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.

ROAD.CC

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.

Enigma Elite Frameset - riding 2.jpg

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)

cinelli.jpg

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)

Condor Fratello.jpg

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

Donhou Signature Steel.jpg

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)

Enigma Elite.jpg

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

volare-10.jpg

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)

holdsworth professional.jpg

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)

ClubSteel_02-700x460.png

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

roadhouse.jpg

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)

Mason_Cycles1533.jpg

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

mercian.jpg

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)

ascent-break-away-frameset.jpg

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

ritte snob.png

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

rourke.png

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)

Shand Stoater.jpg

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)

01-Stoemper Taylor.jpeg

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.

Genesis Longitude 2016 is a 27.5plus model


Could be best choice for bikepacking ….

Longitude was the surprise trump card in the pack for last years’ range. As a brand new model (alongside the Tour de Fer) we were cautious of how well they’d be received and undercooked the numbers, selling out too early in the season. Apologies for those we disappointed. What it did show was that there was a healthy number of you out there looking for that versatile bike to take you places –an ethos we’ve tried not to stray too far from with the new 2016 model. Let’s take a look at the who, how, what and why with the new, 2016 model…

The 2016 complete bike will retail for £1199.99srp

Whilst the frameset option in ‘Pepper Yellow’ will retail for £499.99srp

Changes have been occurring at a rate of knots in the mtb sector. When we first drew up the Longitude nearly two years ago now we designed it as a standard 29er (albeit with 2.4” tyres on 35mm rims) with a long wheelbase and big clearances. The tweaks to make it 29+ compatible happened right at the eleventh hour, just before we pushed the button on production – we had pretty much the prerequisite clearances already and it didn’t need much modification to make it 29+ ready (slightly longer chainstays, etc). We figured there’d be nothing to lose in adding a further string to its already quite versatile bow. Now, you have to remember this was at a time when the concept of 29+ still had that new car smell and tyre options were few and far between (Vee Tire Co’s Traxx Fatty and Surly’s Knard were pretty much the only early options) and 27.5+ was only be talked about in hushed whispers at trade shows, by a few progressive/bonkers (delete as applicable) folk. Fast forward 6 months and with 27.5+ now having firmly arrived on the scene we had some difficult decisions to make with the Longitude…

27.5+ vs. 29+. There’s only one way to settle this…

…analysis and debate. A standard 29×2.3” on an average rim measures up about approx. 740mm in OD. A 29+ on accompanying 40+mm rim measures up about 780mm – a difference of well over an inch. This difference in tyre OD has a dramatic effect on trail (more on trail here – http://www.pinkbike.com/news/To-The-Point-Rake-and-Trail.html). As a manufacturer we’re then left in limbo as to whether we choose a headtube angle and fork offset to cater for the standard 29” wheel/tyre combo (at the detriment to 29+ handling), go in favour of the 29+ setup (vice versa – at the detriment of std 29” handling, or pick a middle ground that may compromise both that could potentially leave us with a bad handling bike with either setup. The original Longitude was designed around the as-specced 29×2.4” Conti X-Kings on the 35mm Alex Supra35 rims. With Vee Tire Co.’s Traxx Fatty’s fitted we felt the bike lost a lot of its agility; fine in a straight line, especially when pointed downhill but a little lethargic, slow to accelerate and cumbersome in responding to steering inputs. Enter stage left 27.5+… With an OD much, much closer to that of a standard 29×2.3” you can truly have a bike with a geometry that handles well with both setups, without any compromises (i.e. much more compatible). Not only that, you get the same air volume as the 29+ setup but in a lighter (both rim, tyre and tube), faster accelerating, more manoeuvrable package that that a wider range of folk, especially at the smaller end of the size spectrum, can comfortably fit on without A) needing a step ladder to get on and B) still have a decent amount of standover clearance. The case for 29+ was not looking all that strong, effectively trumped by the new kid on the block. For those wanting to delve deeper on the debate and differences between the two plus wheel sizes, check out the links below…

