Google has released a new video showing how its self-driving car is being taught to cope with common road situations such as encounters with cyclists. We’d far rather share the road with a machine that’s this courteous and patient than a lot of human drivers
We’ve all been there. You need to turn across the traffic, but you’re not quite sure where, so you’re a bit hesitant, perhaps signalling too early and then changing your mind before finally finding the right spot.
Do this in a car and other drivers just tut a little. Do it on a bike and some bozo will be on the horn instantly and shouting at you when he gets past because you’ve delayed him by three-tenths of a nanosecond.
But not if the car’s being controlled by Google’s self-driving system. As you can see in this video, the computer that steers Google’s car can recognise a cyclist and knows to hold back when it sees a hand signal, and even to wait if the rider behaves hesitantly.
Later in the video we see the car waiting to turn right at a junction, the equivalent of a UK left turn. Not only does it wait for cyclists ahead of it to clear the junction, but it detects cyclists behind it and lets them through before making the turn.
Touring bike build – perhaps it is the most ridiculous way to start this but I am planning to build up a touring bike for this summer – both to do light touring and potentially some harder and longer rides.
So today I bought …. Panniers … What the f*ck …. Why start there? Well only because I saw these on a website reduced to £44 for the set – good value well made ortlieb comparable Canadian made panniers. A 40 litre set …. Now I just need the frame, wheels, groupset, rack, stem, handlebar, seatpost and mudguards to go with them.
This could be a long process – going for yellow to keep me visible …. And this build is not titanium just to change my normal preference for riding material.
The product design firm that brought the world the Sony Walkman has unveiled a conceptual design of a drone that it says could help improve the safety of lone bike riders.
Drones have attracted a lot of attention due to their use by the military as well as strong rumours, neither confirmed nor denied by the Metropolitan Police, that they were deployed above London during the Olympic Games in 2012.
They were back in the headlines last month as a result of the news that Amazon.com is considering using them for deliveries.
That’s despite the fact that the unmanned aircraft have not yet having been approved for civilian use in the United States, although Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it may be five years before they come into use.
But in a post on its Design Mind blog, the consultancy Frog highlights several potential civilian uses, included mock-ups of how they could look in action.
“This is our vision of a future where drones are not spies, weaponry or scary agents of evil; they can be trusted aids that assist humans tasked with doing some of the most dangerous work we know,” says Frog product development director, Cormac Eubanks.
And besides rescuing people trapped by forest fires or preventing avalanches, one example of that “dangerous work” appears to be riding a bicycle alone on the road.
“The Cyclodrone is a flying beacon that can be configured to fly ahead of and behind a bicycle rider on roads to improve visibility and reduce the chances of being struck by a vehicle,” writes Eubanks.
“The drone is paired to the rider’s mobile phone and flies along a predetermined path programmed before the ride.
“Sensors in the drone maintain a safe distance from the rider using a combination of an Infrared sensors and a WiFi connection strength.
“The large beacon on top creates a highly visible warning to cars for safer solo outings on narrow one-lane roads and a camera records dynamic video of each ride.”
One potential drawback, of course, is that the driver may be so mesmerised by the site of the drone, particularly if they haven’t seen one before, that they fail to notice the cyclist it is designed to protect.
And while the device might be suitable in open countryside with very little traffic, how would it cope in more built-up areas with heavy congestion including high-sided vehicles, with the cyclist often moving faster than motorised traffic?
Then there’s the issue of whether civilians can actually use a drone in the first place. As with many fields of technological development, the law is slow to adapt, and as the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) points out, rules surrounding use of unmanned aircraft were drawn up primarily with model aircraft in mind.
Highlighting that “there are no established operating guidelines so operators may not be aware of the potential dangers or indeed the responsibility they have towards not endangering the public,” the CAA says:
Operators of Small Unmanned Aircraft are required…to obtain permission from the CAA before commencing a flight in certain circumstances; these circumstances cover flights for aerial work purposes and flights within a congested area, or in proximity to people or property, by Small Unmanned Aircraft equipped for any form of surveillance or data acquisition.
On the plus side, the built-in camera could be a nifty feature – imagine being able to not just fancy yourself on a solo Tour de France break while you’re out riding on your own, but being able to watch aerial shots of your bid for glory afterwards?
And just imagine some of the near-miss videos that could pop up on YouTube from riders having a drone follow them on their commute.
