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Litespeed Vortex.
By Tom Demerly.
Read This About Our Reviews First

The Lotto-Adecco Pro Team Litespeed Vortex.
A real race team bike entirely without a single fault.


If you are a NASCAR fan perhaps you've admired the muscle bound, fire breathing racing machines on the track at Daytona. Or perhaps your tastes run to the Ferrari's of Schumacher on the F1 circuit. Whatever the case, you know you will never own the exact racing vehicles seen in those events. The best you can hope for is a watered down version (very) loosely based on the real thing.

But what if you could buy a real racing machine? The exact same bikes the guys use in, say, the Tour de France. Not the watered down "Team Replica" crap most companies try to sell as their "Race Team Bike". This is the same bike the guys are using on the team.

Why would you want a bike like that? Aside from the apparent "Gee-whiz" factor or fan appeal, there are some very good reasons. First off, the bikes used by professional cycling teams have to be absolutely dependable. These bikes are brutalized: Ridden 25,000 miles a year in all weather, crashed, washed almost daily, transported on roof racks, in flight bags, beaten over cobble stones and the entire time not one mechanical problem can be tolerated. Dependability like that is worth owning. Chances are, the wear and tear a Tour de France rider puts on his bike in the 21 days of the Tour is roughly equivalent to what you do to the bike in two years.

Most of the Lotto-Adecco team bikes are not only stock tube sets,
they are also stock geometry.


Another good reason: These bikes are built for performance and comfort. Can you imagine being in the saddle over four mountain passes for seven and a half-hours? Neither can I. One thing for sure, they have to be comfortable. And performance? The biggest races in the world are literally riding on these bikes. Everything on them is optimized for performance and comfort. They are not cutting corners.

In the shady world that is pro cycling sponsorship Litespeed has been a quiet and prominent player for years. Armstrong rode Litespeeds to World Championships and Tour de France stage wins. Richard Virenque won mountain stages on them. Many Litespeeds have worn the disguise of another bike brand because the company whose name was on the bike (when it wasn't Litespeed) couldn't come close to making anything as good the Litespeed crew in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A very few people could look at a bike wearing another set of decals and say "Yeah, right- that's really a Litespeed!"

In 2002 Litespeed finally got the recognition they had already earned. The 2002 Lotto-Adecco Pro Team is using Litespeed Ghisallos, Vortexes and Blades dressed in full Litespeed regalia. And you can buy those bikes. The exact same bikes. Not a version of the bikes, but the very same ones. Of all the members of the Lotto-Adecco pro team, the minority required custom frames. Most of the riders on the team are on stock frames in stock geometry. As a matter of fact, Tour de France Green Jersey (points) winner won the final stage and the green jersey on a 100% stock, 53cm Litespeed Vortex. Exactly the same the same as the one we sell. Of the 26 riders on the Lotto-Adecco team, only 9 riders required modified geometries. That speaks volumes for the strength of the design behind Litespeed's proven frame geometry and sizing.

We sell a lot of Litespeeds. We've learned Litespeed is the clear-cut leader in titanium bike construction. Other titanium bike companies have made careers out of picking up the crumbs left on the table by Litespeed. Litespeed virtually invented the titanium bike, and they have perfected it. For proof look at the Litespeed Vortex.

The Vortex is one of several models used by Lotto-Adecco. It is their primary bike, used in classics, stage races, on the flats and in the mountains. The Vortex is an elegant workhorse. It is superbly light, elegantly comfortable and brutishly durable. You can pound the bad pavement day after day, but when the road turns uphill you can dance on the pedals and climb as though levitated.

Many of the bikes you see in races like Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de France are not only unavailable to consumers, but would be impractical to own anyway. This is not the case with the Vortex. Actually, the Litespeed Vortex is one of the most practical and functional performance oriented road bikes you can own, racing heritage notwithstanding.

The Vortex is a carefully thought out and refined design. Everything on the bike is tried and true: proven in the harshest crucible of bike testing.

The 1&1/8" integrated headset is the fire-and-forget, state of the art in steering. The headset bearings are huge and distribute the steering load over a substantially greater surface area than a conventional 1" headset. This headset is bombproof. Once it is installed and adjusted once, you will never have to touch it again. Ride it on bumpy roads, wash it 100 times, carry it thousands of miles with the fork locked into the roof rack (a headset destroyer) and the 1&1/8" integrated will not offer a single complaint. Before you start whining about it "not being standard", allow me to invite you to smell the coffee. Litespeed popularized the new standard- and it is becoming standard. Put it this way, the headset is made by Campagnolo. Supply of the smooth 1&1/8" Campagnolo Hiddensets used in the Vortex will outlive you or I. Five years from now I invite you to try to find a 1", non-integrated headset. Try the antique shop. Everything will be following Litespeed's lead. Most already are.

Installing the headset is a breeze. There are just plain fewer parts. There is less to go wrong. Since there are fewer parts, it's lighter too. One adjustment lasts indefinitely. Of all the Litespeeds we've sold with the 1&1/8" Campagnolo Hiddenset (a lot) we've only had problems with one, and we discovered that was an issue with the fork, not the headset.

Another hidden benefit of the larger diameter head tube on the Vortex is greater comfort. This is the only really light bike I have ridden that is light, stiff and comfortable. The closest thing I can relate it to is a Colnago C-40 or a Look KG381I, both also used by Tour de France teams. But the durability of titanium over any other material (the C-40 and KG381I are carbon fiber) is unapproachable. As a matter of fact, there are a number of bike builders making some really great, light bikes used in the pro peloton. But Litespeed is the only one making it with the durability of titanium. That means you don't have to worry about owning it for a long time.

