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Titanium Test: The Vassago Optimus Ti

There is no question that carbon fiber has replaced titanium as the Holy Grail of mountain bike frame materials, at least in rider perception. This is definitely a case, however, where “perception” is not supported by fact. Let’s start off by setting the record straight: there is no Holy Grail of frame material. Every material has pros and cons, and how the material is used ultimately determines its worth (or worthlessness).

The builders at Vassago are not chasing the latest trend with their Optimus Ti frame. They have taken a proven material and crafted an extraordinary mountain bike.

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WHO IT IS MADE FOR?

This may surprise you (seeing as how the Optimus Ti is a hardtail), but this bike is a very versatile platform to build up from. It could serve as an ultra-competitive, 1×11-drivetrained, cross-country race bike. Built like our bike, it is a trail bike for the rider who likes to go fast and wants simplicity.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

The American-made frame uses 3AL/2.5V titanium tubing that was specifically developed for this bike. Goodies include S-bend seat and chainstays, a curved downtube for fork clearance, a 44-millimeter headtube that accepts a standard 1 1/8-inch or tapered steerer fork and sliding dropouts. The frame includes your choice of Shimano or DT Swiss thru-axles.

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WHICH COMPONENTS STANDOUT?

Vassago offers a number of build kits, and our test bike was very close to the Shimano XT build. This is a stunning example of putting the best components on the frame without over-spending or coming close to compromising. Think of it as a workingman’s build kit. It does everything (including keeping the weight low) without crossing into the territory of marginal returns on investment.

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HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

The setup: Set the tire pressure and 20-percent fork sag and you are ready to go. Our fork had Fox’s TALAS (Travel Adjustable Linear Air Spring) and CTD (Climb Trail Descend) with Trail Adjust features, plus an external rebound control. To start things off, leave the TALAS in full travel, the CTD in Descend and rebound six clicks out from full slow (our fork had super-slow rebound).

The fit: The Vassago rider will find a long cockpit that results in a fairly aggressive rider position. Stays and cable routing remain well out of the rider’s way.

Moving out: The Sun Ringle Charger wheels live up to their name, and the Schwalbe Racing Ralphs, although a nice 2.25-inches wide, offer low rolling resistance so the bike gets up to speed quickly. If you like out-of-the-saddle efforts, flip the CTD knob to Trail.

Cornering: The Vassago’s geometry offers precise cornering performance that slows things down from the nervousness of a cross-country racer but keeps things lively enough that you can change lines at will.

Ride quality: The rear end is stiff laterally, and the same goes for rear-end compliance. The bike is by no means a spinal jackhammer, but the rider will want to get out of the saddle entering bumpy corners and use the quick steering to choose the smoothest line.

Climbing: Getting up a hill or powering out of a corner are both strong suits for the Optimus Ti. In or out of the saddle, big gear or spinning, this bike is fast.

Descending: You are already in a fairly aggressive position, and this is a big plus when the speed picks up. With your torso lower than the handlebar and the bike’s great handling, you will have more fun descending most trails than if you were on a point-it-and-go dual-suspension bike.

Braking: It is funny, because 6-inch rotors look so small in these days of long-travel trail bikes, but the Shimano brakes never left us wishing for more. Anything bigger would have been overkill.

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TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

The sliding dropouts are so fun to experiment with (and easy to use), but as with any adjustment, you can go too far. When we got the wheelbase down to 44.5 inches, the tire would make occasional contact with the front derailleur clamp. No problem for a 1×11 drivetrain, but too short for a two-by.

We never used the TALAS feature. We ran the fork at its full travel all the time. We would pass on that feature and pocket the savings.

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BUYING ADVICE

After one of the crew set his best time in months on a familiar test loop aboard the Optimus Ti, we couldn’t get him off the thing. And that was not his best “hardtail” time. It was his best time period. This is definitely not a cheap bike, but it is not extravagant either. It delivers in a simple, low-maintenance package. And it does it with a proven material known for taking a beating in the harsh world of mountain biking without complaint.

The Vassago Optimus Ti not only restores our faith in the use of titanium for making mountain bikes; it restores our faith in hardtails (like we ever lost faith in the first place).

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