Allroad, that's what Litespeed has labelled its new Cherohala SE titanium frameset, a bike that's just as happy on the tarmac as it is on the local towpath or gravel track. It's not perfect on either, but it has a surprisingly large crossover area which makes for a fun and quick ride. It is a little on the pricey side, though.
- Pros: Geometry that makes it simple and fun to ride on any terrain, good tyre clearance
- Cons: Pricey against its rivals
With its heavily sloped top tube and tall head tube, the proportions of the Cherohala's frame didn't look like they were going to offer up an exciting ride on the road; I had visions of being sat upright into the wind and trundling along as if I was on a bimble to the shops. Not so. This thing is quick. Not in an adrenaline-fuelled, mass-acceleration or demon-descending kind of way – that's not what it's about – but if you want to cover big distances quickly without fuss, this is a great machine to do it on.
I've been testing the Everysight Raptor GPS glasses with their very cool head-up display so you always know what speed you are doing. On the first couple of rides on the Cherohala I had to keep checking I'd set the Raptor's display to km/h instead of my usual mph preference... Surely there was no way I was tapping along at 25mph on the flat? It certainly didn't feel like it.
I was, though, and that's the cool thing about this bike. Its unflustered way of just cruising along means you get to take in the scenery before arriving at your destination with a lot less fuss than you might have been expecting.
Its comfort helps. You've got that lovely damping effect from the titanium alloy tubing. If you've never ridden a bike made of this material, it's like riding a very good aluminium frame but with all the feedback edges just smoothed over, if you like. You get all of the messages from the road but with the interference removed for a more complete picture.
Saying that, though, while the Cherohala is comfortable there wasn't quite the same level of smoothness as I found on the excellent Fairlight Strael 2.0's steel frame.
There is a certain way to ride the Litespeed, mind.
The bike is designed to be capable on a variety of terrain, so there are trade-offs. Don't bother getting out of the saddle for anything but the shortest of efforts – a short, sharp climb of 20 seconds or so, fine, it certainly has the stiffness to cope – but anything longer than that and you really aren't going to get anything back for your efforts.
It's not so much a weight thing, after all our build tips the road.cc scales at 8.67kg (19.11lb), it's just the way the bike behaves. I've ridden many like it before – they just don't really respond to being ridden hard.
The geometry plays a part in this. The front end has a slack (for a road bike) 71.5-degree head tube angle and the fork offset is pushed out to 50mm compared to the normal 45mm. This has an effect on the handling on the road, as it takes away some of the sharpness. It shows when descending at speed, too.
With a long wheelbase of 1,034mm on this M/L it's a very planted machine so it's not a major concern, but if things get technical and you let the bike go, you'll be working harder than normal to cut a smooth line through the bends.
If you are a confident bike handler you can exploit the Litespeed's mild manners and still make rapid progress to the bottom of the hill, you just need to plan things more precisely than when you're on a true race bike.
This handling serves you well when you venture off-road – nothing too extreme, but on smooth, flowing gravel tracks or hardpacked trails the Cherohala is totally at home. In fact it's probably where the Litespeed is most relaxed.
Even with the 32mm slick tyres fitted to our test bike, it was a joy to ride on the local bridleways and tracks. The slightest bit of movement from the loose surface beneath is easily corrected and the whole bike becomes really fun to ride.
I've got a lovely 30-mile route which is about 50/50 gravel track/tarmac, which changes every couple of miles or so, and this is where the Litespeed really showed its true colours. You barely notice the changes in surface as you blast from one to another.
The Litespeed website says that the Cherohala is optimised for 40mm tyres, so I stuck the versatile 40mm Schwalbe G-One Bites on a spare set of wheels and they really suited the bike when the terrain got a little rougher.
Long rides out on the local gravel tracks were fun, and even twisty singletrack covered in tree roots weren't as testing as I expected.
Frame and fork
Litespeed has been in the titanium game for a long time, and the Cherohala shows that. It's made, like most titanium bikes, with tubing created from a blend of 3% aluminium, 2.5% vanadium and the rest titanium – or 3Al/2.5V as its grade is commonly known.
The alloy is cold worked, stress relieved and welded together with a single pass, which has resulted in a pretty decent looking frame.
The brushed finish is pretty resilient to knocks and scuffs, plus you can always buff it up with a bit of wet and dry sandpaper should you scratch it.
The tubing is certainly chunky, which goes a long way to explaining that firm ride, but you also know it is going to take some abuse.
The cable routing is external for our mechanical gear setup but there are outlets for Di2 cables close to where the mechs sit. The cable guides on the head tube are removable, should you go down this route for a clean look.