http://www.bikemag.com/gear/mean-27-plus-29-plus-bikes/

http://forums.mtbr.com/27-5-29/27-5-vs-29-a-960829.html

Hubs, Axles & Boost

So, we’ve decided to go for 27.5+ for all of the above reasons. The simple option would be to add Boost 110/148 thru-axles at either end, right? Well, yes and no. Whilst it would give us the required wider chainline and accompanying chain/tyre clearance, pretty much the only hub options (I’ve seen) are thru-axle (at the moment). Whilst this isn’t such an issue on the front, out back we’ve got our nicecly versatile ‘do-it-all’ horizontal dropout with mech hanger (also with added Rohloff OEM2 plate mounting point for MY16), going to Boost148 at the back would’ve meant the end of that, save going to a complicated and not mention expensive sliding dropout system (or EBB). Not something we really wanted to do. So, we decided to stick with the 135mm QR rear primarily for ultimate drivetrain versatility (conventional geared, singlespeed, Alfine and now Rohloff also) but, as ever things weren’t quite that simple…

We already had weight saving cut-outs on the original waterjet cut dropouts so it wasn’t too much work to re-configure them and add-in the required slot on the non-driveside dropout to shadow the path of the axle on the horiztonal dropout. The 6mm thick plate should be plenty to resist the torque of the Rofloff hub. 

Instead of mounting to the rear/lower disc brake tab the, OEM2 axle plate is turned anti-clockwise approx. 90 degrees and the bolt mounts through the tab, sliding with the wheel axle on the horizontal dropout 

Clearance Balancing Act

So, sticking with 135mm QR for universal drivetrain options alongside the 27.5+ wheel/tyre combo, the next tricky point was gearing. With us pitching the Longitude as our backpacking/offroad tourer I really wanted to keep the nice wide-range the 40-30-22T triple provided. Alas, a 50mm chainline triple doesn’t play nicely with a full-blown 27.5×3.0” setup, least of all on a 135mm rear spacing. The solution was to opt for WTB’s excellent and slightly smaller Trailblazer 27.5×2.8” mounted onto Jalco’s DD38 rims (38mm ext./33mm int.). The resultant tyre outer diameter measures up about 10mm shorter than a std 29×2.3”, so whilst a little smaller, still a much better match than 29” vs 29+, but crucially measures up at about XX” width, giving just enough chain clearance when in the granny at the front and largest sprocket at the back. And, yes, we realise that one the one hand we’ve wholeheartedly adopted new standards and, on the other, gone well out of our way to avoid them! For those wanting to go the full monty with a custom-build frameset option and 27.5 x 3.0/3.25″ tyres, you’ll be limited to 1x drivetrain setup or offset 2x options depending on rim/tyre combo used. Fork-wise we built-in plenty of clearance – you’ll be hard pushed to push the limits there!

Original spec was for the bike to use CST’s new BFT 27.5×3.0”. Chain clearance was (ahem) a little tight so we opted to swap to WTB’s slightly smaller Trailblazer 27.5×2.8” for a little extra breathing room. The upshot of which is that the Longitude now rolls with TCS tubeless ready tyres. 

The WTB’s on Jalco’s DD38 rim provide just enough chain/tyre clearance with the chain in the granny ring at the front and top sprocket at the back. No need for a Boost148 rear with this tyre/rim combo. A nice balance of width (33mm int./38mm ext.) and weight (555g), especially for a pinned rim, the Jalco’s are also tubeless-ready too, meaning valve, sealant and tape are all you need for an easy, affordable tubeless conversion. 

Production-spec with WTB’s 27.5×2.8″ Trailblazer TCS Light (Fast Rolling) fitted to the Jalco DD38 rims. We’ll update with studio images as soon as they’re through.

The Trailblazer could possibly be the ideal tyre for the Longitude with its’ fast, almost continuous raised, flat centre tread for low-rolling resistance and straight-line speed and meaty shoulder block tread for bite in loose corners and off-camber trails. Best of both worlds. 

