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Steel's still real as these great bikes demonstrate

While aluminium enjoyed a brief period as the material of choice for professional road racing bicycles, the same can’t be said for steel; it was the dominant frame material during much of the 20th century for bicycles of all descriptions.

In the world of professional cycle racing, each of Eddy Merckx’s 525 victories was aboard a steel bike, but the last time the Tour de France was won on steel was in 1994. That was Miguel Indurain, who won his fourth of five Tour titles on a Pinarello bike (though it was reportedly actually built by Dario Pegoretti).

Read more:  Is there still a place for steel road bikes in the age of carbon fibre?

You might well think the advance of carbon fibre would have rendered steel obsolete, but that has never happened. Steel is (and always will be) a really good material for building bicycles frames, because it’s light, stiff and durable. It's also easy to fix: your local welder will be able to repair a broken steel frame, although some very high-strength steels do need special handling. But try finding someone who can fix a broken carbon frame in the Yellow Pages.

Enigma Elite Frameset - riding 2.jpg

Enigma Elite Frameset - riding 2.jpg

Some cyclists refuse to ride anything but a steel bike, so enchanting is its ride quality. It’s not as widely available as it used to be though, but that is changing as it has become more fashionable in the past few years, with the new wave of bespoke framebuilders choosing to work with steel.

If you want a custom bike, steel is the most versatile and affordable option. Bespoke carbon fibre will cost you a fortune and good luck trying to get a bespoke aluminium frame, leaving steel to become the main choice in the growing bespoke framebuilding sector. Aluminium has now become so cheap to manufacture that you can now get it on bikes costing from as little as £165.

Steel tube manufacturers, such as Columbus and Reynolds, thankfully haven’t given up on steel, and in fact the opposite has happened, they've been investing in new tubesets. The latest steel tubesets, which include the latest stainless offerings, are now lighter and stiffer than anything Eddy Merckx used to race, and a viable alternative to carbon and aluminium.

>>Read more: Custom built frames — the choice, from steel to carbon

Here then are 18 of the best steel road bikes.

Bombtrack Hook EXT — £2,200

Bombtrack Hook EXT.jpg

Bombtrack Hook EXT.jpg

The defining feature of the Hook EXT is the 650B (27.5in) wheel size. It's becoming popular in the category of do-anything bike – the ability to rock the toughest of mountain bike trails, then either fit really fat slicks for road riding/touring, or a set of 700C wheels on normal tyres makes for as close to one-bike-to-rule-them-all as you currently get.

Read our review of the Bombtrack Hook EXT
Find a Bombtrack dealer

Colnago Master X-Light — £2,099.95 (frameset)

Colnago Master.jpg

Colnago Master.jpg

In the glory days of steel, Colnago supplied bikes to Eddy Merckx, Giro winner and world champion Giuseppe Saronni among many other greats of the era. Colnago's steel frames are still made in Italy and fans of steel  consider them among the very best available ferrous frames.

Find a Colnago dealer

Fairlight Cycles Strael — from £1,849

Fairlight Strael.jpg

Fairlight Strael.jpg

The Fairlight Cycles Strael is an absolutely stunning machine, offering four-season adaptability and durability without sacrificing high speed or a racy performance. Intelligent tube choices coupled with a long and low geometry make for a bike you can blast about on all day long and the only muscles that'll ache at the end of it will be from grinning too much.

Read our review of the Fairlight Cycles Strael

Cinelli XCr Stainless Steel (frameset) — £2,900

cinelli cc2_01.jpg

cinelli cc2_01.jpg

When it comes to iconic bicycle brands, there are few quite as iconic as Cinelli. This is the Italian company’s XCr Stainless Steel frameset, which it describes as the “jewel in its range”. We can see why. Handmade in Italy, the TIG-welded triple butted XCr wonderfulness with laser etched graphics has a claimed frame weight of just 1,420g.

Condor Fratello Disc (frameset) — £800

Condor Fratello

Condor Fratello

London’s Condor Cycles is both a bike shop and bike brand, and its Fratello touring bike is its most popular model, showing that there is a lot of demand for a sensible steel frame. The frame has been carefully refined over the years, and the latest update is a move to Columbus Spirit tubing with some custom shaping taking inspiration from Condor’s racier Super Acciaio. And it’s available with disc brakes now as well, making it the ideal winter training, Audax or commuting bike.

Review: Condor Fratello Disc

Donhou DSS1 Signature Steel road bike — £4,585

Donhou Signature Steel

Donhou Signature Steel

Tom Donhou is one of the new wave of young framebuilders specialising in steel and his bikes have been well received, with a particular focus on disc brakes that led to the development of the DSS1 Signature Steel. It’s an off-the-shelf bike with a frame made from Reynolds 853 and an Enve carbon fibre fork and tapered head tube.