The hydraulic hose for the rear disc (or cable) is passed internally from the head tube as far as the bottom bracket, before running along the chainstay externally. I'm guessing this is the route that would also be used for the Di2 wire, which looks to be a little snug on the entry port at the head tube but it should accept both with a squeeze.
You get full mudguard mounts on the frame and on the carbon fork, more about that in a minute. You also get two sets of bottle mounts and its set up for 12mm thru-axles front and rear.
It's good to see that Litespeed has gone for a threaded bottom bracket shell as it is better suited to wet winter and dry, dusty summer conditions without creaking, plus it is so easy to change for even the most reluctant of home mechanics: all you need is a relatively cheap tool and a bit of arm strength.
The fork is a full carbon job and it certainly has plenty of stiffness to cope with the power from the Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes that we're using here. There is loads of tyre clearance, and like the frame it comes with flat mounts for the callipers which gives a smooth, clean look.
The mudguard mounts are at the dropouts – or where the dropouts would be if it wasn't thru-axle – plus you get a hole drilled at the crown to make for easy fitment of most mudguards on the market without too much fettling.
In the UK the Litespeed is available in a frame-only option for £2,699.95 and the fork for an additional £419.95, but importer Windwave has decked out our test model with FSA SL-K finishing kit and wheels, plus a full Shimano Ultegra hydraulic groupset.
It's quite a pricey spec, with a carbon fibre handlebar and wheels, but you could build a very good bike around this frame for a lot less money. Shimano's 105 would work a treat and a set of cheaper wheels like the JRA Geckos would really bring the price down without much of a sacrifice in performance.
One of the highlights was the BBB Echelon saddle, which didn't really look like it was going to be comfortable but I found its shape great on and off-road. The Litespeed uses a 31.6mm seatpost which is probably at odds for the type of riding it's intended for, but it really wasn't a problem.
The Hutchinson Sector tyres were impressive too. Really quick rolling on the road and grippy too. Taking them off-road showed them to be very robust too.
This is the only place that the Litespeed falls down really. I appreciate that it's handmade in the US and it really is well built and nicely finished, but at £3,119.90 for the frame and fork it's closing in on the titanium version of Mason's well-received Bokeh at £3,250.
With the Bokeh that's the frame, fork, headset, seatpost and seatclamp, and while we've only tested the alloy version, if you've seen the titanium model in the flesh you will know that its construction is absolutely flawless and a thing of beauty.
There is also the J.Laverack R J.ACK Disc which has a frameset price of just £2,380. True, it's not an all-purpose bike like the Litespeed, but the construction is very similar.
The Litespeed is a bike that I really enjoyed riding and grew to love as our adventures increased. It'd make an excellent commuter and lightweight touring machine for the way it just gets on with the job but – and it's the only but – it is a bit expensive for what is on offer.
A great bike on multiple types of terrain but it is pricey for what you're getting
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Litespeed Cherohala SE
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
In the UK the Cherohala is only available as a frame, with the option to add the Litespeed fork.
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Litespeed has placed the Cherohala in its gravel range and it kind of fills that gap between road and very light off-road.
Litespeed says, "The Litespeed Cherohala is an elite, all road titanium frame offering performance and luxury with dirt capabilities. Precision formed tube specifications with thin walls allow the Cherohala to be light, agile and responsive. It's truly an exquisite titanium bike that is fully gravel capable."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
This is the only model in the range.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The finish is good and it's a very well built bike.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame uses titanium alloy tubes in a 3Al/2.5V grade, while the fork is full carbon fibre.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's a decent balance of angles and lengths to create a bike that works both on the road and off.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The stack height is quite tall for a bike of this size, but it doesn't feel like it when you ride it.
Full geo details here - https://litespeed.com/collections/cherohala/products/litespeed-cherohala...
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The ride quality isn't as smooth as some titanium bikes I've ridden, but it's far from uncomfortable.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
For the type of riding the Litepseed is aimed at, it is perfectly stiff enough.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It's an odd one. Stay in the saddle to put the power down and the bike feels efficient, but you don't get much back if you really go for it.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It's not the sharpest handling road bike on the market but that allows it to be easily controllable and fun to ride when off-road.
There is a little flex at the bottom bracket if you really push it.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Hmm... not for the full price.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, but I'd point out the opposition.
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's top money for a bike of its type, being similarly priced to something like the Mason Bokeh Ti which is awesome quality, and more expensive than offerings from the likes of J.Laverack.
Use this box to explain your overall score
A well-built bike that is a joy to ride on the road and even more off it, but there are cheaper alternatives.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!