Buyers' Guide: Best Performance Steel Road Bikes for 2017
May 16th, 2017
May 16th, 2017
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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Steel is officially back on the menu for every-day cyclists and road racers alike. Though it never really disappeared, steel has certainly become a more desirable frame material in the last few years after shying away to an unflux of carbon creations since the mid-nineties. Thanks to a few race teams riding steel again in UK races like the Tour Series, and a surge in adventure road riders wanting custom bikes for Worldwide touring and long-distance events like The Transcontinental, steel is most definitely real. With thanks to shows like the Bespoked UK Handmade Show, selling thousands of tickets each year displaying impressive one-off pieces from the likes of Saffron Frameworks of London and Shand of Scotland, and events like The Tour Classic and Eroica Britannia reinvigorating a desire for vintage rides and replicas, the Nation has fallen in love with this dynamic material once again. Here are some non-custom options you can buy online and in stores:
Donhou - DSS1
These bikes are listed in no particular order of importance, but when I think steel, I think about the UK handmade bicycle market, which is absolutely booming at the moment, and Donhou is no exception. Although Tom Donhou mainly makes bespoke custom frames in his Hackney Wick studio, he has two award-winning off-the-peg models. The DSS1 is the performance road bike and one of the first to start using discs in this category. It is built from oversized air-hardened Reynolds 853 Pro Team tubing for a comfortable yet punchy ride. It has also been heat treated to increase fatigue resistance, making it strong and impact resistant, and has been TIG welded. It is available in 54, 56 and 58cm sizes, but can also be custom sized, and comes with the signature pink to lime pearl fade, integrated seat clamp and Swallows head badge, symbolic of speed and safe travel. Currently these are sold built-up with Shimano Ultegra, ENVE forks and dripping in Chris King goodie for £4,585.
Enigma - Elite HSS & Extensor XCR
Staying in the UK, Enigma are well known for their custom titanium frames, but they also offer two steel steel bikes, both of which are handmade from start to finish in East Sussex and aimed at 'fast endurance'. As the names suggest, the Elite is made from Columbus Spirit HSS triple-butted steel tubing, and the Extensor handcrafted from Columbus XCR stainless steel. The big difference being the types of steel used, as the Extensor's stainless steel is seamless, not welded, and, even with tube wall thicknesses down to 0.4mm the XCR tube set is less compliant than a regular steel frame, so it is much more stiff (but also responsive) than the Elite. Frame prices start from £1,999, which is very reasonable, regardless of getting a fully bespoke fitted frame.
Cinelli - Nemo Tig
Of course, Cinelli will probably be forever type-cast as the makers of the vintage classics, hence the Supercorsa modern replica continues 40years after creation, but they haven't lost their love for making new bikes. While this Italian company have a small range, they've kept up to date with trends like carbon road bikes, but the hottest bike they brought out last year was the Nemo Tig, a bike UK riders couldn't get enough of when Cinelli displayed a metallic Purple Haze edition with full Campagnolo Super Record and paint-matched carbon finishing kit. It looked the business. Like a perfect marriage of old and new. As the name suggests, it's tig welded, by hand in Italy no less, and made with Columbus Spirit oversize triple-butted tubes. At 1800g for the frame, it's about on point for a steel performance frame, but as we covered last year whilst reviewing it, it has bundles of Cinelli charm and corners like a classic Italian bike should. There are six sizes from 48-61cm and apparently can be made to measure too. Expect around £1,489 for the frame and carbon forks, or £2,699 for a fully built bike with Campagnolo Potenza.
Mason - The Resolution
A British brand, but handmade in Italy, Mason have three off-the-peg frame options available. The Resolution is their award-winning Columbus Spirit/Life performance steel frame offering Disc brakes, adaptable internal routing, Di2 compatibility and clearance for larger tyres and mudguards. It promises a smooth ride with a stiff kick, as we'd expect from a good steel bike. Now supplied with thru-axel forks and build specifications are entirely up to you, from mechanical Shimano 105 to Dura Ace Di2, but always come made with British wheel brand, HUNT. Expect a frame with Shimano Ultegra and disc brakes to cost you £3,395 in Shutter Black or Lens Blue and six sizes from 50-60cm.
Genisis - Volare 931
Previously the weapon of choice on the Madison-Genesis road racing team, the Volare 931 is their steel performance frame, still available in raw and team colours. Unlike the above two, Genesis have opted for classic skinny tube aesthetic (albeit a modern oval-round shape) with Reynolds 931 Precipitation Hardening Stainless Steel and a tapered head tube (new for 2017) with a carbon fork. Available from 47-56cm in five increments at £1,699.99 for frame and forks, plus bottom bracket and headset. You will need to build your own bike or visit a stockist for full builds though.
Kona - Roadhouse
Moving up to the big brands, Kona has a surprising nine variations of steel road bike (on what is effectively three different frame variations), the performance side being dedicated to the Penthouse, the Wheelhouse and the Roadhouse; the former being a Kona Cromoly Butted entry-level rim-brake road bike, and the latter being their flagship disc-brake option with Reynolds 853 Butted Cromoly in a clear/raw finish with the fillet brazing on show. With a tapered head tube, flattened seat stays and try-axels, old certainly meets new with up-to-date design at a reasonable new price of £3,499 for an Ultegra build. For a bargain, the Wheelhouse come with painted Reynolds 853 frame and Tiagra disc groupset at £1,699.
Condor - Acacia
They've been building bikes for 70years, popular in their home city of London, but definitely came onto a lot of people's radars after making the race bikes for UK pro team, Rapha-Condor (now JLT Condor). Though they offer custom frame designs, off-the-peg you have the choice of vintage- or modern-looking frames for everything from touring to track racing. Even in the 'performance road' category we are treated to choices from stainless steel to their own custom drawn, Italian-made, Dedacciai tubing, which features a mix of carbon, magnesium, molybdenum and vanadium in the steel, then triple-butted to create a light and responsive ride. The Acacia Dedacciai starts from £999 for a frameset, the stainless steel version (pictured) at £1,999 and a Columbus Columbus decagon profile version at £1,499, depending on your ride quality preference or you wallet preference. Expect an Ultegra build to start from around £1,900 with much of Condor's own-brand wheels and finishing kit.
Bianchi - Vigorelli
Back to the world-renowned brands, we have Bianchi; one of the oldest bike companies in the world, who know a thing or two about making bikes. The Vigorelli is a lonesome bike in the range with only one spec option, Bianchi's own butted Cro-Mo Lite-tubed frame, tig welded, with a carbon fork and Shimano 105 groupset and wheels at £1,499 in signature 'Celeste' blue-green. Not only is this a bargain for a fully built bike, it comes in an astonishing nine sizes to choose from, in a range of 46-63cm, making it an absolute steal (no pun intended) as a ready-made steel ride that should fit you like a custom. It's probably a bit weighty and low-specced for racing, but it looks to be a great starter steel or winter bike.
Ritchey - Road Logic
To celebrate the founder, Tom Ritchey's, roots in making steel bikes in the Forty's, The Road Logic has aggressively short-butted sections optimized for TIG welding, said to save weight and improve ride quality. Ritchey's forged-and-machined integrated head tube uses standard drop-in headset bearings, which further saves 80 grams over a standard head tube design, and is a claimed 3.9lbs (1,770g) for a 55cm frame. Heat-treated and triple-butted with Ritchey's own Logic tubeset, this frame retails at around £679 with a steel fork, or from £2,300 for a fully built ride, and is available in six sizes from 49-59cm.