Review: Donhou DSS1 Signature Steel

Enigma Elite HSS (frame, fork & headset) — £1,750

Enigma Elite

Enigma Elite

The modern steel tubesets are a long way from the skinny steel tubes of yesteryear, and the Enigma Elite HSS is a fine example of how good a contemporary steel bike can be. It uses the latest Columbus Spirit HSS triple butted tubeset with a beefy 44mm diameter head tube and combined with a carbon fibre fork, it displays the sort of ride that would make you question all other frame materials.

Review: Enigma Elite HSS

Genesis Bikes Equilibrium 10 — £900

genesis-equilibrium-10-2017-road-bike-red-EV289607-3000-1.jpg

genesis-equilibrium-10-2017-road-bike-red-EV289607-3000-1.jpg

Even though Brit brand Genesis Bikes now does carbon fibre, it has partly founded its reputation on fine steel bikes. It’s also responsible for raising awareness of race-ready steel bikes: its Madison-Genesis team raced its Volare model at top level races.

The Equilibrium, an all-rounder with room in the frame for mudguards, and rack mounts, has always been the mainstay of the Genesis steel range, with the latest version of the entry-level Equilibrium 10 now a wallet-friendly £1,000. It uses a Taiwanese made double-butted steel tubeset with a 44mm head tube, carbon fork and Shimano Tiagra groupset.

Holdsworth Competition (frameset) — £600

Holdsworth Competition.jpg

Holdsworth Competition.jpg

Britain used to boast many local independent framebuilders, and Holdsworth used to be one of the most famous names in British cycling and framebuilding. The shop closed down in 2013, after 86 years, but the brand has been resurrected by Planet X and it now offers a range of heritage frames. The Competition is the top-end model and features Columbus triple-butted tubes and a 320g carbon fibre fork.

Independent Fabrication Club Racer (frame & fork) — £2,470

Independent Fabrication Club Racer.jpg

Independent Fabrication Club Racer.jpg

It’s not just British frame builders that are bringing steel back into fashion, there has been a similar increase in popularity over in the US too. Independent Fabrication was founded in 1995 out of the ashes of mountain bike company Fat City Cycles, and now offers a range of steel road bikes. This one, the Club Racer is a traditional road bike with all the fitments for light touring, making it an ideal winter bike, commuter or Audax choice. It’s available with disc brakes as well.

Kona Roadhouse — £3,499

kona-roadhouse-2017-road-bike-silver-EV291759-7500-1.jpg

kona-roadhouse-2017-road-bike-silver-EV291759-7500-1.jpg

The Roadhouse is Canadian company Kona’s classic steel road bike, with a Reynolds 853 tubeset and thru-axles front and rear - making it one of the few steel road bikes with thru-axles we’ve ever come across. For 2017 it's had a bit of a price hike (okay, a lot of a price hike) to fund a glorious polished and lacquered finish that shows off the fillet-brazed joints. A tapered head tube and carbon fibre fork beefs up front-end stiffness and it’s bang up to date with flat mount disc tabs and, of course, it has mudguard mounts.

If the price is a bit steep, the Wheelhouse has a TIG-welded 853 frame with the same features, and Shimano Tiagra components.

Read our review of the Kona Roadhouse

Mason Resolution (frame, fork & headset) — £1,495

Mason_Cycles1533.jpg

Mason_Cycles1533.jpg

New Brit brand Mason debuted with two frames, and chose Columbus Spirit and Life tubes for its Resolution. There’s nothing much traditional about this bike, with internal cable routing, disc brakes and space for 28mm tyres and mudguards.

Read our review of the Mason Resolution

Mercian Cycles Vincitore Special 853 Pro Team — £1,660

Mercian Vincitore.jpg

Mercian Vincitore.jpg

Started in 1946, Mercian Cycles is another long-running UK steel framebuilding business that is thriving today, using traditional framebuilding methods and building each frame to order and made-to-measure. Choosing a frame involves using the company’s online frame builder tool, which lets you chose a model, tubeset, geometry and other details you want on your future bike. The Vincitore Special (pictured) features intricate hand-cut lugs. It can be built from a choice of Reynolds tubesets including 631, 725 and 853.

Ritchey Ascent — £1,000 (frame only)

ascent-break-away-frameset.jpg

ascent-break-away-frameset.jpg

Legendary bike brand Ritchey Cycles has introduced the new Ascent for 2016. A little bit of history. The Ascent used to be a mountain bike back in the 1980s, but the name has been reintroduced as a do-everything steel touring bike, with space for big tyres and eyelets for all racks and mudguards, perfectly suited to the latest gravel bikes trend. It’s a versatile bike, including the option of taking a 650b wheel with 2.1in tyre (a bit like Cannondale’s Slate).