There’s no word on whether the drones might ever see the light of day, let alone how much they might cost, and the Design Mind piece may be nothing more than a piece of blue sky thinking, for want of a better phrase – although certainly you could imagine them being used in the emergency situations highlighted.
Their use by cyclists is therefore fanciful, perhaps – but so too, 40 years ago before the Sony Walkman came along, was the idea that you’d be able to listen to your own choice of music through headphones while on the move.
These are not my words but even though I ride my road bike and do group rides my biggest joy is solo on a mtb
First off, a disclaimer: I’m a mountain biker. Always have been, always will. And as the founder of Sacred Rides, I’ve made it my career. So I’m more than a bit biased.
Secondly, I don’t have anything against road riding. I’ve tried it many times. I tried to love it. I tried to like it. But ultimately it’s just not for me. I know that millions of people love road riding (and that it’s more popular than mountain biking), but… I also think millions of road riders haven’t tried mountain biking yet. 🙂
So without further ado, here are my 10 Reasons Why Mountain Biking is Better than Road Biking:
The obvious one: No Cars. Nothing harshes your mellow more than 4,000 pounds of noisy steel whizzing by you at 70 miles an hour, 18 inches away.
Mountain Biking is Better for your Health: see above. Not sharing your ride with CO2-emitting vehicles is a lot better for your lungs, particularly when you’re surrounded by…
…Trees: There’s nothing quite like the feeling of flying down a trail through the woods with trees whooshing by (and hitting a tree hurts a lot less than getting hit by a car).
Quiet and Solitude: Mountain bike trails often take you to remote, peaceful places, where you can commune with nature, meditate, and enjoy the great outdoors. You rarely get such opportunities on a road bike, unless you happen to live in an area with rarely-used paved roads (which are pretty rare these days).
Fewer Type ‘A’s: Mountain biking seems to attract more laid-back people. Whenever I’ve gone out for a road ride, everyone quickly gets really competitive. When I go out mountain biking with my buddies, it’s all about enjoying good times and good laughs with good friends.
Lots of Riding Styles to Choose From: Cross-Country. All-Mountain. Freeride. Enduro. DH. Lift-assisted. No matter who you are, there’s a type of mountain biking to suit your personality. Road riding? Umm… let’s see… Riding on the road.
Wipeouts on dirt hurt a lot less than wipeouts on pavement. (Cedric Gracia notwithstanding – we’re talking about the average MTB wipeout, not the kind of wipeout you get when you backflip off a 40-foot cliff.)
Mountain Biking Gives you a Better Workout: Riding on the road improves your cardiovascular fitness for spinning at high cadence for a long time. Mountain biking requires much more dynamic fitness – from quick bursts to sustained cardio output – and incorporates many more muscle groups.
Mountain Bikers are More Fun. See #5.
Bib Shorts. Enough said.
I’m sure the roadies will get plenty upset at this post. The comments below are your opportunity to do so (and an opportunity for MTBers to back me up!)
Stan’s NoTubes Alpha 340 Team 3.30R wheels are light, fast and strong, and allow easy tubeless setup if you want to ditch your inner tubes.
Tubeless technology is prevalent in the automotive industry and over the last ten years has become commonplace on mountain bikes. So far there has been very little adoption among road cyclists, but with increasingly more choice of wheels and tyres from the big manufacturers, that’s slowly starting to change and road tubeless is seeping into the public consciousness.
Stan’s NoTubes is a name familiar to any mountain biker. The US company has made tubeless technology its USP, with special rim strips, valves and tubeless sealant able to convert most wheels into a no-tubes setup. The company has also developed its own rim, with a special internal rim shape, that it sells in a range of mountain, cyclo-cross and road wheels.
These Alpha 340 Team 3.30R wheels, with their 1,445g weight and £580 price, are very competitive. For comparison purposes, they are about the same weight as Shimano’s Dura-Ace 9000 C24 tubeless-ready wheels and lighter than Fulcrum’s Racing 1 2-Way Fit wheels, but cheaper than both.
The wheels use Stan’s unique rim profile, which incorporates its Bead Socket Technology. This is essentially a sidewall that is 2-4mm lower than a regular rim, and which secures the tyre bead firmly into place. Once it’s locked in there it’s not budging. I’ve had no problems at all inflating tubeless tyres with a hand or track pump onto these rims, and once the tyres are up they stay inflated.
