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What's Wrong with the 2002 Litespeed Blade.
By Tom Demerly.

Read this first about our reviews

The heavy Litespeed Blade is best suited for powerful
riders in the larger frame sizes. We don't recommend
the bike below a size 59cm.

This review will get me in trouble.

Why? Because it's an honest opinion. I've been a writer for over 15 years. I've written for Outside, Bicycle Guide, Velo News, Triathlete, Triathlon Today, Inside Triathlon and others. An editor told me I've written over 200 reviews. The problem is, I couldn't be honest in them. Magazines are ruled by ad dollars. If you write a bad review its scares away advertisers. As a result, no editor who wants to keep his job will publish a negative review of any bicycle from a company that advertises (or may advertise) in that magazine.

I own this website and we don't sell advertising. What we do sell are bicycles. We have an obligation to put customers on the right bicycle. Customers may or may not listen to us, but we always try to put them on the correct bike for their measurements and their goals. That's why I have an obligation to write this.

The 2002 Litespeed Blade is poorly suited for small and medium size riders (under 6'0" tall) but may be a good choice for some tall, powerful riders. For all riders the bike features poorly executed cable routing and a questionable design. It is an expensive bike that does not return a high degree of performance for most riders. We have sold a number of Blades (all but two were sold against our recommendations) and we feel the Blade is excessively heavy and mechanically problematic. Our experience is that it returns a poor ownership experience for must customers. I also felt the workmanship is not up to the standard of other Litespeed bikes.

Litespeed is an excellent bicycle company, one of the top five in the world. Based on the other brands of titanium bicycles I've seen, sold and ridden, Litespeed is the best builder of titanium bicycles in the industry. I've ridden and sold a large number of Litespeed Tuscany's, Sabers, Vortices, and other Litespeed models. They are a joy to sell, own and work with- except the Blade.

Litespeed bikes have been used by top professional cycling teams in the Tour de France and other major races for years. The bikes always had the logo and paint scheme of another manufacturer on them. Lance Armstrong briefly used a custom Litespeed Blade (not like the current version) painted as a Trek in time trials several years ago. Richard Virenque used a custom Litespeed Vortex painted as a Peugeot in selected mountain stages of the Tour de France when he won the Polka Dot Jersey for best climber. 2002 is the first year Litespeed bikes will be ridden by a major professional cycling team with the Litespeed logo on them when the Belgian Lotto team uses them. Custom Litespeed bikes also took first and second at the 2001 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. The majority of the U.S. Men's Olympic Triathlon Team used Litespeeds.

Litespeed is part of the American Bicycle Group. ABG owns Merlin, Litespeed, Quintana Roo and Tomac bicycles. The company has been on the acquisition trail for a few years and now has a stable of upper end brands that represent the finest road, triathlon and mountain bikes in the world. ABG is not specific about who builds what, but insists the Merlin and Litespeed brands are made in different manufacturing facilities housed in the same building.

The Litespeed Blade is made of 6/4 titanium and 3/2.5 titanium. These two alloys are combined in an attempt to make the bike have specific ride characteristics. 6/4 titanium has different material characteristics than 3/2.5 titanium. The numbers describe the amount of aluminum and vanadium in the alloy. In general (forgive the rudimentary description, I'm not a metallurgist) 6/4 is considered lighter and stiffer than 3/2.5. Our experience is 6/4 is more expensive and more brittle. The only titanium bikes we have seen break from any manufacturer, including crashes, are 6/4 bikes. My experience with 6/4 is that 3/2.5 rides better and is more durable: Less expensive too. The main triangle of the Blade is 6/4 (seat tube, down tube and top tube) and the head tube and rear triangle are 3/2.5 titanium.

Click to Enlarge

Rough weld quality in difficult to weld areas detracts
from the Blade's appearance and function.
The upper left arrow indicates a seam where
there is no weld at all, but an open gap between tubes.

This combination of tubing types is an attempt to achieve certain ride characteristics. If the intention was to make the bike feel heavy, sluggish and shift poorly while damaging it's internally routed cable housing then Litespeed has succeeded. If they were going for a harsh ride with poor responsiveness and the climbing characteristics of a sewer lid they have achieved it with the Blade.

I have ridden several Blades. I take the 53cm. Blade and it is a good fit for me with the correct stem. I am approximately 5'9" and weigh between 155 and 165 lbs. Compared to other triathlon bikes I've ridden that fit me correctly the Blade is the worst choice. It felt unresponsive under acceleration and sluggish on climbs. I would have thought the bike would be nimble and accelerate well due to the increased stiffness of the 6/4 downtube. It doesn't, it's a real pig. It may feel sluggish on climbs due to its weight problem; the bike is heavy. According to the Litespeed catalog the 53cm. Blade weighs 3.65 lbs. By contrast, the Litespeed Saber weighs 3.18 lbs. A half-pound isn't too much of a weight difference, the problem is, it feels like ten pounds to me.