Perhaps the single most significant performance feature of the Vortex is its tube set. Litespeed uses Geometrically Enhanced Tubing. Every company has a buzzword for their tubing but the Litespeed tubing is functionally unique and better than almost every other tube set in any material, and in a completely separate league for titanium. Geometrically Enhanced Tubing is titanium tubing drawn into complex shapes, such as a ten-sided tube or a diamond shaped tube. The shape is oriented to achieve specific characteristics: compliant in one direction, rigid in another. The effect is amazing. You are only vaguely aware of any imperfection in the road surface under you on the Vortex, but when it comes time to kick the pedals, the frame delivers acceleration absolutely without delay. No matter your climbing style, seated and powerful like Lotto-Adecco's Mario Aerts or up on the pedals at high cadence like Rik Verbrugghe, the Vortex feels great. It's because of the tube set.

We've seen the process for making the complex
shaped tubing used in the Vortex, and it is
impressive. Click to enlarge to see the subtle shaping.

The Vortex is made of the stiffer, lighter 6/4 Vanadium-Titanium alloy as opposed to the 3/2.5 titanium used in the Litespeed Tuscany, Siena, Classic and other bikes. The 6/4 titanium alloy is reserved for Litespeed's most advanced design. We toured the tubing mill where much of Litespeed titanium tubing is made. The mill is only two miles from our store and we have done prototype assembly of many unusual and unique test bikes for the tubing maker, Ancotech Titanium.

Another, and perhaps the most significant, feature of the Vortex are the curved seat stays. In the way a leaf spring absorbs energy vertically, but is not flexible side to side, the curved seatstays of the Vortex make the back end of the bike feel better than any bike with straight seat stays. Other companies have tried to induce a similar effect, and some have nearly worked, but none as well as Litespeed. The design is so simple: It doesn't add an ounce, it actually makes the bike stronger, it soaks up the bumps before they travel up the seatpost on the way to your crotch. There is no downside to this design.

Litespeed's stroke of genius: The curved seatstays
on many of the Litespeed road bikes
make for the perfect road feel. Click to enlarge.

When I first tried a Litespeed with curved seatstays I thought, "Yeah, right, like this is gonna work…" I was amazed at how significant such a subtle difference can make. The curved seat stays make the Vortex one of the most comfortable bikes I've ever ridden, but also one of the stiffest. It is the most comfortable durable bike I've ever ridden.

Sizing the Litespeed Vortex is very straightforward. We measure every bike we sell at Bikesport to gain an understanding of how closely the published geometries match the actual measurements. In the case of the Vortex, sizing is easy. The bikes have a longish top tube. This facilitates getting on a smaller frame and also makes the bikes perfect for anyone with an average to longish torso to leg length relationship. The ratio of seat tube length to top tube length makes a lot of sense, and there is no mystery of unpleasant surprises when sizing a Litepseed.

The other thing about this being a race bike: It is built to be maintained. A reader recently sent me an e-mail accusing me of being "obsessed with cable routing". Guilty as charged. If you work in a bike shop and replace cables all day long you'd understand. Here, try this: You have a choice, replace the front and rear derailleur cable on a Kestrel 200 SCi with internal cable routing or the split, external cable routing on a Vortex. You have ten minutes including derailleur adjustments. Go.

Weld quality on the Vortex is flawless. Click to see the detail.

These functional cable stops actually allow for real adjustments. Their placement is perfect. Click to enlarge.

Also, if you wash your bike as often as you should (and every night like a Tour de France team mechanic) you have to wonder where all the water is going once it goes inside your frame. I'll tell you, it's in a little puddle in your bottom bracket with all the road grit. The Litespeed Vortex has cable routing for people who earn their living on a bike. It is simple, allows the derailleurs and brakes to work perfectly, can be quickly serviced and will never cause the slightest problem. No holes in the frame, no added weight. Simple perfection.

All the things that can go wrong on a frame are modular on the Vortex. If you strip or break the seatpost binder bolt or wreck the collar, it slides off, you discard it and put on another. You don't have to have a master weld attach a new one in the welding shop. The front derailleur is a bolt-on, clamp-on style. This enables easier adjustment, a wider range of chainring sizes (anything from 50 tooth up to 56 tooth) and easy replacement of the hanger itself if it is ever damaged by a ham-fisted mechanic. This is a bike you take with you on the road, if anything goes wrong, you can fix it.

Recent Vortexes (Vortices?) have come dressed in the Lotto-Adecco team decal set, a racy accent that backs up the real authenticity with aesthetic authenticity.

We build the Vortex with any component group. The one shown in the photos has Campagnolo Record 10 Speed. Record 10 is my favorite group. I like it better than Dura-Ace. I could easily write an entire article on Dura-Ace versus Record 10, but the bottom line is, I like Record 10 better. I currently own several Dura-Ace bikes though. Dura-Ace is cheaper and has greater wheel compatibility with the wheel sets I commonly use. All my friends have Shimano Dura-Ace (or Ultegra) also, so we can swap wheels easily. If I had more money, I have every bike with Campagnolo Record 10.

For this customer we built a luxurious
bike dripping in Carbon Fiber.
See these unique Colnago
Carbon cranks by clicking here.

The Record 10 Group is my favorite:
The finest road components
money can buy. Click to
see the beautiful carbon shifters.

When you think of all the things you really need in a bike: Comfort, durability, serviceability and performance there is no place the Vortex is lacking. While there are many excellent bikes out there, none scores as high marks in all these categories, particularly durability. This truly may be "The last bike you'll ever buy". One thing for certain, it will be the finest. Ask the Lotto-Adecco guys in Le Tour. They're easy to find, the first guy across the line in Paris this year was riding one!

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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