Why You Should be Riding Steel and not Carbon

Feature Articles Opinion

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.

In Conclusion

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!

Why You Should be Riding Steel and not Carbon Gallery
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About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • Bill H. says:

    “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.”

    Really? I haven’t seen the road side carnage resulting from this inevitability.

  • Indyfan says:

    All good points. Obviously not many will listen because they want to fit in with the carbon crowd or feel good about the $$ they spent on a carbon bike. Every time we build up a nice steel or TI bike that weighs 16 or 17 lb’s, the “kids” in the shop all are amazed and say something like; “When I’m older I have to get a nice custom bike.” The rest of us (some not all that old) just laugh and tell them to go ahead and burn those dollars.

  • Sam says:

    “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.”

    Haven’t seen this.

    “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.”

    Haven’t seen this, either.

  • Sid Vicious says:

    I recently took delivery of my custom built Electric Warrior by Vicious Cycles. For the life of me, I can’t understand why someone would pay the same or more than I paid to get an off the rack bike. Not only was my bike built to my specs, but I was able to work with the builder to craft a really sweet paint job. You won’t see another bike like mine out on the road. I say “free yourself from group think”.

  • Don Hanson says:

    While I love the craftsmanship and the fit of my custom Jack Koehler steel bike, I usually grab the carbon bike when I want to ride. Why? It works better. Now, the fit of my custom frame is totally perfect. With a tape and some creative components, I matched that with my current carbon CX-1 mass produced frame. The carbon frame has some metal bits for durability and while it’s not the lightest available it’s noticably lighter than my steel frame..So why ride a heavier bike? Older materials like steel, aluminum or titanium were state of the art once and still work just fine. So do 56 Chevys. We save our classics for ‘Sunday show off rides’. I do the same with my cool old steel bike. Would I buy and drive a ‘new’ 56 Chevy for a daily driver? Nope…not when there are more effective units available.

    • KJRBILLY says:

      Old post I know, but I enjoyed the article and as a new road cyclist I appreciate both the carbon and steel. DH’s comment above is probably the only one with true merit that excludes business stream bias and classic “roadie”ego.

      If you want to get out of “group think” trying forgoing new and rebuying a quality bike used.

    • Jefferson says:

      Don,

      You kinda missed the point of the article: Steel is as state of the art as it ever was, moreso even. While your JK is a fine bike, it is what it is…and it is not an Indy or similar.

  • MarvinK says:

    A lightweight steel frame (which equates into about 50% heavier than a lightweight carbon frame) isn’t the same rugged frame that the writer keeps blabbing about. I’ve seen lightweight steel frames with dents. Like carbon, you need to treat steel frames carefully. While your lightweight carbon frame could crack with miscare, your steel frame will rust. I couldn’t agree more with Don Hanson.. a steel frame is more like a nostalgic old car… it has its classic appeal, but in most ways it is simply outdated.

  • Bill says:

    I have a steel frame that I ride and love and love to ride.
    But there is so much old fashioned flat-earth stuff here I have to chime in.
    A 3 lb steel frame is NOT the same as a 5 lb steel frame in durability. The tubes indeed will crush. I wrecked a very nice 3.5 lb steel frame and it crumpled like yesterday’s newspaper.
    Carbon is the “it” material for the foreseeable future for good reason — it can be designed like no other material out there, it’s strong as anything when designed and manufactured well, and it’s proved to be very reliable.
    Hincapie carbon steerer didn’t fail in Paris-Roubaix. It was an aluminum steerer.

  • Marc says:

    Anyone who pays more than $2.5k for a bike, and does not get a custom bike-of ANY material-is nuts.

    • faire says:

      Marc, many people fit stock size frames just fine. If a mass produced frame meets your criteria and costs $2499, who are you to judge whether it’s a good decision? My bike is not jewelry, and I am not investing in it for its rarity.

      I used to ride steel bikes. I don’t own a single one anymore. By most peoples’ assessments (as proven by material sales for high-end bikes), Ti or carbon is preferable to well-built steel frames. That’s just objective data based on millions of individual purchasing choices, not my bias. The pro-steel bias illustrated by many here simply reflects different needs and different valuation of properties.

      As for the false durability argument: most people don’t repair bent steel. My 18-year old Trek 5200, despite scarring from plenty of travel abuse over the years, remains a trusty steed that I consider every bit as beautiful as a bike manufactured with 19th century construction techniques. I am not dreading delamination any more than you are dreading rust-though. Both problems are practically nonexistent on today’s latest frames, despite the isolated examples that idealogues trot out in an attempt to prove their material superior.

      Ride what you like, and don’t waste your time attempting to convince others that your frame material is in any way superior to theirs. Total valuation is a personal choice.

      • jason says:

        That’s not objective data – you’re inserting an assumption as to why the sales volumes are as such. High volume sales of cf and Ti frames could easily be influenced by factors such as popularity, just as easily as it could be influenced by technological data points like longevity and durability.

        Total valuation is a personal choice, but the point of the article is to question why the popular perception of valuation trends heavily toward cf bikes. If you truly believe your final statement, then the article should be a non-issue for you.

  • IV Joe says:

    I one a beautiful custom steel bike – a Waterford R33 – that weighs in under 18 lbs. I have has to pay $$$ to achieve this weight – Campy Record throughout, FSA K-Force carbon cranks, ITM Unico/Unica carbon stem, bars & post, Chris King head set, Selle Italia Mavic Ksyrium SSC SL wheels, Speed Play X1′s, Easton SL90 carbon forkand and a Selle Italia SLR Ti saddle weighing in at 165 grams – but a carbon frame tricked out with the same configuration would cost as much or more that my bike.

    This bike rides like a dream – smooth and responsive – and thanks to the carbon front end, seat post and frame design the bike absorbs most road irregularities and has no buzz that I can feel. In addition, my bike actually gets the kind of response that the author speaks about from other rider and bike shoppies. My bike is beautiful and rare (racing green with old school white panels), and most aficionados in the know appreciate it as much as any production line carbon bike they come across. I have traveled with the bike as well and had it serviced at large shops in Denver, San Diego and Boston – the mechanics loved the bike and couldn’t believe how light and enjoyable to ride it was. In short, my rig has every bit the WOW factor as any carbon bike on the road.

    I am saving up for another bike, but rather than carbon it will be either a titanium Seven or IF – I haven’t decided yet.

  • Pete says:

    I like this article as I currently ride a ten-year old steel bike and am thinking of going carbon when the fall closeouts come around this year. I “get” all of the points on the advantages of steel and fully subscribe to the “don’t buy anything you cannot afford to replace” theory. Carbon frames seem risky to me, for the breakage potential examples given in this article. But on the other hand, not many of us can visit trade shows or hunt down custom bike builders. Where can we see such steel bikes mentioned here? Perhaps more importantly, would a test ride ever be possible? Even googling “Bayliss” turns up only lukewarm links, and nothing about the builder himself. Today, a modern steel bike sounds inviting but perhaps inaccessible for most riders.

  • Randall says:

    I think a good steel bike is like a good audio tube amp. Yeah the latest state of the art technology has benefits but there’s something about steel (and tubes) that’s just classic and right – something that can’t be measured, only experienced. For those who only rely on scientific measurements and data, that statement will sound like flat-earth-thinking and that’s fine.

    Bottom line, there are plusses and minuses to carbon, ti, aluminum, and steel. Ride what you love.

    • Glen says:

      This suggestion has been the wisdom for some time. A bike frame is a spring. All the common materials can be used for such a structure. Perception is Everything!

    • W Scott says:

      Tube amps give measurable euphonic even-order harmonic distortion that audiophools covet because they value a “warmer” sound over accuracy in reproduction. Steel frames have measurable properties that some people (like me, a scientist, FWIW), value for objective reasons and regard these to be more important than weight.

  • Bruce W. says:

    My 2002 Cervelo Prodigy frame just failed at the bottle cage mounting bosses. I mean the thin wall of the tubing cracked arund the bosses and came out. No rust present, by the way. Since it is no longer under warranty, Cervelo is going to give me crash replacement price on an RS frame. I’m going for it. All frames are going to have issues. Just find somethin you like, ride it, buy it and enjoy. Be truly independent and ride what you like! :-)

  • David says:

    I’m trading my 20 year old (26 lb)campy loaded for a 16 lb carbon with SRAM Red…I can’t wait to see if there’s significant difference.

    • Thaniac says:

      I sold my old trek 1200 aluminum bike with 28c tires that weighed 26+ibs and bought a Stevens Carbon with 23c tires that weighs about 17ib, there was almost no difference in my times, and the new bike feels sluggish.. I really wonder if it has to do with the Trek fitting me better? I hope you get better results than I did.

  • Matt M. says:

    Fit – The vast majority of people don’t need custom geometry. Even steel builders admit this, and selling custom bikes is how they make a living. Someone who’s 5′ 7″ with a 36″ inseam will greatly benefit from a custom bike. Most of us will do just as well with stock.

    Style – Eye of the beholder.

    Weight – Agreed.

    Durability – We should all be riding titanium.

    Value – Custom steel bikes are luxury items, as are high end carbon ones. Do people throw down $4K for a Pegoretti because they think it’s ultimately the most cost effective choice. A CAAD9 is a good value. The complete bike with Ultegra costs less than all but the cheapest custom steel frames, and it will last a long, long time.

    Carbon is not a “craze.” Integrated seatposts are a craze. Knuckle tattoos are a craze. Carbon is a fundamental shift in bicycle design.

  • Brandon says:

    Forgot a couple of facts – your average carbon frame is a little over 3lbs. A good steel frame can weigh the same or less even.
    Since they are mass-produced, CF frames are considerably overpriced. You can get a frame that’s $300 and one that’s $4500 from the same plant. The main differences are the graphics and the name on it (or advertising behind the name).

  • Lawrence says:

    Interesting article and comments. I’ve been riding a road bike longer than most. My first serious Italian 10 speed was bought in the summer of 1960 sortly after my lifelong love affair with cycling began. In the early days it was all steel and I still have my 1971 Colnago Super along with 7 or 8 other assorted road machines (steel, aluminum, carbon, no ti) that I’ve accumulated along the way. Up to 1971 I always had to sell the old bike to afford the new bike. I’ve logged more miles than I’ll ever be able to remember commuting, racing, doing centuries and double centuries, and a very little bit of touring.

    Steel versus carbon? I like carbon. Custom versus off the rack? I like custom but agree with the other comment made about the need for custom is only strong if you have somewhat excessively odd body geometry. For my money I’d rather have a good set of tubular wheels on a well sized off the rack bike than a custom bike with clinchers. What may not be perfect on an off the rack carbon bike can be taken care of with a good fit and appropriately sized components.

    And you can get custom carbon frames, several builders make them including Parlee and Calfee. I live in the SF Bay Area and also know a small local builder, who has build several bikes for me and works in all material, carbon, steel, aluminum and ti. Because I recently had a couple of my custom bikes stolen in a burglery, he will soon be building a ti lugged carbon tubed frame for me. My experience is that custom frames run about the same as a high end carbon frame.

    I’ve always heard that Lance Armstrong rides a production (i.e. not custom built) Trek frame and I believe it. I personally feel little difference between my custom built bikes and off the rack bikes.

    Finally I agree with the comment on the durability of a super light weight steel bike. A steel tube thin enough to compete weight wise with carbon will have any number of vulnerabilities to damage and will thus require similar care to carbon in terms of its not being abused. I don’t think I’ll be having a custom steel frame built any time soon.

  • Scooder says:

    Steel bikes dent if impacted hard enough; very often the dents can be rolled out, at times w/o paint damage. The same impact would most likely fracture Carbon. More severe steel frame damage can still be repaired and tubes replaced if needed. Carbon? Doubtful. Titanium will last a lifetime but are also pretty flexy under power to the extent that you might get tossed under the bus when the chain is deflected off the chain ring under your max efforts. Seen that a couple of times, and the road rash that quickly followed. They’re also a bit wiggly on fast decents, that comfy flex back in the picture.

    I had (and sold) a carbon road bike after just 5 rides, and replaced it with a custom Eisentraut. My CX bike is a steel Mikkelson custom. My single speed is a steel Kona. The mtbs I ride the most are from my collection of vintage mountain bikes, all made from steel of one flavor or another. But my thrasher bikes – DH, big hit trail, and free ride – are all alloy. They’re expendable, and cheap to replace.

  • francois says:

    The article is very good. The comments are even better.

    I have a few carbon bikes but there’s always a steel bike in the stable. I think the process of getting a steel bike built for oneself is healthy. Choosing the tubing, geometry and paint evokes a passion for the machine as well as the act of cycling.

    As an aside, I think one of the worst advice is: “it’s all personal preference, ride what you like.”?

    Although true, this advice is useless unless it’s backed up with pros and cons of each product or material. Truth is most of us don’t know what we like since we haven’t tried them all, and will not get the opportunity to. That’s why we’re here, to research and learn. So bring out the research and advice. We’re listening.

    fc

  • Alessandro says:

    I’m riding a ~2003 LOOK KG461. It isn’t full carbon (it uses aluminum lugs), but I love the ride and I’d compare it favorably to steel.

    Not custom, not steel, and I got it for an amazing deal. It’s stiff, comfy, and from what I’ve heard, it’s built stronger than other full carbon frames. A “wet noodle” is what it isn’t.

  • TCPilot says:

    Some good points here. At 6’5″ and 230 lbs. I’m at the end of the bell curve. I recently sold a Calfee carbon bike and replaced it with an IF steel bike. The Calfee was a Cadillac; the carbon frame ate up the bumps & random road vibration like nobody’s business. Not to mention, it was sexy as hell to look at. But it wasn’t stiff enough to descend well and it had a miserable speed wobble problem (couldn’t even zip my jersey at 15 mph without the bike wanting to go down).

    I will chalk my negative carbon experience up to the fact that I am not standard size/weight for cyclists in general. That being said, the carbon frame felt bulletproof. It survived one good crash unharmed, and I think I could have thrown it down a set of stairs with no ill effect. Add in that Calfee can repair a damaged frame with not too much effort and it is still a great deal. I just think carbon as a bicycle material is still emerging from its infancy.

    The IF Crown Jewel in steel has none of those issues (and descends like it’s on rails) for only a minor penalty–1.1 lbs (which is 0.5% of the whole package when you include me). It is every bit as smooth as the carbon and far more confidence inspiring on descents. But as a pilot who has dealt with aerospace materials development, the real reason I switched was failure modes. Carbon fails in one manner: suddenly and catastrophically (Airbus rudders, anyone?). Steel can dent, bend, crack, etc., but you’ll usually know what’s coming. I was reluctant to trust my life to a material that might come unraveled on a fast descent.

    There are merits to both materials, and as carbon frame technology matures, personal taste will govern the choice of materials as much as composition. I am however in love with my steel frame and will ride it for many years.

  • CH says:

    Who gives a rats a$$ what material is better? Does it really matter if people like carbon or steel better? Do we really need to spend time arguing personal taste?
    Are the people who own carbon bikes going to read this poorly written article, have a revelation, and go buy a steel bike because over time, tens of thousands of us including the “Pros, became dumb and forgot that steel is so much better?

    Kurt Gensheimer, go volunteer at a soup kitchen and do something that really matters!

  • wally jones says:

    Most of the posters has very good points. I’ve been riding for close to 25 years, criteriums during my younger years and now doing mostly fitness rides with a couple of local sport and race clubs.

    Off the shelf carbon frames works for most with proper fitment. This is why component makers have different sizes and angles for stems, spacers, length of saddle rails and handlebar width. All of this will not cure an improperly sized frame sold to an uninformed buyer.

    To Scooder who thinks ti bikes are noodley…well, inferior designs are not immune to just ti frames. the crank, chainring and bottom bracket can also flex and cause the chain to drop or miss a shift. Improper mounting of the chainring to the crank can also do this!

    I have a Merlin CRworks 3.25 ti that has probably one of the stiffest bb of any frame out there. It is built with highly manipulated and ovalized front triangle, takes a 31.6 seatpost and has 1 inch chainstays that resists any torque I can muster. I am 205 lbs and I legpress 900lbs, squat 705 and can spin 200 rpm. Not bragging-just for the sake of reference.

    To Alessandro, I built up a kg 461 for my son and yes that frame rides sweet. I am currently replacing the fsa carbon w/isis bb with 7800 dura ace cranks and bb. The Look fork is heavier and flexes more than any Reynolds out there-this would be a good upgrade to make.

    • jason says:

      “I am 205 lbs and I legpress 900lbs, squat 705 and can spin 200 rpm. Not bragging-just for the sake of reference.”

      Dumb.

  • francois says:

    >> CH said: Who gives a rats a$$ what material is better? Does it really matter if people like carbon or steel better? Do we really need to spend time arguing personal taste? Kurt Gensheimer, go volunteer …

    Ahh personal taste again and a personal insult in there too.

    The article and the comments illuminate the qualities of the material and how they can guide the buyer. You on the other hand offer zero value and 100 bad attitude.

    fc

  • Geo says:

    I ride partly for health.

    I see no advantage at all in riding for health to have a bike that is lighter.
    If I wanted an easier ride I would ride a motorcycle.

    As the great rider ME once said
    “The only weight I want to lose off my aluminum Cannondale comes from my hips.”

    I have however come out with a great new line of exercise weights just for carbon bike owners.

    Guaranteed to give you that “extra modern workout balance”. They latch on you your carbon seat mount and give you that “extra 5 lbs of the latest and greatest performance training edge modern bikes simply can’t provide.”

    I call them “Sukerloads”.

    I made them sound German becuase then more people will be convinced of their technical superiority and I can sell them for more money.

    Any takers?

    • michael says:

      Good point, but isn’t the concept of cyling and a cycling workout about going faster with less effort (German tech thinking). I would prefer burning 10,000 calories going from my house to the beach and back (60 miles) on a lightweight, fast bike over burning the same amount going only half the distance on a heavier & slower bike…

  • Geo says:

    Then off course there is the classic case of carbon failing with no warning when metal would have just bent.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OSdbWLwKJE

  • Sam says:

    “Then off course there is the classic case of carbon failing with no warning when metal would have just bent.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OSdbWLwKJE

    170kph is not classic. When was the last time any of us went that fast? Never.

  • francois says:

    >>170kph is not classic. When was the last time any of us went that fast? Never.

    Agreed. That video is 15+ years old. I think carbon has gotten a tiny bit better since then. Steel would have broken off the weld. I’m just saying… get some current info.

  • Bolter03 says:

    Have a all steel Columbus tubed Bianchi from the early 90′s and an aluminum Bianchi (2001?). I’m looking for an aluminum with carbon seat stays or an all carbon. The steel bike is not going anywhere and has it’s advantages but doesn’t come close to the accelaration the aluminum offers. Do I race? No…but when it comes to making a green light there is a difference. Carbon seat tubes for each helped quite a bit in taking out some of the road buzz and I am looking for a carbon fork for the steel for the same reason. Everyone will have their opinion but I can’t say for sure if one would be better than another but I am certain of one thing…in a group ride and trying to keep up with the pack speed-wise there is a price to be paid for weight and the sacrifice of the frame absorbing some of the energy when trying to accelerate. So my steel is good for rides in the country, bike trails, commuting, and running errands, and that’s why I had it fitted out with a triple crank. My training bike I want and need for it to be fast and will go with whatever material or combination thereof that will be comfortable yet efficient and I don’t think steel fits that order. It is what it is for your needs I guess.