100mm Suspension Corrected Fork

The new fork measures 483mm axle-crown with 51mm offset – i.e. suspension corrected for a 100mm 29”/27.5+ fork. Whilst the non-suspension corrected steel fork handled great, it was somewhat limiting to those tinkers that like to keep adding-on and upgrading parts. The new fork is aluminium, and for a few good reasons… A longer fork obviously needs to be stronger to help resist the increased leverage and forces. Stonger usually equals heavier (either increased fork blade diameter, wall thickness, or both) and with the newly introduced ISO test standard giving forks a particularly hard time of it at the moment, it was looking like they’d need to be even heavier than previously imagined to pass with steel. With aluminium we’ve been able to get the longer fork, add a tapered steerer, pass ISO and still drop weight vs. the original steel fork. But an aluminium fork rides harsh, right? Yes, but with the voluminous 2.8” Trailblazer upfront and the associated lower air pressures, there’s plenty of pneumatic cush to take the sting out of the trail. That’s the simple logic behind our choice for going with an aluminium fork – an ISO passable steel fork at these lengths would’ve been too heavy and detrimental to the way the bike rode – loosing that natural steel spring with stiff and heavy fork blades. As ever, it’s adnorned with triple bosses on each leg and raised front rack eyelets which are designed to clear the 27.5+ tyres.

Steel purists may bulk at the sight of the beefy bladed Aluminium fork adnorning the front of the 2016 Longitude but, as ever, it’s a carefully considered decsion with sound thinking behind it. 

Boost me

Where Boost did make sense was upfront – the wider 110x15mm spacing not only provides the necessary crown clearance for the 27.5+ setup should you want to go down the suspension fork route (the idea being 100% upgrade-friendly, without needing to buy a new front hub/wheel if adding a suspension fork at a later date), it also makes for a stiffer, stronger, wheel, improving tracking, handing and longevity, especially with the larger forces that come with the contact patch of the 27.5+ tyres.

Boost 110×15 front thru-axle for painless suspension fork future upgrade potential

Free Parable Design Gorilla Cages
We’re bundling the Longitude this year with x2pcs of the excellent Free Parable Design Gorilla Cage. They attached to each fork leg via a traditional triple bottle boss and clever plastic cleats. Easy on, easyoff, they’ll carry up to 1.5kg on each leg of whatever you can fit into their highly adjustable cradle. We have it on good authority that a bottle of wine is a great fit! Don’t just take our word for it, check out the in-depth review here from bearbonesbikepacking.co.uk.

Our thanks on these go to Miles @cyclemiles.co.uk who was kind enough to not only hook us up some samples to try (he’s the UK distro for these great products), put us in contact with Free Parable and even helped us negotiate on price. Top man!

Highly adaptable, the Free Parable Design cages will fit 1.5/2L PET bottles, bottle of wine/whiskey, a dry bag full of kit, roll mat, or whatever you can fit in it’s highly adjustable velcro webbing.

Geometry

In moving from a 29″/29+ lto a 29″/27.5+ layout we’ve been able to reign-in the chainstays somewhat (they now no longer need to accomaodate such a larger diamter tyre/wheel combo). As such the rear chainstays shrink from 458mm to 450mm. Still not super short by any stretch but a little nippier and more responsive than last years’ version, yet still plenty long enough to make it a stable, comfortable ride that climbs like a mountain goat. Stack heights are similar to last year – what we’ve lost in the headtube, we’ve gained in fork length as are reach measurements. Headangle is steepened by a degree to 69deg. No dropped toptube on here – what we give away in standover clearance we gain in front triangle space (with a view of mounting a frame bag and maximising space).

Other Features

New Shimano side-schwing frotn deraileur essentially moves allo of the bulk of the shift mechanism from the back (where it often compromised tyre clearance depending on chainstay length) to the side and right out of the way. Another bonus is the 50% reduction in shift force required. 

We’ve lost the seattube bottle boss, dropped the downtube bottle bosses (which now also acts as front derailleur and rear brake routing points) and also added a stealth dropper post port (the complete bike comes with a 31.6-27.2mm shim and 27.2mm seatpost for increased conmfort). We’ve also kept a traditional seattube cable stop also for those wanting to shift via a top-swing FD. 

It still has x2 bottle bosses – we’ve added some to the underside of the downtube

The good lady and the new bike


The good lady had her birthday yesterday and it coincided that it was the first day since Saturday that has seen sun.

Saturday she picked up her new bike on cyclescheme – a genesis Tour de Fer touring bike – which has been delayed due to some issues with the fork.

Screenshot 2015-03-11 14.29.39

Was a peachy day – but don’t think I have ever cycled so slowly – she better speed up or she will be touring alone (or still cycling whilst i set up tent, cook dinner, watch a movie and have a wee nap)

But lovely to take in the views and enjoy the sun with a real feel of spring in the air.