The rim is 22.6mm deep with a 20mm external width and 17mm internal. They’re laced to DT Supercomp Black spokes (24 radial front, 28 2-cross rear) to a pair of 3.30R hubs, with DT Silver Alloy nipples. They’re diddy little hubs and nestled away inside are stainless steel cartridge bearings, which have dealt well with heavy and sustained rain and taken a pasting riding over mud and shit covered roads the past couple of months. The machined braking surface has offered decent braking and shows no sign of wear. The freehub is 11-speed compatible.
Going tubeless couldn’t be easier
The rims are pre-fitted with 2-layers of Stan’s yellow rim tape and a 44mm tubeless valve. Fit a pair of tyres and some sealant and away you go. It really is that easy. The wheels can be run with inner tubes if you prefer, that simply requires removing the valves.
One of the best selling points of tubeless is reduced punctures. Removing the inner tube obviously eliminates the risk of pinch flats – when the inner tube is sandwiched between the tyre and rim. You have to hit a pothole pretty hard to do that, but it’s not impossible.
The most frequent punctures are those caused by glass, sharp stones, flint and thorns puncturing the tyre and popping the tube. They’re more frequent at this time of year, with generally more crap on the roads, but also rain acts as an annoyingly good lubricant for sharp objects to slice into tyres.
Remove the inner tube then, and replace with a liquid latex solution that solidifies upon contact with oxygen, and you have the recipe for less time spent repairing flats. Who doesn’t find that appealing?
I tested the wheels with a pair of Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tyres (you can read the review here http://road.cc/content/review/95313-schwalbe-ultremo-zx-tubeless-tyres). Installation couldn’t have been easier, with the required solution poured into the tyre, they inflated first time and have remained trouble-free for the couple of months I’ve been riding the wheels and tyres so far. The tyres are secure on the rims, with no hint of the tyre bead trying to shift in the rim.
Ride: Quick and strong
The wheels offer a sprightly ride, as you would expect from their low overall weight. They zip up to speed quickly, with a good response during out of the saddle sprints. They’re reasonably stiff: push the wheels hard in a flat-out sprint or through a high-speed corner, and there’s no detectable lateral flex.
They’re also comfortable, the alloy rim and double butted spokes a good advert for classic box-section clincher wheels such as these. There’s enough spring in them that rough roads are handled with good composure, making them an ideal year-round well, but especially good as we head into winter.
They’re strong wheels, with impressive durability. I’ve been hammering them purposely through holes and cracks in the broken Tarmac on my local roads, and they simply shrugged it all off. I’ve not even needed to take a spoke key to the nipples yet. The bearings are still lovely and smooth after a couple of months.
They can take the punishment. That makes them ideal wheels for anyone who hammers their bike over rough roads, whether in sportives or racing. Their weight and stiffness makes them ideal on a lightweight racing bike, though they might not have the outright stiffness of carbon wheels for crit races, but longer road races should see them shining. For long distance touring or sportives they’re well suited, with the added peace of mind that the tubeless setup provides. And they’re light enough to put carbon wheels three times their price to shame when it comes to climbing.
I’ve been really impressed with these wheels. The simple tubeless setup, their weight and decent price and staggering good strength and durability. They come with a rider weight limit of 230lb (16 stone/105kg) though.
The Stan’s rims have provided an easy route into road tubeless, with none of the complications often cited by tubeless detractors. The rim profile makes setting up tubeless tyres a doddle, and the fact they come ready to go is a nice touch.
The State Bicycle Co. – Undefeated is a 7005 Aluminum Track Bike with Full Carbon Fiber Fork and intergrated FSA Headset. This race ready machine feature SRAM Omnium Cranks standard. We’ve partnered with Ritchey Components on the cockpit and seat post.
Mulholland Highway motorbike and cyclist collision (source Rnickeymouse, YouTube)
A video posted to YouTube has captured the moment a motorbike ploughed into the back of a cyclist in California, sending him crashing to the ground head-first, before going on to knock his riding companion off his bike, too. Amazingly, the first cyclist – reported to be British – is said to have emerged from the incident with no broken bones. It has been reported overnight that it was a doctor, taking part on a group ride including George Hincapie, who adminsitered first aid, and there are suggestions that the motorcyclist may have been looking for a photographer rather than focusing on the road
The video, shot on the Mulholland Highway near Los Angeles and with more than 600,000 views on YouTube, was uploaded by the site’s user Rnickeymouse, clearly a regular visitor to the road and himself a motorcyclist, who insisted: “The rider was not speeding & riding fine until he hit his foot and stood the bike up causing the bike to go wide. He then target fixated on the cyclist.
