The Titus Rockstar 29er was a difficult bike to review. We started out with high expectations, which can either put a halo on a bike during the first rides or immediately become a curse. We also started out with some unknown technical issues that made the bike a real curiosity on the trail until things were sorted out.
First, the good: It’s a lovely looking frame, with subtle curves in all the right places and a US-made front triangle. As mentioned when we first received the bike, the alloy front end was being made by Sapa, and they ordered enough inventory to hold them for a bit while they find a new US manufacturer. That initial post also covers the technical frame details, actual weights and more.
The Rockstar is a 100mm full suspension bike by design, and the rear end is tuned pretty firm. This was exaggerated by the fact that the fork came set at 80mm travel by mistake. In order to avoid biases and preconceived notions about any bike we get in for review, we try to ride them a few times before we dive into the manufacturer’s story about them. In this case, it meant riding the bike with a real imbalance in travel…
Without knowing that the fork was set incorrectly, the bike actually felt like a 80mm race bike all around. Handling was quick and suspension firm and efficient. Unlike some FSR designs that can be overly active, the Rockstar didn’t bob or float, it just took the edge off without getting all mushy on us. All the while we’re thinking: “OK, so it’s a race bike that you can whip like a BMX bike.”
It’s quick, but something just didn’t seem right.
It wasn’t until I confirmed with Titus that it was, indeed, 100mm travel that we realized the fork was too low. You may be thinking “Jeez, you guys are bike journalists and didn’t even know the bike was set up wrong?”. Yes, actually, and that’s by design. We want to test the bike as it comes, out of the box, just the way many riders would if they ordered/purchased the bike. If, as was the case here, something’s obviously wrong, we’ll fix it, but this wasn’t obvious. And having never ridden this model before, there was no way of knowing what we were feeling wasn’t what Titus intended.
All that said, once we figured it out, we reset the travel in the Rockshox SID to 100mm and things got a bit better. Even at a matched 100mm front and rear, though, the bike was still pretty firm. We played with a lot of damping and air pressure settings, but when sag was set properly, the bike was just very firm. For the rear, I chalk it up to the shock’s tune and suspension design.
Up front, though, I’ve been able to get my own SID 29er forks to feel far more plush on my own bikes, I’ve also found that a fork’s “feel” tends to be heavily influenced by the rear end. That’s not to say they actually are different, but I’ve ridden the SID 100mm 29er fork back to back on a hardtail and squishy full sussers, and it always feels more plush on the full suspension bikes. So, in this case, the rear’s firm ride makes the fork feel firmer, too. Fortunately, if you’re looking to get a bit more aggressive, Titus’ brand manager Michael Golinski says you can put a 120mm fork on it.
Besides me (6’2″ – 180lbs), Colin (6’0″ – 155lbs) and Trucker (6’4″ – 205lbs) both rode it and all of us agree it was pretty quick in a straight line. Here’s the good part of this bike: It’s relatively light and could make a great race bike for lighter riders. Here’s our comments on the bike’s positive attributes:
TRUCKER: The Titus Rockstar 29er is just that, a rockstar of a cross country racer combining a lot of the advantages of a nimble 26″ bike with the advantages of a big wheeled rig. It corners quickly through the tightest singletrack, swallowing 90º turns, and practically begs you to throw it around, lean it over, and push its limits like every day was race day. Some of this can be attributed to the relatively low weight at under 27 pounds, but I think a lot more can be attributed to the rear wheel geometry which tucks the wheel closer and more underneath the seat tube than previous versions and a lot of full suspension 29ers. You really don’t get that “rear wheel trailing behind you like you’ve got some extra junk in your trunk because I’m on this giant Cadillac of a bike” feeling.
TYLER: I agree, and I’m surprised Trucker didn’t think the frame was too small (we tested a Large). It looked small under me and a bit like a 26″ bike under Trucker. Despite appearances, the geometry seemed well balanced front to rear…I never felt like I was going to go over the bars or couldn’t get traction on a climb. Handling’s quick – It really is pretty easy to whip around through tight twisty stuff.
It’s also pretty lightweight for the price. Our test bike was 26lb 10oz with house brand cockpit parts and an X0 drivetrain, Rubena tires and Crank Brothers wheels. Just removing the tubes and adding sealant dropped a bit of rotating weight, and other smart upgrades could get you under 26lbs without breaking the bank.
That’s good, right? Yes, but we both think it’s better suited for lighter riders. Why? The rear end of the frame is flexy. While Colin didn’t notice it, Trucker and I both felt far too much squirm in any sort of moderate to hard cornering.
TRUCKER: There is, however, a major caveat to a lot of lightweight cross country gear: it’s often ill matched for the weighty. While the Rockstar could very well be the perfect bike for a 150lb. racer, at 6’4″ and 205 lbs. there was very noticeable flex. I didn’t want there to be because I loved the bike so much, but it was undeniable. Even with swapping to SRAM’S carbon-rimmed RISE 60 wheels, the flex was still there, so it was definitely coming from the frame. When in a long hard turn such as a banked, high-speed switchback the rear wheel would feel like it wasn’t quite in line with the rest of the bike and would have to snap around twice to get back in line almost like it was following some sort of S-curve behind you. Basically, in high lateral stress conditions it felt a little like the rear wheel was riding in sand. And although they raised the bottom bracket height, I still found myself catching pedals and the 2×10 chainring from time to time. That being said, if I could embark on a Freaky Friday body switching scenario in which I dropped the junk in my own trunk and ended up in the body of a 150lb. rider, I’d love rocking the Titus Rockstar.
TYLER: Yep, it was disconcerting. Come into a big turn at speed, even a banked one, and you find yourself readjusting your line mid-turn to compensate for the rear end’s initial lag then snap. On the low speed stuff, you can pick your way through stuff fine, but high speed turns just weren’t fun. It felt like the tail was wagging the dog. I really hoped the stiffer wheels would solve the problem, but they had virtually no impact on rear end handling.
We’re playing armchair engineer here, but we think the rear end could be redesigned to solve the problem. Larger diameter pivots would help a little, but making the chain- and seatstay sections a lot stronger & stiffer and adding a thru-axle would likely rid the Rockstar of its handling ills. As is, the pivots are rather small, and the stays seem a bit thin compared to many other modern bikes.
While they’re at it, they could fix the only other niggling little issue we had. Under compression, the cable housing bowed out and tended to remain flexed outward a little bit more each time it squished down. We could pull it back tight by yanking the slack up near the headtube, but a few big hits and it was right back out there rubbing our thighs.
Overall, it’s a pretty good bike for the price. A frameset with Rockshox Monarch RT3 rear shock is only $1,199 sold direct. They’re working on offering complete builds with an online drop down menu to let you build it the way you want it. In the meantime, you could just call ’em up and see what’s available. For the price, it could be a great choice for lighter, less aggressive riders. Bigger riders should look elsewhere for now.
As for future production, they’re working through R&D with a few other domestic builders for the front triangle. Golisnki says they’re 100% committed to keeping production and assembly in the US of A.