Pez-Tech: Lynskey Helix Project Build & Review
Websters calls it “something spiral in form”, Lynskey calls the Helix their stiffest race bike yet, and I say it’s one sweet ride. With sexy shaped titanium tubes, an artist’s finish, and my own custom build up, this is bike is way more than the sum of its parts…
The Lynskey name is without question a major part of American bike building culture, originally known for creating the Litespeed brand many years back – 1986. As with any successful brand, Litespeed’s growth led to buyout offers, and eventually the Lynskey family returned to their roots – and real passion – of building custom titanium bikes. Our Tech Ed. Charles last reported on the brand when he toured the factory, and the very detailed build process, and even got his hands dirty machining tubes for a Level 3 Custom bike.
We first saw the Helix tubes built up here at Interbike 2008.
I wasn’t quite so lucky (nor did I stress about ruining an entire Ti tube with my ham-fisted mitering techniques), but as I went through the design process with the guys at Lynskey, which included a raft of emails and phone conversations about actual the build details, it was clear that the Lynskey passion runs through the company, and I was thrilled to be on the receiving end of what these guys do best – create custom titanium bikes.
Lynskey’s custom builds come with a bunch of drawings as the bike takes shape. Here’s my ‘paint proof’ used to guide the final finish.
When I opened that first design drawing of this custom Helix frame, everything we’d talked about was layed out in precise detail before my eyes… And after a couple of minor geometry tweeks to eliminate toe-overlap at the front wheel and accommodate the Easton EC90SLX fork, the only question left was how to build up and finish this uniquely-tubed bike so it looked truly… unique.
The twist of the Helix is also plain to see inside the tubes.
The Helix frame set is made from 3/2.5 grade titanium, which is generally lighter than the often stiffer 6/4 grade. 3/2.5 Ti is also the better material character for shaping. So Lynskey heavily manipulates (shapes) the toptube, downtube, and seat stays by spirally twisting the titanium to create the heart & soul of the Helix.
For a simple explanation – imagine grabbing a square length of tube at both
ends, and twisting in opposite directions (yeah there’s a lot more to actually doing it than that). The four squared edges will spiral around the tube – creating ridges that ultimately stiffen the tube tortionally, vertically, and horizontally- by as much as 35% according to the boys in Tennessee. In short, the extra work Lynskey does with the tube set means you get stiffness associated with 6-4 at a lower weight and ride character of 3/2.5 Ti.
The top- and down-tubes are triple butted (each tube has 3 different thicknesses along its length, with the thickest being at the ends where the tubes will connect, which increases stiffness and strength at the joints, while eliminating excess weight in the middle of the tubes) and the down tube is oval at each end to increase directional rigidity at the headtube & bb junctions.
The seat tube is round – which after a couple of Helix-tubed attempts, just proved the best shape to host seat posts, derailleur clamps, and bottle cage bolts. The chainstays are round too, but ovalized at the bb, and mounted on opposing planes to better counteract the twisting forces caused those huge legs of yours.
The intended result is a titanium frame with a stiffer feel than ti frames made with more traditional rounded or ovalized tubes alone, or denser (and heavier) grades of titanium.
While both sets of stays are straight, the seat stays are Helix shaped, which allows a smaller, lighter tube without losing the stiffy factor, while the chains stays are round tubes, ovalized at the bb.
The rear triangle is a combo of the Helix shaped seat stays and round chainstays that are ovalized at the bottom bracket junction, then mounted at opposing 90 degree angles to maximize stability and counteract pedaling forces that want to twist and flex at the bb.
The chainstays are ovalized and set at opposing angles to best counteract the twisting forces of pedaling.
The Helix tube shape and forming process are proprietary Lynskey, but like any snoopy journo, I asked for a photo of the process in action. I was given a polite “no thank you”. Okay, I knew that was coming, and when I asked how they do it – I can tell you I glazed over pretty fast – cold forming titanium is a tricky business best left to experts like these guys.
Having been through the custom design process a couple times already with other builders, I’d learned a few things about knowing what the hell I’m asking for. Pretty much any top end builder can, and will, give you exactly what you want – so you’d better know what you want.
But in working with any of the better custom builders around – like Lynskey – I also want to leave room for their own personal influence and expression in the bike – these top tier guys all do things with subtle differences, and should be embraced and appreciated.
So my design parameters were somewhat general – to create a bike I could ride all day and not feel beat up, and that would be fast in all directions – up, down, turning, accelerating, and be of reasonable weight – at or below 16lbs all in. To some this might sound like a bike with too many traits and no true personality, but if you’ve ridden a few different bikes recently, you’ll also know how much variance even bikes designed with these characteristics will have from brand to brand. And here’s where I wanted to experience what Lynskey would create.
