While much of Litespeed’s new road product line is carbon, they are still exclusively titanium on the mountain side of things, and we now know this is a good thing. For 2012, they have done nothing short of resurrecting titanium as a material that can go head-to-head with the best carbon on the planet within the hard tail 29er category.
Enter the 2012 Litespeed Cohutta. Named for an epic 100-mile ride in their home state of Tennessee, the state in which the Cohutta is still manufactured, they tossed out every single tubeset they had ever used in MTB construction and started fresh. Litespeed has always optimized tube shapes, diameters and butting for each specific bike, but the creativity and imagination that started with this proprietary tube set is phenomenal and seems to be the sort of mindset typically used when designing a carbon frame.
Starting up front is a feature that sets the Cohutta apart from other titanium bikes—the monster head tube. At 49 mm, the head tube looks like a soda can, albeit a beautiful soda can with a gorgeous Litespeed head badge. This is where the magic really starts. Invested with more stiffness than a standard titanium head tube can muster, it also offers a boon to the other tubes by way of landmarks. Landmarks are the real estate available to the welder and the 49-mm head tube gives them plenty. Litespeed has taken full advantage of this, attaching a huge diameter top tube and down tubes. The top tube transitions to ovalized at the seat tube to get that entire extra diameter attached to the seat tube. The down tube curves down to the bottom bracket where it is greeted by yet more real estate in the form of a BB30 bottom bracket shell. The result is a front end designed to invest the bike with massive torsional stiffness; if we have one complaint, and we do, about other titanium 29er’s, it is the lack of front-end stiffness.
Litespeed has also utilized the cavernous space created by the 49-mm head tube to give you options, lots of them. While the bike’s geometry has been dialed for a 100-mm fork ridden at 72 degrees on our size large (only the small is optimized for a shallower 71-degree angle), Litespeed uses something they call “4nine technology” for “4ward thinking” in their geometry. Other than being a cute moniker, it is the ability to truly dial the Cohutta in to your riding style. Fork options are incredible. You can run a straight one and one-quarter steer tube at 80 mm if you are a real XC race machine or go the other direction and run a 120-mm tapered steer tube if you want more trial performance. OK, not revolutionary, but using Cane Creeks Angle you can adjust the bike’s head tube angle, going steeper by .5 of a degree or slacker by an entire degree. Combine that slacker angle with a 120-mm fork and you will fundamentally change the Cohutta’s ride quality in the steep technical stuff.
Off the back of the massive front triangle, Litespeed didn’t attach any skinny rear triangle. More big diameters and robust tubes dive from the seat cluster and the bottom bracket shell to meet a set of some of the most beautiful drop outs on the trail. To go with that rear end Litespeed gave the rear disc, which let’s face it, with the rest of the bike’s stout build might find itself coming into fast and furious service in critical situations, a healthy non-drive side angle brace. All of this welding, from tip to tail, is done with Litespeed’s made-in-the-USA magic. Look closely, the welds are smoother than Tennessee Rye.
As one would expect with Ti, the Cohutta is billed as a bike for life, certainly a bike to carry you through any demanding day in the backcountry with bulletproof reliability. The cable routing reflects this. Instead of running cable below the down tube and housing it top to bottom, reliability has been created by running cables up top, without full housing. Rear brake runs under the top tube while exposed shifting cables run along the top of the tube. It is clean, elegant, and out of harms way. This elegance is also helped by the fact that the bars were free of any lockouts. We would probably add a dropper post to the mix, but even then the bars would be a clean respite from today’s crowded cockpits.
What’s all this innovative titanium thinking going to cost you? Less than you might think, $2,600 without a fork. It’s not cheap but factor in the bike’s reliability and it’s a downright bargain. Sandblast it and grab new stickers every few years and it can be handed down to your kid’s kids.
On the trail it defies expectations. Actually, it doesn’t just defy them, it laughs in their face before dropping them like 1st period French. The bike offers a level of pure power transfer and liveliness once thought unachievable in titanium, in the dirt or on the road. The torsional stiffness is simply superb, rocketing up to speed and maintaining it easily. Fire road climbing and smooth rollers are a given, but where we really noticed it was climbing switchbacks and steep, rocky, punchy sections. The extra traction from the big wheels is compounded by the rapid power delivery blasting uphill switchbacks and polishing off long technical pitches with less heart rate.
Point down and again the bike’s stiffness, axel to axel, and especially the front-end, delivers razor-sharp handling at speeds well beyond reasonable. It is handling that is unmatched by any other Ti mountain bike, period. The bike is planted and precise making just about any trail seem quite manageable. We rode the bike in its 100-mm, 72-degree configuration and would imagine the slacker 120-mm setup would be even more impressive. But, let’s not get too excited. It is a hard tail 29er and while it offers handling as good as any steep angled, race-oriented 29er we have ever ridden, when your weight is forward, you can expect some understeer and it won’t forgive mistakes in choosing your line like a double-sprung bike.
Here’s something else to consider, if you are more concerned with getting a titanium bike for its buttery compliance, the Cohutta is not for you. The titanium has been tweaked to deliver more get-up-and-go than other titanium bikes, and most carbon hard tails. The big titanium stays ask much of the big 29er tires and, unless you don’t mind some bucking, a high volume rear is a good idea. This is really the only category we see the bike giving up any performance to the elite carbon hard tail bikes. With carbon, engineers simply have more options to create some movement vertically in the rear without harming the bike’s lateral stiffness. But we are talking about very high-end carbon here and even then the advantages of that carbon are vanishingly thin.
In addition to all of this there is just something magical about the way the bike sits on the trail. Beyond handsome, it is truly beautiful, with proportions that seem to speak to our hardwired sense of attraction and desire. The build is of course a big part of all this performance and aesthetic: Reynolds XC 29er carbon wheels, Truvativ cockpit, FOX Float 29er and SRAM XX. The total weight for our large Cohutta with this build was 21.2 pounds with LOOK Quartz pedals and titanium cages. Here again, it does give up a pound or two of performance to the true carbon thoroughbreds.
The Cohutta rider wants so much more than longevity, style and handmade craftsmanship. They aren’t just a titanium rider, they are a performance rider and make their choices based on a bike’s abilities not its material. They expect a huge helping of power transfer, adjustability and precise handling with a side order of titanium ride quality. They want a dream bike that is total magic, within a fraction of being as good as the best carbon 29ers in the world.
The Bottom Line
Price: $2,600 (frame only)
Group: SRAM XX
Wheelset: Reynolds XC 29er Carbon wheels
Other: FOX Float 29er fork; Truvativ Noir bar, post and stem; fi’zi:k Tundra saddle
Weight: 21.2 pounds (with pedals and cages)