  • Jim Kruse says:

    Steel is coming back with force and there is real renewed interest in both the current steel bikes and the classics. The fact that this is already the 29th post to the article says a lot. Take your classic Masi, Pogliaghi etc to a current USA Cycling event and people will pay more attention to your bike then the winner of the Cat 1-2 race. We have now had 4 all steel criteriums this summer, and although our largest field was only 15 riders, the steel race was the most popular of the day. For 95 percent of the riders, steel makes the most sense, but we are all affected by marketing. Including me, in addition to the steel fleet, I own a few plastic bikes myself. For 2010 we will be fielding an all Steel race team to compete side by side with the carbon guys. Check out the pics of our current races and racer along with some classic shots at http://www.MenofSteelRacing.com.

  • Lee H says:

    This reminds me of the Monty Python “Looks like a witch” bit (with Carbon fiber bikes being the witch). I have owned two Look frames (555 and 585 Ultra) and both are uniformly excellent. They haven’t lost their stiffness with age, haven’t cracked into pieces, and are uniformly superior to anything else I have descended on before or since. If you like steel bikes, then buy steel bikes. Please don’t try and convince everyone else though that they are wrong for riding carbon. All of the fallacies mentioned throughout the responses are just that…. Carbon is a technologically superior material and a whole lot lighter. The fact that someone needs to go to exhorbitant measures (read a whole lot of cash buying light parts)to get the equivalent (not quite) weight savings of a carbon bike says everything.
    BTW, I also own a “custom Ti” bike. Great bike but push come to shove, I will grab the Look 585 every single time. The Ti bike just feels sluggish compared to it (same components, etc.).
    Just my .02

  • KevinM says:

    Steel rusts (I know as I rode one in the 80′s and it did just that). Steel is flexy, I know this as well from riding a couple of steel bikes in my life. Carbon is number one for good reasons and everyone knows it. It’s not a fluke or something that will go away in a couple of years. Steel has gone away and will stay there. Titanium, though having great ride qualities is just to expensive. Aluminum is great but to stiff for many people. Carbon is the best of all worlds and will be here until the next great material comes along.

  • James C. says:

    “as Lance Armstrong says, ‘It’s not about the bike’” – You me, and Dupree quote.

    I just got back in to riding after 12 years and picked up a Gary Fisher Paragon which has an aluminum frame. To me, the only reason I would buy an expensive carbon fiber bike is if I was a racer or just had a lot of money to spend.

    Otherwise, a little bit of weight to a frame will just make you stronger when training and/or riding in a group. For most, there is no reason to spend soo much money on a bike as most will do just fine.

  • BJones says:

    I have been racing since a Junior in the 80′s and up until early 2000. I took a hiatus for some time and just came back. I was amazed at all the carbon out there. Back when I was racing, I had a carbon bike. It was the deadest riding bike I had ever ridden. I probably rode it for two months before setting it aside to go back to steel. I had tried aluminum and titanium too, but none ever matched the ride quality of my steel bike. I wonder if the evolution of the carbon frame has really made them ride that much better? I honestly cannot see how. It is an inherent quality of carbon. If I was riding in the Paris Roubaix, I could see the benefits of a carbon, but I just don’t see roads that bad around here.

  • SH says:

    Here’s a question: If carbon frames weighed the same as steel ones, how many would still prefer carbon if all other attributes remained the same?

    Regarding rust: I’ve seen 30+ yr old steel frames with rust that are still rideable. Think carbon has the same longevity?

    Hypothetical: If Lance or Contador were given custom steel Sachs or Seven frames to race in the TdF do you think they would’ve lost?

    Part of my preference for steel comes from the fact that I built my last two frames. Finished a lugged one in April and it’s smooth, stiff, fits me perfectly and spent about $350 in tubing/parts. Don’t think I’m gonna try building a carbon bike anytime soon but we’ll see! =)

  • bikermark says:

    Let’s not forget that this arms race over bike weight happened to coincide with availability of lots and lots of consumer credit. As with many other consumer goods (homes, automobiles, dining out) people overspent and bought more bicycle than they needed. With mass produced bikes, the more one spends, the less comfortable the bike becomes. There are exceptions.

  • Alex says:

    Been there, done that, many many many times over and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent. Lately, I have been pondering what else have I not ridden? The lightbulb came on. Since I like my Calfee DragonFly Pro, I decided I want the Calfee Bamboo Pro. It may be a complete flop, but at least I will find out first hand (reviews seem to be positive).

  • RW says:

    There are so many misconceptions here. Lightweight steel will dent very easily. I’ve had lightweight steel frames and seen this damage first hand.

    Custom frames? The vast majority of the population has no need of custom frames. I can assure you that every member of Astana is riding a stock Madone frame. Every one.

    No where does he talk about ride quality. Fact is, carbon can be exactly tuned for where it’s used on a frame. Vertical compliance for comfort, with stiffness only where it’s needed for power transmission. No way you can tune steel, aluminum or ti in the same way. It can’t be done.

    If you like steel frames, all the power to you. But they have disappeared for a reason. Carbon is superior.

  • DCP says:

    It truly depends what carbon you are looking at. ALL CARBON IS NOT CREATED EQUALLY. Still, that’s not to say it’s as strong as steel, but it can be far more comfortable, just as stiff (by design), and a heck of a lot lighter. These facts should pique your interest:

    A “high-end” (judging by brands) bike does not mean a strong bike. In crits, for example, it would be quite hasty to ride carbon frame, carbon bars, carbon wheels, etc. Track racers still use all alloy or steel for the same purpose. But if you want to ride the best bike and not necessarily race seriously with it, carbon just can’t be beat. Bikes are one of those things where you usually pay for what you get. For example, you can find a full carbon with Ultegra bike on eBay for $1500 or less. This probably won’t be of the same quality as going to your LBS. The big names/brands don’t do e-retailing. If you bang-up your eBay bike, where do you go? If you bang-up your custom frame, where do you go?

    Carbon Quality:

    In the ’07 Tour de France I think I counted NINE complete frame “malfunctions,” by Sp******zed alone. One brand has had TWO significant carbon frame breaks in their history at The Tour, and Lance won the stage on one of them with a cracked chain stay. That bike is now on display at Trek HQ. BTW: With Lance’s unprecedented power on the lightest frame off the production line, I’m surprised only one broke! Hence, you can see the extreme variances even between the #1 and #3 bike brands in the world.

    Trek has the best carbon in the world (I’ve seen buckets of sawed apart frames because they didn’t meet standards). Trek’s OCLV Carbon standard: <1% voids; NASA/aerospace carbon standard: <2% voids. NASA inquired to Trek how it was made so well. Does your builder/welder exceed the standards of the geniuses at NASA?

    Go ride a 2010 Trek Madone 6.5 or 6.9 at your LBS, or even a 5.1 or 5.2(they have 3 levels of OCLV carbon). Steel can’t hold a candle to the light which carbon just shed upon you. Lifetime wear-and-tear warranty: if it cracks from being sloppy 20 years from now, you get a new model frame. I’ve seen it many times. If you crash it, they’ll give you a crash replacement frame at a big discount. Will your custom bike builder be around in 20 years?

  • Frank Sanatra says:

    Who is the manufacturer of the black lugged bike on the top of the last page of this article?

  • Carbo-holics Anon says:

    As a product manager for a major cycling company in general I agree with you that steel is a classic and very flexible material but I think you’ve made some apples to oranges comparisons in there…

    It’s interesting that I am sitting in one of our carbon manufacturing facilities in Taiwan right now as I write this. There are certainly companies who go to Asia and buy off the shelf bikes and parts then slap their own decals on it for sure. There are even companies surrounded by dairy farmers who tout made in the USA when I can take you to the factory where the bikes are actually made, I’ve seen it firsthand. Not all carbon is equal. It’d be like saying a Huffy and a Merckx are the same because they are both steel. This sounds like I am on the board of directors for the carbon acceptance campaign but it’s all about the engineering and yes, even the craftsmanship involved. Craftsmanship doesn’t necessarily mean the person hand building it in the factory it could just as easily apply to the engineer who designed it.

  • Carbo-holics Anon says:

    DCP,

    How long have you worked for Trek?

  • Keninshiro says:

    People… chill out! All this mine is better than yours is bull…

    Steel, Ti, Alu, Carbon all have their own attributes. These materials exist for a reason so all you need to do is find the one you’ll exceel/enjoy most in.

    I’ve ridden all but steel and i ended up with Ti in my last 2 bikes; A Litespeed Icon and now, a Lynskey R330…. currently a Carl Strong custom Ti frame is down the pipe line.

    Why Ti?

    I like it for the comfort level; my previous Scott Addict R4 and BMC SL01 joltted me to death on rough pavements… spending more energy trying to balance than spinning. Sure it’s not as efficient as a carbon or alu frame for crit races but i’m not there to win nor am i a Pettachi power house… again, it is what you want that’ll determind the kind of frame you’ll get. My Litespeed Icon and R330 is just as stiff as a good Carbon or Alu frame…. technology is evolving with each passing year… manufacturing and metallurgy process has come a long way, tubing thickness, butting and manipulation has given Ti, Steel and Alu alike a new breath of life. Who ever says you can’t tune a steel or Ti bike like carbon is still living in stone age.

    For the peace of mind; i don’t think i can or know how to look for a micro-fracture in a carbon frame.

    Longevity; No arguments here… don’t lie to yourself. Will my custom builder be around after 20 years? most likely not, then again… i might not be riding as well. Steel and Ti is not some special material that only wizards can repair your bike…. with new builders emerging each year i don’t see the risk in getting your bike fixed.

    At the end of it all, get what you want… be it ride quality, efficiency or light weight. It’s not a perfect world we live in, don’t expect your bike to be.

    E.

  • SH says:

    With regards to tuning carbon and its stiffness, I’m sure everyone who followed the Tour saw Jens Voight’s horrific crash. Some have expressed concern that his bike may have been too stiff and that makes it more susceptible to the bike not absorbing bumps and imperfections on the road causing more abrupt losses in traction. I and two other riding buddies of mine had the opportunity to try that frame months ago (or at least last year’s version) and we all commented on how stiff and jarring it felt. Very light bike but not exactly a joy to ride. I guess my point is, sure carbon can be tuned, but that tuning isn’t always a good selling point.

    BTW, I also heard from a certain carbon builder that after riding in the rain it’s advisable to hang their bikes to dry as the carbon is porous and absorbs water. What’s up with that?! I guess it gets heavier in the rain beyond the additional water on the frame’s surface… =P

  • francois says:

    All this discussion is healthy. The fact of the matter is most riders today will never get to try a steel bike or a ti bike. The normal path now is buy an aluminum bike since that’s what fits in the budget. Then after you fall in love with riding, you buy a carbon bike since that’s what all indicators are telling you to do (pros, shops, mags, friends :)).

    So the old ‘ride what you prefer’ adage is sometimes useless. How can you prefer something you don’t know about yet?

    This article at least forces us to think about the choices and consider what’s out there and why they might apply to you. It’s clearly steel biased but that might be because the bike world is carbon biased now.

    fc

    • peter says:

      My two bikes are steel .my commute bike reynolds 531 bob jackson is 30 years old has had a new BB and rear drop out re brazed and been used by two of my sons before outgrowing it and returned to me, it is trustworthy but sluggish compared to my weekend bike columbus SL tubing and Dura ace equiped it has also had a few repairs new BB and rear stay it is lively and responsive and gives complete confidence on fast decents when cornering both frames have been re enamelled many times maybe its a sustainability thing can carbon be repaired ? I continue to wear out components I like the new technology but have still to make the leap of faith to carbon

  • Victor M rodriguez says:

    Steel is too heavy, will rust and lose its strength over time. Alu is too stiff for long races and doubles, good for crits……….Ti is fantastic, too expensive though, great for hardtail mtn bikes………..Carbon is KING, has all of the qualities of the other materials and is affordable, easy to assemble, stiff, yet comfortable………..What’s there not to like?…..Victor, triathlete, carbon freak!

  • Ed says:

    lol. Comparing apples to limes, and all with emotion.

    So custom steel versus off the shelf carbon. If you hurt the steel, how long will your new custom take to come. If you get a trek carbon, they replace it (I know, I bent a 10 yo aluminum frame hopping rocks too fast and they gave me credit for a new trek). Light steel is not that durable. Win Carbon if it fits.

    But steel is less expensive and good in many places. At least get an off the shelf carbon fork and seat stays. I thought I would learn something new from the article. I learned that the author really doesn’t understand materials, or is conciously giving misinformation.

  • thien says:

    @Frank Sanatra – That lugged bike is a Sycip Roadster. It was a show bike used at NAHBS, I think they had it up for sale on their website at one point.

  • jcw says:

    RE: custom. the best thing about custom steel or ti that I notice the tubeset options that an experienced builder can match to your weight and ride style. carbon is super cool but not nearly as easy to dial in. I still can’t find a place for aluminum in my life any more, but steel, ti and cf…yes.

  • Trichez says:

    If carbon fails or breaks you have to rplace it. If steel bends or breaks you weld it. There is a reason that there are stiil 56 Chevys on the road. Steel lasts if you take care of it. Take care of your bike no mater what the material.

  • Wal Mart Special says:

    Seriously, I do 3 to 4 international distance triathlons a year on a 30+ pound Wal-Mart special with moutian bike gears and reflectors on it that cost me $135. I blow by dudes on $6k carbon bikes all the time. I’d go with the custom steel bike for the “individuality” factor alone, besides let’s face it, most of the time it’s not the bike.

    In fact I think i’ll do a sprint tri on a girls banana seat bike from the 70′s and still not come in last on the bike leg. Maybe a nice bell to ring and a card that drags on the spokes that makes that annoying sound will add a nice touch. I think those bikes were made of steel right? Probably lighter than my Wal-Mart Special too. COOL…..

    What ever you do be an individual and have a blast doing it.

  • Kurt Gensheimer says:

    Wal Mart Special is my hero! Best comment so far.

    @Victor M: Steel losing strength over time? Is that why there are steel bikes from the 1950s that are still rideable today?

    @Ed: I’m no metallurgist, but I know what a good riding bike is supposed to feel like.

    Like Francois said, this article is clearly steel biased. I wrote it that way because the cycling world today is clearly carbon biased. And as Wal Mart Special has so eloquently pointed out, there are a lot of fools on the road riding equipment that’s not suited for their needs and skill level. There is a place in the cycling world for carbon, but I personally feel that steel’s place in the cycling world is bigger.

    Carbon is clearly the majority right now, but as Mark Twain says: “Any time you find yourself in the majority, it’s time to reform.”

    Thanks for reading.

    Kurt Gensheimer

  • Keninshiro says:

    @francois: “So the old ‘ride what you prefer’ adage is sometimes useless. How can you prefer something you don’t know about yet?”

    That’s why there are demo bikes in your LBS or give your friend’s bike a spin around the neighbourhood… not to mention a vast amount of information, feedback and reviews found in the net… all you need to have is the interest and patience to find what you are looking for. Not everyone of us is born with a silver spoon to test every bike in the market but researching and asking the right questions give you a rough idea of what you may want.

  • Andrew says:

    I’m considering a custom steel bike at the moment. I’m about 6’4, with a 34″ inseam, longer torso, and extraordinarily long arms. Additionally, I have had a couple vertebrae fused together in my neck. I’m an ex-MTB racer, now in my mid ’30s with a family. I may do a couple fun races on the road, or I may not.

    I love technology and would love a carbon frame. I might still get one. However, for me the MOST important thing is the best fit possible, for my size and my riding style. Every bike store has its agenda (including the custom builder I’m considering). It’s surprising though how little extra the custom steel bike will cost, compared to an off-the-shelf carbon bike. The extra 300 grams or whatever aren’t going to kill me either.

    Sure, this article is biased, but it got me thinking, and has arrived for me at precisely the right time. Thanks for writing it.

  • francois says:

    >>Keninshiro Says:
    @francois: “So the old ‘ride what you prefer’ adage is sometimes useless. How can you prefer something you don’t know about yet?”

    >>That’s why there are demo bikes in your LBS or give your friend’s bike a spin around the neighbourhood… not to mention a vast amount of information, feedback and reviews found in the net… all you need to have is the interest and patience to find what you are looking for. Not everyone of us is born with a silver spoon to test every bike in the market but researching and asking the right questions give you a rough idea of what you may want.

    I don’t disagree with you Keninshiro. I’m actually encouraging this discussion and researching on the net. What I dislike is people shutting down the discussion and research and simply saying ‘it’s all personal preference.’

    It is very difficult to demo a bike properly. It’s hard to find a bike your choice, your size, on your roads for enough ride time. It’s hard to do in carbon and it’s even harder to do in steel. That’s why these experiences and opinions are valuable I think.

  • G.Lee says:

    Based on the serious comments in which cyclists have defended their frame choices, I’d say most people missed the humor and mischievous intentions behind this article. Personally I found the article entertaining. I was chuckling so much, I sent the link to my cycling friends hoping I could get a rise out of them as well.

    In my years as a cyclist, I owned two steel bikes that looked great on the spec sheets, but were clearly mass produced for profit, not performance. One was so stiff it rattled my teeth on poor roads. The next one was so flexible, it would up-shift every time I got out of the saddle to climb steep hills. Then I bought a Masi Grand Criterium and rode it for 19 years before I wanted something new. It was a fantastic frame hand built by masters who clearly knew what they were doing.

    I rode the smallest frame they made and they mixed tube sets to get the bike to ride and perform appropriately for the shorter, lighter rider. Years later I test rode an early fat tube aluminum bike when that was the trend. The bike was too harsh and uncomfortable for a short light rider.

    Now I ride a titanium frame with shaped tubes and it is perfect for what I want in a bike – weekend rides with the guys, public centuries, and week-long credit card touring. I did buy this frame a few years ago when the dollar was still worth something. The price of these frames has more than doubled since then.

    I have since looked around for a carbon fiber bike, but most manufacturers have cut costs by producing the ubiquitous compact frames. No longer do they build bikes in 1 Cm increments – now it’s four sizes fit all. Unfortunately that’s only true if you’re in the average size range. The smallest compact frame manufactures make generally has an effective top tube that is 2 – 3 CM longer than my old style standard frame. That would stretch me out more than I would be comfortable.

    Anyways I did enjoy the article and I’ve notice that steel is making a come back in yet another trend. Have you noticed all these new cyclists riding around on steel framed, single speed bikes made to look like track bikes? They look cool, cost less, and fill a niche. The rest of you need to lighten up a bit. (grin)

  • jim burgess says:

    I had a Kestrel 200 SCI that was bought in 1992 for $1700. At the time I was riding a Bianchi Srada LX that costs abot $300. I rode the Kestrel for about 7 years. The problem I found with carbon at this time was that one, the bike did not have memory like the steel one;that is, I would have to adjust the gear train constantly not like the steel which never needed adjustment!!Secondly, the seatpost got stuck in the carbon and is permanently fixed!! I learned later that carbon was a resein like a glue and not like steel, which neant that once sweat or water got down into the carbon seatpost then you had problems as the carbon would bond to the aluminum seatpost!! I know that carbon has improved but that Bianchi is still rideable while my Kestrel hangs on the wall!!

  • J. Heck says:

    All that talk about taste…fact is there are four basic materials to built bikes!
    Steel, Titanium, Aluminium, and Carbon!
    So far I know they all take a rider from A to B. Hope we all can agree on that? Most of us don’t have to cycle to make money, we spent money to cycle to have fun!
    Based on our money we buy what we like(at least most of us).
    The technical side looks a bit different, just by numbers no other material(yet) can be formed aerodynamicly(3 dimensional)and has the strength/weight ratio than carbon…do I need that? Nah…I have fun riding my bike!

