degree seat angle. That works for
some people, a few anyway, but not as many as a real
78 degree seat tube angle tri bike. It is worth mentioning
the first attempts at triathlon bikes like the Quintana
Roo Superform had an 80 degree seat tube angle. The
current trend toward a watered down 76 degree orientation
on many bikes is not a good trend.
The Blade does fit a little oddly and
tends to run “big”. The extended seat
tube and longish top tube means the 53cm felt large
on me with a top tube 1 centimeter too long for my
torso length so I was relegated to the 51cm frame
size on 650c wheels which is fine. I like lighter,
smaller, lower and stronger 650c wheels. This reflects
Litespeed’s typical tendency for the longer
torso-ed rider. In the 51cm/650c wheel size the Blade
is a hand’s down miniature firecracker. It is
rocket assisted on climbs and corners with the authority
of a responsive, nearly 73 degree head tube angle.
The head tube on the 51 centimeter frame is 72.5 degrees
on 650c wheels (which I like) and goes to 73 degrees
on the 53 centimeter size and up. I suggest the Blade
is at its best in the 55 centimeter to 61 centimeter
sizes, but the smaller sizes are excellent as well.
The difference is there are quite a few nice tri bikes
in the 51 cm to 57 cm range but very few good ones
above that. The Blade fills that gap. The bigger it
gets the better it is. That said the 51 centimeter
650c frame is an absolute armor piercing bullet of
The Blade will never be the lightest
bike you can buy but it isn’t trying to be.
That is not what this bike is about. Built up with
a good component kit it is light enough for even hilly
and rolling courses and makes up for any extra weight
with exceptional stiffness. It is still easy to get
this bike well under 18 pounds, and that is light
enough for anyone.
Several years ago Litespeed decided
to sell some titanium models as complete bikes and
others as a frameset. That created problems since
it removed an enormous degree of component flexibility
from the buying experience. While Litespeed has argued
to us that their parts kits are completely flexible
at the time of order our consistent experience with
their fulfillment of custom parts kits is that it
is poor at best. Very large bikes show up with 170
millimeter cranks. Two weeks ago a road bike, a Litespeed
Ultimate, arrived with FSA/Visiontech aerodynamic
base bars and clip-on aerobars but with the correct
Shimano Dura-Ace STI shifters for drop bars- just
no drop bars. 650c wheel size frames show up with
700c wheels. As a frame builder Litespeed is a great
company. As a complete bike supplier or parts distributor
they have a lot of improving to do. In fairness to
Litespeed when you go from a frame supplier to a bike
supplier every order goes from a few variables to
several hundred possible combinations of component
dimensions. That is why the component specifications
are best left to the dealer and the customer. Litespeed
has seen the wisdom in this with their higher end
frames and the Blade is available as a frame set only.
The Real Design carbon fiber aero fork that comes
with the frame is pretty darn good. I would say it
is better than anything else out there except an Easton
aero carbon fork.
If you are looking for an ultimate super
bike for the long torso-ed rider with durability and
stiffness high on your list along with Ironman distance
ride comfort then the Blade has no peer. I suggest
it is better than any currently available carbon offering
(this is written before the production debut of the
Cervelo P3 Carbon). Perhaps the only bike in the same
league is the Guru Aero-Ti with its carbon seat stays.
But if you are attracted to the tank like survivability
of all titanium construction the Blade is the best
bike you can buy if it fits you.