History of the TitanFlex
TitanFlex owes its existence to a confluence of circumstances that date back to the 1980’s. San Diego was the scene–where triathlon was getting started–and thirty-something runner, Tom Piszkin was looking for his next athletic challenge. 18 months into the game his carbon fiber bike broke, converting him to a two-bike life style: train on the steel Schwinn Circuit, race on the carbon Kestrel KM40. The bikes’ strikingly different handling characteristics didn’t help on race day. Unpracticed cornering at race speeds meant time left on the course.
In January, 1989 Tom underwent surgery to repair his L4-L5 disc that was ruptured in a bike time trial. The doctors gave him a clean bill of health but warned that continued riding could lead to long-term back damage. Serving as President and Coach of the Triathlon Club of San Diego Tom was having a blast and not about to throw in the towel. Instead he pondered…what if I could have just one bike that was a 17 lb racer, an indestructible trainer, and didn’t leave my back feeling like it had been in a paint can shaker?
At this juncture it’s important to introduce another stream in the confluence. Tom’s father was an aeronautical engineer who worked on top-secret projects in the early 60’s involving a magic metal we now know as titanium. As a boy Tom remembers dinner table conversations about this amazing material. The end of the cold war allowed titanium into the hands of the common man.
The timing was perfect. TitanFlex was put on the drawing board in 1991. A patent disclosure was filed and Kent Eriksen, the founder of Moots, completed fabrication of the first one in 1992. In 1993 Bill Holland built the second prototype for Tom’s wife, which was ridden by Christina Baum in the Race Across America (RAAM) that year. The winner of that race asked if he could ride it in defense of his title. In 1995 Gerry Tatrai rode the 4th prototype to a third-place finish in RAAM. Later that year TitanFlex was exhibited at InterBike and the federal government granted utility patent #5,747,317.
In 1996 Nytro ordered 10 framesets. Claiming patent infringement, in 1997 Softride demanded that production cease. Despite TitanFlex patent status the financial burden of legal prosecution halted production. Gerry Tatrai won the 1998 RAAM on the last TitanFlex produced in 1997.
Development work on the current AL-Ti (monocoque) design shifted into high gear in 1998. Factory production of two sizes began in December and the battle of the boom bikes was back on! February 29, 2000 – Triathlon Legend, Scott Molina celebrated his 10th (leap year) birthday and decided to ride a TitanFlex. The “Terminator” edition was born. In 2003 Scott’s son, Miguel inspired the creation of the Terminator Jr. design which gives 8-11 year olds a road bike that grows with them.
Softride ceased frame production in 2005, so the original (tubular) TitanFlex model was re-introduced as the Transition®. It is offered in three frame sizes. The AL-Ti model has undergone several design enhancements over it’s 12-year production run. It's now offered in six frame sizes. Both models are fabricated by Russ Denny in Hemet, California. The titanium booms are welded by Bill Holland in Alpine, California.
An Interview with the Inventor
Tom grew up in San Diego, California, the son of an engineer father and a mother who managed the eight-sibling household.
“Being the oldest, I kept my siblings in line and acquired all the first-born personality markers. Thanks to Mom, we were a very athletic family. My poor Dad however, with ten mouths to feed, was trapped in a lifestyle that left him little time for his own health. Tobacco was his stress-management partner, contributing to his first and fatal heart attack at the age of 41.”
Ironically, a year earlier Tom was shot in the chest at point-blank range with a .38 special on his way home from college …but it wasn’t his time to check out.
“The Man upstairs had other plans! I managed to graduate from U.C. Berkeley with three degrees and went to work for the Ford Motor Company in Michigan. Working in their Product Development Group was a lot like being recruited for some of my Dad’s home projects like; conducting air foil tests while strapped to the tailgate of the family station wagon with an 8 mm home movie camera in hand, restoring a 1956 Austin Healey, nursing a Corvair van (“Road Oiler”) through my first driving years, building an experimental (Thorpe-18) airplane, etc.”
Four years of fast-track automotive experience in Detroit gave way to a chance to work in the computer business in Hawaii. Unfortunately, the Big Island wasn’t big enough to support a time-sharing venture in the early 80’s.
“Fortunately, I made my way back to San Diego and helped a small software company become a larger one. By the mid-80’s I discovered triathlons.”
Having served in the Club’s leadership for 13 years, Tom was inducted into the Triathlon Club of San Diego’s Hall of Fame. He is a USA Triathlon certified coach and currently coaches the Masters Triathlon program at the University of California in San Diego. Triathlon is at the crossroads of human performance and technology. As such, everything you see on this Site has sprung from a personal experience.
“It’s all classic–necessity…mother of invention–stuff. I hope you find them personally useful, or at least interesting and entertaining. Who knows, they might inspire the application of your God-given talents in the pursuit of your passions!”