Steel yourself – metal back in fashion for road bikes

I myself am a ti fan but modern steel especially stainless steel (stronger pound for pound than titanium and also has no rust issue) is coming back onto the road scene. People realising that Carbon – especially cheap carbon bikes are a flawed concept and a waste of money.

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While aluminium enjoyed a brief period as the material of choice for professional road racing bicycles, the same can’t be said for steel; it was the dominant frame material during much of the 20th century for bicycles of all descriptions.

In the world of professional cycle racing, each of Eddy Merckx’s 525 victories was aboard a steel bike, but the last time steel won the Tour de France was in 1994. That was Miguel Indurain, who won his fourth of five Tour titles on a Pinarello bike (but it was reportedly actually built by Dario Pegoretti).

– Is there still a place for steel road bikes in the age of carbon fibre?

You might well think the advance of carbon fibre would have rendered steel obsolete, but that has never happened. Steel is (and always will be) a really good material for building bicycles frames, because it’s light, stiff and durable – your local blacksmith will be able to repair a broken steel frame… just try getting a broken carbon frame easily repaired.

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Some cyclists refuse to ride anything but a steel bike, so enchanting is its ride quality. It’s not as widely available as it used to be though, but that is changing as it has become more fashionable in the past few years, with the new wave of bespoke framebuilders choosing to work with steel.

If you want a custom bike, steel is the most versatile and affordable option. Bespoke carbon fibre will cost you a fortune and good luck trying to get a bespoke aluminium frame, leaving steel to become the main choice in the growing bespoke framebuilding sector. Aluminium has now become so cheap to manufacture that you can now get it on bikes costing from as little as £165. 

Steel tube manufacturers, such as Columbus and Reynolds, thankfully haven’t given up on steel, and in fact the opposite has happened, they’ve been investing in new tubesets. The latest steel tubesets, which include the latest stainless offerings, are now lighter and stiffer than anything Eddy Merckx used to race, and a viable alternative to carbon and aluminium.

– Custom built frames: The choice, from steel to carbon

Here then are 15 of the best steel road bikes.

Cinelli XCr Stainless Steel (link is external)£3,128.99 (frameset)

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When it comes to iconic bicycle brands, there are few quite as iconic as Cinelli. This is the Italian company’s XCr Stainless Steel frameset, which it describes as the “jewel in its range”. We can see why. Handmade in Italy, the TIG-welded triple butted XCr wonderfulness with laser etched graphics has a claimed frame weight of just 1,420g.

Condor Fratello Disc(link is external) £699 (frameset)

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London’s Condor Cycles is both a bike shop and bike brand, and its Fratello touring bike is its most popular model, showing that there is a lot of demand for a sensible steel frame. The frame has been carefully refined over the years, and the latest update is a move to Columbus Spirit tubing with some custom shaping taking inspiration from Condor’s racier Super Acciaio. And it’s available with disc brakes now as well, making it the ideal winter training, Audax or commuting bike.

Review: Condor Fratello Disc

Donhou DSS1 Signature Steel(link is external) road bike £4,385

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Tom Donhou is one of the new wave of young framebuilders specialising in steel and his bikes have been well received, with a particular focus on disc brakes that led to the development of the DSS1 Signature Steel. It’s an off-the-shelf bike with a frame made from Reynolds 853 and an Enve carbon fibre fork and tapered head tube.

Review: Donhou DSS1 Signature Steel 

Enigma Elite HSS £1,499(link is external) (frameset)

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The modern steel tubesets are a long way from the skinny steel tubes of yesteryear, and the Enigma Elite HSS is a fine example of how good a contemporary steel bike can be. It uses the latest Columbus Spirit HSS triple butted tubeset with a beefy 44mm diameter head tube and combined with a carbon fibre fork, it displays the sort of ride that would make you question all other frame materials.

Review: Enigma Elite HSS 

Genesis Bikes Volare(link is external) 10 £999

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Even though Brit brand Genesis Bikes now does carbon fibre, it has partly founded its reputation on fine steel bikes. It’s also responsible for raising awareness of race-ready steel bikes, with its Madison-Genesis team racing the Volare at top level races over the past couple of years. By working with Reynolds, Genesis developed new tubesets to meet the required stiffness and weight of a race frame.