  • Nru says:

    find some of the claims up here pretty ridiculous, especially concerning the void content of the carbon/resin structures. I work in aerospace (physicist) and if a bike was built better than the current status of mesh layup in fighter construction, the company would be placed under ITAR Section III control. There would be Department of State control on where and when the frame could leave the country (only under red or black label control), and you would NEVER see these in use unless you had sufficient clearance. Even the Boeing 787 is built way beyond what any bike you have ever thought of has for bike frames, and they will be sold commercially. Bikes are very cool, but the aerospace industry has money and government backing that the bicycle industry could only dream about – Trek has less revenue than Lockheed has profit, and with only 1200 employees (my company, not LM, for instance has more than 20,000 employees, and has over 1000 people with advanced degrees in materials), they are not going to be ahead of current aerospace technologies.

    I have Al, Ti, C, and Fe bikes – all have their uses – carbon fiber bikes will destruct (the glue that holds the fiber together cracks no matter what we can think of, we call it service life), Al bikes are nice, Ti bikes will probably be the longest lasting light material, and steel has it’s uses. I ride mostly steel for comfort, but what you need to concentrate on is the weight on the outer diameter of your wheel for acceleration, and aerodynamics for speed, given that your frame is stiff enough for your legs.

    Ride what cha like, they will all be dust in the end. A Columbus Ultra FOCO frame will weigh only a bit more than the lightest carbon frames, but they are not very durable. I like the Zona stuff – little heavier, but steel has a lack of fatigue that makes is last longer than any other frame material. Even so, my 1956 531 frame is showing some cracking around the bottom bracket, and will probably never be riden again.

  • Nru is a liar says:

    Nru … Do your homework my friend. Spend more time reading than writing. Trek didn’t publish/patent their carbon until AFTER Trek asked them for it. Take a look at the Trek carbon levels: one white dot, one BLACK DOT, one RED DOT. This is no coincidence, Columbo.

  • Nru is a liar says:

    Nru … Do your homework my friend. Spend more time reading than writing. Actually being in the industry helps (take that as you may). Trek didn’t publish/patent their carbon until AFTER NASA asked them for it. Then in 2003 Trek published signs in stores declaring this feat. After all, it’s a pretty impressive thing to advertise. Take a look at the Trek carbon levels: one white dot, one BLACK DOT, one RED DOT. This is no coincidence, Columbo.

  • Andrew says:

    Wow… tubulers v. clincher v. road-tubeless… GO!

  • Chris B says:

    The spirited debate here is pretty cool, found the blog entry while seeking Seven ID8 reviews while considering my next purchase. The original entry by thien seems kind of thin on perspective when compared to the comments that follow! I am considering, not very seriously tho’, steel or TI for my next bike. Chiming in as an enthusiast looking for a hill-climber, carbon and TI or a hybrid of the two materials work better for me at just over 2 meters in height and living in a river valley where I have to go up in any direction to start my rides. My two favorite bikes in my stable are my 65 cm ’06 Colnago C50 and 26″ ’77 Raleigh Gran Prix, but I can sure tell the difference in weight between the two, even with the alu components on the English bike! My only qualm with what thien wrote in his entry is the durability of carbon bikes – I put mine in the back of my rig when I’m heading somewhere and it’s just fine, and I was hit by a minivan 6 weeks ago at about 20 mph and I went flying and landed on the tarmac along with the C50, and the bike and I ended up with nary a scratch, and I’ve put 400 miles on it since. Yes, I was lucky, but the bike’s solid construction has me considering another Colnago for attacking the hills around here.

    I’m considering a Moots custom, Colnago EPS, an ID8, and a custom steel bike – I’m a freak of nature as a cyclist, but as I near 50 I really need the exercise!

    Keep up the spirited comments!

  • Bolter03 says:

    Gotta ask the question…those with steel frames, how many have added or ordered the bike with a carbon fork? How many have also added a carbon seat post, bars, etc?

  • Nru says:

    Being called a liar is pretty harsh to begin with, and be aware that Lockheed has been doing carbon layups since the 70′s. The material comes from aerospace (as do most of the steel and aluminum and titanium and other exotics), and you have little idea about where things really are unless you are in the industry. What Trek patented was a method of forming essentially tubes/ropes from carbon and throwing them into sheets. This is cool, but modern fighter aircraft are so far beyond what the bike industry does it’s not funny. I’m not a mat sci guy, but I did post docs with a bunch of them and sit next to one – I’ll ask him tomorrow what he thinks of this.

    Bikes trail aerospace typically (and I have a Y foil and a Madone from 2007), and they are nice frames, but I have also stood on the wings of fighters – whole different class of material in both finish and strength. Much of it is in the epoxy technology that is used as a binder, but you have no understanding of the kind of money and effort that my industry does in comparison with bikes. Trek sells 600M worth of bikes (total worldwide sales- profits are a small part of that, as is research), Boeing spent 6B last year in carbon research. Boeing would buy Trek if they had anything.

    I stand behind my comments – NASA is an underfunded institution, and has been for many years. We hire people from there who are scared their funding will be cut routinely.

    If you can point me to ONE instance of patent usage (see USPO) that the aerospace industry has used the Trek patents for, please do.

    BTW – I love old Colnago bikes, but they are not replaceable any more. Going for a ride on a Columbus framed Pinarello tonight, real banged up paint job, old record parts, tubies (Tufo’s) -still put more than 2K per year on the thing – steel is real – love the comfort, almost as good as the Y bikes with better handling – anyone ever replaced the fork on one of them?

  • Stevo says:

    Like most who have made the comment on this thread, I have been riding longer than I care to remember. They always said “steel is real” for a reason. I have had my share of fancy carbon frames and after 9 years have only just found a frame that is worthy to ride (Lemond Victoire). I grew up riding in rural Australia where the roads will shake your teeth out (just kidding). And it seems because a top level rider in a Tour or some fancy tube shapes and stickers are jammed on it. It must be the best thig out there. I have to ask this question apart from the odd race open where you could ride the wheels of everyone,you will probably spend your time swinging of the back of the bunch hurting like hell. I dont think 2 kilo’s saved in weight will make the difference, to justify the extra bucks you spend. But like all of us it has to look good at the coffee shop or we wont spend the bucks. This year I am going back to steel, I’m now at the ripe age of 35 have two kids and a beer belly. I no longer care how i look, but I bet wont stop my smile as i get me new “real steel” frame and think back to happier times when I could average over 25km on a training ride and had hair. But i wont be using down tube shifters (might put my back out reaching down)

  • Terry says:

    I prefer titanium over anything else. I have a custom Moots that I would not give up for anything. I have yet to ride a carbon bike that felt like anything other than a stiff piece of wood with zero road feel.

  • Nubo says:

    All I can say is, if 1 or 2 lbs makes a real difference to you, then God bless you! I’ve never been in that position, even when I was young and beautiful. For most people in the real world, the choice is one of personal preference and that’s as it should be. For me, I love the idea that an exquisite steel frame can be made by a single craftsman in a workshop with easily-obtained tools and technology.

  • Keninshiro says:

    @francois: “I don’t disagree with you Keninshiro. I’m actually encouraging this discussion and researching on the net. What I dislike is people shutting down the discussion and research and simply saying ‘it’s all personal preference.’

    It is very difficult to demo a bike properly. It’s hard to find a bike your choice, your size, on your roads for enough ride time. It’s hard to do in carbon and it’s even harder to do in steel. That’s why these experiences and opinions are valuable I think.”

    No worries, francois… i don’t disagree with you either. Personal preference only comes into play when you know what is out there and have tried some of them. Articles like this and it’s feedback will give you clues to how other people react to different materials. Once you have an idea of what you want (your comfort level, intent for the bike and lastly, bling factor) the only text thing you need to do is to locate the bike and find as much info on it as possible.

  • M-theory says:

    The video with custom steel builder Brian Baylis only convinced me of the pointlessness of a customized bike. The bike on display had absolutely no over-arching functional purpose other than to display the builder’s craftmanship. Seriously, if I wanted to spend $8000 on a work of art, I wouldn’t purchase a bicycle!!! Will owning a unique, one of a kind bicycle really impress anyone? If your friends have any sense, they will only laugh at your foolishness.

    Baylis says its the young who are setting the trend for customized nowadays. The same young people who are riding fixies and buying steel…are also getting tatoos to show how cool and unique they are. Maybe we should all start getting tatoos to show our appreciatiion of ‘craftmanship’. Hey, the younger generation is always so wise about these things…huh.

    Why stop at custom bicycles? Why not have your furniture custom made, or your TV exactly sized for your particular living room? Ahhhh…the stupidity is endless.

    As for steel vs carbon fiber, they’re both good. Yes you have to be a bit more careful with carbon, but it out-performs steel when you’re actually riding it. So its a trade-off.

    Ultimately, bicycles aren’t that important. they are simply a tool… for either exercise, commuting, racing or sightseeing. They are a functional piece of technology…very nuch like a cordless screwdriver you might use for putting up sheetrock. I don’t need a customized cordless screwdriver. A light, powerful and reliable one off the shelf is good enough.

  • M-theory says:

    Just to clarify the above comment…

    Baylis seemed like a really down-to earth and good guy…so I didn’t mean to attack him personally. Its just some people seem to assume that a custom build is necessarily better than a production model. Therein lies the fallacy.

    BMW and Porsche are production automobiles. Sometimes off-the shelf products are pretty damn good.

    If steel if really to make a comeback…there needs to be a greater variety of production models from the big manufacturers.

  • Keninshiro says:

    Buying 90% of what i use today off-the shelf gives me a pretty good reason to indulge in custom build goods every now and then and when i can affort it.

    To call others stupid for going custom sounds like sour grape. I have one-off furniture in my home, not custom build but something the designer would not mass-produce… does that make me a wanker? My car has a paint job that differs from others but it’s still a mass produce Toyota, does that qualify as custom? Where does the line draw?

    Craftsmanship is an appreciation for art and creation… as to how much you are willing to invest in it depends on you entirely… no one will force you to buy a $8000 bike which you deem useless in function. If the $150 wallmart bike fits your bill so be it but there’s no need to call others stupid for being able to appreciate what others do for a living. What happens if your son gets a tatoo?

  • Kurt Gensheimer says:

    @ M-Theory,

    I respect your viewpoint on ‘custom’ craftsmanship, but disagree. And I especially disagree with your comment that ‘ultimately, bicycles aren’t that important.’ If I recall correctly, a bicycle is the most efficient use of energy for transporting a human being from point A to point B. Seems important to me. And ask that guy who took up cycling as a stress reliever after a nervous breakdown if bicycles ‘aren’t that important.’ To you, perhaps bicycles aren’t that important, which then begs the question, is taking the time to post your comment that important?

    In a modern world of overconsumption and mass-produced junk in the name of profit, it’s refreshing to see a man like Brian Baylis, who spends a profit-crushing amount of time hand crafting a bicycle that you will keep not for 2 years, 3 years or even 5 years, but FOR LIFE (assuming that’s what you want). He does it in the name of craftsmanship, not profit.

    I appreciate craftsmanship. I especially appreciate it these days where there is so much mass-produced junk in the world (and for the record, I’m not referring to carbon bicycle frames).

    I only hope the younger generation begins to appreciate craftsmanship, and changes their mindset from a ‘throwaway’ culture we’ve fostered over the past few decades into a mindset of yesteryear – where products were built to last for generations, and quality craftsmanship always takes priority over the price tag.

    I’d much rather have a few quality handmade ‘things’ in my life that I keep for years, rather than a lot of lower quality mass-produced ‘things’ in my life that I throw away after a few months.

    Thanks for reading.

    Kurt Gensheimer

  • It seems as if the fastest riders and most experienced has chosen carbon and it is hard to dispute these guys. If it works for them I in turn will make it work for me. I will buy used or a late model just looking for the right priced carbon. Great article by the way and will keep my steel as a backup.

  • Mountain rider says:

    Kurt, it is possible that you misinterpreted M-theory’s claim “ultimately, bicycles aren’t that important.” I believe M-theory was only saying that the importance of any given tool pales in comparison to the use to which a human puts said tool.

    “You are an excellent tactician, [Kurt Gensheimer]. You let your [readers] attack [each other], while you look for weakness. But I grow fatigued [from riding aluminum alloy frames].”

    –Adapted from the famous leader Kahn, circa 1968 (TOS episode #24).

  • Peter Thorsby says:

    Having worked with composites all of my adult life i find this whole debate very amusing. All composite structures have a finite fatigue life. (Skis go dead,racing boat hulls get slow,helicopter blades are removed from service)The real question is how many miles until the inevitable happens and that carbon fiber bike looses some of its snap. If its 3000 miles and your a pro racer than this is not that important. (I am not implying that the life of a carbon bike is 3000 miles I hope it’s far more)It’s really just a matter of amortizing the cost of that new bike over is life. I have a Serrotta Legend TI (made for me).In the last 8 years I have logged over 30,000 miles on it. It rides the same today as the first day I rode her. (I have rode new ones and the ride feel is the same) I have also owned some of the latest carbon fiber wonders and they have been exceptional bikes but in the end have not been long time partners. My conclusion to all of this is that if you want to stay off the new bike treadmill every 2 years than custom (weather steel or titanium) is the way to go.

    My last point is why is carbon fiber so expensive? The price on carbon fiber cloth has come down as more high quality carbon fiber manufactures have entered the industry. (yes i realize that all carbon is not equal) After the initial investment in tooling (which is expensive but the cost amortizes very quickly)the profit of carbon fiber bikes must be considerable (at the manufacturing level) Plus the skill level of the employee to produce a carbon fiber bicycle is not even close to the skills needed to miter,weld and align and high quality steel or Ti bike.
    Owning a custom bike in has been a very cost effective way (for me)to enjoy years of care free riding.

    In the end all of this debate is lost in the true reason that we ride.

    We love it!!

  • NooB says:

    Two things I find interesting in this discussion:
    (1) I’m puzzled by the debate at the high end. You’re spending that much money? Get what you want. Where this is a problem is the mid-range. There just isn’t mid-range steel anymore. What’s replaced it probably isn’t any better, and may well be worse. The bottom line is there isn’t a steel option in the mid-range, and that sucks.

    (2) Environmental impact. For all you green cyclists out there, anyone know the difference in environmental impact between manufacturing a steel vs. carbon bike? As I understand it, the carbon manufacturing process is far, far worse for the world. Now, is the sale of carbon bikes going to undo us as a species? No, but it’s something some people might consider important (and others won’t).

  • Steve Irie says:

    I dont get this ?
    The frame is a small factor in the weight of a bike, no?

    I realy enjoy passing some wheezing newbie idiot on a carbon bike when I am on my 19lb 1954 carlton :)

    lol.

  • Steve Irie says:

    Oh, and it cost me $50

  • Mike K says:

    When NASA, Formula 1, Boeing, etc. go back to using steel, I’ll consider going back too.

  • ScreamingKiwi says:

    Hi, Interesting article, interesting comments. I fail to understand how custom steel frames are good value when one builder is quoted as spending 100 hours per frame – at $40 hour (conservative charge out rate for a business) that’s USD$4000, I can get a carbon frame bike with 105 for NZD$3000, less on special etc. Also, having a bad back and looking at upgrading my six year old Wheeler 7100 the dampening qualities of carbon appeal to me. Great provocative article with some very good points.

  • SH says:

    NASA, Formula 1 and Boeing do use steel – look at the bolts and bearings… =) Think that landing gear is carbon?

    Value is not an absolute. Maybe custom steel isn’t a great ‘value’… but then again custom carbon would be worse!
    For those car lovers out there, if Ferrari called you up and offered to make you a custom F430 with your favorite specs and color and designed it specifically for your body and driving style and you actually could afford it would you not take it? Perhaps the question of being a ‘value’ driven choice like a Toyota isn’t the point. Maybe it’s that it’s made FOR YOU that matters regardless of the material.

    BTW, I checked out John Slawta’s website (Landshark frames) and saw the custom frame that Levi Leipheimer asked him to make. Levi can ride some of the best carbon bikes for free and guess what he chooses to buy? Interesting…

  • Roadscrape says:

    The great thing about this article is indeed the conversation it’s stimulated.

    I have old steel, modern steel, all aluminum and all carbon bikes. I love each bike for its particular attributes. Each bike brings a smile to face when I ride – because I love to ride. And I’m not close minded about what I ride.

    I used to have the “lemming” mentality, too, back in my racing days. I had whatever was popular at the time. Now I could care less what some narrow minded bike wannabe thinks. Every fanatic sport and hobby has the same types of group mindsets – because despite the toy, it is being used by human beings.

    To me, the material of the frame has more to do with the mission of the ride. Heck, George Hincapie has a very nice steel bike that he rides regularly just for the sheer joy of it BECAUSE it is NOT a racing machine!

    I got a c/f bike because the ride is so comfortable on all-day rides in the mountains, where weight does make a difference. This particular bike has angles not much different than what used to be called “sport tourers” – not a crit-racer angled frame.

    My old mid-80s Bridgestone it a true steel classic sport tourer. But the ride is less vertically compliant and the rear tri has more flex than my other bikes. The late 90s TIG variable thickness tubes on my Bianchi cyclocross makes for a really stiff bike that weighs the same as my early 90s all aluminum Cannondale bone-rattler (tested as the stiffest production frame made at the time – and rides like it).

    Each material has it’s place. There are a lot of variables that create overlap for each type. Custom steel has its place, especially for randonee riders that want the classic top-tube-longer-than-seat-tube.

    As for the comment that there are no worthy steel bikes being made – that is because you hang out at a shop that focuses on racing only – not giving the customer what is best for them. I see those bikes being sold by the-soon-disillusioned-customer on Craigslist every day. Pick your LBS carefully.

    For instance, the Raleigh Clubman is a very nice riding steel bike available at LBS in most cities of any size. Very classic look, too, yet with modern components. Very smooth ride.

    As a juxtaposition, the other day I was at my local shop when a woman came in with her Lemond steel ride from the late 90s. She was tired of the stiff ride and wanted to try a Cannodale c/f like her friends ride. She really knows her bikes, riding 200 miles a week in the summer and done a number of bike tour vacations. The shop didn’t have a 48 cm frame in stock for her, but did have the same model in aluminum with c/f fork. She loved the ride, rode it 3 times that afternoon, and then agreed with us that she had no need of a c/f bike – which with the same setup would cost $350 more for nothing gained. She got the bike fitted the next day and rode away smiling.

    For me, that proved the point that great engineering is More Important than the material of the bike. There are c/f bikes that ride like crap for anyone except a Cat racer. There are steel and aluminum bikes (and Ti) of the same vein. And there are great riding bikes made in each material. Know your mission and buy accordingly!

  • flatsburner says:

    I’m drawn to the value of craftsmanship and unique frames as opposed to mass produced, but the author’s claims about the longevity of steel have to be questioned, thus raising some doubt on his other assertions. My friend who has a beautiful custom steel bike just showed me the rust spots coming from the inside of the seat tube to the outside, while commenting he expected to be forced to get a new bike in another year or two. Whenever he gets caught in the rain he has to take his seat post out and do a gun barrel-type swabbing job to dry out the inside of the seat tube in order to preserve the bike for as long as possible. He rides constantly, but maybe it won’t be an issue for you if you don’t get wet very often.

  • Paul says:

    Well, this debate has gotten interesting, and has covered most of the interesting points, but not all of them, so I’ll weigh in.

    For the record, I presently own 2 carbon bikes (a cheap lugged one, and a Cervélo R3 SL), and a custom titanium mountain bike (700c as well, for that matter).

    Custom geometry makes a lot of sense for mountain bikes, and not so much for road bikes. A mountain bike’s handling represents a whole slew of trade-offs an order of magnitude more complex than the geometric decisions made when designing a road bike. When’s the last time you saw a road bike with much of anything other than a 73 degree headtube (in normal sizes, of course, where altering headtube angle and fork rake is not necessary)? Ok, pretty much never.