The Lynskey Difference
Although the frame was a custom build to my specs, Lynskey does what most top tier custom builders do – and that’s influence the design with their own ideas of ride quality – and for the boys from Tennessee – that means “stability”.
Of course they’ll build anything you want, but I wanted a true Lynskey design so was happy to follow their lead.
To start, Lynskey favors a stable geometry, and we settled on a 73 degree head tube and 74 degree seat tube on this frame. We also factored in the Easton’s fork rake, and my preference for FSA’s zero setback seatpost.
As our Tech Ed. Charles says: “There’s more to geometry than the two big angles, and placing you in the bike with the other measures has a lot to do with
how things work.”
But the other key element of the Lynskey design is to place their bottom bracket lower than a lot of others to create a lower center of gravity. I measured mine about Ѕ inch lower than the Trek Madone, Look 586, and Specialized Tarmac – all of which are solidly stable rides – and I was initially surprised by the difference of the Lynskey.
It’s not that I prefer style to substance, but for me this project really took off when we finally decided on how the bike would be painted – the end result – how good could this very unique tube set look?
Luckily, the design of this bike coincided with the design of our Mondrian-inspired PEZ-Kit – so I asked my design guy Patrick Dunaway, how he’d apply our new kit design to a bike frame… Everything looked good, until we realized the unique tube shapes would present a practical challenge in executing our design. Wrapping our new “Mondrian” inspired kit worked well with round tubes, but the twisting of the Helix tubes presented a non-linear surface to apply our very linear design to.
After being totally stoked to see the design from Pat, my hopes sagged as I discussed practical application with Jamie at Lynskey. After a few days of head scratching, Jamie called to say he’d sent the design to the paint guys to figure out – after all, that is what they do. A brief spin through the Lynskey Gallery is proof enough these guys not only are true ‘artistes’, but that they’ve produced bike finishes way more complicated than most of us will ever dream up…
And here’s where Lynskey delivered a truly ‘custom’ part of being a custom builder… their paint crew did what I thought was un-doable – but apparently no amount of thinking/ masking / painting/ remasking/ painting is too much for these guys. I was absolutely impressed by their work – both in matching the unique color of our PEZ blue and in executing what Pat had envisioned. If you think the pictures look good, you’ll be blown away by the real deal.
With the frame in hand, it was time to assemble a top tier group of parts and components for a truly one of a kind build.
The white AMClassic 420s were the obvious choice for this rig, skinned up with white Vredestein Fortezza TriComps.
From the moment I spied these at Interbike last year, they were filed in the “must build up a bike with the white AMClassic 420’s” file. Apart from being the coolest looking wheels I’ve seen in a while, at just 1570 grams for the set, they’re also pretty darn light for clinchers. The 34mm deep section rims are part of a considerable redesign from older versions of the 420, now using much stiffer gauge spokes to reduce lateral flex.
The 420’s are designed – like pretty much all of American Classic gear – by company founder, ex-pro (think Coors Classic- late 70’s), and smarter than the average bike engineer Bill Shook – to be an ideal combo of light weight, stiffness, and aerodynamics. Although it is possible to find a stiffer wheel, these should satisfy most of you. Magnus Backstedt rides them and will been seen on them this weekend at the Dana Farber charity event in Boston. But for me, the best thing about the 420s is the ride quality (okay – and they look damn cool).
The aluminum rims are 34 mm deep & 18 wide at the brake surface, with flat sides tapering to the spoke bed, to deliver Bill’s optimal ratio of stiffness to weight. The rim width allows for running thinner tires (21mm) which are popular with riders wanting to reduce frontal area.
The spokes have been changed from earlier models to AMClassic’s stainless steel blades, which have increased lateral stiffness considerably.
Spoke count is 18 front, 24 rear.
See those black strips on the cassette – they’re hardened steel inserts (that are press fitted into the alu) to protect from the cog set eating through the body.
The Front hub is AMClassic’s Micro hub and weighs just 58 grams, while the 4 bearing Rear Hub comes in at 105 grams. It houses their patented, 12 points of engagement cam actuated palls. The Cassette body is light aluminum, but with added hard steel inserts so cogs will not dig into the body. Steel inserts are dove-tailed into the alu body and press fit to everything together
The rear axle is 17mm diameter – is bigger and stiffer than others – intended to stiffen the hub throughout.