M B day-2

The Genesis Tour de Fer is a thing of beauty

M B day-4 M B day-5

My mercian was being shunned by the camera on the Tour’s first run out – but that Reynolds 631 is a beauty too ……

M B day-3

Ride in the kilpatrick hills


So the kilpatrick hills are just outside glasgow and I have never been there to walk or ride but the Facebook meetup group were going there today although later so I decided to stop there this morning to have an early ride.

IMG_7152
Road was pretty icy but once on the bike it was great and then I started to climb

IMG_7157
And climb right to top of ridge. The genesis caribou has a 1×10 setup but up top it hits 13% ave gradient (makes note to check on gps track) I was having to sit back and pedal as standing or leaning forward meant the tyres were starting to slip. But sitting down meant the front wheel lifted on every pedal stroke …. I confess to 2 brief halts. Then the top ….

IMG_7162
Nice pretty untouched snow – luckily someone had passed yesterday so I had an indication of where to go – it was all new to me. Fat tyres only sunk in 2-4 inches but when I stepped off it was 6-10 deep ….. Ooooft

IMG_7160
Then the path led down

IMG_7163

By the bottom I was grinning ear to ear.

Screenshot 2015-01-30 14.25.38

What a great first (snow) ride


Saturday morning 7:30am alarm goes. Wolf down some muesli and get the bike out.

bike adventures-13

It says -3C on the thermometer and snow is forecast so today i have packed my snowboard goggles and mitts along with roadie neoprene overshoes into my handlebar roll – JUST IN CASE.

rolling to the meet up
rolling to the meet up

There is carnage on the 2 mile stretch of road leading up to Mugdock as idiots in cars forget they are 2WD (4WD wannabes) cars with low profile tyres – so they have slidden and created some entertainment for me (and probably higher insurance premiums)

kissing cousins
kissing cousins

Meetup with pal Stu then off to meet the rest of the guys. This was my first rolling on snow with the fat bike and it felt so smooth and tracked so easily once there was powder. The other boys were on a 29er normal a 26 full sus and then two 29+ bikes running 3″ tyres. First we went up to the boards and my pal said the 15psi I was riding was way too high so I dropped it to 8psi then immediately slammed it into a board and gave myself a puncture. I told them to head on but they waited the 5 min for me to change the tube. Then onwards we went. The route they went involved lots of single track sections through the woods so I felt i was not getting the terrain I wanted.

A lot of trees were down so handsaws came out sections were rerouted or trees dragged out of the way ….

tree blocking the way
tree blocking the way
fat tyre little snow
fat tyre little snow

2015-01-17 11.23.16So after 3 hours of lots of stops and starts i headed off by myself to enjoy the crunch. Went upwards towards the Campsies and the West Highland Way were there is a great descent but it was not snowy more sludge and mud so I headed straight across the heather up to a stone fence for a spot of cold leftover pasta. Then a few more loops before heading home ….

Snow wasn’t too deep but still that lovely crunch.

bike adventures-21

My thoughts on the Genesis Caribou so far: (2 rides in)

  • Gearing seems about right, struggled slightly on some hills but i think I just need to man up.
  • Tyres although wide have little grip so wet roots will still slide. Think it was specced more for weight
  • Bottom bracket quite low so a few pedal strikes – but this may be a contrast to the 29er
  • Despite strikes actually pretty flickable on technical sections – I thought steering would be slower but has a good feel.
  • Tubes … uuugh … how last century – will need to convert to tubeless sometime in the future but this might also mean changing the tyres
  • Slow …. the sections to trailhead even on tar are painful (man up once again and get over it)

Overall – a keeper ….. more once tested for more than 80km.

Strava slowness
Strava slowness

Bikepacking – the first pack


8am this morning and the door bell rings with the post doing his special delivery. This one is quite special. My order from alpkit has arrived.

2015-01-16 12.38.43

Possum frame bag and also the sat bag …. which I then added my old busted fender to zipped onto some convenient straps on the bottom (the aim of this is in the rain and mud to stop the bag being sprayed continuously)

2015-01-16 13.28.04

So far impressed by the construction of the bags … out for a ride tomorrow but think it will only be with the frame bag in place …….. The forecast is for a bit of a snow dump tonight and tomorrow ending at 8am so looking forward to it and trying out the fat bike in ‘designed for’ locations