Part of the problem may be the top tube. The Blade features an "aero" bladed top tube. These deeply bladed "tubes" on the Blade are actually not tubes. These frame sections start life as a flat plate and are formed into the blade airfoil shape then welded at one edge. The top tube is made this way.

Click to Enlarge

Although it certainly looks impressive, we're not sure why the Blade has a large bladed top tube.

My question is why is the tube bladed vertically when the wind moves across it longitudinally? This undoubtedly adds some unnecessary weight and, I believe, contributes to the overall poor ride quality. In previous model years the Blade featured a less pronounced blade section in both the down tube and the top tube. Those model years' Blades rode much better. Furthermore, close examination of the Blade ridden by Ironman winner Tim DeBoom reveals that his custom Blade has "toned down" aero tubing, nothing like the Blade in the Litespeed catalog. Litespeed told me the custom Blade is available to consumers under their custom program. The obvious question seems to be why do they make the one with the bladed top tube at all?

We have recommended the Blade to only two customers. Both were tall riders in the Clydesdale class. Both were very powerful cyclists. Both can benefit from the extra material in the downtube of the Blade (but are still handicapped to some degree by that bladed top tube). The weight is of little consequence to riders over 200 pounds as it accounts for only .2 (two tenths) of a percent of the total rider/bicycle weight. Both of these Blades were either the 59 or 61 cm. sizes. In these sizes there is some utility to the bike's construction (except for that top tube). Below that, I don't like the bike.

For customers who wanted the bike in the smaller sizes we recommended (instead) the excellent Litespeed Saber. The 2000 model year Saber was very, very good- but the 2001 Saber is absolutely incredible. The Saber for 2002 incorporates an outstanding carbon fiber/titanium wrapped wishbone seatstay. The bike is a truly incredible evolution, but that's another review.

Why anyone would buy a Blade over a Saber in the smaller to medium sizes is a complete mystery to me. I believe most people who bought them did so for the single worst reason you can buy a bike: Looks. Some people think the Blade looks cool so they buy it. Trying to get them to admit this is tough. Hey, if you buy a bike only on looks that's fine- but don't expect it to perform as well as if you had purchased a more appropriate bike based on fit and construction appropriate to your needs. We see that most customers like this cannot grasp the intricacies of fit and performance and also can't trust a dealer to choose their bike for them. They tend to hit the mental "reset" button and buy a bike based on looks since it's the only thing they really understand. They almost always wind up on the wrong bike and waste money. If they are big enough to admit they blew it the first time around they may trust a good dealer's recommendations the second, but buying two bikes is an expensive way to learn a lesson. If we tell you a bike isn't appropriate for you, trust us. We're doing it for a reason. In the case of the Saber versus the Blade, the Saber is substantially less expensive. You would think we would be excited about selling more Blades than Sabers since we make more money selling a Blade. However, since the Blade is poorly suited for most riders, we don't recommend it. We have an obligation to recommend the appropriate bike, the consumer can decide to take or ignore our recommendation.

Click to Enlarge

Arrow indicates shavings of cable housing
worn off the front derailleur cable housing
after less than 1000 miles. Note how
much space there is around the
cable housing as it enters the frame.

Another deficiency with the Blade is it's poor cable routing. The drivetrain and rear brake cables are routed internally through the downtube and top tube. I'm generally not a fan of internal cable routing to begin with. I prefer external cable routing such as found on the Saber.
However, there are well-executed internal cables on some bikes. All Cervelo aluminum bikes feature internally routed cables and are the best in the industry. If you must have internal cable routing look to Cervelo for the state of the art.

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Arrows show the "tubing protectors" we made from tubing bought at a hardware store to protect the cable housings from the sharp edges of the cable inlet.

The internal cable routing on the blade is utterly cobbled. They basically put two oval holes in the frame with no cable guides of any kind. Someone could argue this "saves weight". Well, it does, trouble is, it also doesn't work very well, and it looks like someone forgot something. I think they did.






Specifically, the cable housing gets torn up very easily when you turn the handlebars, and it binds as it scraps against the rough edge of the holes. It also rattles louder than any other internal cable routing I've tried.

Click to Enlarge

This series of bends (and the one inside the frame) cause the Blade's front shifting to be slightly sluggish.

The bend for the front derailleur cable degrades front derailleur shifting to a small degree on a well-built bike, and entirely on a crappy assembly job. This represents everything that is wrong with internal cable routing. It is the worst execution of internal cable routing I have seen.





We've sold, ridden and serviced the Litespeed Blade throughout its evolution. We believe the current version is the worst so far. Previous versions ranged from fairly good to quite good. A version more like the one Tim DeBoom used, possibly even incorporating the new titanium wrapped wishbone seatstay, would be a much better effort by Litespeed. About now Litespeed is trying to reach us on the phone, threatening to pull our dealership for this review. In fairness, Litespeed is an excellent company with outstanding bikes. Many of the bikes in their line represent the best in their category from any manufacturer. No one is perfect all the time though, and the Blade is their Achilles heel. Except in specific instances, we do not recommend this bike, but rather, prefer the excellent Litespeed Saber in identical geometry.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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