“It is a very common type of crash on this turn,” he added. “Just usually no one is there and the rider falls alone. It is very unfortunate, and a rare case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We wish the cyclists a speedy recovery.”
According to a comment made to the video on YouTube, the first rider who was struck – wearing a black, white and red Brioches La Boulengère jersey dating from around a decade ago – is from the UK and somehow escaped without serious injury.
“This was my friend visiting from England who was struck first,” said the commenter, who went on: “(I was further back on the hill when the accident happened and am one of the guys who comes in the picture to his assistance). He’s doing ok today, was discharged from the hospital yesterday with no broken bones. Miraculously…”
In one of the other comments to the video, another motorcyclist argues with Rnickeymouse’s interpretation, saying: “This is 100% the motorcyclists fault. If he is “afraid to lean more” then he is going to fast for the road conditions, end of story.
“It isn’t a race track,” the commenter adds. “You don’t need to drag knee on public roads. He lost control, most likely target fixated and plowed into the cyclist who was 100% within his rights to share the road.”
It says that the incident took place on a 270-degree hairpin bend called Deadman’s Turn, on a section of the Mulholland Highway known to motorcyclists as the Snake and to cyclists as the Rock Store Climb, and it’s a popular spot for people to shoot photos and video.
The blog flagged up a second video – since taken down from YouTube by whoever posted it, possibly for legal reasons – and which showed point-of-view footage from a motorcyclist following the one involved in the collision.
Biking In LA says that according to Byron of the Bike Hugger blog, that footage suggests either that the motorcyclist who struck the cyclist had been looking round for the camera, or that his vision had been impaired by a camera flashgun.
It adds that one of the cyclists involved in the incident is believed to have been among 20 to 25 riders taking part in an informal group ride which included George Hincapie, who is said to have been further up the climb and unaware of what had happened.
The other cyclist – the one hit first and more seriously hurt, and reported to be from the UK – was not on that ride, but “happened to fall in with the other riders at the wrong place and time,” says Biking In LA.
Luckily for him, one member of that group ride was the chief medical officer for the Amgen Tour of Caliornia, riding behind and picked up by the Highway Patrol car that was heading to the scene, and who was able to administer first aid.
As yet there is no news of any charges being brought against the motorcyclist involved, but the incident, and the video of it, has reportedly been investigated.
Headed out this morning with the meetup road cycling crew and headed up to campsies and up the Crow Road. Nice banter – Paul joined us for the first time in 5 months – confessed to smoking 30 a day again and immediately was off the tail. On the 3rd stop he caught up and said ‘on ya go’ so we did.
Other Paul stormed up the Crow – I was 300m behind and tried to catch him on climb and by the end didnt even see him until the car park at the top ….
So nice to get out on the bike – was using my new rapha gear today – so well made and put together – I think I could become a fan.
I havent seen it yet but will catch up once back in the UK – but it is stirring up some bile already
The MP who chairs the all-party cycling group writes to new BBC head to express his concerns over The War on Britain’s Roads
Tony Hall, the new BBC director general, has his first controversy on his hands, albeit a small one, a full three months before he officially arrives. Two surprises: firstly it’s not a row confected by the Daily Mail or Sun; second, it’s about cycling.
I wrote at length about the many flaws of a documentary scheduled to go out at peak time on BBC1 this Wednesday, breathlessly-titled The War on Britain’s Roads. I realise I’m viewing it through the prism of being a keen cyclist, but even so it’s genuinely one of the more silly, badly-made BBC programmes I’ve seen in a long time.
The independent production house who made the programme sent me a CD of it, but when it emerged I had significant worries about it they suddenly decided they weren’t able to also send copies to cycling groups, even the CTC, who advised them on some things (advice which was clearly ignored). My singe disc was thus passed round like a Beatles album in late-60s East Germany: at one stage four people squeezed into a tiny room at the Guardian to watch it on the same computer.
The War on Britain’s Roads claims to show” the battle that is raging between two-wheeled road users and their four-wheeled counterparts” but presents a commercially-produced film of reckless stunt cycling in London as ordinary footage as if it is normal behaviour by everyday cyclists.
It includes assaults on cyclists and arguments between them and car drivers. Cycling organisations who helped the programme makers say their advice has been ignored but the BBC has refused to let them see the programme in advance.
