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  1. #1
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    Custom steel bike, give me your opinion!

    So I'm talking to a custom builder about a good frame and fork for timed events (meaning centuries/ gran fondos/ lower cat races, not just an out & out race bike). We're currently playing a cool game... If the UCI banned carbon frames and forks, and only allowed steel, what would the pros be riding?

    We're talking general attributes as well as looks...

  2. #2
    RoadBikeReview Member
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    aluminum
    Waxahachie, Texas
    Biciclette Gios

    "She loves to limbo. That much is clear. She's got the right dynamic for the New Frontier"

  3. #3
    tmf
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    I haven't ridden on every steel bike made, but I've owned quite a few and ridden many over the years. If there is a steel bike that is better than my Serotta Colorado III, I haven't found it yet. For me and my riding needs, it gets a 10 in every category (ride, handling, stiffness, weight, comfort, looks). It has a carbon fork, but I would feel the same way if it was swapped for steel. I also have an older all-steel Serotta Nova Special X - it gets between an 8.5 - 9.5 across the board.

  4. #4
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    Steel is retro, kind of like wood and fabric airplanes. Custom is good if you need it for some reason, otherwise it's a bit frivolous. Pros ride what is supplied by the team.

  5. #5
    old school drop out
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    I'm not sure what it matters what the pros would be riding. What matters is what you're interested in owning.

    Find a good builder that you trust and describe how you'd like your bike to handle and and how you'd like it to ride. The builder should be able to translate that into a frame that rides the way that you'd like.

  6. #6
    old school drop out
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    Quote Originally Posted by looigi View Post
    Steel is retro, kind of like wood and fabric airplanes. Custom is good if you need it for some reason, otherwise it's a bit frivolous. Pros ride what is supplied by the team.
    And carbon frames are ridden by people who plan on throwing the frame into a landfill after several years of riding. Right?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by gordy748 View Post
    If the UCI banned carbon frames and forks, and only allowed steel, what would the pros be riding?
    The pro's would ride Titanium and Aluminum frames. You only have to look back to the mid-1990's to see this.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by nightfend View Post
    The pro's would ride Titanium and Aluminum frames. You only have to look back to the mid-1990's to see this.
    That was before high strength 953, XCr, and KVA stainless steel.
    -Stan
    my bikes

  9. #9
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    Aluminum is for beer cans.......Carbon is for folks that need to go fast today.....Steel is for the person that wants to buy a bike today that they'll still be riding in 5 - 10 - 20 + years that still has style and is relevant....
    Colnago Master X Light (PR99) Campy Athena 11, Alloy
    Ritchey Swiss Cross, Campy Athena 11, Carbon

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by majorbanjo View Post
    Aluminum is for beer cans.......Carbon is for folks that need to go fast today.....Steel is for the person that wants to buy a bike today that they'll still be riding in 5 - 10 - 20 + years that still has style and is relevant....
    my favorite comment regarding this never-ending question.

  11. #11
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    Thanks all for the comments. What we are going for is a steel frame that isn't a throw-back to the good old days. It's an articulation of what pros are riding today, in the alternate universe where the UCI banned exotic materials for frames and forks. INCLUDING aluminium and titanium. I'm not interested in our particular alternate universe where the UCI has banned a host of other frivolous things instead of this.

    In terms of the ride, so far we've arrived at a balance of 4 things.
    1) comfort. A bike built to last all of Paris - Roubaix can't get Cancellara to the finish all banged up.
    2) weight. A bike that gets Hushovd to the top of Alpe d'Huez outside the stage time limit.
    3) handling. A bike that gets Cavendish down the other side of the Poggio had better be confidence inspiring.
    4) stiffness. A bike that gets Boonen to the top of the Koppenberg needs to have effective power transfer.

    Aesthetically, we're also going for a bike filled with details. The closer you look, the more you see it's a one-off. At the moment we're looking at ideas. We have some ideas but you can never have too few of them. Which is why I'm asking you all in the first place.

