Visit your local bike shop and you're likely to see bicycles made from a variety of materials. More and more, shops are beginning to carry a healthy supply of carbon fiber bicycles, which are light and shock absorbing. But one of the materials you are likely to see a lot less in shops is titanium. The titanium bike provides a comfortable ride and lightweight frame, but fewer riders ride titanium because it is cost prohibitive.
A titanium bike -- with a titanium frame -- if built correctly with the correct tube diameter, will provide its rider with a soft, supple ride like a steel bike. It will absorb a reasonable amount of shock from rocky or uneven terrain, more so than aluminum, which tends to be more rigid and less forgiving over harsh terrain. The comfort and absorption levels of a titanium bike are comparable to those of steel bikes. So why not just buy steel?
The simple answer is weight. A titanium bike will weigh significantly less than a steel frame, depending on the tube diameter used in construction. This gives you the comfort benefits of steel without the weight penalty, as steel frames are typically heavier than most other frame materials. A material like carbon will give you the stiffness of aluminum, the light weight of titanium, and the shock absorption of steel or titanium, but carbon is equally cost prohibitive and is susceptible to damage from slight fractures--though it is very resistant to direct impact.
In certain applications, titanium might not provide a rider with a significant advantage, specifically in situations where weight is less of an issue. For example, a touring titanium bike might use thicker tubing, allowing the frame to flex less and making the overall weight of the frame greater. Therefore, in certain types of riding, there may not be much of an advantage to titanium frame tubing.
Because of the high price of titanium, it is not uncommon to find frame manufacturers offering custom-built sizes. If you are considering buying a titanium frame, a good way to protect your investment and make sure it will suit your needs exactly is to get professionally sized. Many bike shops will offer such services, and you will be given one on one attention to ensure your new titanium frame will fit your body specifically for optimal comfort.
A titanium bike is ideal for a weight-conscious rider looking for a comfortable ride. If your budget is large and your riding needs are specific -- you are a bike racer, for example -- titanium can provide a soft, comfortable ride without too much flex, while still providing you with a lightweight bike that can handle racing or everyday riding.