Thirty years ago the Lynskey family embarked on a journey that would change the landscape of bicycle manufacturing and elevate the family’s company to become the leading manufacturer of titanium bicycle frames in the world. The Lynskey brothers—Mark, David, Tim, and Chris—developed their passion for working with metal in their father Bill’s machine and weld shop, Southeast Associated Machine, which he started in Chattanooga in the 1960s.
“I can still remember being a young kid, probably eight years old, standing on a milk crate running a thread machine,” says Mark Lynskey of Lynskey Performance Designs. “And the same thing happened for all of us brothers as we grew up—as kids we all began our careers by taking summer jobs working at the shop.”
The shop grew to specialize in exotic alloys like nickel, stainless, copper, brass, and titanium for a variety of industries, including aerospace, chemical, and defense. With a passion in the family for the creative process and working with metal, it was no surprise when David Lynskey decided to build a bicycle frame in 1984 after repeated knee injuries put a halt to his competitive running. He decided to use titanium for its light weight and strength.
“Before we knew it, David was working after hours and on the weekends making bikes for his friends,” says Lynskey. “By chance, a triathlete from California was in Chattanooga visiting a friend and saw one of David’s bikes. He eventually talked us into going to the Long Beach Bike Show in 1986 to display some bikes, which at that time was the biggest bike show in the world.”
The bike show kick-started the momentum it took to launch Litespeed—the Lynskey’s first company dedicated to manufacturing titanium bicycles. As business grew, the family put an addition on the building in 1989 and started making bikes as part of their overall business operations. By 1996, the family decided to focus exclusively on manufacturing titanium bicycles, and Litespeed quickly outpaced the other manufacturer of titanium bicycle frames at the time, Merlin. Although they had turned down several offers to buy the company, the family got an offer in 1999 that they couldn’t turn down. Mark Lynskey stayed on with the company, American Bicycle Group, until 2005 when he decided to take a break after several years of traveling the world, growing the brand.
A New Venture
Mark’s break from the bicycle world was short-lived after his mom, Ruby, began to urge him and his brothers to launch a new venture. Through her initiative, the family got together in fall 2005 to talk about the possibilities, and by January 2006 the family launched Lynskey Performance Designs. Although they discussed focusing on a different type of industry, they decided, in the end, to start with what they knew and loved—titanium bicycles.
“From the beginning, we decided to have an entirely different approach,” says Lynskey. “We decided that we wanted to go global immediately and also build an e-commerce business model that would still allow us to work in the traditional way with distributors and dealers.”
Starting from the ground up—setting up a warehouse, equipment, and forming relationships with distributors and dealers across the world—allowed them to build a unique business model that has driven the company’s international success as a luxury bike brand targeted primarily at the amateur enthusiast.
“About 70 percent of everything we build ends up leaving the country,” says Lynskey. “As we were building distributors and dealers, we were able to develop a model that worked for all parties.”
Michael McLaughlan, who lives in Scotland, has owned three Lynskey bikes, and first sought out a custom designed Lynskey bike in 2008 to fit his height (just over 6 foot 5 inches) and hopefully alleviate some knee and back pain. He was amazed by the personalized service and quality of workmanship in his bike and actually visited Chattanooga for his fortieth birthday in 2015 to help design his third bike.
“Lynskey is different from all other bike manufacturers as they have such a vast knowledge of titanium,” says McLaughlan. “All the bike parts are engineered in-house. The welding and engineering that goes into the frames is second to none, all hand built and hand finished by a dedicated team.”
McLaughlan’s story is like many others who discover the brand and fall in love—and share their stories by sending pictures of their Lynskey bikes on various adventures across the country and world. If you visit Lynskey’s manufacturing facility, you get a glimpse of some of these adventures, which are proudly displayed on the walls throughout the building.
“It sure is nice to know that at the end of the day you are putting smiles on people’s faces,” says Lynskey. “It is very gratifying in this business when you have customers calling, emailing, and writing letters letting us know how our bikes have impacted their life.”
Quality and Innovation
For the Lynskey family, creating innovative designs and maintaining a high standard for quality workmanship has been critical to their success—and this wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated staff of 40 who share the same mindset.
“The bicycle industry as a whole doesn’t tend to build longevity in one organization,” says Lynskey. “It has been a huge blessing for us having the depth of experience with so many of our employees who have been with us for so long. Our production process is not something that you can easily teach or be trained to do. It takes time to develop the skill and expertise.”
The company’s skilled craftsman and artisans have helped to innovate in the design of the titanium frames by shaping and sculpting tubes to achieve a specific performance standard. This attention to detail is the hallmark of Lynskey bikes, which continue to evolve each year with new models and custom designs.
“I put their success down to the fact that they don’t accept anything but the best when it comes to their designs and workmanship,” says McLaughlan. “All my Lynskey bikes look as good now as the first day I got them. My new bike is the best and fastest bike I have ever ridden both uphill and downhill.”
Lynskey has even innovated on the sales side by offering the only factory-backed trade-in program in the cycling industry in the world, which allows customers to trade in other bicycles for a credit toward their new Lynskey bike. The company is also community oriented, giving back locally through sponsoring cycling organizations and events.
To celebrate the family’s 30th anniversary designing and building titanium bicycles, the company will be creating several Limited Edition models in 2016.
“Our Limited Edition models will use the design combinations, concepts, and ideas that reflect what we believe were the most interesting and most requested elements of our past 30 years,” says Lynskey. The company has already released and sold out of one of these models (a road-to-mountain bike) and will release the next model soon, an urban cruiser.
For the Lynskey family, Chattanooga has been the perfect place to start and grow their company, and they have exciting plans for continuing to grow their brand in the years ahead. With the city continuing to evolve for new start-up ventures, Mark believes anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit can be successful growing a global company from Chattanooga.
“As little as ten years ago, if I was traveling outside of the U.S., no one had heard of Chattanooga,” says Lynskey. “Now, everyone has heard about it and talks about how amazing our city is. The evolution of Chattanooga on the international level is amazing.”
To learn more about Lynskey Performance Designs, visit www.lynskeyperformance.com or find their page on Facebook. Story by Jennifer Watts Hoff. Photography by Grant Dotson