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1999 Litespeed Vortex

The comments here pertain to my 1999 Vortex, still one of my favorite road bikes

Vortex rear triangleWhen I got my 1999 Litespeed Vortex built with top-line Shimano Dura-Ace components, it was the most expensive bicycle I had ever owned. It cost $5,800.

That’s a lot of money for a ten-speed. But a Litespeed Vortex isn’t just any bicycle. This thoroughbred represented the pinnacle of titanium bicycle construction at the time.

Built of cold-worked 6Al/4V titanium (a stronger alloy than the more common 3Al/2.5V and further strengthened by the cold working [shaping of the tubes, which is easiest to see in the curved seatstays]), the frame allows a total bike weight below 17 pounds.

Climb on and go, and most surprising is that this featherweight frame also provides jaw-dropping performance. Sprint, climb, hammer, spin and you’ll swear the bike is alive, reacting to every pedal stroke, helping you. It’s the combination of a frame material that has a springy, “alive” quality and Litespeed’s craftsmanship.

Through years of working with titanium, they’ve figured out ways to optimize the handling and ride of their bikes by manipulating the tube shapes to provide only the best characteristics. This shaping is hard to spot on my 1999 model; however, just glance at their latest top titanium frame, the Archon, and you'll spot the angular tubes (Litespeed now makes impressive carbon bicycles too).

Vortex dropouts And, you feel the effect of these shaped tubes right away. The Vortex sings as you spin down the road, and the frame seems to boost your power. It’s like having your own tailwind along for every ride (the phenomenon is so acute that the first few weeks I had my Vortex, I kept turning around to see if indeed a tailwind was propelling me along). It’s hard to put a price on such a magical ride.

The crazy thing is, it’s race-ready, but at the same time, the ride is velvety-smooth. You can get almost Vortex-like performance and approach its weight in other frames such as oversize-aluminum models, but you can pay a price for it in a rigid, unforgiving ride. On the Vortex, you glide over rough roads and finish long days much more relaxed.

While these traits set the Vortex apart from other dream rigs, all frames made of titanium offer another wonderful perk: the magic metal won’t rust or corrode and is impressively dent-resistant. What’s more, if you get a brushed model (no paint) the surface can’t chip. So, you can ride for three hours in the rain on bad roads, and while you might trash your components, with just a little soap and suds, the frame will be perfect again.

Litespeed Vortex front endAnd say you don’t get around to cleaning the bike right away (about the worst thing you can do after a rainy ride)? Every steel part on your bike will likely rust (which is what would happen to the frame too, if it were steel). But, the Vortex is completely unfazed by the elements.

Contributing to the Vortex’s outstanding ride and durability is a Look Carbon fork. Comprised of carbon with aluminum dropouts, here’s another gossamer part that shrugs off rain, mud and grime with no chance of corrosion or damage (unless you bury the front wheel in a pothole or rear end a parked car, or something).

It’s a beautiful fork with the lines and curves of a classic steel model yet with a sub-one-pound weight to help Slim-Fast any bike; plus a supple ride smoothing out any road shock that otherwise would rattle your hands, neck and shoulders.

So, while the Vortex was one of the more expensive road bikes available. Considering that it rides like the wind it’s named after and should outlast a dozen lesser road rockets, it could prove to be the best and last money you ever spend on a dream machine. I’ve ridden dozens of top-line road bikes and liked many of them a lot. But, the Vortex is a keeper, one of the most enjoyable racers I own and still the one I ride the most.

Vortex seat cluster Vortex ti brazeon


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