Wittson Custom Ti Cycles
Already well known as a frame-builder for COLNAGO, Vidmantas “Vitas” Zukauskas has been building best-selling frames from the mid-90s, going by the names Monotitan, Ovaltitan, Ovalmaster, Master BiTitan, CT1, etc. These works of master craftsmanship are broadly recognized and their quality speaks for itself. As COLNAGO moved on to Asia and carbon frame production, Vitas continued to specialize in ti frame building for other brands, including ARGON18, RED BULL, VAN TUYL etc. Over time, Vitas has become more and more well known as a master in ti frame building with worldwide orders from cyclists that value craftsmanship. His son has become involved in ti frame building and they have embarked on a new journey with WITTSON. These are bespoke tailor-made frames built to last a lifetime.
Q. How did your passion for cycling start?
VZ. In the beginning of the 70s, for me, being a kid from a small village, a sports bicycle (nowadays known as a road racing bicycle) was an unreachable dream. Our family couldn’t afford one so I went to a Cycling Sport School just to get an opportunity to ride one. This particular day changed my life. I became addicted to cycling and even today my whole life centers around bicycles. After a professional career in cycling, I became a cycling coach and then I got involved in frame building.
My most notable prizes are:
1977 - 1st National Road Race Championships
1977 - 3rd Overall Tour of Lithuania
1979 - 3rd Overall Tour of Lithuania
1980 - 2nd Overall Tour of Lithuania
Q. How did you get into frame building?
VZ. I was working as a cycling coach for more than 12 years. Five of those years I spent coaching the Lithuanian National Cycling Team. All of this led to close work with many high-end European manufacturers, such as CAMPAGNOLO, VITUS, MAVIC, SAN MARCO, DIADORA, BIO-RACER, etc.
Towards the end of 1994 I got an offer from investors to help establish a bicycle frame building company specializing in ti. They knew that I had good contacts in the industry and had language skills both in English and Russian. I was like a bridge between the West and the East.
For our facilities we have chosen Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia. They had one of the best Titanium Welding Schools in the world, aerospace engineers and specialists in building titanium submarines.
First I created some designs, and after testing, they were ready. I used my contacts and reached Mr. Ernesto Colnago. He was impressed with the quality and frame characteristics. We soon started cooperating and many models were born: Monotitan, Ovaltitan, Ovalmaster, Master BiTitan, CT1, CT2 etc.
COLNAGO moved forward into carbon production and the Far East. I involved my son Mindaugas in frame building and now we are getting back to basics in building one of a kind bespoke tailor made frames.
Q. What types of frames do you produce?
VZ. As long as it’s from titanium and has two wheels, it can be manufactured: road disc, time trial, track, 650B, 29er, fat bike, bmx, frame with S&S Couplers, Rohloff, thru axle, belt drive, BB-30, PressFit 30, PressFit BB86, Lefty, etc.
Q. Other materials you work with?
VZ. My credo is: “do what you are best at”. Therefore we exclusively work only with titanium.
Q. What's your typical order process and lead-time?
VZ. We are a niche-serving, small, family-run artisan shop, and therefore we prefer direct orders. After the client order form is completed and confirmed, we ask for a 30% deposit and can start building the frame. Lead-time is only 30-45 business days.
Q. Your “raw materials”?
VZ. All of the frames are made of European Grade 9 Ti supplied by a Swedish company called VSMPO Titan Scandinavia. This is one of the world’s number-one titanium suppliers. It’s the same titanium that BOEING and AIRBUS use. The key difference to Chinese suppliers is that VSMPO don’t use recycled titanium, so that means better alloy characteristics.
Our stock tubes vary and are handpicked to suit the specific frame that’s been ordered:
o.d. 16, 18, 22, 29, 30, 32, 35, 38, 40, 45mm
Conical tube o.d. 25 > 16mm, 50 > 40mm
Aero tube 50 x 25, 55 x 33mm
Wall thickness is 0.9mm and custom-butted.
All tubes are seamless cold-worked, stress-relieved.
Q. 3/2.5 vs. 6/4 & straight vs. butted?
VZ. 6/4 tubes are not seamless; they are rolled from a sheet and welded at the joint. What does that mean? It means that there is a potential failure point at the welded seam. Therefore we don’t recommend using this type of tubing.
6/4 titanium has a greater tensile strength but it’s very hard to weld. It can take more force than 3/2.5, but the welds will break before the tube. Therefore we use 6/4 titanium only for dropouts, bottom bracket shells and other small parts such as brake mounts, cable stoppers, zip-tie guides etc. 3/2.5 is the best choice for frame building as it has an excellent strength to weight and stiffness to weight ratio.
Titanium butting affects the molecular structure of the tube, therefore there are limits and they are unique from frame to frame depending on the frame type, frame size, tube place, tube diameter etc. This is one of the best points where a frame builder can display his experience and skills. Don’t forget, a frame can be externally or internally butted, flattened, bended, ovalized, etc.
Q. Your take on ti's future?
VZ. I still believe that nothing rides and feels like titanium. It prevents energy loss through the tubing, but at the same time it absorbs road vibrations giving the most comfortable ride possible. And there will always be cyclists searching for the best.