Why Steel Frame Bicycles In A Time Where It Seems Like Everything Is Made Of Carbon Fiber?
For many years now the cycling industry has focused on producing carbon fiber bikes. Especially when it comes to performance-oriented road bikes, does that mean that other materials like steel frames are dead? Think again!
It is true that carbon fiber bicycles are now the main players in the consumer field of mind and are very much exclusively used by the pro peloton. However, there are other bike-frame materials out there that are waiting to be discovered or re-discovered by most consumers. Steel is one of such materials and is not only here to stay but some of the most beautiful and performance-oriented bikes we have seen lately are made of steel.
Steel is a frame material that has been around for ages now, in fact, the first bikes were made of the material and with the inception of lightweight tubing it quickly became the material of choice for professional cycling much like carbon is today. It was the quest for a lighter material that preserved the comfort properties of steel that led to the development of carbon fiber frames. The industry jumped from steel to a lighter-weight aluminum alloy to carbon fiber. The leap forward took very little time, because of the surprising weight savings of carbon fiber as a material. However, even today with a much-refined carbon fiber production, improvement in resin, and other material additions to carbon fiber bikes, manufacturers are still trying to mimic that comfort of a steel frame bike. Even some professional cyclists today have complained that their bikes are just too stiff, making them uncomfortable on long events, and consumers find some bikes unaccommodating to their flexibility needs and uncomfortable after a few miles. This is why we see all these developments in the carbon industry to dampen, and absorb vibrations and allow for some flexibility in the frame of some bikes to make them more comfortable. However, some of these additions and design alterations usually make the bike heavier, and sluggish, killing the number one attribute that makes carbon bikes so good, their lighter weight. You may have found yourself in a similar situation with some of your past or current bikes and if so we urge you to explore the world of metal.
What Makes A Steel Frame Bicycle So Good?
We will like to first give full disclosure about those of us who ride steel bikes, we are extremely biased, we not only drank that Kool-Aid but we have it in our veins. #Steelisreal
Joking aside, steel frame bikes are so good plain and simple, because of the unique properties of the material. The fact that steel is a much denser material makes it able to absorb vibration much better than most other materials, making it a comfort-prone material for frame building. But a word of caution, not all steel bikes are great, because not all steel tubing is the same. Our focus here on this article is to talk about high-end quality steel frame bikes, made by such steel tubing producers as Columbus tubing from Italy. We mention Columbus because it is one of the very best manufacturers of steel tubes in the world and has a trajectory like no other in the cycling industry. We are sure there are other manufacturers out there and is always a good idea to research where the tubing for a specific bike comes from.
What Makes A Steel Bike Ride So Great? To The Point, You Don’t Want To Step Down After 50, 100 Miles Of Riding?
Several factors influence the answer to this question, ranging from position, fitting, and level of fitness and we could go on enumerating. For the sake of simplicity, we will assume that all of that is the same and we will answer in the following.
Three main factors make a steel bike have the best ride feel of any other bike out there. First is the high-quality steel tubing, which we have mentioned above the importance of this when looking for a steel bike. We will leave it at that since we could write a whole other entry on just tubing. Second, is the skilled craftsmanship of the welder. For the most part, if you are looking for a steel frame you will be getting something made by a skilled artisan and not an industrial bakery type of factory. Human hands will not only cut but shape and fuse every part of your bicycle. For most, this is where the magic happens, this is where your custom geometries, your frame structural details, and last but not least your paint finishes will make your bike unique. Most companies that produce steel frame bikes offer some level of customization whether it is frame geometries, an array of color and paint finishes like those of Cinelli; or a complete work of art on wheels like those of Dario Pegoretti. This is one of the best perks of owning a steel bike and we urge anyone considering one to take advantage of it. The Third factor is the refined minimalistic frame designs that have a long trajectory of performance. With a more traditional look, steel frame bikes offer consistency and performance. However, this doesn’t mean that you are riding an outdated bike, by no means. Steel frame bikes are as filled with technological advances as many carbon counterparts, some of those advances are inherently present in the high-quality tubing, and others come from the frame designer and welder, but they are as innovative and performance-oriented as any other product of the industry today.
What Do I Get From Riding A Steel Bike Vs A Carbon Bike?
The main difference you will feel immediately is comfort, one that we have been talking about at length now, but there is more to it. A great steel bike will feel very planted which is a feeling of security experienced mainly while descending but also while coming in and out of turns. The bike will track better because of the robust feel of the frame, giving the rider a sense of security unparalleled in most carbon bikes.
What Are The Drawbacks? Are They Drawbacks?
They are certainly advantages of having a carbon frame and by no means we are discouraging or badmouthing carbon bikes. We think they represent the very best the industry has to offer, exploiting every technological factor currently in the market. That said the biggest elephant in the room is weight. Are Steel bikes that much heavier? The answer is it depends. If we compare a Carbon frame with a steel frame, we will find that the answer to that question is undoubtedly yes, steel bikes are much heavier. However, completely built bikes will depend on the components that make up that bike. These days we can safely assume that a complete carbon fiber bike will weigh along the lines of 18 lbs. with mid-to-high level components, and only those built with the very top end componentry will break the 15lbs (legal minimum limit). That said, a modestly built high-quality steel bike will be around the same weight of 18-19 lbs. with room to improve if the budget is not a concern. So going back to the performance of steel bikes vs Carbon bikes the difference is very little in terms of climbing power as it will depend on the build of the bike.
The final point we would like to make as it pertains to a drawback of a steel frame bike vs a carbon frame bike will be a slight difference in acceleration. Since the mass of the object is higher for the steel bike, then accelerating the bike will come with a bit more effort and reaction time. Conversely, the momentum or forward motion is a bit more easily maintained because of the same properties.
So Who Will Benefit From Or Love A Steel Bike?
We are certain that every avid cyclist out there should experience and own at least one steel frame bike in their lifetime. It is a feeling hard to describe in words or with data. The fact is that everyone that has ridden a great steel frame bike will come back with this same assessment. However, to provide a more assertive answer, we will recommend a steel bike to those looking for an all-around bike. Cyclists looking for an easy-going bike that can handle long days, though descends, and demanding training rides. Those looking to get something different and lasting, and of course, those looking for something unique and artistic. If you enjoy grand fondos, if you are a bike traveler, distance rider, or if you have the Sunday bug and like to cruise about. If any of those things align with you, then you are a great candidate for a steel frame bike.
If you are looking for the most aerodynamic, fully integrated, lightest, fastest, aero machine, then this is not you yet.
We hope that you have enjoyed this long examination of why are steel bikes so special, our goal is to help you have more information and clear some of the doubts you may have. Of course, we offer an array of steel bikes if you are interested, and more answers are just a shop visit away.