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2005 Litespeed Blade.
By Tom Demerly.

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The enormous improvements on the 2005 Blade include excellent internal cable routing.

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 be desired.

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 2001.

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 clamping power.

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 a bike.

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.

An integrated headset and higher head tube make rider positioning more comfortable and practical without excessive spacers.

The reason they call in the Blade. The new, more functional aero down tube is improved but the gimmicky aero top tube from the old Blade is (thankfully) gone for '05.

Typically perfect Litespeed weld work at the union of the 6/4 titanium top tube and the 3/2.5 alloy titanium seat tube. Welds are done in an oxygen free, Argon gas inert environment.

This is the finest aerodynmic seatpost binder mechanism in the bike industry today from any manufacturer. It is strong, simple and dependable.

The new Fizik Arione triathlon specific saddle on top of the bladed, aerodynamic carbon fiber Litespeed seatpost made specially for the 2005 Blade.

A close look at the bladed, radiused 3/2.5 titanium seat stays that deliver excellent ride quality.

Newer versions of the Blade have been adapted and proven at the highest levels of triathlon. Timo Bracht cuts down the competition on a new Blade.

French powerhouse Francois Chabaud won Ironman Austria on a Blade while Cameron Brown won Ironman New Zealand '04 on a new Blade on the other side of the globe.

The big bladed seat tube has a generous extension for '05 somewhat reduced from the taller '04 version.

The bottom bracket area is a complex union of difficult patterns and welds that is functional and well executed.

Radiused seat stays are a Litespeed trademark and provide great comfort with no weight increase.

The under the bottom bracket cable guides provide problem free maintenance and excellent front shifting.

Industrial art: The water cut drop outs enable easy adjustment of the rear wheel to the wheel cut out in the seat tube. They are beautiful to look at too.

The latest version of Hed's excellent, lightweight integrated aerobar is a perfect cockpit for the new Blade.

The "S" bend extensions and new elbow pad profile is an improvement on the '05 Hed aerobars.

The "S" bend extensions has become the fashion and function accesory of the 2005 aeorbar model year.

Overall the new 2005 Litespeed Blade is such an enormous improvement and refinement over previous versions that the only thing it shares with the old bikes is the name. We feel the new 2005 Blade is not only the finest titnaium triathlon bike available from any manufacturer, but also among the best of the high-end superbikes from any material.

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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