Admittedly, I went into this test a bit skeptical. I can justify titanium for other applications rather easily, but for a progressive trail riding 29er I needed to be convinced. The weight savings is nice, but would it be stiff enough?
Although Ti is usually associated with compliant ride characteristics, Carver Bikes made a point of using larger-diameter tubes that were shaped for stiffness. I was pleased to hear that was a priority. I’m not one to enjoy unwanted and unexpected feedback from a frame.
There are a few rather nice design features. Paragon Machine Works sliding dropouts will allow for a variety of brake mounting, hub spacing and gear options. Carver uses a CNC chainstay plate on the drive side that gives enough clearance for even a triple ring set-up and a 2.35” tread on a 23mm rim. No ISCG mounts though—surprising for a bike meant for all-mountain style riding.
Having an option to run a direct mount front derailleur is nice. But I’m pretty comfortable with a 1×10 setup, so that’s how I chose to ride the Ti 420. Without the derailleur installed, the mount looks rather inelegant compared to the clean welds and simplicity of the frame. There is a singlespeed and 1×10 version of the frame available if you want to commit to the single ring. Running multiple front chainrings also means the rear wheel needs to be adjusted further back, losing some of the snappiness afforded by the super short chainstays.
The bike sits pretty compactly. The wheelbase is fairly short and even with longer travel forks the head tube angle isn’t very slack. The 420 feels playful because of the short stays; a short rear end with a longer front-center meant that lofting the front wheel was easy. However, it came at the expense of some stability. A hardtail isn’t going to stay glued to the trail as well as a full suspension bike, of course. If you’re after the benefit of the short stays, the whole bike feels like it’s in front of you on faster rough sections where the saddle is dropped. As tall as I am, my butt is well past the rear axle.
Regardless, the Ti 420 begged to come off the ground in the best way possible. I suppose the carbon wheels helped, but it was a hardtail that wanted to find all the possible fun it could. It was willing to come off the ground at every opportunity, and cornering was snappy and quick. With a relatively short wheelbase, I was able to charge a corner then pull the bike easily through the turn, ready to accelerate.
Climbing was also superb. While seated, your weight is directly above the rear axle adding to traction; keeping the bars low not only helps with cornering aggressively, but also helps keep the front wheel down while ascending.
Although the bike is playful and capable, I think for most riders the geometry will suggest that this is a trail bike, not an all-mountain shredder. With a 120mm fork, the head angle is a conservative 69 degrees. Considering this is the biggest frame in the group, the wheelbase is pretty short compared to the other bikes. You’re not going to have that raked-out, plow-through-everything confidence and stability when you charge into a rock garden. Another drawback is the standover. I would have preferred a little more slope to the top tube.
All said, I had fun on the Ti 420, and even scared myself a little. Often it was easy to forget I was riding a hardtail, at least until I got into situations where the rear end was bouncing around. Take that as a compliment: I was confident enough to ride as I would have on full suspension frame. It was also plenty stiff enough to quell my reservations, and light enough to encourage its playful nature. The bike brought rolling terrain with technical sections alive. It was always looking for something fun to launch off and pop those wheels off the ground. This bike will suit a rider who likes to pedal and play.
- Top tube: 24-inches/610mm
- Wheelbase: 43.78-inches/1,112mm
- Head angle: 69 degrees
- Seat tube angle: 74.5 degrees
- Bottom bracket height: 12.91-inches/327.9mm
- Chainstay length: 16.3-17.1-inches/415-435mm
- MSRP: $1,200 frame, $4,000 as built