    As for who custom frames are for, I thought they're for people who don't want a Spekerellodale from Thailand that costs more than what a local artisan could put together that's completely unique?

  12. #12
    old school drop out
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    What makes a bike handle well is how it fits your body. What's the correct front-center dimension? What's correct top tube length? How high of a bottom bracket works best for you? There's not a magic number that works for everyone, and again, the bike that wins a Grand Tour might not be the bike that best fits you. Describing the ride you want to your builder is the best way to get a bike that rides well.

    Any of the high-end steels (853, 953, Life, S3, etc.) can be used to make light frame. Your builder should be able to make a light frame that meets your comfort needs, and can stiffen the BB if that's what you like.

    I'm not positive what you're expecting to hear that your builder can't already tell you.

  13. #13
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    Pros will ride whatever they are paid to ride.

    That's what makes them pros!
    It all comes down to rule 5!!

  14. #14
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    I'd look to the Firefly or the Waterford R33 in THIS THREAD (posts #81 and #82) for some inspiration.
    -Stan
    my bikes

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by laffeaux View Post
    I'm not positive what you're expecting to hear that your builder can't already tell you.
    We're looking at a range of ideas to make the frame look pretty cool. E.g. Ellis makes rear drop outs that are really funky, then there is Cinelli's Rapha Crit bike with the seat post bolt. Then there's Pegoretti's lower top tube.

    That's one thing. I'm also wondering what else I should be considering and thinking about. They were the suggestions I was hoping for...

  16. #16
    Big is relative
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    Quote Originally Posted by gordy748 View Post
    We're looking at a range of ideas to make the frame look pretty cool. E.g. Ellis makes rear drop outs that are really funky, then there is Cinelli's Rapha Crit bike with the seat post bolt. Then there's Pegoretti's lower top tube.

    That's one thing. I'm also wondering what else I should be considering and thinking about. They were the suggestions I was hoping for...
    Ellis makes some great frames. He used to build for Serotta so his quality is unquestionable. Builders like him, Firefly, Winter, and others can build you a steel bike that is absolutely raceable but still made to your dimensions and riding style. I have a custom Argonaut (Portland) that is fillet brazed, has a mix of Columbus Max, Life, and Spirit with a 38mm downtube. I has replaceable Ti dropouts on the rear that are breezer style for stiffness. Both sides are replaceable so I could make the bike a single/fixed with 120mm spacing. The options are endless with a custom builder. Get a steel fork.
    Retired sailor

  17. #17
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    Dave Wages at Ellis showed a KVA stainless frame at NAHBS in Sacramento earlier this month, and has won awards at NAHBS for each of the past four years. He brazed my 953 Waterford RS-22 just before he hung out his own shingle, and his workmanship is as close to perfect as you're likely to find anywhere.
    -Stan
    my bikes

  18. #18
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    Steel is relevant to whom and what? Steel is a fine material for many purposes, including bikes, but why get in such a tizzy about it? My first bike 50 years ago was steel (felt more like iron) and I rode steel for years, then aluminum, Ti, and now carbon. Time and technology marches on. Is the new stuff always better? Not necessarily, but aluminum, Ti, and carbon have been around long enough have proven their credibility. If you like steel and value that fancy craftsmanship knock yourself out. After riding road bikes for over 40 years, I'm going with whatever performs the best with respect weight, handling, ride, and speed, and IMO, that usually isn't steel. Steel bikes are totally irrelevant to me or what I want to accomplish riding.

  19. #19
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    I think this has been well covered. I'm just piling on to say that I'd put my former Serotta Classique (853) frame up against any other bike I've owned (currently Ti and Alu road/cross bikes). As a matter of fact, that frame is one of the few I am regretful I sold.

  20. #20
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    I also think steel frame satisfaction has a lot to do with your height and weight. Being a taller ride, when I started out in the mid-90's racing, my 63cm Bianchi was horribly flexy (I also weighed 175lbs.). But, other riders on my team thought the bike was great. Of course they also rode much smaller frames. When I finally moved to Cannondale Aluminum frames, it was like night and day. Moving from aluminum to carbon was not nearly as massive a jump, though carbon certainly soaks up rode vibrations better.