    Road bikes, on the other hand, don’t really have weight-distribution-dependent steering, nor do they have funny terrain-specific handling trade-offs brought on by steerer angle, or any of that other all-terrain nonsense. Unless you’re a freak, custom road geometry makes little to no sense, and for the record, I’m 6’7″ with a 39.5″ inseam, and ride off-the-shelf compact road geometry with no problems. Go invest in a fitting, not custom geometry.

    Now, on to materials

    If you’re a serious recreational rider and have some dosh you’d care to be parted from, titanium is the obvious choice. For racing purposes the power transfer is effectively crap, but the ride quality, durability, low maintenance, etc. is an awesome trade-off (give or take all the fun creaking noises Titanium is so famously good at making).

    Barring that, you should be riding aluminum if you’re more interested in keeping your budget down. FEA-driven hydroformed frame members just don’t exist in the ferrous bike world last I checked (at least not to the extent that they do in aluminum-land). Short of titanium or true high-end carbon, nothing can touch aluminum for its ability to be purpose-tuned at minimal cost. If you’re not racing and want some ride comfort, you should invest in a forgiving carbon fibre seatpost and kiss your Fred-dom goodbye and buy some 25c (or larger) tires, rather than pretending that frame material can make anywhere near the same magnitude of difference (there are some exceptions to this in carbon-land, but they cost lots of money).

    And on to the truly hardcore: If you’re actually racing, you probably already know about comfort trade-offs. Ti and steel are simply not options, as nobody’s managed to make a titanium or steel frame transfer power as efficiently and handle as precisely as aluminum alloy or carbon fibre can (some titanium gets sort-of close, but not close enough). If you’re on a budget, you’re buying aluminum with the stiffest bottom bracket you can find, and maybe considering some sort of aerodynamic trickery (there’s a reason the Cervélo Soloist Team conquered so many races before the competition clued in). If you’re not, there is absolutely nothing that can match the power transfer of a carbon frame without being a 6-pound-plus aluminum brick, at which point you might as well just stick some cranks and drop bars on an old engine block.

    While we’re talking carbon, let’s not get carried away. Trek are great-quality frames, and if you’re the type of racer whose legs could whip up a good meringue they’re damn light (but so are lots of others — honestly, and this is personal preference, I’d take a Scott instead if I were in the market for such a bike) and suitable for your riding style, but if you’re the type of rider who cares how stiff their crankarms are, Trek quickly falls off the radar and frames like the S-Works Tarmac, Cannondale’s top-of-the-line, and most of Cervélo’s offerings (and a good number of others, I’m sure, so don’t take my as arrogant enough to think I’ve found all the good frames) quickly find their way to the surface. If you’re really, really curious where the numbers lie here, Specialized has been kind enough to provide some test figures for most of the top-notch products out there (with a few conspicuous omissions, and some not-so-subtle tipping of the “scales” on their stiffness-to-”module”-weight comparison) here: http://www.specialized.com/OA_MEDIA/pdf/catalogs/08_FACT_Broch.pdf (page 7)

    And on that note I’m out for the night. I hope some of this has been at least somewhat informative as to the realities of bike frame trade-offs these days. Incidentally, I didn’t buy the R3 SL for its weight.

  • SH says:

    Quote from Paul:

    “If you’re actually racing, you probably already know about comfort trade-offs. Ti and steel are simply not options, as nobody’s managed to make a titanium or steel frame transfer power as efficiently and handle as precisely as aluminum alloy or carbon fibre can”

    Sounds more like opinion than fact. Check out the Pegoretti Big Leg Emma to see a perfect example of steel being more than adequate to deliver power:

    http://www.abovecategorynews.com/2008/07/pegoretti-big-leg-emma-for-rupert.html

    I agree with the claim that you can get more stiffness out of a carbon or Al frame for a given weight but who said stiffer is always better? Numbers from Specialized or any other company are usually biased and I’m reminded of the old saying, “there are lies, there are damn lies and then there are statistics.” Also reminds me of an article from Keith Bontrager a while back who demonstrated why having a super stiff BB is NOT energy efficient in all cases. Look it up… some simple trig explains it and Sean Kelly on his flexy Vitus back in the day is living proof…

    Here’s an experiment to try: Jump up and down as high as you can on a concrete sidewalk for about 5 minutes. See how you feel. Now do the same on a trampoline. Knees feel any different? Perhaps the analogy isn’t perfect but here’s the point: just because something is unyielding underneath you doesn’t make it more efficient or enjoyable to ride.

    The debate continues…

  • Paul says:

    Interesting frame, but I still doubt (I haven’t ridden one, but if I can I will) it’s addressed BB stiffness. Those stays will be stiff under compression, but there’s nothing there to prevent the BB shell from flopping all over the place (just like my cheap carbon frame does, and just like a Trek Madone did when I took one out for a test). I’ve certainly ridden both carbon and aluminum frames with stays that big, and they don’t manage to do a lot, even though aluminum should in most cases provide more stiffness in the same external cross-section, as it’s necessarily thicker-walled.

    Carbon lets you do clever things like building a conic (or similar, see S-Works Tarmac SL2 and most of Cervélo’s offerings for examples) seattube, which is the primary member capable of resisting BB flex. You can also brace the BB shell itself from a great distance with a big blob of a teardrop-crosssection “bottom bracket”. This is flat-out impossible with any drawn or extruded metal tube products. Sufficient (but still not equal) BB stiffness can be accomplished in aluminum, at a moderate weight penalty, whereas any fabrication of steel or even titanium tubing would be freakishly heavy to accomplish the same thing (if you could form them like you can carbon the story would be entirely different).

    As to Specialized’s numbers… they tell a funny story. They’ve obviously tried very hard to make their frame look fantastic (duh), but notice how they cannot for the life of them shake the R3 from nipping at their heels, and how they’re forced to use a proprietary crankset with integrated BB to finally “beat” it on “module weight” so they can claim they have better stiffness-to-weight (which they don’t). And of course, take the “vertical compliance” number with a grain of salt: Cervélo goes around pimping their thin seatstays as being dramatically more compliant (very much like what Specialized is trying to tout), but the reality is that most of the perceived ride quality of their frames ACTUALLY comes from frame flex at the seat cluster, which the thin top ends of the stays do affect.

  • Anonymous says:

    “Custom geometry makes a lot of sense for mountain bikes, and not so much for road bikes.”

    Thats a pretty silly thing to say. It would also be news to an awful lot of people. Since people tend to be on their road bikes for very long periods of time the slightest sizing errors can cause all sorts of issues. Head tube angle? How about top tube and seat tube length? Sizing can give you weirdly long stems which gives the bike an unbalanced feeling as can other compensations made by fitting.

    “titanium is the obvious choice. For racing purposes the power transfer is effectively crap, but the ride quality, durability, low maintenance, etc. is an awesome trade-off (give or take all the fun creaking noises Titanium is so famously good at making).”

    Yes I prefer titanium. Power transfer is a bunch of baloney and that has been proven time and again. Neither my Litespeed Vortex nor my Moots have any creaking issues.

    “Specialized has been kind enough to provide some test figures”

    I’m sure they have.

  • Paul says:

    Oh, and one more thing: I’ll certainly conceded that riding on the flat or on mild rollers is pretty much indifferent to stiffness, as handily demonstrated by many successes on not-so-stiff frames. But, I’m a big guy and climbing already sucks enough for me that I like to have as little extra fatigue from hammering up a steep hill as physically possible.

  • Paul says:

    “Since people tend to be on their road bikes for very long periods of time the slightest sizing errors can cause all sorts of issues. Head tube angle? How about top tube and seat tube length? Sizing can give you weirdly long stems which gives the bike an unbalanced feeling as can other compensations made by fitting.”

    I take it you’re buying custom road forks then, too.

    This is a big silly argument: A road bike needs to fit you well when it’s pointed in a more-or-less straight line, because it’s usually pointed in a more-or-less straight line (even in fast switchbacks you aren’t doing the kind of ridiculous crap that technical singletrack can incur). 10mm of stem length doesn’t make or break a road bike’s ability to be piloted down whatever course you’ve chosen, but it does on a mountain bike. So having the -right- top tube length and whatever else within a very small margin on a mountain bike determines whether you can have both correct fit AND useful handling in a wide variety of situations.

    And what’s this silliness about head tube angles being part of custom fit? When’s the last time anyone found a good reason for building a frame (read: normal road frame, not a TT frame or something) with ANYTHING other than a 73degree/43mm-rake fork, OTHER than eliminating toe overlap on smaller frames? The need for anything like this is a crock, as road bikes are generally ridden on surfaces without any substantial curvature, and they don’t have various amounts of front suspension travel (not to mention rear-axle-to-perpendicular-to-steerer distances) which then go on to affect steerer angle, front wheel canter for deflection purposes, and fork trail, and whatnot.

    Road bikes, for all intents and purposes (this doesn’t cover CX bikes, obviously) are ridden on ***FLAT*** surfaces, and therefore do not need to take into account a particular rider’s preferred range of handling compromises as terrain does such interesting things as changing steering trail, as -does- happen on a mountain bike. Yes, road bikes -do- need to “fit” better for comfort purposes, because you usually ride them longer and their tires are less forgiving and whatever, but unlike a mountain bike virtually all of these cases can be cured by moving your seat and bars around.

    As far as titanium goes, you might as well go custom because for once you’re looking at a product that -is- manufactured as if it were custom whether you choose to specify custom geometry or not (at least as far as buying Ti from this continent goes).

  • M-theory says:

    Well, so far we’ve established that custom size framing makes no sense whatsoever. It is neither necessary for fit…nor is it cost effective.

    Secondly we’ve extablished that, if durability is the issue, then titanium is the only choice. All the others have lifespans…including steel which rusts.

    If titanium is too expensive, then aluminum is the best choice for the serious enthusiast who rides hard on the weekends but doesn’t necessarity race.

    Aluminum can be hydroformed into exotic and purposeful shapes inexpensively. It is relatively durable, will not rust, can be repainted easily and does not require the tender-loving care treatment of Carbon Fiber. Furthermore, Aluminum can be interfaced with Carbon Fiber components, such as a seatpost and fork, to give a rather excellent ride without all the headaches.

    For the weekend enthusiast who likes to hammer down once in a while, aluminum will outperform steel or titanium, given its stiffness.

    And lastly, due to the exotic and purposeful shapes…it has the most style. And since it is indeed a metal, it offers the full lustre of its paint…unlike CF which does indeed look a bit plastic.

    Its good to have thought this all through. So while steel may be real…aluminum really is a steal!

  • Keninshiro says:

    @Paul: “If you’re a serious recreational rider and have some dosh you’d care to be parted from, titanium is the obvious choice. For racing purposes the power transfer is effectively crap, but the ride quality, durability, low maintenance, etc. is an awesome trade-off (give or take all the fun creaking noises Titanium is so famously good at making).”

    Eerrr…yes and no.

    Yes; Ti’s power transfer is crap in “most cases”.

    No; I out sprint a friend of mine 2 days who has the same (or more) leg power who rides a CAAD 9, i’m riding a Lynskey R330… how about that for validation?

    Agree that High end Alu and carbon beats Ti hands down in the power transfer department but it’s a relative issue because a lot of other things come into play that will affect the out come.

    Nope… my R330 don’t creak either…

  • Paul says:

    Yeah, yeah, guys.. they don’t creak if you put Ti Prep everywhere you’re supposed to ;) (my Ti MTB only makes funny noises in its drivetrain, thankfully… errr, wait that’s not something to be thankful for…)

    Back to racing… it’s not so much that a flexy bottom bracket reduces how much instantaneous power you can lay down on the road, as you might expect. The effect is that, including the wind-up and unwind, each pedalstroke takes a longer time, and your muscles start to suffer from it. In conditions like serious climbing or extreme headwinds, where you have a substantial deceleration between pedalstrokes, you do actually “lose” some power to the frame wind-up.

    Accordingly, your top speed in a sprint is unlikely to change (and you’re probably spinning pretty high RPMs anyways), but you’ll lose some time on any moderately long climb, and I doubt you can -hold- that sprinting speed for quite as long, as every pedalstroke sustaining your top speed is taking just a little more out of your legs than it otherwise could be, nor can you reach that speed quite as fast as you could with less frame wind-up. Of course, if you’re not racing none of this matters, at all. You take a rest, and then you kick your buddy’s butt again, and declare yourself victorious before any difference in muscle fatigue might try to tip the tables the other way. And hey, his CAAD9 has got to be heavier than good Ti, so that’s probably tiring him out just as much (if you’re not on level grade all the time) — as well as the much harsher ride reducing his power output through fatigue.

  • SH says:

    Quotes from Paul:

    “Interesting frame (Pegoretti Big Leg Emma), but I still doubt (I haven’t ridden one, but if I can I will) it’s addressed BB stiffness. Those stays will be stiff under compression, but there’s nothing there to prevent the BB shell from flopping all over the place”

    “whereas any fabrication of steel or even titanium tubing would be freakishly heavy to accomplish the same thing”

    I’m curious, how big are you Paul? The Pegoretti frame has a 32mm seat tube and what looks like a 35mm down tube so you can’t be serious when you say that BB will be flopping all over the place. For those who remember former 7-Eleven powerhouses like Davis Phinney and Sean Yates they did perfectly fine with 28.6mm seat tubes. Besides, from a power transfer standpoint the huge chainstays make more of a difference than any side-to-side BB flex would.

    I’ll admit, to get a super stiff frame made out of steel it would exceed 4.5 lbs and probably over 4 lbs for Ti but if a rider is that big how the heck does 5 lbs or less of metal qualify as freaklishly heavy?! How much extra weight is a water bottle, like 1 1/2 lbs? Whoa, better not carry a Camelback…

  • Keninshiro says:

    @Paul: “Accordingly, your top speed in a sprint is unlikely to change (and you’re probably spinning pretty high RPMs anyways), but you’ll lose some time on any moderately long climb, and I doubt you can -hold- that sprinting speed for quite as long, as every pedalstroke sustaining your top speed is taking just a little more out of your legs than it otherwise could be, nor can you reach that speed quite as fast as you could with less frame wind-up. Of course, if you’re not racing none of this matters, at all. You take a rest, and then you kick your buddy’s butt again, and declare yourself victorious before any difference in muscle fatigue might try to tip the tables the other way. And hey, his CAAD9 has got to be heavier than good Ti, so that’s probably tiring him out just as much (if you’re not on level grade all the time) — as well as the much harsher ride reducing his power output through fatigue.”

    Interesting point but like i’ve said earlier, it’s got a lot to do with other things that comes into play… Design + body weight is the first to come into mind. I’m not a big guy, 173cm at 73kg riding a 54cm top tube length R330 Ti frame is more than capable to handle my weight and output. In addition to that, the design of the R330 has bucket loads of tube butting, shape manipulation and different tube diameter sizes strengthening different areas of the frame…. all this has got nothing to do with quality Ti because CAAD9 is the top frame in Cannondale’s alu range hence frame material becomes equal in their own comparison.

    Back to Racing; Riding method has got a lot to do with how the frame reacts as well. A musher will appreciate a super stiff frame because they can gain more from a more “compliant” frame, the same goes for crit racers but for long haul races, most will appreciate a slightly compliant frame because your body will perform better from not getting a beating by road bumps and vibrations. If you race long distance enough, you’ll know that spinning (high RPM) is much better than mushing and by spinning (assuming that you know how to cycle in circular motion rather than pushing your paddles, a lot of ppl don’t realize they don’t cycle the right way) does not create that wind-up and unwind motion so much to a degree that it’ll change the angle of the BB to sap your energy. Most of us will tackle a long climb or a steep climb by spinning high RPM or high gear, i doubt any of us has legs of contador or Andy’s to mush our way up a hill.

  • Keninshiro says:

    Sorry guys, i wrote a part wrongly… it should be:

    Back to Racing; Riding method has got a lot to do with how the frame reacts as well. A musher will appreciate a super stiff frame because they can gain more COMPARED TO A “compliant” frame…. the same goes for crit racers…

  • Keninshiro says:

    Oohh…shoot, another mistake…

    …Most of us will tackle a long climb or a steep climb by spinning high rpm or LOW gear, i doubt any of us has legs of contador or Andy’s to mush our way up a hill.

  • SH says:

    From Keninshiro:

    “…most will appreciate a slightly compliant frame because your body will perform better from not getting a beating by road bumps and vibrations. If you race long distance enough, you’ll know that spinning (high RPM) is much better than mushing and by spinning (assuming that you know how to cycle in circular motion rather than pushing your paddles, a lot of ppl don’t realize they don’t cycle the right way) does not create that wind-up and unwind motion so much to a degree that it’ll change the angle of the BB to sap your energy.”

    Agreed! Having a little compliance, either vertically or horizontally is a good thing. Although carbon can be engineered to do this quite selectively one shouldn’t assume that this can’t be done reasonably well with steel or Ti. Plus, when you consider all the other variables that could be influencing power transfer (tire pressure, sole flexibility, cleat placement, spoke tension & number, seatpost, saddle…) does the carbon frame advantage really stand out in this department? Let’s see the unbiased numbers…

  • Chuck says:

    I’ve been riding a 60th Anniversary Schwinn Paramount Reynolds 853 lugged frame for 9 years now and every group ride and race I get compliments. It has been crashed, with nothing but a couple of scratches. It is stiff laterally, and has excellent vertical compliance. Keep it clean and it lasts a very long time.

  • Spike says:

    CF vs. Ti? I couldn’t decide so I went with a Serotta Fierte IT.

    I don’t race…I ride…a lot (I’ll do over 8000km on it this year) so I wanted a comfortable ride with my performance and so far this combination seems to work. It (the Ti BB) does creak when I am off the saddle though.

  • Ted says:

    Been riding since the early 70s and racing masters now. love the way a painted steel bike looks but my steel merckx was 21-22 lb and my carbon blue is 16-17.. The blue also rides easier.

  • Twain says:

    Wow Kurt, you really hit the cover off of this one! It’s awesome that this has caused so much controversy.
    I agree that steel frames have a wonderful ride quality. And I’m hoping to buy a used Cervelo Prodigy–and even asked Gerhard to start making them again.
    One thing that would be a great follow up is some insight on the new “super steel”-953/Stainless Steel. Reportedly extremely light and rust proof.
    The new Schwinn Paramount 70th edition features this tubeset
    http://www.schwinnbikes.com/paramount/design/index.html
    And Indy Fab is making the SSR
    http://www.ifbikes.com/OurBikes/Road/SSR/

    Talk about lust-worthy! One can only hope pricing will fall as it did for carbon.

  • Keninshiro says:

    @Twain

    Holy Cow! The schwinn Paramount blew me away!!!… it’s modern material meets tradition, thanks for sharing! :D

  • SH says:

    Regarding the new stainless steels:

    For those who don’t know, the tensile strength for 953 is through the roof! If the tubing manufacturers make some tubes in more moderate thicknesses (8/5/8 instead of 7/4/7 or 6/3/6) these things would be pretty dent-proof as well. Sure these things may never go into the sub 2 lb category but if we’re talking the difference between carbon and steel/Ti frames being around 2 lbs then is it really that bad to have an 18-19 lb road bike? I guess I must be old school too from the days when a 21 lb steel Pinarello was a standard pro-level bike…

  • Jeff says:

    This article made some good points but it forgot too many. The reason for buying steel bikes goes beyond this. Durability is hands down better but not just from crashes or mistakes loading or shipping the bike but also from a fatige standpoint. That silly carbon bike doesn’t ride the same as it did when it is brand new. Carbon breaks down and loses its stiffness overtime. The steel or ti bike on the other hand will ride pretty much the same 50 years and 100,000 miles down the road. The other reason is comfort. You think that carbon is comfortable, ha I say. Try riding it over on a chip seal or harsh road compared to steel or ti. The big difference steel and ti flex not merily absorb. Don’t mistake the dead feel on a fairly smooth road for comfort, steel is going to give you some feedback and connection with the road its the rough road that is what is going to matter at the end of the day. I love specialized as a brand and the Roubaix is hands down the best riding carbon bike out there but if you take the same vertical compliance test specialized does to compare to other carbon bikes and do that compared to Serrotta, IF, or Waterford that is built for even a 200 lbs rider. The results will surely amaze you. Lets face it most of us don’t race at least not seriously and at the end of the day would you really rather have a bike that weighs 1 pound less or something that will last and be more comfortable.

