If you're looking for a company on the forefront of the titanium industry, it's hard to see past Steamboat Springs-based, Moots. The small company was born and raised in the thin air of a town normally viewed as a winter sports mecca, yet still manages to easily pull off double duty as a summer sports, namely a cycling, paradise. The company was founded in 1981 as a small custom builder of steel bikes. Nine years later, Moots made the switch to titanium and never looked back. While most of the rest of the cycling world turned its eyes with glee to carbon, Moots held steady to the course and continued to make great bikes for an insatiable public - there has never been a point where the waiting list was small.
While the company has been making master-class bikes for decades now, it was in 2010, the year of the company's 20th anniversary of its first titanium bike, that they looked to a project that would test their experience and push the company to a new level. For the RSL, the Moots team set out to make a bike that would be not only the stiffest and lightest titanium bike available, but also do it with zero compromise to that which defines Moots - a bike that is an absolute joy to ride and a bike that can go the distance, not a season or two, but the really long distance, a lifetime for instance. In the end, the result was a fantastic bike that weighs in at just over 15 pounds with basic components, add some Zipp 303 tubulars to the mix, and you’re well under the UCI weight limit.
The goals of the RSL were lofty and go far to highlight many of the qualities that make Moots, well, Moots. The focus on the highest quality is apparent from start to finish on any bike from Moots, and it comes as little surprise that Moots makes only 1500 frames per year.
Of course the build and ride quality of a Moots is the company's first and foremost goal, but coming in a close second is the relationship between Moots and the consumer. Companies can say they want to be down to earth and easily relatable all they want, but it's another story if that's actually the case. In the case of Moots, it doesn't really need saying, everywhere you turn at Moots Headquarters, you run into another smiling face, and likely the wet nose of one of a small army of happy dogs. That's nice and all, but it's nicer still that you won't run into a single person in that building that isn't addicted to bikes. When it comes to dealing with a consumer, a knowledge of everything from fit to welding practices to racing is a huge benefit, and Moots can boast of a staff in possession of just that. It’s pretty easy to market a bike and tell people how great it is, it’s even easier when the guy you’re talking to on the phone about the Moots cross bike, the Psychlo-X, races it full-time every winter, rides it often in the summer, and just got back from a 90-mile ride over torn up dirt roads. If you call Moots, it’s likely that the person you’re talking to about a specific bike, played a role in the development of that bike.
If you combine a well chosen staff, a passion for bikes, and a cavernous breadth of knowledge for how to make good bikes, you can't help but create a great product. And so it was with the RSL. The bike's idea was hatched in Steamboat, built in Steamboat, tested in Steamboat, tweaked in Steamboat, and grew up to be a quantum leap forward.
Like everything Moots, the process wasn't flashy, nor is the finished product. The salt of the earth company makes a bike that doesn't scream look at me, but by avoiding that attention grabbing call, steals eyes all the easier. The process was simple yet huge, a ground up project, taking a close look at each part of the frame and how to possibly improve each part, without succumbing to the allure of adding in bits and pieces of lagniappe for the sake of a better marketing tool.
One of the pitfalls in the arms race for a lighter titanium bike is a loss in the ride quality. It doesn't take much before the ethereal ride of a Ti bike becomes soft, flexy, and disappointing. Moots found that a 2.5 pound frame was just right not only for its weight, but to protect the time honored tradition of a damn fine riding bike.
Tubing for the bikes is sourced within America, as the company has found that no one does titanium better. For the RSL, however, Moots took a step outside of their traditional practices and opted for internally mandrel double butted and tapered tubing for most of the frameset. That's a big process and one that is out of Moots's league. It's not too surprising though, that Moots would turn to one of the oldest players in the butting game, Reynolds in England. Reynolds has been butting tubes since the 1800's, and there are few, if any companies that can hold a candle to the company out of Birmingham, England.
The butting process thins out the middle of the titanium tubing and thickens it at the ends in the heat affected welding zone. The end result is a weight saving process that results in no loss in stiffness.
That's a big part of the goals for the RSL taken care of in one fell swoop, but there was more to come. Moots opted to use 6-4 titanium in the seatstays to add a bit of stiffness, but also counter-acts a bit of the in the saddle harshness often associated with a stiff back end. The seat tube saw a redesign as well, making the leap up to a 30.9 diameter and yielding a stiffer vertical axis on the bike, accentuated even more by the press fit 30 bottom bracket.
The bottom bracket is an example of how Moots took new technology and put it to use to their great advantage without succumbing to a gimmick. Moots originally started with the BB30 system, but found it not quite up to their standards, so the press fit 30 bottom bracket was tried, and with that, success was found. The new press fit 30 bottom bracket allows for a huge leap forward in the stiffness of the bike that wouldn't otherwise be available. With titanium, you can't just build up a massive bottom bracket region with gobs of material like you can with carbon. Accordingly, the overall stiffness of the bikes was, up until now, limited because of that fact, but the much larger bottom bracket area mandated by the press fit 30 changes that former weakness into a strength. Moots was able to greatly increase the stiffness at a focal point on the bike, making up for a lot of the 30% increase in the stiffness of the bike over its predecessors - with no loss in the weight sweepstakes.
With the release of the Vamoots RSL for 2010, Moots has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that titanium is not only still alive, it's ready to emerge out of the shadows of the dream bike of a certain small, enthusiastic portion of the cycling population, and into the spotlight of a bike for anyone - recreational or racer, fast or slow, long or short, smooth or bumpy - the RSL can do it all, look good doing it, and come back year after year. Moots sells bikes, sure, but they're also selling a companion, because a bike that will be around for such a long time will take on a different persona, a different character than the short term relationships most of us can confess to being a part of due to the constant turnover of bikes season after season.
I don't think it can be overstated, because a bike has the ability to be a stalwart wherever you go. It'll see you through a huge swath of time, and that's kind of a cool possibility when you think about it. It's a trusty, high performance friend that will be a part of everything, the good days and the bad, and everywhere in between. That's the kind of bike Moots makes.