Ian Austin MP – who has seen the film – said it was “stupid, sensationalist, simplistic, irresponsible nonsense”.
He said it “was about as representative of ordinary cycling in Britain as a James Bond car chase is of ordinary driving”.
And he has written to Tony Hall demanding other BBC programmes “present the reality of cycling and driving in Britain in a much more sensible, considered and accurate way”.
The press release quotes him further thus:
I am not in favour of banning programmes, but I don’t see why garbage like this should be produced in the first place and if the BBC insists on showing it, they have a duty to ensure that it is placed in context and the real issues around cycling and driving in Britain are discussed properly on its other programmes.
I cycle in London every day I’m there and have cycled all over Britain and whilst I do see drivers and cyclists do things they shouldn’t, I have never seen some of the things they present as everyday occurrences.
Nine out of ten cyclists also drive cars, so it is not just dangerous and irresponsible to promote a culture of confrontation on the roads which will make cycling and driving both more dangerous, but also stupid and inaccurate.
All road users should obey the rules of the road and treat each other with consideration and respect. That’s the message we should be giving.
I think that sums it up pretty well. I’d expand on only a couple of things.
For me that’s where the programme crosses the line from unbalanced to actively dishonest. A senior BBC press man badgered me at length on Friday evening over how I described the film in my story. “It really happened,” he insisted. “It’s not fake footage.” In which case, I asked, why not tell viewers where the sequence came from? No response.
Secondly, since I wrote the news story two of the cyclists who contributed helmet camera videos to the documentary and are interviewed as part of it have raised concerns about the tone. One has blogged about it here. That’s not much of a vote of confidence.
I’d argue everyone at Leopard Films and the BBC connected to this film should have a good think about what they’ve done. For a start, they’ve made an unbalanced and hysterical documentary.
But more than that, anyone who actively contributes to a mood of division, mistrust and hostility on the roads is being pretty irresponsible. Let’s just hope that none of the several million people who watch it on Wednesday evening drive to work the next day thinking, even unconsciously, “Cyclists are a pretty reckless, aggressive bunch. Why should I watch out for them?”
Above is the link I did to a ride with the meetup crew this Sunday past …. We caught a ferry to Gourock and crossed over on the ferry to the Cowal peninsula. There were 10 of us saying yay to the ride although the statement that it was going to be a hard and hilly 100km ride meant some meetup members opted instead for the easy ride along the Clyde that someone else organised. It was my first ride in this part of the world and it was great to catch a ferry over – it really makes it a special type of ride one with a more travel aspect to it.
The ride started fine – just a grumble or two about missing coffees then we hit the first hill. Was shocked to see the gradient on the garmin shoot up to 20%slope – I was grinding my lowest gear and really just holding on. Luckily the slope was not over long and it eased back to 12% before long. The road carried on its undulating way and then we hit Bealach an Drain – a climb which the organiser which said was vomit inducing … And it was. Some others had edged forward already but I decided to train on the climb and gradually picked them off one by one. Only 3.5 kilometres but had edged ahead by the end of the climb and looking on strava I see I made the top 10 – well at least amongst the very few that upload their files.
Inspired by the Olympics we posed for our Bolt moment – and then trundled on.
After about 40km we stopped at a nice spot for lunch – normally I eat a bar on the move and just press on …. Tis luxury meant I opted for a nice sit down soup Cullen Skink – a traditional dish in these parts.
Then we pressed on – I added a section on strava – the fox and the hounds as it starts on a super descent 75kmh and then levels off to a good chase. Two of the chaps had pressed ahead working well together taking turns to push the pace – but iggy caught up with me and we worked really hard together to fetch them back although it took about 4km to reel in the 200m lead they had.
Finished the ride in a bunch ambled into the village at the ferry and demolished the drink and sweets counter of the local shop. Then a ferry and a train home …. That seat felt so comfy – I might have nodded off ……
Out to the father in laws for a summer BBQ today so I chose to cycle. Was trying to do a route out west then up to Loch Lomond then around over the back of Helensburgh to his house … got lost somewhere in Dunbarton and then just headed on west with all the cars.
Glasgow to Inverness Passing through two National Parks – Loch Lomond & The Trossachs and Cairngorms, the Lochs & Glens (North) cycle route takes the cyclist through some of the most stunning scenery on the National Cycle Network. The route leaves Glasgow by following the River Clyde to Dumbarton and then heads to Inverness via Abefoyle, Callander, Killin, Pitlochry, Kingussie, Aviemore and Carrbridge. Highlights include the Glen Ogle viaduct on the railway path between Lochearnhead and Killin.
