December 4, 2012
Stainless steel - not just for knives and forks. Pipedream's latest take on the posh steel frame is really quite lovely...
There’s a certain quantifiable feel to a high quality steel frame; a combination of wall thicknesses and tubing profiles offer a blend of spring and flex that puts a smile on the face of any rider. The same goes for the even more exotic titanium tube, with the greater strength of the material allowing even thinner wall thicknesses and even more raving from material converts – at a price.
South Walian-based bike brand Pipedream likes to make its frames from both, with its trail hardtails coming in both Reynolds 853 and 3Al/2.5V titanium tubing. This, the limited edition Skyline R931, is something a little bit extra special. It’s steel – but it’s also over two hundred more expensive than its titanium offering and a chunky ￡800 more than its ferrous brother. The clue is in the name.
The Skyline uses Reynolds’ latest and greatest contribution to the world of high performance steel tubing, 931. It’s stainless for a start, with the raw finish having a lustre quite unlike any other. Where it gets really clever is in the fact that it’s twice as strong as a high quality titanium alloy, meaning Pipedream can use tubing with a staggeringly thin 0.4mm wall, something that pays off both with a sub-4lb frame weight and also when you turn the pedals.
Using the tried-and-tested geometry from the Sirius, the Skyline is happy up front with forks ranging from 100-130mm of travel, sitting within a conventional, straight-steerer headtube. Our test bike came with a set of 100mm travel RockShox SIDs and we’d be tempted to go no longer than this to preserve the lightning-quick handling. Despite the low weight and relatively skinny tubing, it’s no wet spaghetti in the corners and if you rail it hard into a turn, it’ll track true and pleasantly ping you out the other side in a controlled manner.
Geometry isn’t from the school of slack and that’s a good thing here; it allows you to concentrate on the involving ride rather than hiding behind a fork and mowing down trail obstacles. You’ll feel utterly in control of every twitch around every root and find yourself really earning trail speed. It’s a bike that can destroy singletrack all day long.
We didn’t truly appreciate the finesse of the tubing until riding a less fancy steel bike, when we realised that the ability of the Skyline’s wafer-thin tubing to mute trail buzz is really quite incredible. The build quality of the frame is also staggering. Neat welds are everywhere, the cowled dropouts are a joy to look at and on the practical side there’s plenty of mud clearance – something any UK hardtail needs.
It’s one for the connoisseur this; yes, it’s a lot of money and yes, there are plenty of hardtails that’ll do the same job, but that’s a bit like comparing a really nice brandy to supermarket lager. If plain and simple entertainment is what you want, they’ll both do a similar job of putting a grin on your face – and quite possibly a headache in your skull should you get carried away – but if you find enjoyment in the experience then the R931 is a much more rarified ride.
The price tag makes entry to a rather special club a costly proposition, but if you really want something that’s genuinely different – and still highly capable – the Skyline is in a league of its own.