Ritte Cycles Snob — from £3,995

Ritte Snob.jpg

Ritte Snob.jpg

We were impressed with the carbon fibre Ace from US bicycle brand Ritte Cycles, and the company also produces frames in metal, including the Snob. It’s constructed from stainless steel tubing with oversized profile tubes and a tapered head tube, and compact geometry. You can choose between a regular rim brake or disc brake version.

Rourke Framesets Reynolds 631 frameset — from £995

rourke.png

rourke.png

Rourke Framesets offer a wide choice of steel bikes with a selection of tubesets available to meet different budgets. The custom frame business is headed up by Brian Rourke who has 25-years of road racing experience, and uses this expertise to provide a full bike fit service, to ensure your new bike fits perfectly. Rourke offers framesets in a choice of flavours, from road race to Audax, and complete bikes built to your exact specification.

Shand Cycles Stoater (frame & fork) — £1,105

Shand Stoater

Shand Stoater

Shand Cycles is a Scottish frame manufacturer and produces a number of different models, but the Stoater is its do-everything frame designed to be as versatile as you need it to be. Like the modern crop of cyclocross/gravel bikes, the Stoater has space for wide tyres and the frame is bristling with mudguard and rack mounts.

Read out review of the Shand Stoater

Stoemper Taylör (frameset) — £1,899

01-Stoemper Taylor.jpeg

01-Stoemper Taylor.jpeg

Portland-based Stoemper takes a lot of inspiration from Belgium for its Stoemper Taylör, a frame made from TIG welded True Temper S3 tubing and a classic road bike geometry. The tubes are oversized but not by the same measure as some more modern steel bikes, with a non-tapered head tube providing a classic appearance.

Read our review of the Stoemper Taylör

Prefer aluminium? Here are 11 of the best 2016 aluminium road bikes.

[This article was last updated on July 27, 2017]

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

12 comments

Avatar
Vejnemojnen [253 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

what is wrong with this one?  1

 

http://www.festka.com/xcr.php

 

or this?

 

http://www.kurtz.hu/?portfolio-page=bikes&lang=en

 

I personally would recommend the latter due to my being patriotic  1

Avatar
TheDoctor [231 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

This needs renaming to just "15 steel road bikes and frames" as there is a lot of Mediocre in that list and too many great frames left out to list here!

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Bigfoz [130 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes

Probably the ultimate steel frameset of them all, likely the only one still in production with multiple pro wins, including Roubaix / Giro etc, and not mentioned? Colnago Master...

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StraelGuy [960 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes

That Colnago's expensive - £2.1 million pounds  !!!

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Chris Hayes [143 posts] 3 months ago
5 likes

Vanilla, (inc Speedwagen), Pegoretti, Zullo, Tomassini....the list of the best steel frames not on this list is far more interesting.... 

Avatar
Jonny_Trousers [278 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

For those above who seem confused: "18 of the best steel road bikes and frames"

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ajd [62 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

I have a Genesis Volare 931, Colnago Master (c1990) and still have my first race bike - Rourke 653 (c1992).

Love them all in different ways.

Rourke - superbe comfort

Genesis - ultimate winter bike

Colnago - pure bling and mighty stiff (surprisingly)

Total cost less than a Ford Fiesta

Avatar
StraelGuy [960 posts] 2 weeks ago
1 like

My Strael frame and forks is due to arrive any day now and I'm like a kid at Christmas time waiting to get it built up. I've decided carbon just doesn't really float my boat.

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racingcondor [234 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Also worth mentioning Baum, Alchemy and English, none of them UK builders but all top end frames and well worth drooling over.

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Bigfoz [130 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

I've ridden a lot of steel frames over the years, including some of the ones on this list.  Of all the bikes I've ever owned / ridden only 3 truly stand out for me. The Carlton Pro I raced on as a teenager with Campag Nuovo / Super record; the Colnago SuperPiu I bought in 1995, still have and love; and a Colnago Master X-Lite, probably the best riding bike I've ever owned, but a size too small. The Master was a great eBay purchase as I made money on it after 5 years of riding it. I'm saving up for a new Master frame now (in the right size...), nothing else on the market (especially chunky tubed carbon things) really compels me to save up... 

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ChrisB200SX [432 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

I know Ti is more tricky to repair/weld, but looking at the above prices, would it be worth going Ti? Generally, does it ride better than steel?
Disclaimer: I have no real experience with riding Steel or Ti, although I didn't once ride my friend's dad's old steel bike back in the 90s.
 

Avatar
Christopher TR1 [125 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

This article was published years ago. Lazy!