Donhou bike to win on Rapha


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It’s the end of the year, a time for taking stock and making new resolutions. A time, however, when such good intentions are all too easily swept down the back of the sofa with the crumbs of overindulgence. Rapha’s Festive 500 challenge offers an opportunity to avoid a holiday of bloated lethargy by getting out for some on-bike contemplation.The Grand Prize for this year’s Festive 500 is being supplied by a man who knows all about leaving home comforts behind for some time alone, Tom Donhou. The master craftsman behind Donhou Bicycles, Tom is kindly offering his latest Signature Steel bike, the DSS2 (pictured in action here), for whoever puts forward the best submission in ‘the spirit of the Festive 500’ category. The prize is apt because it was while challenging himself on a bicycle that Tom came to a realisation that would change the course of his life.

“I was a product designer, making toys and perfume bottles for the high street – landfill basically – and my conscience got the better of me so I quit and went away,” he says of a nine-month solo cycle tour which took him from Mongolia to Singapore via the Gobi Desert, China and Himalayas. “Riding every day is such a meditative thing that you figure everything out… everything. As I was riding, in my mind I was redesigning the bike I was on into the perfect expedition bike. Then, one day, I was just laying in my tent at the side of the road in China and decided I might as well start building frames myself.”

Tom’s eureka moment is proof that often it takes some time out to realise what has always been in front of you. His love of bikes, skill in product design, background in metalwork and old cars and ability to spend time alone without going mad are the perfect combination of elements for the profession of frame builder – he just hadn’t put it all together. And so, in 2009, Donhou Bicycles was born. Now at the forefront of a young generation of builders bringing this great tradition back up to date, this eloquent man from Norwich in England is brave and forward-thinking, often eschewing the expected for the surprising, and adventurous too, as shown by his Experiments in Speed project from 2013, when he built a bike with a staggering 104-tooth chainring and rode it as fast as he could behind his old Ford Zephyr on a runway.

With the recently-launched DSS2, an adaptable, versatile road bike with a relaxed geometry making it ideal for gravel riding, Tom’s journey with Donhou is beginning to come back to its origins. “After six years of almost non-stop working on the business, I finally had the time to take a bike trip again and test the DSS2 in the process. I wanted to go back to the desert, back to the middle of nowhere.” Tom travelled to Iceland in August with a friend, the photographer George Marshall, and rode the DSS2 across the country’s barren vastness. “As soon as we got off the plane, put the bikes together and got on the road, I thought, ‘This is sweet, I’m away for seven nights, don’t know where I’m staying and have everything I need in my packs.’ I had missed that feeling.”

That feeling, that sense of adventure, which is also at the heart of every Festive 500 attempt, was challenged by truly inclement weather facing the boys as they rode for three days across Sprengisandsleið – an ancient pass whose name means ‘to ride your horse to death, to explode from exhaustion’. Battling 50mph winds and riding along an endless grey plateau of lava rocks broken up by icy river crossings may have been too much for some, but Tom embraced it: “Every time you looked up you would be blown away by what you saw. These big glacial valleys and gorges would suddenly crop up with short sheer sides covered in almost luminescent moss.”
Tom came home happy that his own ‘horse’ had survived everything that the Icelandic elements could muster, and he immediately began production on the DSS2. Just three months later and the buzz around the bike is palpable – unsurprising given its beautiful build and the current off-road adventure riding mania taking hold. Indeed, Tom says that off-road modifications had become such a staple of his custom bike builds that commercialising his own gravel road bike was purely logical. Made of Reynolds’ flagship 853 steel tubing, and equipped with disc brakes, space for up to 35c tyres, and the Wound Up Gravel fork for when you hit the rough stuff, the lucky winner of the Festive 500 is in for a new year’s treat.

The question remains, is the DSS2 that ‘perfect’ expedition bike Tom was imagining as he crossed the Gobi Desert? “No, and it wasn’t intended to be – the DSS2 has its own purpose,” he says. “The funny thing is I’ve never built that bike I imagined and maybe never will. Donhou Bicycles is the same journey for me as when I set off from Mongolia, so I’m not sure I want to do it. I might feel like I’m finished with the journey.” Not yet Tom, not yet. In fact, we think you’re just getting started.

For more information on riding the Festive 500, and on how to enter to win the Donhou Signature Steel DSS2, please visit here.

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.

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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.

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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.

Another donhue custom dream bike


Norwich-based Ollie is planning in July to cycle the 2,311km route around Vancouver Island solo and unsupported, with 46,000m of climbing along the way. He’s doing the ride in aid of the British Columbia Cancer Foundation, with a £25,000 target. You can take a look at the full details of the route and pledge your support atwww.cyclechallengecanada.com

For such a challenge you obviously need a bike capable of going the distance and surviving the harsh roads likely to be encounterered. Tom Donhou has a good track record producing these sort of bikes, a couple of years ago he built one of the Rapha Continental bikes, a much admired steel framed bike with disc brakes and space for wider tyres.

Since then as the photo gallery on Donhou’s website shows that customers have been lining up to order similarly designed bikes. Disc brakes on road bikes is a hot topic, and Donhou was one the new breed of small framebuilders who were arguably quickiest of the mark when it came to exploring their potential.

Tom picks up the story on the bike build: “…as I heard the words ‘Vancouver Island’ I was really keen to build this bike.

“My own experience of Vancouver Island is one of coming face to face with a Cougar and that’s something that stays with you. Now you see, cougars attack from above and behind, so we included a Totem paint scheme (yes, its all paint) with eyes in the back and sides to protect him from those big cats!

“The bike is built for purpose, but there has also been consideration for its life after the trip where it will see cross and touring duties.”

Because the bike needs to be tough and durable, and carry a 35kg load, Donhou built the frame using a Reynolds 853 tubeset “tuned for carrying loads”.

Up front is a Whiskey carbon fibre fork with a 15mm bolt-thru axle, while out back Donhou uses Paragon Polydrops dropouts, with a DT Swiss 142x12mm bolt-thru axle. The dropouts however can be converted to a regular 135mm quick release setup.

The frame has been built up with a SRAM Force groupset and Avid mechanical disc brakes. The cables have been routed to keep them clear of mud, and the disc brakes offer the braking performance Ollie will need to cope with the wide range of conditions he is likely to encounter.

For the sort of riding the bike will be used for geometry is critical, it doesn’t want to be too fast or twitchy for the inevitable long days in the saddle over rough and unforgiving terrain, so it’s somewhere between a touring and cyclocross bike.

It looks a a very smart bike with an individual paint finish, and we wish Ollie the best of luck in completing his challenge.