Designed as a comfortable, long-haul bike for randonneur rides, this Lynskey Custom Level 2 is light, lively and stiff in all the right places. For spending long hours in the saddle, our money's on titanium at the moment.
Titanium is making a comeback, and while carbon and aluminium are great for ultra-stiff racing applications, the stiff-but-supple qualities of titanium make it ideal for long rides, where varied terrain, climbing and gobbling up mileage are expected. Whether one calls long-distance timed riding 'randonneur' or 'sportive', this custom titanium Lynskey fits the bill, providing just enough room for 700x25c tyres and mudguards without sacrificing fast riding characteristics.
The Lynskey family, founders of Litespeed in the late 1980s, returned to framebuilding under their own name in 2006 and have quickly gained a foothold with bikes built from their smart, manipulated titanium tubing.
Ride & handling: light on the road, kind on the back and shoulders
The Lynskey Custom Level 2 felt a tad unwieldy at first because I was coming off months of consecutive carbon bikes. What began as 'twitchy' turned out to be nothing but a tidy blend of comfort and performance.
The longer wheelbase of a proper randonneur frame, coupled with perfect alignment and vibration-munching carbon fork, helps add comfort without sacrificing handling. This is especially helpful when one adds a front or rear rack, lights, and bags to the bike.
Long rides can be hard on the neck, shoulders, wrists and lower back. Getting a proper sizing alleviates most of this, but it's also important that one understands which frame geometry works best with the intended use of the bike. What works for Greg Lemond won't always work for a long-distance randonneur rider. I choose the same top tube length as my daily road bike, only with a slightly shorter stem (105mm vs 120mm). Compared to the many carbon bikes I've ridden the past 12 months, the Lynskey seemed to get more comfortable as the miles piled on.
I admit I've been spoiled by the luxurious feel (and no other material can boast this) of custom steel, so I was pleasantly surprised by the snappy, crisp and comfortable connection with the Lynskey. Even though the test bike weighed nearly 20lb with pedals, mudguards, bottle cages and cyclometer, it never felt heavier than a wispy 16-pounder when climbing.
Descending, though, felt a little sketchy during the maiden voyage, but a slight tweak of the saddle rails and rolling up of the bars improved my confidence in the bike instantly.
And while titanium frames are usually stiffer than their steel soul-mates, there's enough inherit flex and cush in the Lynskey rando tubing to make long slogs on the flats and forays against the wind more palatable.
Frame: meeting the challenge of comfort, fit and long-term durability
The challenge with proper randonneur design is getting the handlebar height right without sacrificing performance. A slight upslope from the seatpost to the headtube puts the handlebars in a slightly higher position for greater comfort. The one thing most randonneur riders don't want is too much of a 'sit-up-and-beg' position, which looks like it would work but strains the lower back when climbing.
Design of the Custom Level 2 frame involved a long phone discussion with Lynskey co-owner David Lynskey. We discussed the intended purpose of this bike, my riding experience, weight, height and knowledge of geometry. I told David I wanted, "something that's light, comfy, nimble and good for several hours in the saddle."
David decided that the Lynskey Custom Level 2 touring frame was the place to start. This frame – one of four levels of customisation Lynskey offers – uses double and triple butted, bi-axially shaped and cold-worked 3Al/2.5V titanium tubing. It's a notch up in stiffness from Lynskey's Level 1 frame, which makes sense for a larger bike for a larger rider.
For randonneur riding and touring purposes, I asked for rear rack and mudguard braze-ons, and space for long reach brake calipers for maximum tyre clearance with mudguards. Lynskey recommended (and supplied) an Alpha Q CS-25 carbon fibre touring fork, which weighed 403g cut to length.
Our 61cm (center-to-top) Lynskey frame was specced with 72-degree parallel seat and head angles, a 45mm fork rake, 8cm bottom bracket drop, 43cm chainstays, 58.5cm top tube (center-to-center) for a 86cm standover height with 700x25c tyres.
This is pretty standard touring geometry, but was also pretty standard for racers in the 1950s and '60s. Frame weight was 3.07 pounds, with a wheelbase of 109.2cm.
The Lynskey line of titanium touring frames is available in Levels 1-4, based on tubing weight. The frames are designed for a 31.9mm seatpost and 34.9mm front derailleur clamp, which is becoming the norm thanks to oversized carbon and aluminium lately. Lynskey works closely with Memphis, Tennessee-based True Temper, owners of Alpha Q forks, to provide the right fork for the frame. Crankbrothers new 95g Cobalt SL DirectSet headset kept steering smooth and its stainless steel blended in with the titanium headtube nicely.
Equipment: why weight?
For the complete bike, we choose the Shimano Ultegra SL group, using a 50/34-tooth compact crankset and an 11-27-tooth 10-speed cassette.
Wheels were built using a standard 32-hole setup, including Chris King Classic hubs laced to DT Swiss RR.1 double wall rims with eyelets for reinforcement.
This hub and rim combination, laced with double-butted stainless steel spokes, hasn't needed a truing since the wheels were mounted several months ago, a testament to the old-school wheelbuild.
We chose Thomson's Master seatpost and Elite 2 stem, with a Specialized Phenom titanium gel saddle and FSA Wing Pro Compact drop bars to round out the cockpit.
Shimano long reach Ultegra brakes provided the stopping, while Specialized Mondo S-Works 700x23c clincher tyres unfailingly provided road shock absorption and protection with nary a puncture. To keep our back and feet dry during a recent rain spell, we used Planet Bike's Cascadia full mudguards.
Verdict: custom titanium - the solution for the long haul
Arguments about frame material are rife but it's hard to knock titanium for its supple ride characteristics, light weight and durability. Custom titanium is the ideal material for randonneur enjoyment.
US$3,195 is an initial shocker on the wallet, but if that's what it takes for an American-made titanium frame from the first family of titanium then the Lynskeys get my dough without a second thought.