Every time I ride the Lynskey Cooper like today on a mixture of canal path gravel or potholed tar I am amazed how smooth it is ….
My time was quite quick as managed to beat the wife in the car who went to pick up my daughter then got stuck in traffic on the way out …..
So you’re about to mosey on over to your local bike shop and drop more coin for your first genuine racing bike than most people pay for an entire motorcycle. You’re either new to the sport of cycling or you’ve been riding for a few years, learning the ropes on an old aluminum frame that’s one season away from the dumpster.
You’ve been watching all the Spring classics, the Giro, the Vuelta, and the Tour taking notes on who’s riding what. You’ve drooled over your own teammates’ high-dollar race rig that has more carbon fiber on it than the International Space Station.
You’ve done all your research, have test-ridden all of the latest, high dollar, carbon fiber machines, and you’ve picked your winner. The checkbook is in hand cocked and ready to besmirch every last dollar in your savings account, and all that’s left to do is negotiate with the shop so you at least have a little bit of cash left to buy some inner tubes.
But before your visions of grandeur run rampant and your checkbook becomes more hollow than Landis’ Maillot Jaune, are you sure carbon is the right frame material for your needs?
Don’t take it wrong, carbon indeed has its merits, but the recent carbon craze seems to be heavily tied to bandwagon mentality; whatever the pros are doing is what the masses want to do too. It was true in the ‘70s with drilled-out components, in the ‘80s with copious amounts of hair gel and Briko shades, in the ‘90s with those horrific lycra shorts designed to look like blue jeans, and today with carbon racing bikes.
And why shouldn’t carbon be popular? A frame and fork weighs less than a six-pack of brew, they’ve got terrific road damping capabilities, are stiffer than an I-beam – at least initially – and most importantly, carbon fiber has an indisputable cool factor. As a testament to the popularity of carbon, custom bike builders who made their name in steel are now crossing over to carbon. Names like Steelman, Serotta and Independent Fabrications all offer bank account-busting custom carbon frames.
To many bike racers, the mere suggestion of racing on a steel frame, let alone training on one, would be considered a joke. For some unwarranted reason, steel has gained a reputation in certain circles as being slow, heavy and technologically retarded – similar to the now unfounded reputation diesel-powered cars earned in the United States.
But the reality is that steel has never been stronger, lighter and more durable than it is today. And more than that, no other material can offer the versatility to custom build a bike which fits its rider perfectly.
Mass-produced Taiwanese carbon frames, which often cost more than a custom-built steel frame, cannot even come close to providing the right fit, feel and ride quality that steel can provide, let alone its durability, which will last its owner a lifetime if cared for properly.
So before you write that check, consider these reasons why steel is indeed real:
Custom Fit – Today’s production carbon bikes, in addition to being astronomically expensive, are not custom fit for you, the rider. And although one of the big advantages of carbon is its exceptional shock absorption and ride, every frame is designed for the heaviest common denominator, in other words, about 220 pounds. So what you have is a 150 pound rider on a bike designed for a 220 pound pilot. How do you think the ride is? Stiff. Rigor mortis stiff. So stiff that it can lead to unpredictable handling characteristics, which inevitably results in an intermediate rider crashing his brains out.
Alternatively, a custom-made steel bike is designed and built exactly to the rider’s height, weight, inseam and torso specifications, which will not only deliver a far better fit, but significantly better handling, compliance and ride quality.
Timeless Style – Yes, carbon fiber looks cool, but its look has not stood the test of time like a custom-built steel frame. Hand-carved stainless steel lugs, fillet brazed tubing, and subtle accents provide far more personalization than a mass-produced carbon frame can ever wish to offer. It’s like comparing a nice suit you buy at Brooks Brothers to a suit that was made with raw fabric, by hand, in painstaking detail and care, by a master tailor.
A custom built steel frame from names like Baylis, Eisentraut and White also reflect the owner’s appreciation for keeping alive the tradition of handcrafted bicycle artisanship, which goes back over a century. A typical carbon frame can be manufactured in a matter of a couple hours or less, anonymously cranked out on an assembly line with a thousand other frames just like it. Brian Baylis claims that every single one of his frames has a minimum of 100 hours of his own masterful labor invested, and no two frames in his nearly 40 years of building are alike. With steel, you’re not just buying a bike, you’re buying a timelessly stylish piece of art.
