Steel bicycles are back. After 30 years in the bike wilderness, when first aluminum, and then the ubiquitous carbon fiber, became the frame metal of choice, steel is, rightfully, back in fashion.
Led at first by a small group of artisan bespoke-bike builders, the original custom steel bikes proved so popular that factory models have followed. For example, Ottawa's Steelwool bicycles was born in 2006 when Thom Johnson and Will Ficner, frustrated with the lack of quality steel bicycles, decided to do something about it and founded The Steelwool Bicycle Co., a company dedicated to making high-quality, functional, stylish steel bicycles. Nine years on, they offer a range of ready-built steel bikes as well as custom options.
Over the pond, Ricky Feather's custom bikes built in the traditional bicycle-making and steel hub of Yorkshire, England, have proven a huge success. Like the Steelwool crew, Feather Cycles has also started a small racing team. "Part of the inspiration for the team was to resurrect the link between frame builder and road racing,'' Feather told GrindTV. "Thirty years ago, many U.K. frame builders supported local racers or teams, but with the advent of aluminum and carbon fiber and the decline in frame building by hand, this link was broken."
Such has been the success of the small steel racing teams and steel bikes in general that last year saw the birth of the first professional all-steel racing team, the Madison Genesis Pro team. "I love steel bikes. Other materials have their merits too, but nothing beats steel for its classic virtues," Genesis pro racer Matt Cronshaw told GrindTV. "For the everyday rider, it offers a combination of durability, comfort, strength-to-weight ratio, and price." The team rides on the classic Croix de Fer model, the same bike that got Vin Cox the Guinness World Record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world (163 days, including transit time, if you ask).
Of course it's not just serious racers and world navigators who are getting into steel. The custom nature, clean aesthetics, and smooth, easy ride are driving the material's comeback. "Steel is durable, it is strong, it tends to bend on impact rather than snap, and it is easy to repair if you crash," says Marcus Chapman of the U.K.'s The Bike Shed, a bike-café chain. "It's not just a fashion. Steel bikes worked for 60 years for a very good reason. A steel frame has a ride and character that is unique, and it offers plenty of advantages over the lighter carbon fiber, especially on rougher surfaces."
"It is pretty simple for us, because we love steel, we love road bikes, we love tradition, and we love customs," said Milan's Paul Paciucci of Ferriveloci bikes. They have teamed with Deus Cycleworks to produce the Deus Steelness, a custom bike they describe as a perfect, modern, extreme-performance steel bike that retails at $2,275.
With Deus Cycleworks joining bigger brands like Condor, Raleigh, and Surly offering on-price two-wheel steel steeds, it seems bicycle's original material is not only back, but here to stay.
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