  21. #21
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    I'll chip in here. Nobody seemed to have touched on cost of a steel frame.
    I have a Columbus SLX framed road bike that I converted from being my race bike to my daily commuter.
    I love my steel frame. It was custom built for me and cost about $1k almost 20 years ago. Tall with a short wheel base, supple ride, aerodynamic. Wonderful.
    Last week I broke the rear rim (worn through from using rim brakes in the rain) so I made the choice to buy a new commute bike with disc brakes. Anything with a steel frame was three times the price of aluminum and almost as much as carbon. By the time I'd whittled down my choice, I bought an alloy framed bike.
    Much as I'd like a new steel frame with modern fittings and disc brake mounts, I can buy a whole bike for the same price, so it didn't add up. The labour costs are just too high.
    I love steel frames, but the rest of the world has moved on. If you're building a 'retro' special or a 'classic' cafe bike / commuter, then go right ahead. If not, the price doesn't always add up.

  22. #22
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    You guys should all stop trying to talk the OP out of getting a custom steel bike. It's what he wants, and he would just like suggestions for building a nice steel frame.

    Now that being said, there are some great custom builders that should be far better at helping you decide what would suit your riding perferences, than a group of internet bike enthusiasts.
    Just look at some of the examples listed in the various steel bike threads found here in this forum. PM the owners of the ones you might be interested in.

    I've seen some gorgeous looking steel frames made with integrated seat masts, hand-filed lugs, and other custom options that you may like.
    Last edited by turbogrover; 03-25-2012 at 05:18 PM.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by majorbanjo View Post
    Aluminum is for beer cans.......Carbon is for folks that need to go fast today.....Steel is for the person that wants to buy a bike today that they'll still be riding in 5 - 10 - 20 + years that still has style and is relevant....
    You should try a good Ti frame. ;-)

    Quote Originally Posted by gordy748 View Post
    If the UCI banned carbon frames and forks, and only allowed steel, what would the pros be riding? ..
    To all those that said "Aluminum and Ti", I wanted to point out the key phrase in the above sentence- "and only allowed steel..".

    To the OP, If you want steel that rides like steel is supposed to, look at Reynolds 853 and True Temper OX platinum (Columbus and Dedacci make great stuff, I'm not familiar with it). The 953 and stainless super steels reportedly ride more like aluminum than steel, very stiff and brittle feeling.

    Ritchey is about to re-release a steel road frame for a very reasonable $1199 that should ride nearly perfect given Tom's pedigree. If you're intent on full custom, look at Seven Cycles and Waterford. When it comes to bike brands, sometimes bigger is better. A builder that's made a ton of frames for customers doesn't guess as much when it comes to your needs.
    Côte du Petit Pas d'Ane - Best climb name ever.

  24. #24
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    They'd ride whatever steel would be light and stiff - something like S3. If they could get the part weight low enough they might spend some weight on aero tubing.

    Yesteryear:
    1981... Ahead of its time... | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

    But if it didn't have to be steel, I think they'd ride Ti. Steel/carbon ride, aluminum weight, shaped tubing.
    Get a better saddle: www.kontactbike.com

  25. #25
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    Guys, thanks so much (to varying levels of extent to some of you) for your input.

    I'm talking to an Oregon custom builder (Winter) about building up a steel century bike. Rather than stay in the past, we're throwing around ideas for a steel bike that's modern. What I'm liking about working with Eric is that we're tossing back and forth a lot of different ideas for how a modern performance steel bike could look like.

    We've got ideas like a version of Ellis rear dropouts:
    Ellis Cycles: November 2010
    And there's the seat tube bolt design on the Cinelli Rapha crit bike:
    NAHBS 2011 - Cinelli X Rapha - a photo on Flickriver
    Then there's Pegoretti's dropped top tube. And so on and so forth.

    So far, so fun. What I'm enjoying about working with Eric are the options available. Nothing's off the table, and it's fun being involved in the design process.

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