Lynskey Pro 29 SL – Tested

lynskey-pro-29-with-insert

Smooth as Bourbon
So we know titanium is smooth, ’cos that’s what the marketing gurus tell us. But exactly how smooth? Two-sunsets smooth?

We need to start with the aesthetics on this bike. Titanium, done properly, is done naked. It is sexier that way. But there is still a choice between polished and matte – and we are very glad Lynskey went the subtle, latter route. The welding angular, purposeful tubing would have been out of place in a bling mirror finish, and it would have shown the welds up as blemishes, rather than artworks. And then there is that helical downtube. It spirals to the left, offering, we are told, greater stiffness exactly where it is needed, in a material that is a specialist in the soft and comfortable.

We asked the US Lynskey guys, through the local agents, whether we needed to buy two frames, a left-coiler for odd days of the week and a right-coiler for the even days, but I don’t think they got it. Which is maybe a good thing; they are consummate professionals and engineers, and their attention to detail can be seen throughout the bike. They don’t even have decals; instead, tiny Allen bolts, fitted by field mice, hold lazer-cut badges to the frame. Neat, as they would probably say.

pro-29

Captain sensible
The deal with this rest was that I was to ride it on the 360ne MTB challenge, around Oudtshoorn, in the middle of April. As the name suggests, it is a 360km mountain-bike race, over mainly farm and district roads, but with enough gnarl to make the decision to run a hardtail questionable. For me, anyway, aiming for a 24-odd-hour finish. But the Lynskey is not just any hardtail: it is the pinnacle of titanium, built by the family that started Litespeed. And titanium is a mystical material that is renowned for compliance, without sacrificing stiffness or strength. It is also not cheap, as you can see.

The local Lynskey guys specced it with Shimano Deore XT throughout, with Stan’s Arch wheels, WTB rubber and aluminium bars and stem. The seatpost is an ENVE-topped Ti Lynskey number, with a surprisingly comfortable WTB saddle. Ritchey rubber grips sealed the deal – a reliable, no-nonsense race bike that wasn’t going to break any weight records, but is unlikely to give a day’s trouble. Or a night’s trouble, in this case.

The ride
With a sensible spec like this, the Pro 29 certainly didn’t end up a lightweight – just under 11kg, with trail pedals and cages – but that is not what this bike is about. You certainly don’t feel it gives away a kilo to the carbon super-bikes on the climbs. In fact, climbing is enhanced by the extra traction that the 73-degree seat angle and the supple Ti chainstays offer, with the wheel finding noticeably more traction on the rougher stuff, seeming to flow through it to let you concentrate on your part of the process. This is a theme that runs through all the off-road interactions. Smoothness and control – obviously not to dual-suspension levels, but certainly among the best in the hardtail genre – give you confidence to ride that little bit harder than you normally would.

The descent off the Rooiberg Pass was a prime example: six kilometres of rutted, loose rocky terrain that you would need some skill to ascend in a 4×4, hard braking into hairpin bends, water-bars – it has it all. And, coming after 15 hours in the saddle, nobody would fault a seriously slow and scared trip down. But that wasn’t on the cards. The relaxed 71-degree head angle and 120mm RockShox SID fork make for a relaxed, controlled approach, with few surprises and plenty of time to react to the few that do crop up. The lowish BB – a 5.2cm drop – drops the centre of gravity nicely, although you do need to watch out for clipping the pedals in the rocky sections, and the thru-axles stiffen up the cornering, so you go exactly where you point the front wheel, no vagueness at all.

And then, after Rooiberg, we hit a 20km tar section that can only be described using words unfit for this magazine. Suffice it to say that this is where the hardtail reigns supreme. With the fork locked out on the handlebar remote, it rode like a road bike, eating up (relatively, after that long pedalling) the kilometres and responding instantly to the few pedal strokes of power possible over the top of each little rise.

And then there are the little touches on the Pro 29. The welds and finishes are so good I can stare at them for hours. Even if my family thinks that is odd.
The machined sliding dropouts – strictly, the Pro 29 comes with standard Ti dropouts, but I think the boys got wind of my proclivity for all things singlespeed and snuck the SS-ready frame for the test – are things of beauty. Complete with shamrocks to celebrate the Lynskey family’s Irish heritage.

And that is the ethos of this bike – a return to their roots for a family of frame builders who made it big, jumped on the mass-production bandwagon and eventually saw the light, sold up and started doing it all properly again. This is as close to custom as you will get, without having to drink too much coffee with a bearded man holding a welding torch.

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Verdict
I got an email from Riaan, the local importer, a few weeks after the 360ne, wondering if I was still busy with his bike. “No worries – just thought you went ‘missing’ in some never-ending kloof with the Lynskey.” Nearly, Riaan, nearly. I had forgotten how complete titanium feels. It climbs, it descends and it gathers crowds. What more would you want? Oh, maybe a slightly lower price, but then for Aston Martin heritage, you gotta pay Aston Martin prices.

Price R95 000
www.lynskey.co.za

First published in Ride magazine, July 2015