It now produces a range of Volare road bikes and it has ensured that a race-ready steel bike can once again be affordable, with the entry-level 10 costing £999. It uses a Taiwanese made double butted steel tubeset with a 44mm head tube, carbon fork and Shimano Tiagra groupset.

Review: (link is external)Volare(link is external) 40

Holdsworth Professional Italia(link is external) £999.99 (frameset)

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Britain used to boast many local independent framebuilders, and Holdsworth used to be one of the most famous names in British cycling and framebuilding. The shop closed down in 2013, after 86 years, but the brand has been resurrected by Planet X and it now offers a range of heritage frames. The Professional Italia is the top-end model and features Columbus SL main tubes and polished XCr stainless steel dropouts.

Independent Fabrication Club Racer(link is external) £1,750 (frameset)

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It’s not just British frame builders that are bringing steel back into fashion, there has been a similar increase in popularity over in the US too. Long-running brand IF Bikes, started in 1995 out of the ashes of mountain bike company Fat City Cycles, offers a range of steel road bikes including this Club Racer, a traditional road bike with all the fitments for light touring, making it an ideal winter bike, commuter or Audax choice. It’s available with disc brakes as well.

Kona Roadhouse(link is external) £1,699

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The Roadhouse is Canadian company Kona’s classic steel road bike, with a Reynolds 853 tubeset and thru-axles front and rear – making it one of the only steel road bikes with thru-axles we’ve ever come across. A tapered head tube and carbon fibre fork beefs up front-end stiffness and it’s bang up to date with flat mount disc tabs and, of course, it has mudguard mounts.

Buy it here(link is external)

Mason Resolution(link is external) £1,459 (frameset)

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New Brit brand Mason debuted with two frames, and chose Columbus Spirit and Life tubes for its Resolution. There’s nothing much traditional about this bike, with internal cable routing, disc brakes and space for 28mm tyres and mudguards.

Review: Mason Resolution

Mercian Cycles Professional 853 Pro Team(link is external) £1,020

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Started in 1946, Mercian Cycles is another long-running UK steel framebuilding business that is thriving today, using traditional framebuilding methods and building each frame to order and made-to-measure. Choosing a frame involves using the company’s online frame builder tool, which lets you chose a model, tubeset, geometry and other details you want on your future bike. The Professional (pictured) has been selling since the 1960s, when it used to be a flagship racing bike. It can be built from a choice of Reynolds tubesets including 631, 725 and 853.

Ritchey Ascent £975(link is external) (frame only)

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Legendary bike brand Ritchey Cycles has introduced the new Ascent for 2016. A little bit of history. The Ascent used to be a mountain bike back in the 1980s, but the name has been reintroduced as a do-everything steel touring bike, with space for big tyres and eyelets for all racks and mudguards, perfectly suited to the latest gravel bikes trend. It’s a versatile bike, including the option of taking a 650b wheel with 2.1in tyre (a bit like Cannondale’s Slate).

Ritte Cycles Snob(link is external) £1,999

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We were impressed with the carbon fibre Ace from US bicycle brand Ritte Cycles, and the company also produces frames in metal, including the Snob. It’s constructed from stainless steel tubing with oversized profile tubes and a tapered head tube, and compact geometry. You can choose between a regular rim brake or disc brake version.

Rourke Framesets (link is external)– Reynolds 631 frameset from £995

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Rourke Framesets offer a wide choice of steel bikes with a selection of tubesets available to meet different budgets. The custom frame business is headed up by Brian Rourke who has 25-years of road racing experience, and uses this expertise to provide a full bike fit service, to ensure your new bike fits perfectly. Rourke offers framesets in a choice of flavours, from road race to Audax, and complete bikes built to your exact specification.

Shand Cycles Stoater (link is external)£1,395 (frameset)

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Shand Cycles is a Scottish frame manufacturer and produces a number of different models, but the Stoater is its do-everything frame designed to be as versatile as you need it to be. Like the modern crop of cyclocross/gravel bikes, the Stoater has space for wide tyres and the frame is bristling with mudguard and rack mounts.

Review: Shand Stoater

Stoemper Taylor(link is external) £1,899 (frameset)

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Portland-based Stoemper takes a lot of inspiration from Belgium for its Stoemper Taylor, a frame made from TIG welded True Temper S3 tubing and a classic road bike geometry. The tubes are oversized but not by the same measure as some more modern steel bikes, with a non-tapered head tube providing a classic appearance.

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