The first cycling coach I ever had came from Sheffield in the United Kingdom, a city known mostly for being the home of British stainless steel. Steel is an essentially working-class material, it’s made by working men for working men. It lasts forever, never lets you down, and doesn’t need much looking after. Bikes used to be working class as well, they got you places. Maybe they got you to work or maybe they got you some work that meant you didn’t have to go down the mines or into the factories.
Road bikes are changing. Some of that change is easy to see. Aero road machines now look like something we would have more closely associated with Moto GP than Milan-San Remo 20 years ago. They’re much more suited to, and marketed at, the mid-life crisis businessman than the Sheffield steelworker. But there have been more subtle changes as well. With the advent of disc brakes, the intolerably slow creep of road tubeless systems, and the near-dominance of electronic drivetrains, road bikes have become a lot more capable.
Sometimes, what limits the capability of those bikes is their fragility. They’re designed for Sunday café rides, flat whites, and gluten-free pastries. I enjoy all those things, but I also ride a bike to work every damn day. It’s steel, and it has never let me down. Carbon doesn’t like side impacts, it doesn’t like being locked outside, it doesn’t love flying, and it really hates crashing. Steel, by contrast, is so tough that Ritte’s new steel Phantom road bike promises to do everything your endurance / all-road / comfort road bike does, but for a very long time. The thought of a bike as bombproof as the bikes that took me on long European randoneés and brevets, but as nimble as the bikes that I used for equally long European road races is extremely enticing to the way I like to ride now.
Ritte Phantom Highlights
- Constructed from Reynolds 725 steel tubing
- Designed by UCI World Championship winning frame builder Tom Kellogg
- Uses a T47 threaded bottom bracket
- Clearance for 700x32mm tires
- Flat-mount disc brakes
- 12mm thru-axles
- Price: $2,250 frameset, $4,600 as tested
- Weight: 21-pounds
- Available now
- For more info visit: https://ritte.cc/products/the-phantom
Steel bikes haven’t been getting much attention recently, high-end custom frames tend to be titanium, aluminum alloys have had a resurgence, but steel has mostly remained the material that your grandfather’s touring bike was made from. But while the rest of the world has been shaving watts from aerodynamic drag, steel tubing manufacturers have been building some truly great alloys and tube shapes.
As with any steel bike, the Ritte Phantom has noticeably more of the intangible qualities that make bikes fun to ride than an equivalent carbon or aluminum bike. With 28 or 30mm tires it rides the roughest roads comfortably without the need for proprietary suspension systems that will, eventually, fatigue or break. The bike isn’t just a two-wheeled Clydesdale, though. Step on the pedals and it picks up speed while retaining comfort. There’s the springy return from the bottom bracket that I miss in modern carbon bikes. Stiffness, in most cases, is a little overrated when it comes to feeling fast.
The entirely modern geometry felt great descending, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, but like other modern flat-mount bikes, the Ritte felt reliably planted at high speeds. It might not be a bike for road racing, but it is certainly a bike informed by road racing. For most people, this is the sweet spot. You probably don’t need an aero handlebar, you probably need a bike that is comfy, fun, solid, and that is begging you to ride more.
An odd quirk that I have found on many metal bikes with flat-mount disc brakes is that the chainstays seem a little wider than their carbon competitors, likely due to the need to maintain spacing for the hub/ brake and then to weld a tube outside the brake mount. I run my cleats such that my stance width is pretty narrow, and find I get left heel rub on these bikes. If you do the same, or if you ride duck-footed, I wouldn’t buy one of these without a test ride. I measured the distance between the outsides of the stays at 17.3cm. If you are concerned, I would suggest taking your current bike, and adding some foam to get it to that width and seeing if you hit it. Better yet, get a bike fit and see if your arches are collapsing or your cleats are too far out on the shoe and that is causing your heels to drift.
This is a bike you buy if you want to ride a lot, and race on occasion. You can rip descents with anyone on this bike, and it’ll stand up to the sort of terrain those wider tires beg to be ridden on much better than the latest iteration of the marginal gains mega-bike. The Phantom is not light, at 21lbs ready to ride in a size 56 it isn’t heavy, but for the price, you could get a bike that weighs 1/3 less. This isn’t so much of a factor for me, I like to ride a lot and don’t really race and I would happily buy a bike that I thought would last me several groupsets if I could ride it all day and spend more time riding and less time working. But at $2,250 for the frame, I am still going to have to log plenty of hours in front of this screen to pay for this bike.
The price really is a sticking point for me. The frame on this bike costs more than this whole Ribble 725 disc brake bike and almost as much as the excellent Cannondale Synapse Ultegra SE. It’s not that steel can’t be expensive, it can be exquisite and bikes as beautiful as those from Vanilla or Seven should cost as much as any other work of art. But this isn’t a custom bike. I love the idea of a bike that can rip as hard as a carbon bike uphill and down but lasts forever. A bike for dirtbag bike riders who want to ride roads, gravel, light backpacking and the odd crit without ever having to worry about working enough to replace carbon frame if it breaks. But at this price, this ain’t that.
In many ways, I love the Phantom, it ticks so many boxes with its T47 bottom bracket, horizontal top tube, and clearance for 700x32mm tires. But there is also part of me that laments the boxes which it doesn’t tick, Why not add some mounts for mudguards or racks? Sure, not everybody will use them, but a lot of people who would appreciate this bike might.
Reynolds 725 tubing is normal on value steel bikes, but at this price, one might expect to see some 853 used for the main tubes, the air-hardened steel makes for bikes that are and lighter when it is used in main tubes with 724 in the rear triangle. I love the way it looks, there is something about modern parts on a round tubed bike that appeals to me. It screams practicality and a devotion to riding more and caring less about wattage and weight. This bike costs about as much as a top-end road frame from any major manufacturer and arguably offers better value. It rides differently, but no less enjoyably. If you were in the market for a Tarmac or an Emonda but were put off by all the issues that scare people away from high-end carbon, this is a bike you should add to your list. But I can’t help thinking that once you added it, you might start looking around feel there was better value from other steel bikes, or spring the $750 more for a custom Stinner.
I like to think there is a bike for every cyclist I have ever been. At 25, I rode 30-hour weeks and lived in a garage, I would have bitten your arm off for a bike like this but never been able to pay for it. By the time I am 52, I am sure I will be very excited about things like compliance and compact cranks, but at 32 I would be pretty excited to own a steel bike that looked good, went fast, and didn’t need wrapping in a blanket every time I flew. For me, with my heel rub issue, this isn’t it, but it might be for you. This bike is beautiful, the paint and the horizontal top tube make it the sort of bike that you will never tire of claiming from the pile of bikes at the coffee shop. It rides really well, and it will last ages. If that’s what you want in a bike, and you don’t have any worries about heel rub, this bike will be just as faithful as any Sheffield Steel knife should be.