Words Neil Webb; Photos Chris Catchpole
Before you even contemplate relieving yourself of your hard-earned cash, you need to pigeonhole yourself as a pro level racer who needs a serious ‘head down, arse up’ position or a ‘sit up and beg sportivista’. Or so we’re led to believe by the bike PR machine.
With the majority of bikes over £1,000 being made from carbon-fibre, the reality of production economy means that any bike not designated as a sportive or endurance bike is likely to have a much shorter head tube than most everyday cyclists can cope with. Pro riders need this lower front-end for aerodynamics and power-transfer over six-hour rides and their bodies are specifically adapted to it.
Most bikes used for the Sunday run have at least a couple of centimetres between the headset and stem. The ones without this are either old-school riders with pro levels of flexibility (or they’re masking back pain) or will likely have super-long head tubes and an upright position that bicycle product managers, in their wisdom, believed would suit the less flexible and more powerfully built audience that has exploded in recent years.
Most riders just want a ‘bike-shaped’ bike: something with enough ‘sport’ in its nature to allow for a bit of speedy fun when we fancy, but comfortable enough to ride to the beach on a sunny afternoon, should the fancy take us.
A quick glimpse at the geometry figures of the Litespeed Xicon will reveal a traditionally shaped machine with no overly long wheelbase to slow down the handling to ponderous levels, or slack angles to ‘add stability’. This simple tried-and-tested frame shape mixes regular frame tube angles and fork geometry to maintain a balance of stability and sprightliness.
A standard-length top tube allows you to maintain a good balance of weight distribution too, to make use of the sensible frame shape.
If the bars are too high, you can end up with too little weight to maintain traction at the front wheel when cornering, and the bike can easily drift wide, needing excess body movement to maintain the desired trajectory. This up/down weight-shift is what many so-called ‘stable’ machines require, and has the exact opposite effect to that promised by the ‘relaxed’ riding position.
While this may seem as if the Xicon is pretty standard, it has, on average, a 1cm-longer head tube than comparable bikes. As it also uses a standard external headset, this adds another 1.5cm over the integrated steering bearings often seen on carbon machines. The height of the head tube is also about an inch higher than one found on a true race bike.
Not only does this give an improved visual, with the stem ‘slammed’ on top of the headset, it’s also far better for the lifespan of the headset. With a shorter length of the forks’ steerer tube exposed above the level of the headset, there’s less tube to lever against this top pivot point. The result is longer bearing life, less stress on the carbon steerer tube and a reduction in potential flex in the cockpit. Riders who want a lower bar can simply use a steeper drop stem.
The rest of the frame’s dimensions match the no-nonsense geometry. The down tube and seat tube are ovalised where they’re welded to the bottom bracket. This makes the pedalling platform more solid and less likely to be shifted sideways when under duress — no one likes wasted energy. The rear end of the bike also has a simple elegance. Slightly tapered chainstays meet a straight running pair of seatstays, and combined, they do an excellent job of keeping the rear wheel in line. Extra shaping may offer claimed comfort improvements or resistance to braking forces, but we had no issues with retardation from our straight tubing, nor found ourselves beaten by the simple design.
Much of the comfort is likely to have come from the 3/2.5 titanium tubing material itself. Science states that titanium is more flexible than, say, steel, so we can expect the frame to absorb bumps well. Its softness can make the bike’s handling worse, though. Still, the larger-diameter tubing is more resistant to twisting and bending forces, even if it does add a few ounces. Fully built with bottle cages and pedals, the bike sits close to a perfectly acceptable 17lb.
Given the theory behind the bike, we’d high expectations. The titanium offers an exceptionally comfy ride with some spring, and the lack of twist from the oversize frame works brilliantly well with the titanium’s vibration-damping characteristics.
When climbing, performance is still very good thanks to the stiff bottom bracket area, but cornering is where the fun really starts. The Xicon holds a line exceptionally well as the tiny flex in the tubes keep the tyres in contact with the road, allowing you to reap the rewards of serious grip. It’s often difficult to quantify exactly why a bike is so great, but here it’s easy. The simplicity of design and focus on ride quality and experience over weight or stiffness has paid dividends.
Litespeed Xicon Ti: Specification
Price £1,299.99 (frame and seat collar)
Frame 3/2.5 Titanium
Fork Easton EC70
Size Range XS/XL
Weight 17.4lb (tested)
Groupset Shimano Ultegra
Gear Ratios 50/34 to 12/25
Wheels Shimano Ultegra tubeless
Tyres Hutchinson Atom tubeless
Bars/stem Easton EA70
Van Nicholas Zephyr €1,545
Designated as an ‘optimum performance solution for fast-paced events and all-day riding’, the Zephyr is, we think, aimed at a similar audience to the Xicon. A similar-length head tube, shaped top tube and oversized down tube hint at the target market of dedicated riders after an element of performance, but the smaller-gauge, hourglass-formed chainstays promise a comfier ride, perhaps at the expense of some comparative drivetrain stiffness.