Paul Sadoff, the man behind US boutique brand Rock Lobster, has designed a unique series of frames for UK-based Merlin Cycles with renowned bicycle manufacturers Kinesis. This understated hardtail offers a double-butted titanium frameset with Shimano SLX stop-and-go bits and a RockShox Recon fork.
This is the kind of bike-for-life hardtail that many riders aspire to, but few can afford – except in this case, the Rock Lobster Team Titanium really is eminently affordable. What are you waiting for?
Ride & handling: Controlled, taut and built for speed
Put a (hypothetically) blindfolded rider aboard the Rock Lobster and the first thing they’d probably notice is not the flavour of metal that makes up its tubes but the just-so ride position and weight distribution.
The numbers are well within the ballpark for classically sorted hardtail geometry, so it’s no surprise to find that the Lobster is impeccably well behaved out on the trail and rarely puts a tyre knob out of place.
Merlin Cycles claim that the double-butted tubeset provides plenty of rigidity without chunky tubes, and this is borne out by spirited low-speed technical climbs, which belie titanium’s reputation for a tendency towards noodly squirminess with a taut rigidity that encourages lung-busting efforts.
Put the boot in and wind the bike up to big ring speeds, though, and all that aeronautical plumbing starts to pay real dividends – the faster you go, the more the Rock Lobster filters out all that irritating high-frequency trail buzz. Low-speed control and high-speed comfort… sound like a recipe for singletrack fun? You betcha.
Frame & equipment: Slimmer, lighter chassis plus decent coil fork
The double-butted main tubes have shaved some weight for 2010 and lost their quirky trapezoidal profile in favour of a slimmed-down, traditional round cross-section.
The wishbone rear end gives enough clearance for a 2.3in tyre, while curvy stays ensure that heels-inward riders won’t clout their ankles.
A beefy disc mount brace and subtle ovalising of the down tube at the head tube junction are the only concessions to titanium’s tendency to flex under load, though we're told the new frame's butting helps in this department too. Our only niggle - and it's a minor one - is that, given the bike's UK leanings, it'd be nice to see a pair of mudguard bosses under the down tube.
Our test bike came with a RockShox Reba fork sporting 100mm of smooth, air-sprung travel, but production bikes will be fitted with the coil-sprung 100mm Recon SL. The frame really warrants a decent air fork, but as coil units go the Recon’s a good ’un.
Summary: Affordable and performs under pressure
During the course of this test, we took the Rock Lobster Team Titanium for a week's lift-assisted gravity riding in the French Alps. Although this was akin to taking a penknife to a gunfight - and we occasionally wished for more than 100mm of travel, which the Lobster's geometry would happily accommodate - it didn't skip a beat.
There's not much more to say, other than that this is the kind of bike-for-life hardtail that many riders aspire to, but few can afford. The crucial difference being, in this case, that the Rock Lobster Team Titanium really is eminently affordable. What are you waiting for?