Cycling review: Pipedream Skookum 29er Titanium
'Built for muddy trails, perfect for tackling potholes'
Price: £2,699 (£989 frame only)
Available sizes: 16, 18, 20
Frame: Aerospace grade titanium tubing
Gearing: Single-speed Gate Carbon belt drive
Weight (kg): 11.3
There are probably other contenders, but for my money Marylebone High Street is the worst road for cyclists in London. It's certainly one of the most polluted, but it's the potholes that cause me most grief. The scarred and battered road surface is slap-bang in the middle of my cycle commute and its asphalt lacerations cause me pain and punctures all year round.
But the past few weeks I've been cruising down it with ease. That's because instead of my carbon-fibre racer, I've been riding a new Pipedream Skookum 29er Titanium. The oddly named trail bike has giant handlebars, an upright cycling position, just one speed and a powerful suspension set-up. Together, this doesn't suggest an ideal commuter bike and its natural habitat is a rugged mountain trail but NW1's roughest patch has been a breeze this week.
I did test the Skookum off-road on some tougher routes, but it's in town where I've made a discovery. City cyclists should forget about speed, we should be getting our exercise in comfort on one of these. Let me explain; this weekend I'm tackling the London to Brighton Night Ride for the British Heart Foundation. It kicks off late at night from Clapham Common and races the sun to the beach.
Of course, I'll take my road bike but I don't always have time to fit in a long training ride during the week. And this off-road beast offers the ideal alternative commuter bike for some last-minute training. It uses thick off-road wheels and a single-speed belt drive, which means it's a bugger to get up any real speed on the road, as opposed to a rocky path in the Highlands where it excels. In short, each time you pull away from lights, it's like pumping out a spinning class's worth of energy.
There's another bonus, too. It uses a belt drive made from tough plastic instead of a normal chain, which means it never needs oiling. The belt drive is silent but, because the bike is fitted with one of those hubs that clicks away when you free wheel, the silent commuter effect is diminished. That said, it's useful to let people know you are coming. It's not a new technology – it uses the same basic principle that your car's cam belt relies on – but it is becoming popular.
In all seriousness, this is a bike that's designed to hammer down muddy paths and it doesn't come cheap. My test build was close to £3,000 including that nifty belt drive and it's ultra-light titanium frame but also a shock-absorbing suspension and a dropper seat post, which fully extends during climbs for proper leg extension and lets you drop it down for descent so you can lower your centre of gravity.
My bum has enjoyed the break, but if the price is putting you off Pipedream also offers a steel-framed version called the Skookum 29er R853 at a much more affordable £395. The Skookum 29er Titanium couldn't be more different from my normal ride then, but all I need to really love it is an extreme mountain bike trail just off the Marylebone High Street.
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