Bill recommends Koolstop or Swissstop non-abrasive pads to work best, and likes Vredestein, Vittoria Open Corsa, or Inova tires.
Retail price: white US$1069.95, or black &999.95.
Oh yeah – and the names ‘420’ denotes the weight of the rim in grams.
The tires: Vredestein Fortezza TriComps are $65 each.
Bars, Stem, Seatpost
For handlebars, FSA sent over their K-Force Compact carbon bar, which was just fine by me. I’ve been a devotee of FSA’s compact bend for a few years now, as its shape and bend fit me well.
The shorter reach brings the levers to me, instead of me reaching too far for them, and the flatter tops allow me to create a nice flat platform that transitions smoothly to the hoods – this is comfort defined in my world.
The K-Force bars feature a wider platform along the tops the make a great grip for climbing, but also a transition to a fully round center piece that extends far enough on either side of the stem to allow for simple mounting of computers, lights, etc.
The curve of the drops is also nice, and is shaped to hold a relatively constant arc for hand positioning across a reasonable degree of up/ down rotation of the bar.
The other really cool thing about these bars is the width measurement – which FSA does on all its carbon bars. The drops actually flare out, so that the width at the hoods is slightly narrower than at the drops, resulting in a more aero-feeling position on the hoods, and rock solid stability while steering from the drops.
The OS-115 Stem was chosen largely because that awesome whiteness was a perfect match for the bike. The fact that it weighs just 140grams is a bonus that proves it belongs on a bike of this pedigree.
The K-Force Carbon seatpost was a natural addition too – as I prefer to unify the brands for certain area of the bike as much as possible – like through the cockpit. The two-bolt clamp design has long been a part of FSA’s designs, and works to a level that defies a rethink.
Weight here was less a consideration for me than tying in with the bar and stem, but at around 235 grams for the zero setback version, I wasn’t worried.
MSRP: Stem: $149.99, K-Force Compact carbon bars: $289.99, K-Force carbon seatpost: $209.99
Prologo sent over their 159 gram C.one50 saddle. There’s no denying it looks way-cool on his bike, but after a few rides there was no denying it was a tad hard for my bony arse. Priced at $329, you’re definitely paying for the weight savings.
In looking to keep the weight down and ride quality high, I bolted on ZIPP’s Vuma Quad crankset. Their 4-bolt design is a winner, that delivers an optimal mix of ‘very stiff’ and ‘very light’, and coming from Zipp, there’s no question as to the quality being ‘very high’.
With Lynskey’s ability to paint almost every part of the bike to match whatever you want, I almost regret not sending the crank in for the full “Pez” treatment, but given the Vuma Quad’s big carbon weave finish and clean lines, it’d be a shame to paint over the ‘zootness’ that Zipp’s already given us. Like most luxury goods worth having, the Vuma Quad ain’t cheap (US$890.00 + $360.00 ceramic bearings) but it’s right at home on a custom like this.
I first ran this crank on a Colnago CLX Giro build, and have now logged several hundred kms of smooth pedaling, hard-ass cranking, and even some stomping – and have zero maintenance issues to report. The Ceramic bearings continue to run trouble free (while I’ve blown two sets of another brand’s crank bearings during normal use in the past year.)
We first looked at TRP’s 960 brakeset a few months back, and reported a superior mix of stopping power, light weight, and a few cool design features. This brake set is right at home on a custom build, but I initially liked ‘em because the polished silver finish was a perfect match for the polished Ti stays on the Helix frame. If you haven’t figured it out by now – the secret to any bike worth being seen on – if you ask me – is a great color scheme, tied together with the highest quality parts you can afford in the right accent colors. Of course, some guys might choose TRP because they work so damn well at reducing your bullet-like trajectory to a complete poseur pace in a matter safely controlled seconds.
They’re currently offered in standard colors of red & black, but for 2010 you’ll see anodized blue, gold, pink, burnt orange, and silver.
MSRP: US$399.00 per set.
I mated mine with SRAM RED levers, which have become my go-to lever because of their ergonomics, adjustability, and weight. I also really like the stopping power – which comes on slightly quicker than other levers which deliver their stopping force across a wider range of pull.
SRAM also offers hood covers in black, red and white, but we also like supporting smaller companies – especially when they make a quality gear – so I pulled on white lever covers by HUDZ. The rubber compound is a tad softer than the standards offered by others, which gives a light edge in comfort, but could trade in some durability. After three months of solid riding, mine still look new – and although the white ones do need a more frequent cleaning, a citrus based cleaner and cloth works just fine to restore that “showroom sheen”.