  • HoogleBoogle says:

    This is a pointless debate. It’ all about choices and the fact that there are so many option available to the bike-buying public is a good thing. The fact is that there are examples of wonderful bikes made from all sorts of different materials just as there are truckload of crap bikes made from all sorts of different materials. Over the years I have had many thousands of miles on bikes made from lugged steel, tigged steel, bonded aluminum, welded aluminum, 3/2.5 Ti, 6/4 Ti, lugged carbon, and monocoque carbon. The truth is, there was never any appreciable difference in my speed, comfort, or enjoyment once I got them set up right and got used to the handling. Tire pressure, saddle, pedals, and drivetrain setup are really where it’s at– get fit right, run quality components and you will like your ride no matter what the frame is made from.

  • Kurt Gensheimer says:

    Thanks Twain! Great links. There’s actually a company down here in San Diego (Escondido) called KVA (www.kvastainless.com). They’ve been making stainless steel tubing since the 1950′s for the military and for wheelchairs. Their stuff is top shelf, but not as well known in the bike industry as Reynolds and True Temper.

    They’ve started delving into frame building, and I’m planning on doing a follow up article about the virtues of stainless steel in a bicycle application. Since KVA has been working with this material longer than both Reynolds and True Temper, and are new to the bike world, it might be very interesting to hear their perspective.

    Stay tuned.

    Kurt G.

  • shif says:

    Kurt G. implies that Steelman Cycles embraces carbon construction, I don’t believe this is the case.

    Steelman (Brent Steelman) still makes awesome steel frames. His carbon frames were an experiment, not even on his web site. The only carbon parts he offers are carbon fiber seat and chain stays and forks, specifically upon request.

    His work is simply the best. My frame exhibits tremendous craftsmanship. The shaping of the tubing, the geometry, the fit, and nobody lays down a better tig weld in my opinion. Want lugs? He builds those frames too.

    Cheers,
    -S

  • SH says:

    Checked out that KVA Stainless website and spoke to some guys there. Their new tubeset is apparently stronger than OX Platinum but imagine it in stainless! The price looks to be more cost effective than Ti and the weight… well, check out the website. They’ve got a photo of a frame hanging on a produce scale. If I’m reading it right and it’s not BS it looks to be around the 2 lb mark! Could this be the next Ti or Carbon killer? Oh and the tubes are 100% Made in the USA if that matters…

  • German Moyano says:

    all I know is that I ride a steel 13 year old Bianchi and I Kick ass on it I am 49 and I keep up and pass many young men on carbon…it is 90 percent man 10 percent bike…

  • DS_mpls says:

    Why would you at road bike review let this article be published in the first place? Pure drivel. I’ve have a hand-build Cadex carbon MTB bike that I’ve enjoyed trashing over the last 14 years with nothing more than cosmetic wear while my buddy’s steel Bridgestone MB-0 rusts in his garage. Drivel I tell you.

  • Running with scissors says:

    My mate has a new Zillion$$ Carbon ride (Yes, I’m jealous), while I have an ageing Aluminium Cevelo. He doesn’t ride any faster. We both still enjoy the rides.
    Recently, just for fun my mates and I decided to have a bike challenge. You could only spend $60 on a bike and we would go for our Sunday morning cafe cruise on them. I picked up a Pre-WW2 Steel ladies bike for $7, spent the rest on tyres, Pedals, etc. We assembled at our usual place on eveything from Dragsters, a BMX with Tribars?, Rusting gentlemen bikes to my barely liftable old girl. We rode 50k’s. Had the most enjoyable ride for ages and have made it an annual challenge.
    The point is, it’s the ‘Leg to Gut’ ratio that makes the biggest difference, not what the bike is made from.

  • matthieu says:

    hi there

    i dont even know why writing in here cause no one will never read that mutch posts but

    about the weight !! hahaha thats a commercial issue dur to one thing

    most of the riders are anyway overweight ( and i’m the first one ) i’m 1m80 tall that does 5 feet 10 ? and weight 87 kilos ( do the fucking lbs translation yourself ) and you know what, even with my beer belly, my old aluminium frame and more or less trued wheels ( i live in montreal and there are a lot of portholes) one or two bottles of water on the racks ( think about that, whats to point of heaving a 2 pound light frame it you are carring anyway 3 pounds of water on it sucker ) and a backpack with book and so plus 200 gramms of ruber band on the frame to protect it and you know what i am peeking up with the fancy dudes in lycra suits and carbon frames, and you know why, cause of my legs, not my frame, cause of my good lubricated chain and my good tires !!!! no but seriusly

    what is the point of spearing 2 or tree pounds on the frame, the other components are the same wheight ( okok carbon shirter will shut down 18 grammes ) and the rider himself is te same fucking weight so at the end you have like one percent less wheight or even less to put in motion and that diference is absoloutely ridiculous !!! think about the only point where it maters is to get home and climb up the staires to you r apartement with the bike on the shoulder !!!!!

    so i would buy a super strong TI frame or even a cool aluminium frame, with or course full carbon fork ( not for the weight but for damping ) even one with carbon seat stay but again exept for indor cycling ( pista) and the tour de france ) no need to get 2 pounds down and spending 2k more, plus having a verry fragile machine. your ass is still heavy, your water is still heavy, your shoes to and the ride is still hard, lol thats cycling, if you want it easy buy a freeking motorcycle !!

    and for the cheap hot deals carbon bikes ( well you can get a full carbon for 2 k here in montreal ) youd better buy an aluminium or steel or anything but with ultegra or dura ace or campy record on it and not a cheap sora or tiagra sora xt mix !!!!!

    oh

    an buy a good sadle, that ‘s where your ass is all rid long !

    i promes, you will feel the bad sadle more painfull after 200 km the the 2 pounds extrawheigt lolll

    if anyone wants to comment on this

    or the fact that on my road bike i would love to get a front disc brake and not and extra light brake that does not brake at all at 50 km/h downhill !!!!

    se ya

  • xt says:

    @Twain – not sure how the author hit the cover off with this. The ‘steel is real’ folks have been saying exactly the same stuff for as long as carbon has been out. I don’t really see anything new here, other than maybe arguing a little more for shelling out on a custom “my bike’s unique” set up. It’s an editorial, with no real facts one way or the other. Some of the comments are far better than the article, but mostly they just underscore what stuck up gear-geeks roadies are. Hey hey, before your get your chamois in a wad – I get all excited about gear too, but not to the point of dissing and crying about what every body else is riding. Running with Scissors and a couple other guys have the right attitude. Anyone talking about NASA vs Trek carbon takes themselves and their bikes way too seriously.

    I have a carbon road bike. No sense getting in a row about what make or model it is. I love it, it’s light, it feels good. It’s 4 years old and still feels great. My mountain bikes and CX bike are all aluminum. I’m going to go ride one of them now without concern to what some author with an agenda wants me to ride. I may run into my girlfriend with her custom Ti- bike or our friend on his $800 Aluminum bike. If I do, none of us will give one damn about the others stuff. I hope you guys don’t preach to your friends like you do to anonymous strangers.

  • matthieu says:

    german moyano

    i say bravo to you !!!

    90 percent man 10 percent bike

    as long as the wheels are not square !!!!

    long ride to you and have fun passing an the young ones but beware on me !!!!

    lol

  • gianni says:

    These kind of dated steel vs carbon articles do actually provoke the exact opposite reaction and do more harm than good to the subject.

    Custom fit – as it always has been said by others, as of 2009 and considering all the bike companies/models/selection, you really need to have some very odd body dimensions to be in need of a custom fit.

    Of course, in terms of business, a frame maker will prefer to sell a custom fit to his customer.

    Durability – does really someone think a 853 or 953 (or any comparable Columbus tube) steel frame, with tubing diameters of in excess 0.3 mm (or 0.0118 inches) “would have scoffed at the mere thought” if the bike crashed and the “tin can” steel tube landed on someone else’s handlebars at a bad angle? ROFL.

    And last but not least, as far as “lifetime” material – carbon basically has an infinite fatigue life. If it is not exposed to forces that exceed the fatigue strength limit of the used fibers it will last forever – and it won’t get a “wet noodle”.

    • the annoyer says:

      I read about carbon’s so-called infinite life but then I read about it being weakened by sunlight and that any scratch or gouge should be professionally inspected. Also, and perhaps this is just due to its popularity, but I seen and heard many stories of unusual catastrophic failures due to de-lamination from various causes like oils seeping in. As for pure race performance, I think carbon is superior but for less competitive and more fun riding I think steel is a great balance of ride quality, durability and cost.Yes, there are lots of young people riding steel but they are not spending big bucks on them but rather are buying up all the “classic” road bikes. I have to wonder if anyone will be buying up todays top of the line bike twenty years from now? I doubt it, thats another bonus with steel-resale value. I don’t trust a used carbon…or aluminum for that matter.

  • gianni says:

    Sorry, of course it should be “tubing thickness/gauge” and not diameter. My fault, english is not my mother tongue.

    Cheers

  • Pierre says:

    Please note that there is no such thing as “light steel”. It doesn’t exist. Steel is steel. No matter what kind of steel you talk about, it will away have the same density of 7.7 to 8 grams per cu cm.

  • matthieu says:

    well well density of steel will change in a certain amount cause they use diferent aloys

    blank steel does not work for making a bicycle !!

    oh and light steel is used to call the new type of tubing with extremely thin walls !!

  • Carlos says:

    I for one have studies up well on frame materials and can say with confidence that this is some joke saying that after a while CF frames feel like a wet noodle, and custom steel is extremely durable.. well maybe the 1st CF frames might of felt noodley after tens of thousands of miles but the lay-ups and advancements of CF have brought it up durability. I’ve read of one bicycling guru who knows many competitive racers who have CF frames with something like 100k kms on and they find it stiff as when they 1st bought it and probably have tried out “new” CF frames since they are into racing.

    What mainly threw me off this article is saying that good steel frames are way more durable and tank like stronger.. which thier not since they are made of thin steel and dent easily compared to thick steel frames. this makes carbon sound like some fragile glass…

    Well this article was probably writen by someone who really loves steel… either way they shouldnt bend the truth.

    - Gianni is on spot.
    “as far as “lifetime” material – carbon basically has an infinite fatigue life. If it is not exposed to forces that exceed the fatigue strength limit of the used fibers it will last forever – and it won’t get a “wet noodle”.”

    • the annoyer says:

      I agree that carbon is extremely strong and getting stronger but what trips up the numbers is the difference between lab testing and real world use wheres there are common bails , chain slap, road debris, oil and other outside factors. I have seen lots of parts fail of all materials but, honestly, the most unusual and scariest are generally the complete failures of carbon fiber. I ask myself,”how does that happen to something that is so strong?”

  • Carlos says:

    Also, yes CF frames have to be well taken care of to last a lifetime.. if you have a chip in your finish.. seal it. cleaning your bike is the best way to find defects.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have been riding a steel frame for 4 years (with a carbon fork) and with bad quality of our road I can say without adoubt that steel is way better than alu and 1pound1/2 heavier than my friend PC3 Cervelo . And the comfort is way better . Just save your money to buy better wheels and gear of better quality and ther you have it.Long live steel.

  • SH says:

    Had an interesting interaction on a group ride the other day. Another rider asked if I was riding a Calfee and I told him no, it was a frame that I built in my garage. Got compliments on it but I mentioned it was steel so it’s a little heavy. He answers, “Yeah, but it’s comfortable.” He then inquired whether I built for others and is looking for a better fit. He was riding a Trek OCLV…

  • Nick says:

    I have a ’00 Trek 5200 (carbon) and love it. Used to bring it up to my vacation home in Vt for nice “quiet road” rides. Got tired of bring it back and forth so I “splurged” on a steel fame Specialized with a carbon fork. Both bike have similar components; good wheels, full Ultegra, but the Vt bike has a triple crank (killer hills). Anyway, I love both bikes-the steel frame is not noticibly heavier. Both bikes cost me roughly the same money. My advice, find or build a bike with good components and spend your money on that.

  • sknyskiman says:

    It all boils down to personal preference. In this age of so many good choices in frames, to say that I “should” ride steel vs. carbon is a bit extreme, and borders on ignorance. All frames have their good and bad points. Personally, I’ve owned them all – steel, aluminum, ti, and carbon – and I loved them all!

  • Kelsie says:

    Walmart Special made me lol!

  • My two cents says:

    Just replaced my full carbon fork with steel. Why? Because I have a steel frame. Columbus triple butted foco. I figured, If the bikes steel, the fork should be, too. It’s nice to look down and see a steel fork. Also replaced a 200 gram saddle with a brooks. So now my bike weighs 1 1/2 pounds more. I’m 215. I plan on getting down to 180. I like the feel of the steel fork more than the full carbon. Also, I coulden’t get past the babying I had to do with the carbon. \Don’t over tighten, Don’t scratch, Don’t clean with this, Don’t get grease on the steerer tube, Check constantly for hairline cracks,If hit, Internal damage unseen may have taken place\ etc, etc, etc,. Steel fork maintenace, If there is no rust, your good to go. Same with frames. Later.

  • My two cents says:

    Oh, and don’t use a stack height of more than one inch on carbon steerer. By the way, just took bike out with new steel straight bladed road fork which replaced a full carbon. Here’s my review: Steel allowed a little more road buzz. Not bad at all, just a little more. Bumpy roads, steel fork softened hits more then the carbon did. Big hits, like pot holes, steel did better. Down hill, steel tracked like it was on a rail, the carbon fork would shimmy if I lifted my hands off the bars. That could be from the steel fork having a slightly slacker? head angle. Also, I noticed the steel fork flex, not side to side,just in and out, some. I’m thinking, the carbon just stayed rigid and stiff when the steel one gave a little. Overall, not a huge difference either way, just a little more piece of mind knowing the steel fork probably won’t snap off becuae my stack height is one inch, or I hit the brakes really hard, ( Go to busted carbon.com for that story). As for the weight difference, didn’t notice at all. Of course, I ride with a camel back with anywhere from 50 to 80 ounces of H2O at a time. Hope this was helpful. Later.

  • Harvey Allen says:

    I do not race nor have a custom bike; for years my ride was a Raleigh Gran Prix from the 70′s, which gave me tens of thousands of miles of touring enjoyment, until I backed my car over it(I have ADD, what can I say?) My replacement is a Raleigh Technium 440 from the middle ’80s, and surprise! It’s better than my GP was in its best days. Advances in technology are certainly real, but what satisfies any individual rider is, well, individual.

    I may have missed it, but the writer didn’t mention that while frame weight difference may be 50% steel vs. carbon, the difference between frame PLUS rider is almost negligible. Want a lighter ride? Lose a few pounds and ride the same bike.

  • matthieu says:

    thanks a lot for putting the bike plus rider weight diference on the table !!

    make the caculation

    i’m 195 pounds, plus 3 pounds water/botles, plus 1 pound shoes plus one pound clothes, let’s say few things in a backpack !! lets say around 200 pounds !!

    and let take a verry light carbon bike for 15 pounds
    and a not so light bike for 21 pounds !!

    so one side we have 215 pounds
    the other 221 pounds

    the diference is 3 percent increase !!!!

    fucking 3 percent

    but

    i’m 195 pounds and i could get down to 170 with an ideal weight and a good ( verry good tranning/long bike rides and diet and no more beer )

    so the lose of wight woul be 221 before and 191 after

    diference of 16 percent !!

    yep 16 percent !!!!

    so as the harvey allen just sayd, if you want a lighter ride, loose some weigt !!

    hahahahahaha

  • SH says:

    If you’re comparing apples to apples then the difference between a carbon bike and a steel one with the same parts and wheels is more like 2-3 lbs. So 215 versus 218 lbs? That’s 1.4%!

  • Paul says:

    Alright, so having invested in a Cervelo R3 SL, and finally having ridden it since last posting here, I must disagree even more strongly with the touting of steel as the ultimate comfort frame material. I’ve ridden plenty of steel frames, from ’70s Raleighs through brand-new bespoke Italian names. And then, on Sunday, I discovered it’s possible to have a road bike you can sit down on -ALL OF THE TIME-, barring of course the need to lift the wheels over some road hazard. I also discovered that the stiffest bricks of aluminum road frames I’ve ever ridden were pathetic wet noodles in comparison to this 2-pound beast.

    There seem to be some people going around making foolish generalizations about high-end carbon. I’ve ridden top-end Madones. While they’re light, and the front end is just great at incredibly high speeds (the minimum requirements for a Tour-grade frame), they aren’t in the same ballpark as far as ride quality or hair-trigger power transfer. Don’t go around assuming a Jaguar is a reasonable basis for drawing performance conclusions about an Aston Martin, ja? (This also applies to carbon forks…)

  • Paul says:

    @matthieu: “an buy a good sadle, that ’s where your ass is all rid long !”

    Well, not quite. My ass is shaped all wrong and I’ve yet to find a saddle that’s really comfortable on its own. However, I’ve just recently found that I can run damn near any piece of crap saddle on my new(er — I have two now) carbon frame (certainly not on the old one though!) and NOT have to deal with the usual discomfort from whatever saddle I’ve decided to put up with for the day.

    You’re bang-on about weight. Beyond keeping the weight of the bike closer to the ground and gyroscopic effects of cornering on heavier wheels (or likewise when dealing with a crosswind — try some light hoops in a crosswind and tell me it’s not a world of improvement!), bike weight doesn’t mean squat. It means something if you’re racing, and that’s it. Even if you’re lagging slightly behind on club rides it’s probably because your legs or bike fit suck, not because your bike weighs more than the addict that’s parked beneath the spandex-clad ass up ahead that’s slowly distancing itself from you…

    It’s getting a ways away from the frame materials discussion, but let’s talk for a moment about buying speed (I’m ignoring obvious things here, like clipless pedals): First and foremost, if you can’t do it reasonably well yourself, get a professional fitting (I haven’t, and at this point could probably do with the marginal improvement it would represent), as this will not only give you better biomechanical performance but will make you more comfortable, and a more comfortable rider can put out more power (unless you’re Lance). Second, ditch the backpack, tshirt, baggy shorts, etc., and get some lycra. Aerodynamics mean everything if you’re actually intent on moving forward at a higher speed. Further to that, invest in some deeper rims if you haven’t already — I won’t run anything shallower than about 25-30mm, for any purpose. And don’t forget some tires that not only roll well at a useful pressure (given your body weight), but that let you hold that speed through corners — right now I run Conti GP4000S and they suit this purpose well. Next, go ride harder, and discover the subtle and not-yet-significant (until you get in better shape) ways in which your bike compromises your performance potential here and there, and then MAYBE consider upgrading further once you can spank at least some of the Cat3′s in your club.

    If you want to know why I’m still bored by steel and titanium as road frame materials, go take a top-end S-Works or Cervélo R-series or Scott or something similar out for a test ride, instead of blindly insisting that steel’s better (as well as titanium) because it rides nicer than some arbitrary, expensive, and boring “high-end” carbon frame. There’s expensive carbon, and then there’s good expensive carbon, and there’s an incredible amount of distance between the two.

