From space exploration to the custom motorcycle industry, titanium’s lightweight and superior strength have long been recognized. This remarkable metal, known for its striking oxidation colors and use in high-strength, lightweight applications, has now taken center stage in the creation of the world’s first all-titanium motorcycle. This ambitious project, nearing its culmination, is nothing short of spectacular.
Born from the imaginative mind of New Jersey custom builder W. Robert Ransom, the project aims to produce a motorcycle with a titanium frame, swingarm, exhaust, subframe, and bodywork, all constructed around a second-generation Suzuki Hayabusa engine. The intent is not simply to build a motorcycle, but to craft “a display of artistry and craftsmanship previously not seen in the motorcycle industry,” according to Ransom.
Titanium, being 45% lighter than steel and twice as strong as aluminum while weighing just 60% more, makes an attractive material for a motorcycle frame. However, the high cost of titanium and the challenges of working with the material have previously hindered its widespread use in motorcycle manufacturing.
Titanium is highly reactive at elevated temperatures, complicating the welding process. Without the right precautions, it can react with oxygen, nitrogen, or even carbon in steel tools, leading to the formation of brittle compounds and often damaging the tools. Moreover, its inherent springiness in sheet form makes it stubborn to mold into complex shapes, a requirement for motorcycle bodywork.
Ransom, undeterred by these obstacles, took on this audacious project. His approach involves using an argon gas shield during welding to prevent oxidation. His precision in creating joins at extreme angles and in hard-to-reach areas is impressive.
The titanium motorcycle features a custom tubular frame designed with a novel geometry that positions the engine slightly forward and lower. The swingarm, crafted for enhanced rigidity, flaunts a solid, MotoGP-inspired look. However, beneath its titanium shell, it remains true to the curvy tubular style.
The exhaust system, a feature often highlighted in less ambitious designs, is a marvel here, comprising over 130 sections in the header pipes alone. The unique design features ram’s horn headers leading to mid pipes, crossing over the motor, and exiting through gaps in the frame, culminating in a pair of teardrop-shaped underseat cans. The tank’s flip-up design ensures the exhaust system is easily removable.
The bodywork is a true testament to Ransom’s craftsmanship. Each element presents wickedly curved shapes with sharp angles, showcasing an extraordinary attention to detail. What’s more intriguing is the openness with which Ransom has shared his work in progress.
As the project approaches completion, the spotlight now falls on the bike’s unique appearance. Ransom won’t be using traditional paint on this titanium motorcycle. Instead, he plans to use anodized oxidation to add color highlights to the bodywork panels, a process more precise than heat treatment, although consistency remains a challenge.
Anodizing is a process used to increase the thickness of the natural oxide layer on the surface of metal parts, including titanium. In the case of titanium, the anodizing process can create a wide variety of colors without the use of dyes. The color that is formed is dependent on the thickness of the oxide layer.
The specific color produced through anodizing titanium is determined by the voltage used in the process. This is because the color is the result of light interference effects in the oxide layer, with different oxide thicknesses produced by different voltages creating different colors.
The colors are generally seen in a sequential pattern as voltage is increased. The exact color sequence can vary slightly depending on the specifics of the process, but it generally follows this pattern: bronze, dark blue, light blue, yellow, purple, light blue, green, and then repeating the cycle.
Note that these colors are not produced by pigments, so they will not fade over time as pigments do. The color is inherent to the oxide layer itself, so it is as durable as the oxide layer is.
While the cost of the titanium motorcycle remains undisclosed, it’s fair to say it will likely be significant, given that Ransom has already invested over 2,000 hours into the project. That said, the motorcycle’s price seems less important than the statement it makes about the possibilities of design, craftsmanship, and the use of innovative materials.
Source: W. Robert Ransom