Feature: Hangin’ with Brent Steelman

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About twelve years ago, as I visited Brent Steelman in his small Redwood City shop, I asked him about the TDF race that I was so enamored with at the time. “Hey Brent, are you watching the tour?” I asked. “Why would I want to watch a bunch of dopers?” He replied. “You mean all of them?” I probed. “All the winners and contenders,” he confirmed.

I was a bit floored by his bluntness and self-assuredness. But as the years rolled by, I realized Brent was right. He is often right about a lot of things. And boy, does he make beautiful and functional bikes.

So I took my twelve year old son out there in Feb, 2013 and we talked about a variety of subjects. I wanted my son to learn about a man who builds and thinks and builds some more. I asked him why he doesn’t attend NAHBs, the US handmade bike show. He said it mostly showcases new builders, hobbyists who are trying to make a go at frame building part-time. He said there was quite a bit of turn over every year and a lot of builders were giving away the farm, charging less than $2000 for a custom frame. “It just doesn’t add up if you add up all the hours, expenses and want to make a living. I just want to make as much as my car mechanic,” he explains. Brent’s frames range from $4300 for a tig-welded frame and $5100 for a lugged one.

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About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a lugged commuter, ultralight carbon road steed, singlespeed or trail bike. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. This obsessive personality has also turned him into a bit of an addict when it comes to high quality coffee and IPAs.

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  • Jake says:

    He’s practically a legend in the biz. But $4300-5100 for custom steel is a bit steep, no matter how you slice it.

    • alan says:

      yup, rather buy a nice carbon f . frame with nice wheels

      • Barrett says:

        If you change out your bike(s) every couple of years or so, I suppose carbon’s a decent option. If I intend to own a bike for considerably longer than that (my oldest bike is closing in on 28 years old), steel’s the deal.

  • joby says:

    Love that QuickMill Vetrano E61 espresso machine…of course you had a great espresso from it! Seems that Brent knows his coffee as well as bikes.

  • Mark Williams says:

    I love his bikes and hate myself for selling my Steelman Eurocross years ago. I was on the wait list (with production just weeks away) when he refunded the deposits to his customers and said he was closing up shop. He reopened a few weeks later and the prices were double. I was certainly very disappointed but I can’t in the end fault him, the reality is he couldn’t making a living at the prices he was selling them for that the time. With it’s high cost of living, the Bay area can’t be an easy place to be a small artisan shop with significant space needs. If there are people who will pay him to make his rideable art (they ride as great as they look) more power to him. In the end I worked with Signal Cycles here in Portland and got an bike I love. No regrets and who knows maybe there is a Steelman in my future.

  • curt hecht says:

    Brent was the frame sponsor for the True Value team out of Chicago in the late ’90s. Awesome machines that won plenty of top amateur races on the road, cross and MTB. Still riding my road machine and prized cyclocross with the MTB geometry. Glad to see Brent still building beautiful bikes.

  • Jake says:

    @Alan – I wouldn’t want carbon, ‘nice’ or otherwise, but I do think there are other custom steel builders who approach Steelman’s quality for significantly less money.

    And, there’s always Ti, too.

  • Tony says:

    I think frame material preference is a generational issue. All of us who had a steel road bike still value ride quality above all else. So we all prefer Steel or ti. I personally have a ti right now but a 2nd frame will be steel and not carbon fiber.

    Steel is also far more durable than carbon fiber because of fatigue resistance as well as other issues.

    As to cost, There are many cheaper quality steel frame options availible. However, Steelman does make a great frame.

  • Rob says:

    His website is worth looking at: props to Sequoia High School, which offered great shop classes back in the 60s and 70s, and to Garner’s Pro Bikes in Redwood City, where Brent worked. A real bike lovers sort of place.

  • ford says:

    Steelman’s bike are works of art, one of the finest out there. But steel frame in the US are very costly. In the Philippines you could own one at $400 only. Same materials, same quality build. The builder had many client from coming from abroad who during their stay in the country also custom made their bike to him.

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