  • real steel real racers says:

    The new Steel is the best period, ask any knowledgeable frame builder,ti is a close second,carbon just a another way to get an empty wallet and short life bicycle but i guess if one has more money than the crown jewels and would like to look quite fast while getting launched off the back Peloton like a hot rock.thats ok at lest you’ll look like a pro. sure right oh you paid more than the national budget for the last nine years and that plastic bicycle you just bought for a Googol ( A googol is a large number. that is a one followed by one hundred zeros )so you paid a ton lollies and what did you get for all those simoleons spent a ill fitting, harsh riding bicycle that has a short lifespan. man you only live once so why end up in Recession, save those lollies for later and discover real cycling, meet my best mate Mr modern steel unlike Mr plastic or carbon “alias Mr carbon plastic fibber” (notice that i spelled how it should be written)(1) My best mate Mr modern steel will give a quite smooth and predictable ride in all cycling conditions from worst to best.(2)you wont need worry about ones health when Mr plastic fibber frame expire date comes up. because he’s not up to the task at hand,because my best mate Mr modern steel will be here long after were gone,so no worries about hospital mates he’s quite dependable.(3)cycle fit is very important and Mr plastic fibber offers no proper sizing whilst Mr modern steel has the proper fit only limited to the master cycle builder. (4) losing all them pints off ones belly and training proper will have a greater effect that saving a few grams off with Mr plastic fibber (5)All the lollies that one has saved by riding Mr modern steel you could finely get rid of those quite daft looking spandex jean look cycling shorts and give the dustman the quite large and ridiculous looking cloth covered styrene foam helmet. Regards from father time steel

  • Andy Choy says:

    Carbon = Ferrari, but made in China
    Titanium = Bentley
    Steel = MGB
    Alloy = POS

  • Rain says:

    My trusty ’03 853 Poprad x frame rusted out from years of Portland commuting. The frame weighs over 4 lbs and yes, it rode like a dream. At 5’7″ with 31.5″ inseam, I don’t need custom frame geometry. Yes, steel can be built around 3lbs for my 130lb weight. Unfortunately, local custom builders want over $1500 for steel so thin, I could dent or crush it in a mishap.

    That being said. . .

    I bought a full carbon handbuilt Italian cross frame for under $1000 on closeout that weighs a pound and a half less than the Poprad with nearly identical geometry. I think it would be fairly ridiculous in this situation to cling to the “steel is real” jargon and wait for the perfect “custom” frame, then pay way more for it, then dick with it every 2 years to ensure it doesn’t rust while worrying about denting the thinwall tubing. Read: high maintenance.

    And yes, theres a reason frame builders are learning to do custom carbon layups instead of sticking to welding and inhaling toxic gasses etc. .

    I owned a full carbon trek 9.8 hardtail. Nothing since is faster, stiffer or more comfortable than that frame. In other words, it was BETTER.

  • Commuter says:

    Would love to do the carbon thing, but have not yet seen the one thate will take a rack/pannier setup. And no, I’ll never go back to a backpack no matter how light the frame is. There may be some truth to what some of the commenters are saying about strength and durability?? Just a thought.

  • Gerard the Kiwi says:

    From the perspective of 40 years of riding, and 20 years of aerospace structures (as a DER, for those who know what it means), I can only agree with some of the posts “Ride what you like”. Metallic materials are pretty damage tolerant, though, compared to carbon. Determing how big your damage is looks like being one of our challenges with 787s, when we get them.

    A more constructive discussion for overall speed might be “What’s your BMI?” or, “How much weight can you shed before it becomes worth buying a new and different bike?”

    Enjoy your summer, when it finally arrives: we’re slowly coming to the end of ours in the southern hemisphere.

  • Rain says:

    DER, one of those folks we pay way too much to bless a ridiculously complicated pattern of rivets for an antenna doubler. 35 years of GA aluminum experience and have yet to see ANY structural damage worth what is required to be spent for such needless overengineering. . .

    You’re right about carbon though, I was always wondering what would happen to that OCLV bottom bracket shell after years of micro impacts from gravel thrown by the front knobs. I try to keep the carbon away from the gravel and ride metal off road. It just feels better.

    the commuter can use adel clamps to provide mounting points for the rack and fenders on a carbon frame. they come in any size you need and rubber inserts protect the frame from the steel clamps.

  • jitaylor says:

    I would love to have a nice steel frame, but i am priced out of the market. The ones pictured are outstanding. the chinese no-name carbon frames on ebay are super, and i got one with seat post, frame, fork , handlebars for 465 with shipping. i would still rather have a good steel frame, but the good ones are quite dear.

  • blender B says:

    steel to carbon (1993 Kestrel witch still lives) back to steel back to carbon. live in the southern BC, loads of rain, steel = rust = short life. my carbon forks have outlived all my steel road bikes.

  • Some Guy says:

    Seems a little late to be complaining about the carbon fiber “craze”. But the thing about this kind of argument is how common it is: every time a new gear is added to the rear cassette, there are always cries of reduced durability and greater expense. Whether it’s moving to STI levers or clipless pedals, or to CDs from vinyl, there’s always some retro-grouch getting agitated.

    Granted, having ridden a steel bike for 16 years, there was a cheap thrill in being a conspicuous non-consumer; in a way I’m glad I flogged the steel bike as long as I did, because it just makes me appreciate a CF bike that much more.

  • Grizzled Old Roadie Dude says:

    I’ve won races on a steel bike. I’ve won races on an aluminum bike. I’ve won races on a carbon bike. I’ve won races on an alu/carbon bike. I’ve lost races to guys riding steel bikes. I’ve lost races to guys riding aluminum bikes. I’ve lost races to guys riding carbon bikes.

    Just sayin.

  • Asher says:

    I only need one reason to ride steel — I like it. I have no ‘good’ reason; it’s pure aesthetics. I just like the way steel bikes look and feel.

    I’ve ridden carbon a couple of times and it was fine. I don’t like the feel of aluminum, but part of me thinks that’s all in my head. Some of the titanium bikes out there are pretty and insanely light, but I haven’t had one out for a spin, so I have no idea if I’d like the ride.

    This doesn’t mean I’ll never own carbon, and it surely doesn’t mean I’ll never ride carbon. It just means I don’t feel the need to justify my tastes. At my level, it’s really not about the bike anyway, with the exception of a few minimum requirements. It’s about the fatty of a t-rex powering the bike ;)

  • Bigborb says:

    I can’t get as aggressive about this article as some of the responders have. I don’t really see why some of these guys got so heated up; it presents some interesting ideas that many cyclists may never have considered, and may even offer some realistic alternatives to inexperienced buyers who may otherwise be drawn into a purchase that is beyond their means, simply because of the ‘herd instinct’ of the market.

    I have 15 bikes, and love them all. I don’t think this is excessive, although most of my serious cycling pals think I’m nuts; I simply enjoy the different ‘personalities’ of all these bikes, and they are all uniquely different (even my 3 different models from Parlee). Granted, they are all from the top makers in each category – I have carbons, titanium, steel and a few alum., from the likes of Parlee, Colnago, Pegoretti, Cervelo, Lynskey, Moots, etc, but I have also ridden dozens of other bikes from lesser makers or lower models. I’ve found that the old adage still applies: you pretty well get what you pay for.

    Clearly any material can be poorly handled or cheaply fabricated to make a crappy frame, but when a maker is at the pinnacle of his achievement and applies both intuition and careful testing to his chosen material, great things can come out of the creation no matter what the structural material. It has always struck me that carbon is so flexible(not in the elastic sense) as a material, that it can be laid up in any number of ways to sculpt the ride quality, but it takes a lot of experiment and artistry of a sort to achieve this. But most carbon frames are squirted out of a mold and are built according to the ‘weakest link’ in the set of tolerances. For those who have posted otherwise, here really lies the difference in the feel of a custom bike, not only because of geometry, but due to the fact that the experienced builder can tailor the function of each tube and connecting member to the riders’ specific need – be it compliance, stiffness, longevity, power transfer, etc.. This is so, no matter what the material, but could be that much more dramatic when working with carbon fibre. These differences are so much more subtle in steel frames, but it is just this kind of subtlety that makes it all the more interesting, and more like ‘art’. As Dario Pegoretti himself said of frame-making: “it’s just 8 tubes..” in a sort of self-effacing sarcasm.

    I have to say that none of my bikes is really much faster than another one, that depends more on the rider. But one thing is for certain, my steel Pegorettis are not any slower.. They are such a delight to ride, and transfer the power at least as effectively as my stiffest carbon frame, and it is an added bonus to know that there is a lifetime of dedication, care and sweat that has gone into making this frame, by an artist who is as advanced in his skill as was Stradivari at making violins. Perhaps that’s a bit of a reach because I’m pretty sure that none of these bikes will last 400 years, but you get my point.

    As for the usual weight criteria, that is a marketing statistic which is easy to quote and compete with, but in the real world is close to meaningless. Whether a frame or a bunch of parts for that matter weighs 8 ounces more or less, has absolutely no bearing on performance. Perhaps if you’re Carlos Sastre racing up Alpe d’Huez, this may make a difference, but I even doubt that!

    I can’t say if I had to pick ‘just one’ as my desert island bike whether this would be a steel frame – I don’t know… maybe – that would be a hard choice; I guess that’s why I have so many bikes. But weighing all the consequences of function, and sheer performance, durability, and pleasure, I definitely would not trade a carefully crafted steel frame in for a mass-produced ‘new model’ from one of those big companies, just because.. it’s carbon.

    …ride well; enjoy it while you can; sometime it will rain..

  • Stretch says:

    Frame material, custom build, or stock frame… Has any body mentioned the rider?

    I am assuming the guys poo pooing custom frames are average size/weight guys that fit on a 50cm-60cm. I am also guessing the material choice coincides with the riders weight. My first road bike was a hand me down steel De Rosa that I had to mount the longest stem I could find and a seat post that stuck 10″ish out of the frame to make the bike fit me. The De Rosa was a large frame 58cm. I ride a 65cm and could fit a 67cm easy if I could find one. I am sure when the De Rosa was never intended to be ridden by my big ass, That thing flexed all over the place. I’m sure that had it been a frame that fit me the guys at De Rosa would have beefed up the frame to accommodate the extra forces applied.

    I found this blog looking for information on frames for LARGE riders. Someone made a comment about landing gear and wing material. I am not a bird, I am more interested in landing so my opinion is different than the little Italian Fu#*R that flies past me on a steep climb. Most the bike frames I have owned have cracked or worse. (I sheared a steer tube once and that sucked) I am 6’6″ and 235# but I was breaking bikes at 180#. weight, energy transfer, and even fit don’t mean crap if you don’t think your bike can take what you dish out. Trusting in your equipment it paramount.

    I am not interested in saving weight. I want a strong bike that I can jump a cattle guard at 45mph (Geysers rd. Sonoma county CA.) and KNOW the bike can handle it with ease. If I want to shed some weight I can cut out bread and beer for a week or two. (I am currently stationed in Heidelberg Germany so that is a hard one for me. The folks back in the states need to drop there Wonder Bread and Coors for some Dunkel and brot)

    The road bike world is geared to smaller lighter people. so looking to see what the top racers are ridding for us should be rugby players is a wast of time.

    You also need to look at riding style. I am a BMX/Mountain biker who loves road biking. I am harder on my bike than others might be. The road only guys tend to be a little easier on there bikes that the dirt worshipers. I laugh when I see a group of guys get all skittish in a dirty corner.

    So my point is if you haven’t gotten sick of my rambling is this. If you fit on a 48cm-61cm frame most factory rides will work with minimum adjustment. Every body else good luck. If you weight is less than the max weight recommendation for a full carbon fork then use what ever material you want. You won’t crack brittle aluminum, carbon will last plenty long, TI is TI and since you only weigh 145# why the hell would you use steel? Unless you are in my boat and can’t afford a custom TI.

    Yes I am bitter. I Just cracked another frame!

    Have a Great day
    Stretch

  • Schmutz says:

    Try making your own custom frame…. I did ! I inherited a gas welder from Grand Pa ! I built my own steel road bike frame using components from HENRY JAMES. It was a fun project and ended up being my favorite bike to ride. There is nothing like a custom fit frame. Please check out HenryJames.com Playing with a gas welder is much more fun !

  • andrew @ cyclocross magazine says:

    nice article. one point i disagree with though: “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.”

    i own and have ridden cyclocross bikes of all materials, the nowadays, the carbon bikes often have the MOST mud clearance of all the options. the molds, lack of a chainstay bridge, and really extreme tube shapes have created gobs of clearance. on one of my carbon race bikes, I can easily fit a 45c tire with great clearance AND short chainstays. not so with my other bikes, unless they have pretty stretched geometry.

    but ultimately they’re all tools, and many different tools can get the job done.

  • neil says:

    I have owned and ridden bikes made of steel, carbon, titanium and titanium and carbon mixes. The best ride for speed and comfort has been the custom set up from Seven of titanium and carbon. The best unless you are absolutely obsessed with having a bike with the lowest weight possible is the Seven ti and carbon. 30 years of riding.

  • Jeff says:

    I think the lesson that should be learned here is if you are going to buy a new bike decide first what your true needs are. If you buy a twitchy crit bike to do charity rides and centuries you will not be happy regardless of the material. Buying a bike is as much of a journey as cycling itself ride everything you can in your price range and keep an open mind to materials. It is best to have a local bike shop fit you to a bike than to just buy one because someone else has the same one.

    I have great appreciation for carbon and steel and my main bike is a steel frame with a carbon fork and can handle a larger tire than most if I want. I personally am not a fan of aluminum because of the vibrarition that transfers to the rider. It is my preference what I ride.

  • timo says:

    I have never had the privilege to ride a carbon road bike but am now considering one. I had an aluminium mountain bike which decided to crack and when I replaced the frame with a KHS Team 19” – true temper ox steel frame, it was just so much nicer to ride a lightish steel mountain bike (hard tail). The back wheel just stayed more locked in and had less vibration and tendency to slide out.

    I have now got three steel road bikes. One is an early 90s Giant allegre which is very comfortable to ride even up to 220km rides. I have since bought a newer steel bike made from Deda 12.5 com steel and on the cobble stones in the Netherlands the bumps are completely soaked up by this amazing frame. I have recently bought a -second from the top – almost vintage peugeot. It is a reynolds 653 frame and a glarish two tone Purple to Pink paint job. There is something so attractive about the Peugeot frames that I cannot explain. I run an everyday Peugeot steel frame on a single speed which uses a very clever chain cover called a Hebie chain glider. The chain cover floats on the chain and is the best cycling invention i have seen in the last while. Both Peugeots are now 20 years old nearly and still are great bikes which is a testament to how steel is still real. You only need to look at fixedgear.com to see the amount of old steel frames that are being restored.
    I would like to try carbon and my Dutch deda com 12.5 road bike uses a carbon fork, so i am getting used to it. My only reservation is the fragility of it and fear of a catastrophic failure with fatigue but so far so good.
    It is amazing how much debate two triangles made of different materials can incite in people. We are lucky in the cycling world to be able to sample some high spec materials that are sometimes usually reserved to the aerospace or car racing industry. So we should be grateful. Personally i agree that every bike has its personality and owning 7 bikes myself, they are difficult to sell or part with for each of the fun that they all bring.
    To mention the power of a Peugeot frame and how it is an icon see this link:
    http://www.fixedgeargallery.com/2005/aug/JohnRobertWilliams.htm

  • Pingback: GearInches.com » Why You Should Be Riding Steel & Not Carbon

  • Cliff Phelps says:

    I see lots of 1/2 truth on all sides of this argument.

    Steel & titanium frames are more durable than ANY carbon fiber frame. If you don’t believe me then get one of the little tools below, place it on the top tube of a light weight steel or ti fram and press then do the same thing with any carbon fibre frame, from any band.

    http://www.harborfreight.com/spring-loaded-center-punch-621.html

    A spring center-punch will absoultely ruin a carbon frame but will only dent a metal frame. Carbon frames do what they do very well but when they fail they are not gracefull about it. However, until they fail they can and often do ride quite well.

    Repairability is not an issue with most folks. I think that if most people break a frame then they’d rather replace it. Bicycles are not like your kids. You don’t take a bike to the doctor for a broken leg and get it put in a cast. You bike a new bike. Where I tour there is no frame repair available. I could buy another bike thus component choice is, I believe a more important issue than repairability

    The argument that “That’s what the pros ride” is simply idiotic. That’s what they are paid to ride. If Trek made bikes out of silicone waffers or bread dough then the teams Trek sponsors would ride bikes made out of silicone waffer or bread dough. Pros ride what their sponsors provide.

    Similarly, as has been pointed out above there is a vast difference between the carbon fibre quality used in avionics and bicycles. I’d like to point out something else. Military aircraft, at least combat aircraft are designed to be shot at. The carbon fibre pannels on F-16′s or F-15 are there because they save weight but also because they can be replaced. Aircraft ground crews go over those panels after every flight looking for cracks and areas that might fail. More than that, fighter planes are built to be shot down. They are in some respects very expensive throw-a-way items. Carbon fibre frames are the type item. Once again though they work very well.

    The point about how many new steel frames have carbon forks is also moot. There are not that many steel forks being made. However, i think the person who asked that might be surprised how many custom steel frames have steel forks.

    Where are the mid priced steel frames? Well Soma, Surly Rivendell, Gunnar, Dawes (Not Dawes USA) and VO come to mind

    A carbon frame is NOT going to make you faster in any meaningful way on level ground.

    A steel frame is not necesarrily going to be more comfortable.

    There is not a huge difference in weight.

    The question then comes down too what is appropriate for you? Not what do you want.

    I have really only two problems with carbon fibre bikes:
    1. I think they are severely overpriced. Yes the molds and engineering are expensive but they are on any item that is mass produced. What really killed steel bikes was not carbon fibre but welded aluminium. It was cheaper to produce and gave a weight advantage over steel on the low end of the market. Carbon fibre came in at the high end of the market and raised the price of everything below it.
    2. While the frames can fail, a frame that fails at the bottom bracket results in a crash that is probably not life threatening. However, I believe that carbon fibre forks are simply damgerous. If I rode a carbon fibre frame I’d get a light weight steel fork and ride a bike that is 9 oz heavier but far safer. I realixze the next post is going to be someone who claims to have seen a steel fork break, for no reason after it was out of the shop for 30 minutes. Well show me a photo. document it. Trek had problem with forks breaking just last year. If your fork fails you have a life threatening crash. It is one area where alittle weight equals a lot of saftey.

    Pardon the typos

  • FASTGUY45 says:

    I just ride aluminum. It’s cheap, stiff, and light. When I break it I buy a new one and don’t cry.

  • Badger says:

    I have been following this spirited discussion with great interest.
    I don’t have a long span of riding but I’ve been enjoying the sport for about 23 years so I consider myself an cycling enthusiast. I loved and still love my 3 (-1) steely rides (Bianchi, Battaglin, Miele) plus my Aluminum Klein MTB.

    Some of the CF bikes I’ve seen on the road are just gorgeous but as beautiful as they are a few pounds of isn’t going make me any faster especially at this point in my life. I have to admit I’ve teetered on the fence for many Years. Almost every season I’m tempted to lay down some serious $$ on a decked out CF bike but every time, you know what brings me back to reality? Realty Check ->> http://www.bustedcarbon.com/

    Mind blowing.
    The samples are NOT 10 year old but Modern 3K High Modulus Carbon. It’s shocking to see the way that CF can fail so suddenly and catastrophically. Given that the rate of failure isn’t that common and I’m only 130lbs but this is simply a risk I’m not willing to accept. Plus I don’t get paid to ride nor do I trade to new bike every few year; I ride for sheer enjoyment. So for me the most important thing is rolling back on to my driveway with all my teeth and limbs intact for the next outing. Long live steel!