Minimal Weight Difference – Perhaps the biggest complaint about steel is how much heavier it is than carbon. But like this author’s penchant for hyperbole, the difference is greatly exaggerated. The advancement of technology has been a driving force behind carbon’s arrival into the mainstream of the bike industry. Carbon frames are pushing the limits of shedding weight, with some frames dipping below the two-pound mark. But technology has also benefited steel, primarily in the form of thinner-wall tubing that provides not only more tensile strength, but also lighter weight.
The lightest steel frame you’ll probably find comes in at three pounds, but spec the bike the same, and you’re only talking a one pound difference over a carbon frame. Is that one pound weight penalty really a deal breaker? Are you that much of a weight weenie? Is weight really that much more important than ride quality? Ask a 180 pound rider who’s piloted a 15 pound bike down a windy mountain pass at 50 miles an hour if he’d be willing to sacrifice a little weight for a more predictable ride.
Durability – Frame builders have been working with steel for over a century for many reasons, but one of the most popular reasons is because of the material’s durability. Evidenced by bikes built 50 to 100 years ago still roaming the streets today, steel has proven its worth as a “lifetime” material. Carbon? Not so much. Have you ever ridden an old, monocoque carbon frame with tens of thousands of miles on it? Wet noodle is the first descriptor which comes to mind.
I distinctly remember the joyous look on my buddy’s face when he got his brand new Team CSC Cervelo Soloist frame, it was the happiest day of his life as a budding Cat 2 racer. But that look of joy was nothing compared to the look of utter dejection he had upon returning from a crit in which he crashed and cracked the brand new frame clear through the seat tube. $2,500 down the drain purely because the tube landed on someone else’s handlebars at a bad angle. A steel frame would have scoffed at the mere thought.
And if you’re the type of person who has more muscle than common sense, absolutely steer clear of carbon. Steel frames can handle the over-tightening of bolts with no qualms, but over-tighten the front derailleur clamp on a carbon frame, and the resulting crack you hear will make you want to stick your head in a vice and over-tighten.
Also, be extra careful when loading that carbon bike in the back of your car. One misplaced blunt-shaped object will render your brand new $5,000 carbon racing machine more lame than a racehorse with tendonitis.
Value – Given the same amount of money spent, would you rather have a custom frame, designed to your exact size and weight specifications, that was built with the loving care and meticulous detail of a metal artisan, or a mass-produced frame banged out on a Taiwanese assembly line designed with the most common denominator in mind?
With proper care, a steel frame will most likely outlive you, while a carbon frame will hardly outlive the credit card debt you’ll be mired in regardless of what frame material you end up buying.
Of all these aforementioned reasons, what I think the carbon versus steel argument really boils down to is durability. You’re shelling out a significant chunk of change for a bike. This is a bike you will be riding every single day (optimistically) and racing a few weekends per month (even more optimistically). If you have a finite amount of money like most normal people in this world, you want a bike that can deliver durability and reliability to last as long as possible, so at a minimum, when you’re done with it, you can sell it to someone else with a clean conscience knowing it will provide the next owner years of enjoyment.
Owning a carbon bike makes sense in some situations, like if you get insane “bro deals” from sponsorships or you’re on the payroll of a UCI-sanctioned race team, and are fed free bikes on a monthly basis. In these situations, durability isn’t as much of an issue, because you’re either selling it after one season or you’re constantly riding a brand new frame free of charge.
But if your goal is to buy a bike which will last at least 5 to 10 years, you owe it to yourself to check out some of your local custom steel bike builders. Or head to events like the annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show or San Diego Custom Bicycle Show, which will really open your eyes to the beauty and legitimacy of steel as a bona-fide racing material.
But whatever your decision, have fun, be safe and keep the hammer down!
In other disciplines such as cyclocross, having the absolute lightest bike is arguably more important than even with a road bike, because you have to constantly lift it and lug it on your shoulder. So carbon naturally has an initial advantage over steel. However, carbon frames have very tight clearances, and when the course resembles a mud wrestling pit, that featherweight carbon bike will turn into a mud-clogged anchor, making a steel bike with greater clearances pounds lighter. That is, unless of course, you’re fast enough to warrant having a backup bike with someone at the ready to exchange with you (I’m assuming this isn’t the case).