EC90 SLX ROAD FORK
Although Lynskey builds a lot of the bikes with Alpha Q forks, they will also work with something different if you prefer. For me it was Easton’s EC90 SLX carbon fork, it’s got carbon drop out and steerer tube, and weighs in at 326 grams (billed as one of the lightest in the world). I’ve always preferred the stylish rake of a curved fork blade, and although this one may be a tad soft for bigger riders, it’s been the perfect mate to this frame, and my own 140lbs. It comes stock in matte black finish, but you can see the fine work the Lynskey paint crew did to color it – including logo- to the whole frame.
One of these will set you back about $400 before custom paint.
Cages may be a throw away item to some – but those guys don’t read PEZ, so you’ll agree that finding the right cage was critical. At time of build up – finding a high-end white cage was almost impossible. By the time of Interbike later this year, I’ll bet white will be the new black in bottle cages. But most will be following the lead of Elite-it.com – who’s core business is bottle cages. A quick call to the quys at ProNet (Elite’s US distributor – (800-279-3793), and a few emails with options from Italy later, I was unpacking a couple of gleaming white with blue accented bottle holders to nicely accent the rest of the frame. (Yes – I know they get dirty faster, but that’s why they invented citrus cleaners!)
It’s been some time since my last Ti ride, and rolling the Helix was like meeting an old friend after a while apart – I was immediately at ease as the ti tubes reduced the road rabble to a mere whisper. There’s no denying that feel of titanium – even after years of carbon refinement, Ti continues to stand alone with it’s unique characteristics of light weight, stiffness, and a feel that many will tell you simply does not exist with other materials. Bear in mind that with today’s advanced techniques for building with carbon, it’s possible to create a carbon bike that feels like titanium… but a carbon bike just ain’t ti – and that’s an appeal that may be unquantifiable.
The Lynskey Family crest adorns the headtube on all their bikes, and plays on their Irish heritage. The Clover also appears as detail in the rear drop outs and seat stay bridge.
Given that custom builders will – be definition – build you pretty much any bike you want, my evaluation of the Helix’s ride qualities can only apply to this one bike. But if you ever get a chance to ride it, you’ll know it does the things I say, But since that’s got about as much chance of happening as me riding the Tour – here are few points worth noting.
The Helix rides in the “stiff as I need it” category. That means no noticeable flex in any direction, on any terrain. Being Titanium, it also delivers a ride quality of highest degree – that combo of stiffness and comfort that lets me ride it all day, and ride it fast. I will state that the Helix tubeset is an excellent ride, at least in my custom spec’d geometry.
The standout quality of the ride is indeed its stability – going fast, going up, and most of all going down. I could feel my placement in the cockpit being slightly lower-slung, even Coppi-esqe. The lower bb also lowers overall saddle height, which calls for an adjustment of bar height as well. No probs here – I pulled the stem spacers and dropped the bars to the right place.
Going uphill on the Helix was another area I had high hopes for, and it delivered. The whole bike you see here weighs 15.3 pounds – with pedals – so that’s a good start. Add in the combo of geometry we chose, and this bike has been a great climber – not because it’s designed as a climbing specific bike – but because pedaling it – whether it’s an hour-long slog in 38C heat like I did on the Giro stage 13 TT corsa, or one of my local 20% grade steeps – they built me a bike that snaps on the climbs and simply does not have any noticeable flex, lag or drag. (Of course, if those are characteristics you want, I’m pretty sure Lynskey can build ‘em into your next bike…)
This bike is the most fun descender I’ve ridden – and I know that says a lot – but that’s also what Lynskey told me they build. They didn’t lie. At the Giro, I enjoyed a few really good descents – we’re talking 6-10km of fast twisty roads – the kind with those run and dive corners that feel like you’re flying, the kind where you tuck in and let rip. The slightly lower bottom bracket plants the bike firmly in corners and helps it track straight over the rough stuff.
The stable geometry also made a difference, and clipping in at the top of a long downhill, I couldn’t help but think of myself as a bullet being loaded into a rifle chamber… you know what comes next…
To me, this is a ‘road’ bike in the classical form. It’s not the bike I pull off the hook for a special day of climbing, racing or sprinting – because it does them all so well, it’s the ride I can use for all of the above, without wishing I was riding something else. Custom indeed.
The unpainted custom Lynskey Helix frame will run you around US$5195.00, with paint and everything else coming on top, as per your own spec.
• Get one for yourself: LYNSKEYPERFORMANCE.com
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