    BTW, my Bianchi eventually fail on me. I snapped a seat stay and cracked the fork BUT there was plenty of forewarning. The bike started to feel spongy until the front end gradually transformed itself into a chopper styled bike. CF isn’t going to give you this friendly warning.

  • Martin Carter says:

    thanks a lot for putting the bike plus rider weight diference on the table !!
    very good blog!! thanks for sharing..

  • trescojones says:

    How come its always OK in this debate to compare 20+ year old steel with lugs against todays state of the art carbon and call it an objective comparison of technological capability?
    I notice todays steels, eg. true temper s3 or columbus spirit, are always avoided in these comparisons. Perhaps their quarter to half pound wheight increase, rather than the oft quoted 100% wheight increase, is embarrasing for people who obsess about these things. It is also obvious that spending several k on any bike will be accompanied by a strong urge to justify it, by believing that it is objectively the best, even if its mediocre and its detractions have to be denied or overlooked.

  • Simon Last Co says:

    Awesome article, I really found it helpful and valuable. I am from Australia and 95kgs in weight which is quite heavy – I am also 6 2 or so tall. My experience with Carbon bikes is that I bought a Malvern Star Carbon Oppy frame for $950 2 years ago. I ride 25km a day to and from work. This thing cracked in 6 weeks and flexed like a wet noodle really bad, especially at the bottom bracket. The frame had a lifetime warranty but it took about 5 months of pestering to get a new frame, they didn’t want to know me.

    So I now have an italian made steel framed bike with 105 and strong deep v wheels and it goes really well. Problem is I like shopping am addicted to new things and want a new carbon bike from Giant or Bianchi. This is the insanity of my thinking. Overall I would say if you are heavy, carbon may not be for you, but like all the posters and the writer has said, steel is really strong. Also it flexes just the right amount, unlike alloys which were bone jarring for me and uncomfortable. So hopefully I will habe the sense to stick with what I have! Pray for me!!!

  • Matt J says:

    This was a great article. The only thing I don’t agree with 100% is his emphasis on custom. I’m a former bicycle industry insider, I’ve bought, sold, and repaired bikes for a living. I have flipped bikes as a side hobby for years making some extra bucks and trying lots of bikes. I have owned and ridden every type of bike there is, not every model or brand, but every material except magnesium, wood and bamboo. I started on an old 80′s steel bike,a higher end Nishiki. I have owned an aluminum carbon hybrid by Trek, high end and ultra high end aluminum bikes by Cannondale and Principia, a Titanium Litespeed and fairly recent model carbon bikes like a Trek Madone (16.5#), Specialized Tarmac, and Orbea Orca.

    These are all great bikes, but I’m back on steel. My current main ride is a De Rosa Neo Primato (19#) with Campy Record build. I doubt I’ll ever ride anything else beside steel. There is just no comparison to the ride and durabilty. Yes, if you did the math, my De Rosa is 2.5 pounds heavier than my Madone. The Madone was a fantastic bike, and Trek would have replaced the frame for life if it failed while riding along. That’s not usually how they break.

    I’ve seen broken bikes of every material, but I never heard the term catastrophic failure until carbon was prevalent. Crashes and dumb accidents dent or bend metal bikes, they break carbon bikes, its just a fact of life. A broken steel bike can likely be repaired, good luck getting your carbon bike repaired. My bikes are not the lightest steel available but I’m willing to pay the weight price. When I’m not carrying any extra weight on my body, like that will happen, I may consider a lighter frame, but it will still be steel.

    I read an article years ago where riders rode a test course with identical bikes weighted and unweighted. The weight was static, placed inside the seat tube. Amateur riders could not reliably detect the weighted bike until the weight was over 3 pounds. Pro riders were able to detect it at a pound or so if I remember right. weight is not as noticeable as most of us like to think.

    People can ride what they want, I sure do. Every time someone I know sends send some new rider my way, because they think I’m some sort of expert. I point the newby towards a moderately prices steel bike, without fail.

  • Big Dog says:

    I would like to see the sources on your carbon fiber info. Carbon fiber doesn’t go limp over time. One of the good things about carbon is that it has an unlimited fatigue life. All metals eventually contort or fail when treated to repeated shock, although steel’s elasticity makes it very resistant to this. Carbon, however, either absorbs the shock or breaks; there is no fatigue, no contortion. With that said: yes, carbon does break. But don’t blame the carbon, blame the weave. A tight, multi-directional weave reinforced with Kevlar, like Trek’s OCLV carbon, can withstand more abuse than its Tru Temper equivalent before showing signs of stress (which would be a dent for steel and a crack for carbon).
    If you want to know more, check out Mike Borrow’s book, “Bicycle Design”. He was the head designer/engineer for Giant and knows a thing or two about materials.
    Also check out Calfee Design: http://www.calfeedesign.com/GradesofCarbon.htm

    Most importantly, use critical thought: there is no best frame material, if there was that’s what we’d all be riding.

  • Dave says:

    If all frame and fork combos weighed the same, virtually every non racer would be on steel. Carbon lovers need to admit they ride carbon because it’s lighter and or the pros ride it. Why did I say non racer?. Because I know carbon can be made very stiff, thus more power transfer, so a pro has a legit reason. Plus they get free bikes, etc.

  • Be like water... says:

    The wiser man (or woman) will ride titanium (or steel) for life, And replace his fork every year for peace of mind !

  • Chitown says:

    Typical rider/racer since 1986. I bought Aluminum in 1986 and 2010. Carbon in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Ti for one year. Steel for about 6 years, etc…….I would say Aluminum is the worst. Harsh, fast and then somehow dead, and even a nice fork and wheelset won’t get it to the top of the list. Ti was ok, nothing special. steel would feel the best at times (super smooth, stable in descents, and just loved to cruise at 19 mph forever….). Carbon early on was dead and only light, wasn’t super impressed, unless i wanted to sprint or go straight up a hill. The newest carbon can do it all….carve turns, go super fast, destroy descents, cruise all day, and the R&D spent by top-end firms (millions the custom guys don’t have) is worth it.

  • BillyG says:

    Ridden a lot since the 80′s.
    The oldest road bike in my stable is a Columbus SL (steel for you newbies) from the mid 90′s
    I also have an aluminum bike from 2001. Now shopping for either Ti, Carbon or wood (no, seriously, wood, like from Renovo). I think. Or maybe it’s back to steel.

    There’s more to the ride than just the frame material. The Al frame I have feels lighter and zippier by far. I used to think about getting rid of my steel because I would always reach for the Aluminum when I went for a ride. Then I cleaned up my steel and gave it the same tires and pedals as my Aluminum and I find myself reaching for the good ol’ steel bike just as often.

    The steel bike now feels smoother, more comfortable and more “connected. And it is ultra stable compared to the rather twitchy aluminum bike. I live in very hilly country, so you’d think the aluminum would have an advantage for weight, but no. It seems like once I get cranking on the steel, I can just motor up them bumps. On the aluminum, I accelerate fast, it’s light, it’s responsive, but it feels like I lose momentum on every pedal stroke.

    I’ve a daily commute with about 12-13km of hills and I’ve timed my runs with both bikes and there is NO significant time difference nor do I feel any more tired with one vs. the other. BTW, I’m also in very wet climate, the steel frame doesn’t seem to have suffered too much considering its age. Rust isn’t my problem here.

    For my next bike, I will probably ride what feels best and not worry about the material. If it’s carbon, then fine. (Which, btw, don’t look down too much on those mass produced carbon frames from Taiwan. Those guys in Taiwan have more experience doing carbon just-about-anything than anyone else in the world. Unless you have some mad genious with a psychic connection to carbon, it’s highly unlikely anyone else can consistently do as good a job)

  • moby doug says:

    Maybe you guys should divide yourselves between the clock-beaters the feel-riders. That is, if you’re obsessed with super lightness and stiffness and acceleration and shedding grams uphill, you probably want carbon….with $1500 plus wheels. If you’re part of the 99% of riders who are NOT serious racers, then you may care more about how the bike feels on the road over thousands of hours than how many fractions of a second you’re saving in a race against the clock or others. I’ve ridden and owned literally dozens and dozens of titanium, steel, carbon, and aluminum bikes over 25 years. Many top end metal bikes, and even some special production frames, have extraodinary, tuning-forklike road feel that most carbon frames, fast, light, and stiff as they are, can’t match. You pays your money and you takes your choice….. And yes, bits like wheels, tires, saddles, stems, bars, and, of course, forks, plus sizing & setup, also matter hugely to bike feel and handling.

  • msf says:

    I have a 20-year old Basso with Columbus tubing (steel) and a Trek Madone 4.5. The first time I rode the Trek, I was surprised how much it felt like the Basso. Smooth, low vibration, forgiving. But it is also lighter, stiffer, and does not corrode. Corrosion is the Achilles heel of steel.

  • Weight is Key says:

    After riding extensively world-wide, I have used both steel and carbon bikes. When the road turns uphill, the weight penalty is soo severe that steel is never the preferred choice. Descending used to be much better on a steel bike, no longer. All day comfort is also very close when you put on different wheels. The amount of time lost from going up hills on a steel bike is soo significant that I will never consider 90% of steel bikes. The light ones are extremely expensive, and then you can get a carbon bike with better components for less. Plus it rains a lot in the world. It’s not about the stiffness or being seconds faster, carbon will literally get you there hours earlier with the same effort.

  • Captn Sky says:

    I’ve seen a new carbon frame crushed in a Parks work stand while being assembled.
    I only own and ride Metal; Aluminum, Steel and Ti bikes and Fly an Aluminum Airplane.
    I don’t want anything composite except accessories.

  • george blumfield says:

    In 1959, I bought a URAGO bicycle from Roy’s Cyclery on Pico Blvd. in LA and rode it until a drunk lady in a Caddy customized it so that it worked better in the dump. With the money that she gave me for not reporting it to the cops, I bought another bike; a RAPHAEL GEMINIANI SPECIAL also from the same shop. It is equipped with Campy Gran Sport Deraillers, Shifters, Hubs, but had a Stronglite cottered crank; with the bike I bought a TA alloy crank and bottom end set; has Mafac brakes, and Ideale seat and is constructed of Reynolds 531. The first time that I rode this bike, I thought that I could fly. It was the greatest; I rode it for 20 years and my son then took it over, jumped curbs, etc with it but through all that, is not damaged in any way. I made the huge mistake of repainting it, but am able to get the transfers from different sources. I am going to install the TA crank set, and after repainting it, plan to ride it again. I’ve ridden the Italian steelies, but favor the ride of the old French bikes that I had; URAGO and GEMINIANI. I am considering buying a carbon bike and possibly an aluminum bike, and have no idea how they ride or work, but I can say for certain that a good quality steel bike will hold up to just about anything that you can reasonably give it. I’m glad to see the Bikes come back.
    I sincerely hope that you have fun riding; I sure have!
    George

  • stan hooper says:

    One very important aspect that I haven’t seen in this excellent discussion is product life cycle. Where does it end up when you are done with it? Carbon goes into landfill and sits there indefinitely. Metal (steel, aluminum, titanium) frames can easily be recycled into new consumer products. If you are informed about the environmental challenges we face, and I suspect Road Bike Review readers are, this is another reason to consider a steel frame. We’re talking about tens of millions of bikes here.

    I ride a steel Gunnar w/Ouzo Pro fork (yes, carbon fiber), full Ultegra, Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels. I ride it hard up and down in the steep Santa Cruz Mountains and love the hell out of it.

  • AL Mohr says:

    Nice comment section here. I used to build custom steel frames using Columbus Nivacrom EL tubing.An EL frame Built up with Campy Record carbon 10s carbon bars seat posts fork etc.came in at 17.5lbs. Its obvious what was necessary to offset the weight, CARBON what a surprise!!! I still have one of my original EL frames W/Henry James polished stainless lugs, built up as a sunday bike, but my main ride is a 55cm Lapierre off the shelf frame built up with Campy record and various other carbon components boy does this bike out ride the steel. I have logged over 9k in the past two years. I have cracked the right seat stay and fixed IT! yes you can effectively repair carbon its not always a throw it away scenario nor is it rocket science…I like my old steel but I ride seriously on carbon it gets the job done…

  • Dave-O! says:

    Yes the guy that will be welding my new CX bike does meet NASA standards, his work on many of the Shuttles. Yes I ride a carbon road bike now, my cross bike is Aluminum and my 20 year old MTB is Ti (and being converted to single speed IF we can get the seat post out). I used to race on steel bikes, yes I broke 3 of them! Broke a chain stay, unplugged a bottom bracket and broke a steerer (only the brake bolt was holding it together). I would buy into a argument like: it is a good product built locally by somebody you know not the other side of the planet. I also think this is a dangerous trap you have set, why get a new car, or computer or stove.
    Almost seems like you work for the UCI, if it was good enough for the Cannibal in 1972 it is good enough now.

  • +Neilburt says:

    I’m the 220lbs you’re writing about, and I love my carbon fiber. I rode steel framed bikes, laughing at the prices people paid for carbon bikes. My steel bikes generally cost less than a 100 bucks. Then my little bro bought some carbon, I went faster, went uphill easier, never forgot the nimble feel of the carbon bike, but being 6’4″ tall I would have expended gynourmus bucharoos for a frame my size, so I bought aluminum w/a carbon fork an rear triangle. Good bike, but then 6 years after my taste of fiber, I found my dreambike in cyberspace, on the computer, so it’s from the future, basically it was sitting on ebay. After gettiing it (2010 Cannondale Synapse 6, entrylevel carbon), first ride I new this bike was waiting to find me, and I’ve been in love since. Great handling, excellent breakaway speeds, superb ergonomics, there’s a reason for everything, and all your energy goes to the rear wheel. I ride my CAnnondale to work, so I save $5.50 a day in gas alone, the 8 months I’m able to ride it a year, it will take 2 years to pay for itself, but it’s well worth it. When I pass a steel bike on the trail, they have a scissory sound to them, not the silent swoosh a carbon fiber bike has. One night I was behind a steel bike for a stint, and I watched him and could see how much energy was wasted, how much his bike was flexing for him to maintain the speed he was at, and the less energy it took to power my bike. I couldn’t help but think if he was on a carbon bike I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him.

  • Tom says:

    Steel = cheap and easy. Why do you think all the “custom frame builders” start with steel. Cheap and easy = ubiquitous regardless of any other qualities. For some reason these days steel frames are expensive when the ease of acquisition and machining are taken into account, I think the retro steel movement has driven the price up.
    I am ok with those myopic enough to think that steel rides better than carbon but I’ll stick with carbon, so far the only frame material that I have ridden and not broken is carbon (I realize that could change at any moment). In this particular situation the advances in technology are real and produce results.

  • Will Wiegman says:

    In the last 55 years I have ridden Raleigh, Peugeot, Fuji, Gitane, Leader, Myata, Kabuki Pro road bikes and it was not until I got on my Marinoni custom framed roadie with full Campy group that I realized I had been riding ‘average’ bikes that at best were only half as good and the Italian custom! It was like going from NASCAR to F1, can’t even describe the difference in words, you gotta ride one to realize what a custom Chromoly frame can do!

  • KalmestKat says:

    Whoo hoo. There is a lot here, fellas. I’ve read 75% of what is here. Having just decided it is time to get out and ride again … I am in the market for a smooth riding, predictable road bike. I m 6’1″ and have a 34″ inseam. (Yep, I am a tall gal.) I need to convert about 10 pounds of winter weight into muscle. I used to be a serious recreational rider but that was in college a about 20 years ago. My steel ten speed was a man’s frame and being about twenty years younger … Pedaling around on a college campus every day was no biggie. Today, I need to get on a bike and I want it to be as responsive and as predictable as possible while I am riding to get back into shape. I do not need falls or spills. And I don’t want the bike to be super heavy because I already know that straining to keep moving does NOT motivate me to ride. I really hope to find abike to last at.east ten years or more. I work on computers for a living and write … So I prefer not to have my arms be a shock absorber. My budget is $700 $1000. I am mechanically inclined but love simplicity. The local bike shop is happy to sell me a Canondale Quick for $2000. But ….! I maybe am a new re-entrant into serious recreational road bikes, but ouch! Two grand is a BIG pile of cash in any economy. Any suggestions? There are quite a few bike shops in my area … but they are like the hardware stores … They seem to cater mostly to fellas. I could use some recommendations on what to look for. Thanks!

  • johnvile says:

    Any argument against Carbon bikes should I think include some argument against Petrochemicals in manufacture.
    Carbon bikes are held together with a thick layer of Petrochemical resin I think this kinda makes a mockery of any ecological benefit derived from using a bike as an every day transport device, you may as well just still the petrol in you car every day. Is this what the Petrochemical company have in mind “You can’t use transport without using petrol”.

    Metal bikes can and do get recycled. Plastic bikes do not get recycled, its a simple equation.

    • Ted says:

      johnvile, I really don’t think the amount of petrochemical used in manufacturing a bicycle is anything to get overexcited about. Even if everyone in the world had a bike, the difference is not likely to be planet-saving.

  • george blumfield says:

    In March 1961, I bought a new Raphael Geminiani from Roy’s Cyclery on Pico Blvd in LA. after being hit on a new Urago. My Geminiani came with Campy hubs, Gran Sport Derailler, Ideale Seat, Mafac center pull brakes and a steel Stronglite cotter pin crank with Mavic wheels. I also bought an extra derailler and a TA alloy crank set which I still have in the original box. I paid $162 for the bike; it was the second from top of the line at the time; the top model came with, as I remember, a Campy brake setup. I still have the bike and am restoring it with all the parts new that I bought extra in 61. I rode the bike for fifteen years, and my son rode it and jumped curbs, etc, all the things that teen agers do. Through it all, the bike is still in great shape without any dents, etc; I am restoring it. The only thing bad was French chrome, which is about as thin as watercolor. The bike, in my estimation, is better than any of the stuff around; too bad that the French are not making these bikes any more. I’m 79 years old and still like the thing.
    Best wishes; don’t crash–it hurts

  • Nostromo says:

    Having gone through the various mind sets of light vs heavy, stiff vs plush, and cool carbon factor vs the vintage steel silhouette…I’ve come to certain conclusions based on various experiences I’ve had.

    I ride both an aluminum and a carbon bike. The aluminum one is great on smoother roads, and when you stand on it the power is instantaneous, whether doing a hard sprint or climbing out of the saddle and hammering up long climbs.

    I’ve done 4 hour rides with it and various club rides, and the bike has never let me down. But when the road surface gets bumpy the frame buzz going into my hands and body can become intolerable, so I use it only on nice roads, shorter rides and intervals.

    The carbon bike I can ride for days. It’s plush, super comfortable, and never leaves me tired. It’s black with visible carbon weave and white logos, nicely shaped tubes, and looks killer. I get nice comments on it all the time. It’s lighter overall than the aluminum bike (by 3 lbs) but does not have the ‘snap’ the aluminum one does if I do a hard sprint or climb.

    I’ve actually seen the BB flex when I stand on it, so I stopped doing that on this particular bike (I weigh 190 and still do weight training). I’ve also seen the carbon bar flex. After that BB incident I began to feel less confident that the carbon frame wouldn’t just fold on me when I’m miles from home in some desolate farm areas, where there are no cars around or a taxi to call!

    Several weeks ago I went to pick up one of my bikes at an LBS but it wasn’t ready, and I was all set for a nice ride. One of the store guys lent me his super light, very expensive, carbon bike.

