Words Matt Lamy | Photos Chris Catchpole
A few years ago the choices facing bike buyers were fairly simple. If you wanted to cycle off-road you bought a mountain bike. If you wanted to cycle fair distances at speed you bought a road bike. And if you wanted to pootle around, keeping your options open, you bought a hybrid which was a cross between the two. Then things got complicated with things like 29ers (dedicated mountain bikes rolling on large, road bike-size wheels) and flat-bar road bikes (purpose-designed road bikes controlled by straight, mountain bike-style handlebars).
Take our test bike here, the Pinnacle Lithium Four. The charming folk at Evans Cycles who make this say it’s a hybrid. It’s their bike so they can call it what they like. But if it’s a hybrid, it’s one with the off-road influence turned up to 11.
That alloy frame, for example, is way more mountain-bikey than even the most compact of compact road bikes. Yet it runs on 29-inch wheels, like a road bike. But it’s fitted with wide rubber, like an mtb. But those tyres have a semi-slick tread, like a road bike. But it’s got hydraulic disc brakes, like an mtb. But it only weighs 12kg, not much more than a budget road bike. And just to throw something else in the mix, the front forks come with rack mounting points — touring bike, anyone? It’s a fine line between striving to be all things to all people, and ending up as a sack full of contradictions.
So how does it feel from the saddle? Unsurprisingly, much more like a 29er than a road-focused hybrid. You sit nice and high, aware there is a lot of bike underneath you. That said, the wide slicks do roll smoothly on asphalt, and it’s a very responsive frame. You can get up to cruising speed quite efficiently, without feeling too much energy is lost to mass and rolling resistance. Of course, the on-road ride experience isn’t a match for a true road bike, but it’s very decent. Also, the relatively low-end Shimano drivetrain swaps cogs really very happily.
So far, so utilitarian. Indeed, with that khaki paintjob, it could be a perfect general issue military spec bike. However, whip the bike off road and interesting things start happening. Even with those smooth boots, the Lithium really comes alive hopping over roots and sliding through gloop. There’s a certain amount of seat-of-your-pants fun that comes with taking a road bike off-road, but with the Lithium it all feels entirely controllable. Stick on a pair of knobbly tyres and I think you’d have a fine dedicated 29er, in all but name. Those Shimano hydraulic discs work a treat too, but in more taxing situations they’re crying out for better gripping tyres.
So who is this bike for? Certainly there is a market for urban riders, especially those who enjoy a mixed-surface commute, with that high seating position giving you good road presence and excellent visibility.
However, here’s an idea that’s suitably apt for this winter riding-themed issue: what about the Lithium as a winter bike? Old-schoolers tend to think of winter bikes as steel-framed workhorses with mudguards, heavy-duty wheels and puncture-proof tyres. But if we assume winter isn’t going to be the high point of your season athletically, while not make it the high point of your season in terms of enjoyment. You could do all sorts of new and exciting things on a bike like the Lithium.
Riding the Lithium rather reminded me of the packages available when buying a new D-SLR camera — often you’ll get the camera body, a short general use lens and a telephoto lens. I’m starting to wish with bikes like this, retailers would offer similar packages: the main bike with a pair of off-road wheels and a pair of urban commuting wheels. As it is, you might just have to spend every Friday evening swapping over tyres. But the grin on your face come Saturday morning will be worth it.
Pinnacle Lithium Four £550
Frameset 6061-T6 double-butted aluminium
Gears Shimano Acera
Chainset Shimano Acera triple
Brakes Shimano BR-M395 hydraulic disc
Wheels Alex deep section rims on Joytech hubs
Tyres Kenda K-West 38c
Bars Pinnacle aluminium
Stem Pinnacle aluminium
Saddle FEW Sport
Seatpost Pinnacle aluminium
Size range S, M, L, XL
Weight 12.4kg (27lb)
Ridgeback Dual Track X3 £599.99
Something of a case of ‘you pays your money and makes your choice’, the Dual Track X3 features a very similar specification to the Lithium 4. There are Shimano Acera gears, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes, and a suitably aggressive 29er-styled frame. There are some differences though: the triple chainset is slightly higher geared than the Lithium, so you might find it better suited to higher-speed road riding, yet its Continental Cyclocross Speed tyres should offer a fraction more grip on the muddy stuff. The contradictions don’t stop!