To say we’ve had a chequered career testing titanium full suspension bikes wouldn’t be accurate. That would suggest highs and lows – and on the day this arrived, we’d only logged a catalogue of overly bendy and under-controlled disasters.
The original Merlin full sus bikes were as stiff as the last Twix in Malaga; Seven’s licensed Maverick was way more expensive than the alloy original, yet added nothing positive besides corrosion resistance; and the last prototype we tested, from a UK firm we shan’t name, was so flexible it would’ve been better at yoga than mountain biking. Brake hard and it would rub the front tyre on the downtube.
The only titanium full sus that’s made us smile is the mid-90s Ibis Bow Ti. It shook its hips like Shakira as it snaked down the trail, swerving round most obstacles rather than going over them whether you wanted that or not.
Suspension works best in a stiff frame that keeps pivots, linkages and shocks in line, rather than letting them twist and bend so far they bind. And titanium isn’t stiff, though it is hard to use; the complex shapes needed around linkages, shocks and wheels are almost impossible without super-skinny tubes or a lot of ingenuity. So, as much as we’ve loved the titanium hardtails from the Lynskey family frame-building factory, we felt distinctly apprehensive when its latest full suspension bike turned up.
Frame and equipment: Chattanooga class
We weren’t worried about build quality – there’s some real artistry in this chassis. The rounded terminals that clamp onto the linkage are joined to the flattened-centre stay with almost imperceptible smoothed welds. There’s another immaculate cut-and-shut joining the oversized, twisted Helix-profile down-tube to the lower bottom bracket section. This bottom corner comes with chainguide mounts and a half-pipe main pivot segment that’s almost big enough to skateboard in. It’s that size because the bearings inside are actually Shimano press-fit BB90 bottom bracket ones.
It’s hard to fault Lynskey’s logic: if they’re designed to handle thousands of savage pedal stabs, drops and other cantilevered pedalling stresses every ride, it argues, just holding the two halves of the bike together should be a walk in the park. Practicality and longevity are further boosted by linkage bearings in widely available sizes.
The rear suspension is designed to rely on tube flex rather than rear pivots, while massive cowled dropouts hold the 142x12mm DT Swiss RWS axle in place. The steep asymmetric brace between the chainstays, and the complete lack of a seatstay bridge, mean masses of mud clearance and while the brake mounts – old International Standard rather than post-mount – are a pain, the hose guide is perfectly angled for smooth routing. The corrosion-immune bare metal finish is the ultimate in long-lasting good looks.
The utility is mixed with an aristocracy imbued by decades of metalcraft. You’ll find the Lynskey crest engraved into the kinked plate that finishes the chainstay and around the upper part of the main pivot clamp. The details are class.
So this bike is exactly the showcase of immaculate welds and impeccable detail that titanium fans get their Lycra pads in a twist over. But would we be soiling ourselves for the wrong reasons when we hit the trail? Or would the Lynskey finally break the full suspension titanium jinx?
Ride and handling: false starts
Unfortunately, first impressions were – as one tester and former Lynskey owner put it – “Shite.” The rapidly rising rate of the shock linkage combines with the natural spring-back of the flexstays to create a proper Buckaroo action. And in comparison with the geometry on the Lynskey site our sample felt (and looked) both shorter and taller than it should. That’s great for pedalling clearance, but creates a really precarious feel in flat-out cornering or tight techy situations.
The spec is odd too; an inline seatpost and short 50mm stem pushes you forward over the wide bars, and under those bars sits a chunky Enduro front tyre that weighs nearly a kilo. It proves an anchor under acceleration, and drowns any chance the bike has to feel dynamic on already slow-going trails.
Our first ride tests, though, are about a lot more than the first impressions. We set about a dedicated shock fettling session to get the Fox can to deliver more consistent control, which helped but, as with most flexstay designs, even the sweet spot is still springy – it’s prone to pedalling bounce, rather than surefooted and stable. Toggling the compression lever through the Trail and Climb settings tames it enough to make efficient use of your effort. Its active feel suits a bike that still has the unmistakable twang and twist of titanium, however, and you learn to swerve and swing rather than carve and cut through the trees.
Next we fitted a longer stem for a more stretched, trail-ready ride position, and a lighter, faster front tyre to restore its rightful speed and responsiveness.
Dropping the saddle on descents made the bike feel more secure, but it was still on the uptight side. Workshop checks confirmed that our FS Pro was an inch shorter, half an inch higher and a degree steeper in the head than it should have been.
Knowing Lynskey as a refreshingly straight-talking, open-minded and endlessly enthusiastic crew, we hooked up with sales manager Don Erwin via the company’s instant messenger service – itself an impressive indicator of how proactive the team are. Don soon confirmed that what we had was indeed a steeper, taller prototype, and not a production frame.
How this happened remains a mystery, and having not ridden the actual production bike we can’t say the differences will sort out the nervy handling for sure. We also hope to test the proper production frame with a more use-appropriate selection of kit, though this won’t affect UK buyers, where they’re only available as frames.
We can say the production geometry syncs with what we’d do to create a confident but still lively trail machine – one that will exploit the distinctively dynamic titanium feel of this beautifully made and well-detailed frame. It’s looking very positive (it’s already the best ti full sus we’ve ridden, despite the error) but our verdict will have to wait until we can ride the final design.