    The ride was terrible! Not only did the fit not work for me, I had aches and pains that I never experience on my own bikes (which fit perfectly). And the lighter weight meant zip! It was ultra stiff, jittery, and made steering it over rough roads a nightmare. I stomached around 2 hours of it only because the weather was so nice, then turned back and was glad to be off the bike. My aluminum bike rides better.

    So I’m at a point now where I’ve come to accept that I may prefer a steel frame (either a vintage Italian in my size or custom built). I’m actually less interested in how ‘heavy’ the bike is, and more interested in how it feels to ride and lets me perform.

    I’ve been told by a few builders I’ve asked that a well built steel frame can combine both the comfort of the carbon bike and the snap of the aluminum one, for a great all around road bike. The weight won’t be that much more than the aluminum one, and with the way I take care of my bikes it will most likely last me many years. And the cost of these custom steel frames is still less than most new carbon ones.

    I will say though that it is tough once you are in a certain mindset. I love the look of carbon bikes; they remind me of Formula One cars, which look fast even parked. I love picking up a full carbon bike and seeing how freakishly light it is.

    But I’ve also met guys on my rides that are in their 70’s and have been riding for decades. Some still ride their older steel frames, and we have climbed up some long steep roads and zipped down some long hairy descents together, and they were lacking for nothing.

    You meet enough guys like that riding steel bikes, the bling factor of carbon can lose it’s luster (especially when you could buy two steel bikes for your carbon one).

  • PerverTT says:

    Carbon all the way for me. I will never forget my first impressions of riding on carbon bike. It seemed to shoot out away from me after the first few prods of the pedal. Then another unexpected surprise. Riding over a bumpy stretch of road, I noticed much less vibration coming up through the frame. Nobody had told me about that! I kept the bike for 17 years and only replaced it recently because I damaged it badly when I ran into a Volvo. The carbon frame was fine, it did not shatter or come apart. I got another carbon bike to replace it, a secondhand Look this time.

    For all the criticisms that have been hurled at carbon frames, few have mentioned anything about design and manufacture. I’ve noticed a worrying trend in recent years towards lighter and lighter bikes where strength and durability are lower order priorities. This has nothing to do with carbon as a material, everything to do with an anorexic fixation with weight loss. What happened to over-engineering and design contingency, to allow for extra stresses and strains beyond the ordinary? Surely it should not take a law suit to bring some common sense back into bike design.

  • lol says:

    if i had just spent 4k on a carbon frame instead of not having a shit in the morning i would be getting mad in this thread too

  • swami says:

    The author’s argument – at least on a cost basis – is hugely inconsistent with reality. A nice steel frame will come in around $2,000 (Colnago, DeRosa, etc.) and 4lbs. 5+lbs with fork (a carbon one at that). A custom frame will be much more – $3,000+. The mass-produced carbon frames with minimal engineering expertise that he’s referring to run between $700 and $1400 (Neuvation, Motobecane, etc.). The two are simply not comparable. At comparable price points – let’s say $3,000 for custom steel, vs. $3,000 for a high quality carbon frame – many of the author’s arguments against carbon go away – especially when you bring professional fit into the mix. These frames are often engineered for compliance where needed, and stiffness where required – making for a very comfortable, efficient ride. One of carbon’s more significant advantages has to do with a talented engineer’s ability to vary tube size, shape, and wall thickness – advantages the consumer reaps at this price point. It’s worth pointing out that a custom bike can be very difficult to sell – not a problem if you intend to keep it forever (which I’ll agree – you can do with steel, and less so with carbon – though steel fatigues too!). I’m not anti-steel. I own a steel bike, and love it. I’ve ridden multiple centuries on it, use it for commuting, and cyclocross (it’s actually a cyclocross bike). It is certainly more difficult to damage than carbon. Having done centuries in the last three years on both steel and carbon, I can say carbon, for me, wins by a long-shot. A hundred miles on my carbon rig is not a really big deal. I feel fine at the end (generally). Not so on the steel rig – I need much more time to recover. For cyclocross, though, I don’t think I’d consider carbon. It’s just too fragile. I do think the author has a point here. …and I do think there’s a point to be made as carbon moves down-market. It is a bit faddish, potentially even dangerous when under-engineered. I also think he has a point with regard to maintenance. A torque wrench almost becomes a must, along with a willingness to read the manual. EOD though, would I choose custom steel over my Look carbon? Well, if I could have only one bike – yes – but we’re talking a poor set of compromises. I might just give up cyclocross and commuting, and keep my carbon bike instead.

  • BartlettRunner says:

    You guys will love me … I’m a runner, and just beginning to consider taking up cycling, on the eventual route to some tri’s. I’ve noticed cyclists spend a lot of time with their measuring sticks on their equipment … reading, studying, testing comparing, blah blah blah … how about some training? Maybe the training benefit and (for some riders only, I know), losing 5 lbs will radically offset a friggin’ carbon fiber seatpost. I guess us stupid runners live in a different world … I know equipment matters, but it doesn’t replace training, right?

  • Nik says:

    Wonderful exchange of views here.

    As a long time pleasure cyclist I have come to one conclusion based on the above: Titanium is the best combination if you can afford it.

    Carbon is a composite with all the minuses of a composite as the engineer poster underlines.

    Like in cars, it is useful to keep in mind that a F1 car is the fastest etc, made for winning not for pleasing, a Morgan is probably better for sheer driving pleasure. I see a Titanium frame as the equivalent of a Morgan experience.

    Thanks to all for helping make up my mind.

    Nik

  • Sux V R40 Rider says:

    I have a simple question for people who love to bash steel frame bikes:

    Which would you rather sit your ass on?

    A frame built out of a material that has been used for at least 2,000 years and is tried, trued and tested multiple times and has a very high success rate at being durable, long lasting, easily repairable and very strong while economically affordable?

    OR

    A frame built out of a material that has barely been used for maybe 25 years, (carbon fiber, or plastic bike frame as it has come to be known), where the repair for it is still more expensive than steel and the repair technology is a lot newer than the use of the material itself and has yet to be tried, trued and tested as steel has been?

    OR

    A material that has barely been used for the past 200 years, that would be aluminum alloy where when it is dented or broken, forget about repairing it and when riding it you feel like you’ve been beaten up by the end of the ride because aluminum sucks at absorbing road vibration?

    I trust the material that has been tested time and time again for the last 2,000 years.

  • BruceG says:

    I was in a LBS a few months ago, and a young guy came in covered in bandages and an elbow brace – much skin off and a fractured elbow. The steel fork on the 2nd hand steelie he had just bought broke in the first few hours. RUST never sleeps. It is difficult to know from outside, how much corrosion/rust is in steel frames/forks.

  • Ian says:

    Most shouldn’t worry about the durability of their carbon frames if made within recent years. The resins they use to hold the fibers together have developed more than the carbon. The impact resistance of most manufacturers resins is phenomenal.

    The only exception to this is the super-lite models because they use so little resin. I choose Fuji’s C4 carbon over the C10 model because of this, even though it was in my budget.

  • Ian says:

    Old Article but here is my 2 cents for those reading this.

    I own every material made for road bikes dating from the past twenty years.

    Steel rides very nice and is softer than aluminum but heavier.
    Aluminum is lighter but rides harsher then steel
    Carbon 20 year old is still doing well handles well but is very close to steel in ride.
    Carbon from 10 years ago smooth minor flex ok handling
    New Carbon handling great aero frames best thus far except firm ride.
    Titanium harsh ride to rigid looks good.

  • Will Wiegman says:

    I like to ride steel because at the end of the day it is easier on my wrists. My aluminum LeMond Toumalet beats me to death. Could be the Gatorskins tho. My Marinoni Special Columbus steel frame is the sweetest ride ever!

    But it seems to be the wheels that make the biggest difference in finding extra speed, expecially the hubs/bearings/tire combo. My 10 year old Campy hubs laced to Mavic (Wheelsmith) rims are faster than my Eastons or my Aksium Race’s over a 7 mile course on the same bike by a couple minutes.

    Something about Italian bearings if that’s what are in the Campy hubs!

  • S Baer says:

    A properly built steel bike (for most people does not have to be custom) with good wheels, equals a great ride. As to rust- spray inside with waxoil , and it will never rust.
    Scratch- nail polish. Dent, unless you have bent the tube, means nothing.
    As to weight- Most of the high end carbon bike’s REAL weight advantage (rotating weight, which is the only thing that counts) comes from 1,500 gram wheelsets, not the difference in frame weight. You want a three pound lighter bike- LOSE THREE POUNDS .
    Unless you’re Contador, the rest is MARKETING.

    The important thing is to ride, eat properly and enjoy!

  • S Baer says:

    I forgot the most important consideration- FIT. , FIT FIT. Worth spending a few on getting
    a fit session, or join a club. I am sure you will find someone that knows how to properly adjust your fit. There are many great sites which point the way.
    By the way, I built frames in the sixties and seventies for serious racers all the way up to Olympic road bikes. Good used steel frames abound on Ebay. I’ve bought my share
    Merckx corsa extra, Cinelli super corsa, even a Richard Sachs. None cost more than $900 and were all in nearly showroom condition. If they are made from Columbus SL SLX, Reynolds 853, Trutemper, they should be fine, as long as they are not bent.

  • Bruce says:

    I’ve put 4,000 miles on my Rocky Mountain ST Solo Classic road bike. It has a modern steel frame and carbon fiber fork. Shifters, brakes, and drive train are Shimano Ultegra. The bike has an exceptionally smooth ride and lets me know what is meant by the words, “feel of steel.” On three occasions, I’ve ridden the bike 148 miles per day over a Coast Range mountain pass. Saddle sore at the end of the day, yes, but the frame and fork did their part to make the rides comfortable for someone 70 years old..

  • JD says:

    I ride carbon because i want to !!!!!!!!!
    I enjoy

  • JD says:

    I have my steel colnago I love to. But past tense

  • Derek pater says:

    I have a giant OCR 2 with carbon in the forks
    That sure helps, for me $1,000- bike does the job
    Fine, also consider a heavier bike will help you get fitter
    Faster, ride a heavier bike to harden up.

    To many softys out there, it’s a great way to train for a race

  • Daniel Paker says:

    I like to ride steel because at the end of the day it is easier on my wrists. My aluminum LeMond Toumalet beats me to death. Could be the Gatorskins tho. My Marinoni Special Columbus steel frame is the sweetest ride ever!

    But it seems to be the wheels that make the biggest difference in finding extra speed, expecially the hubs/bearings/tire combo http://goo.gl/7vaO0 . My 10 year old Campy hubs laced to Mavic (Wheelsmith) rims are faster than my Eastons or my Aksium Race’s over a 7 mile course on the same bike by a couple minutes.

    Something about Italian bearings if that’s what are in the Campy hubs!

  • TC says:

    Ride what you like, but there is another article out there about how it is crazy to spend all that money on a light weight bike when an old steel bike is just as good. I went from chro-moly to aluminum / carbon and now to all carbon. The quickness, maneuverability and just plain every day fun is 10 times better with this carbon bike (generic frame with good equipment) then any I have ever had. I have never enjoyed riding more. I may go titanium one day, but never back to steel or aluminum.

  • HG says:

    IF you are not racing, then it matters much less. But I do think a steel bike should be 1995 or later, give or take a few years. Not the crazy vintage. New carbon has great head tube stiffness and perfect chain stay dimensions to get a great, stiff, accurate, easily maneuverable bike. fast in corners, really fast. older steel has much longer chain stays and can help at times, or not. steel is sometimes more comfortable, but new carbon is really comfortable. i like steel because i don’t worry about it getting damaged. yes, wheels are critical. 16 lb bike versus 19 lb bike isn’t a big deal at all, it’s the rider that is fast (unless racing a lot). so, to me, i would actually go price first, not material. $3,000 and get the best bike i can. if i saw a great deal on a serotta with great wheels and newish components, then why not? as long as it fits.

  • tom saecker says:

    defining bicycles and reducing the argument to weight and speed is just silly….and for that matter boring. Of the world’s population riding bikes…99% plus are simply normal people who need and want simple transportation on an affordable budget….the other .01% or whatever…who want to race, or value speed and weightlessness…fine, whatever…i guess they are in a hurry to get someplace fast. They’re free choice. The rest of us simply enjoy the saunter, blue sky, sun and fresh air and scenery along the way without any particular destination for that matter. For all those office jockeys who sit behind a computer all day, or in a courtrooms, offices or running around in hallways making money so they can affort to drop $5 K or whatever on a bloody bike…well that’s their life choice. Those of us who value sovereign freedom, wilderness, nature and the simplicity of living could care less about how light or “flashy” we look in spandex and ego decoration. Steel is real simple and affordable and has the timeless beauty of antiquity.

  • tom saecker says:

    …are kids on tricycles suppose to worry about carbon fiber now too? Or you 12 year olds trying to get to school on their mountain bikes? The handicapped who are able to ride 3 wheelers…or the aged who can still ride at 80? How about the poor, is this suppose to be a valid discussion with them too? Are they suppose to be less important, not hip or cool because they are’nt Tour d/France look alines?…its such a narrow minded biggoted if not idiotic whining about weight and speed argument…pathettic…yea we all want to look rediculous in spandex and speed because we have a 5 k bike….pathetic.

  • tom saecker says:

    …so those who disagree…pull out that plastic and buy a few pounds more of it so you can speed through life and race off into the sunset, and when that checkered flag falls on your gravestone and the crowd screams….fireworks shoot up into the sky and your epithet blazes in large glowing neon lights across the sky “………
    “I DID IT !!!! I WONNNNNNNNNN !!!!!!”

  • tom saecker says:

    Ok…last and final comment. I apologise if I insulted anyone…its not my intent, i am just trying to bring light onto this discussion as it is alot larger than weight and speed or modernism. Carbon is state of the art racing bike material. NO DOUBT ~ !…Anyone who things steel is going to be at the Tour d’France is foolish. Bicycling is larger than than speed and racing….despite thats what the commercial industry wishes, as thats where the PROFITS LIE…(literally and figuratively)…but ALL are relevent and equally part of this conversation. thank you…end of SPEECH ~ !

  • Sam says:

    The comments on Carbons durability are just simply not true. It has been tested to actually be more impact resistant and durable then other materials. Maybe if you buy some cheapo $300 chinarello it will be a wet noodle, but a quality carbon frame from a reputable company will last a life time if cared for well.

  • Skonger says:

    I ride both carbon and steel. My steel costs about double my carbon, so cost isn’t so much a factor in many cases. My carbon is production. My steel is custom (but not custom for me), received second hand. Both have similar components, but different geometries. Both are pretty comfortable and I have ridden centuries, etc. on both of them. They both climb well. The carbon is 1 pound lighter. That’s it. The wheels on my steel are nicer (tubeless Fulcrum R0). The wheels on my carbon are lighter 1400g racing wheels (but clinchers). Which bike do I reach for more times than not, the steel…. I think mainly because of durability. The fear of something catastrophic happening with the carbon. Doing something brain dead and falling over and damaging the carbon. It’s a legitimate worry, and some of those photos on the net are disconcerting.

    Both (all) are great materials and with the right combinations of saddle, bars, forks, and wheels, you can get something pretty comfortable. Geometry and fit make a bigger difference I think.

    The 1-3 lb difference that is often seen in modern steel and modern carbon bikes, doesn’t make much difference. In fact, it would do you well to ride the heavier bike (set-up exactly like your light carbon bike) to train and get fitter faster, and then race or strava on the “race” bike, and fly up the hills. You can love either, and honestly, it doesn’t matter much. So my simplistic thoughts:

    Weight – Anything under 19 lbs (minus rider and water) should be fine. If you weigh 130 lbs, then it’ll make bigger difference, but it’ll be just as enjoyable. Suffer more and get fitter. Cycling is about suffering as most of you know.

    Speed – Descents are faster on the heavier bike, flats are identical, ascents favor the lighter bike. Kind of wash. If you want the hill to be easier, lose weight or get fitter, and you’ll go up faster without the new bike.

    Components – Get nice components – 105 level at a minimum. Ultegra preferably. DA if you like to spend money. Whatever, they are work similarly and are dependable.

    Frame Material – Whatever you like. But base it on geometry more than material. Try it all, and see what is reasonably accessible. Buy one of them, and then you can always sell it, and buy a different one if you aren’t happy with it.

    Ride what you like, ride what you can afford, or ride them all just for fun. Cycling is fun after all. The time just goes by…

    • JC says:

      I agree, and will add that steel can ride as well as carbon going up rolling hills that last a few minutes. If the hill/mountain goes up for 10+ minutes, then weight is a big factor I think. “Big” being a minute or so, and to non-racers this should be fine. I have a 22 lb steel Pinarello and this steel is not normal steel, IMO. I think the Columbus SLX is far superior to any Reynolds, and makes this frame fun to ride. Descents are faster and more stable, but that is also because the bike is properly fitted and years of testing. If you don’t race, I would strongly recommend steel (unless you live in a seriously wet climate), used, and then get some nice stiff wheels. It doesn’t hurt the ride quality. It’s hard to describe; when you know what feels great, you know. I’ve disliked some top-end steel frames, but finally found one that does about everything. I’ve had a $4k carbon bike and it was also great, but this bike at 1/4th the cost used is easily in the same league.

  • Skonger says:

    When I was looking at buying a road bike about 5 years ago, I came from MTB, and I had basically aluminum or carbon to choose from at my LBS. One of my friends told me to look at steel and I was thoroughly convinced to not bother, and just wanted to go with carbon. I loved it for about a year, and then I wanted a better “carbon” bike. I received my steel bike from family, and I tried it out even though it was a little small and was more extremely set-up (larger drop from seat to bars). After having ridden the steel for about 3 months. I greatly prefer it for everything. Hill climbing, descending, flats, etc. Everything. I still want to get my Helium SL with Ultegra Di2, but hey, I probably won’t get it. I will likely pick up some nice superlight race wheels instead, or not. In any case, I love the steel, but I always wonder what it’ll feel like with a under 16 lb climber. Probably not as big of a deal as I think, but I’ll always wonder. :)

    In any case, I think Steel is wonderful. I think Carbon is wonderful. If I was racing, I would definitely only ride carbon. For fitness and recreation, any of these are wonderful. Get what you can get. Get what is accessible, and what you can easily get maintained and repaired.

  • bkbikenerd says:

    After riding a carbon Tri-Spoke from Brick Lane Bikes I can say for sure Steel/Aluminum is a better choice for longevity and everyday riding.

    My Tri-Spoke now not even 1year old is starting to delaminate. I have yet to hit any potholes, curbs, etc. Riding the wheel outside of velodrome is just not practical unless you have enough money to replace carbon parts more frequently.

    I say if you ride carbon inspect frequently for cracks and stress marks. Carbon frames, forks and wheels can show little sign of failure until the point of breaking. To the carbon fans I will say that carbon parts on race day make a difference but maybe training should be done on steel.

  • Max says:

    Did I wander across the Fiction section of RBR?

  • Saipanda says:

    So here we are, years on from when this article and the majority of posts was written. I have just purchased a used but custom built carbon frame in excellent condition for $200. I saw the other day a Colnago frame selling for $20,000 because it was speckle painted and one of 37 so painted. HAHAHAH. I also recently bought 2 steel framed bikes, a Fuji and a Centurion…..just average bear steel bikes but I will have a good time building them up just like I will enjoy building the SPCarbon job. Ride and enjoy. 5,000 years from now the archeologists will be arguing over that tangled mess of steel pipes, cog gears and carbon fiber threads in today’s junkyards and claiming they were religious objects….and they may be right. (:-))

  • Michael432000 says:

    Simple. Steel looks so much better.

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