VIDEO: Enigma's Titanium and Steel Frame-building Returns to the UK
May 18th, 2017
May 18th, 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.
The Best Belt-Drive and Internally-Geared Bikes for 2018
What is a Women-Specific Bike?
Best 2018 Budget Mountain Bikes for Under £1,000
Bespoked - The UK's Handmade Bicycle Show announces talks
Did you know we have a marketplace too?
We've got a new, dedicated Marketplace, with no hidden fees or commission.Find your next bike
Steel was the choice of the professional road racer up until the introduction of carbon frames in the early nineties, which was a time when even the average cyclist was experimenting with lighter materials like aluminium, yet the Tour de France was won on a steel bike as late as 1994. Ten years later steel would be synonymous with heavy-duty dirt-jumping bikes and vintage roadies still clinging on to the past. Fast-forward another ten years to now, and steel has seemingly made a massive come-back, both in road and off-road. The truth is, it never really went away, but why is it now on our radar again?
Reincarnating Metal Rides
The UK custom frame-building scene has boomed in the last few years, and steel is still the favourite to work with. Offering a large array of options in ride quality, weight, sizing and pricing, steel bikes are simply more customisable without blowing your wallet to pieces. Josh Ibbett won the Transcontinental Race three times aboard a steel bike, and so many other competitors chose a steel ride to complete their 3,000+ mile race as well. A lifetime's worth of miles in one event would surely prove the very real benefits of steel, but I'd hazard a guess that teams like Rapha-Condor (now JLT Condor) and Madison-Genesis, who had previously shredded the tarmac at races like The Tour Series and the Tour of Britain on steel frames, really proved to the UK public that this metal can compete with carbon in all genres.
Steel may not be as light as carbon, but it's a reasonably light metal that's stiff and repairable, which creates a great all-round bike for life. Columbus and Reynolds are the big-hitters in steel tubing, and they've never stopped pumping money into designing new alloys and new tubing shapes to further develop frame building. "Years ago steel frames were brazed together either with a traditional lug set or alternatively a lugless construction where the tubes were joined with a fillet of brass that was filed to a smooth finish" says Enigma, "Things have moved on these days and modern tig-welding has made for finer, stronger joints and lighter frames". You can see this development in Enigma's HSS and the Extensor XCR (pictured), with un-customary over-sized down-tubes and head tube, baring more resemblance to a modern carbon or aluminium road bike than the well-known skinny-tubed vintage.
Back to Britain
Enigma are arguably more known for their titanium frames. With a "softer" characteristic than steel, titanium bicycle frames have become synonymous with comfort-oriented road, sportive and touring bikes. While titanium can be more expensive than steel, Enigma tell us it's not necessarily better, it's just different. "Stainless steel isn't cheaper, it's just different. The strength to weight ratio is higher, so it's better for racing, where as titanium is less stiff, so it's comfier" says Richard Lambert, from Enigma, "Add in the fact that you need to paint steel, whereas titanium can be raw, and this brings the prices up to similar levels". Enigma have always made their Signature Steel frames in-house in the UK, but they started to outsource the titanium frame-building a few years back. With so many riders being proud to be astride a British-made bike, Enigma have finally brought the true British Ti builds back in-house with the Echelon, all made from start to finish in their workshop in Hailsham, East Sussex. "There's a big demand for our stuff that's made in the UK", says Richard, "so we're trying to increase the workshop capacity, and this frame is part of that process, because we want to bring manufacturing back to the UK". With rising labour and logistics costs on the horizon for Far East production, heading home for manufacturing isn't just a sentimental move, it may actually be a smart one, and the pricing difference between Enigma's Echelon reflects that. But let's be clear, the "non-British" models being made in Taiwan are by no means second rate; Taiwan have huge experience in bicycle manufacturing and a lot of manufacturing innovations come out of that country. You can no longer associate Taiwanese bicycles with low-grade copies of Western designs, which is why Enigma still have some of their models made there. I admire the brand's honesty here, as well as now giving the customer the opportunity to choose.
New for this year is a stunning rainbow anodised effect on the decals, as seen on this, also new, Disc version of the previously popular Excel titanium frame. Enigma have been playing with anodised colours for the last two years, but its taken that long to really nail this finish in all its glory; fading from golds and reds to blues and greens. Typically, a tube is anodised in the desired colours, then decal stickers are added to cover it, and the rest of the tube is brushed and finished so that the rainbow remains when the stickers a peeled off, leaving a crisp stamp in place. If ever there were proof that steel is still relevant in today's market, it's in the thousands of people that turn up to the UK Handmade Bicycle Show every year, the growth in independent frame-builders and companies like Enigma being rushed off their feet with orders, constantly growing as a business and still winning awards for innovation, like their Exemplar, made using a brand new 6AL 4V titanium tube set that features a unique 44mm down tube, also made in the UK. Long live steel, and welcome back to Britain, ti frame-building.