Cycle Obsession Leads To Olympics Handmade Bicycle Frames Can Give Competitors An Edge
David Lynskey is obsessed with bicycles. Sitting in the bathtub, he ponders new designs. Mowing the yard, he searches for a better way to mold stronger, lighter cycles.
“It’s all I think about,” said Lynskey, whose passion for creating racing bikes led to a successful family business, Litespeed Titanium Components Inc., and a place in the Olympic Games.
Litespeed makes all or part of bikes ridden by the five-member U.S. Road and Team Trial Racing Cycling team, which begins competition Sunday.
It also supplies parts to teams from Britain, Poland, France, Belgium and Mexico.
The business began because of Lynskey’s bad knees.
Lynskey was a competitive runner, but after seven knee operations in less than three years his doctor told him to find a new sport. He chose cycling, but he didn’t like the bikes on the market.
He spent weekends and nights at the family’s machine shop near Chattanooga designing, testing and building his titanium bike.
He was used to building things because his family - four brothers, a sister, and their parents - had manufactured airplane hydraulic lines from lightweight, durable titanium for some 20 years.
In 1986, he produced a prototype bike out of scrap titanium.
When other cyclists tried it, they urged Lynskey to make more. However, Lynskey’s father, Bill, joked about trying to build a business dependent on high-priced titanium.
“My father said, ‘Son, you’re wasting your time. Nobody is going to buy a $2,000 bike,”’ said Lynskey with an impish grin.
Word of mouth led to a few more frames. Then a few dozen. Now, the plant averages 125 frames a day, mainly upscale mountain bikes and road racers. Prices range from $1,600 to $8,000. Custom-designed racing bikes can cost $20,000.
Working with titanium, which can easily break when heated by a welder’s torch, is a painstaking process. Workers wear cotton gloves because finger oils could ruin the metal or a weld. The final product, however, is strong, never tarnishes or corrodes, and needs no paint.
“We’re having a lot more fun and making a lot more money than we would have been without the bikes,” Lynskey said.
Now the Lynskey family can watch their handiwork on the international stage.
During Olympic time trial races, former Olympic gold medalist Steve Hegg of Dana Point, Calif., will ride a custom-made Litespeed called the Blade, wind tunnel-aided, flat tube design made to carve the air like a boat’s sail. Spectators will notice the solid rear wheel with the American flag design.
Lance Armstrong of Austin, Texas, ranked top in the world and considered a favorite for gold, will also ride a similar Litespeed design in time-trial races.
Each bike was built with special alloy tubing that is 50 percent stronger and 50 percent lighter than a standard titanium tube and costs basically three times the amount, said company vice president Mark Lynskey, David’s oldest brother.
The bikes weigh about 15 or 16 pounds, compared to the 19 pounds of most high-quality titanium bikes.
The Lynskeys success in working with titanium is moving Litespeed into making complete bikes and toying with other ventures, such as golf clubs.
David Lynskey no longer rides the bikes he designs for the world’s best cyclists. After a three-year racing career, he was in a car accident which caused him to reinjure his knee, break his shoulder and gave him 500 stitches in the arm.
“People think it’s sad that I can’t ride the bikes I design, but it’s not. It’s building the bikes that’s fun,” he said, holding the prototype for a 1997 model. “That’s the great ride.”
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