Bespoked: the versatility of steel

Steel bikes from Rusby, Brian Rourke, Paulus Quiros, Fresh Fabrications, Shand and loads more

by Mat Brett   April 15, 2014  


Steel comes in all sorts of different flavours and it can be built into a whole lot of different types of bike, as we found out when walking around the Bespoked handmade cycle show at the weekend.

Steel is used for everything from city run-around bikes right up to full-on performance machines, and it’s built using fillet brazing, TIG welding, lugs... check out the diversity below.

Here are some of the most interesting steel builds that we spotted...


Brian Rourke

Brian Rourke makes a whole bunch of custom framesets from Dedaccai Zero and Reynolds 631, 853 and 953. This (including the main picture) is one of the 953 road models with the chainstays and seatstays left unpainted to let the steel show at the back.

The little cable guides on the side of the head tube are a neat touch and the flawless paintwork gives a gorgeous finish.

Paulus Quiros

Paulus Quiros designs and builds custom bike frames in Burry Port, Carmarthenshire using butted Reynolds steel tubing.

Check out this lugged road frame in Reynolds 921 stainless. Beautiful! Reynold and Paulus Quiros say that the tubing is extremely strong but malleable enough to allow the tubes to be curved – hence those sweeping seatstays.

Paulus Quiros wanted to create the appearance of engine-turned brass here so used a 23 carat gold leaf finish for some of the details.

Speaking of details, check out some of the little touches on this Wales-themed bike.

That’s the Prince of Wales’s feathers on the head tube and a dragon on the seat tube.

Blacksmith Bikes

Despite the name, Blacksmith Bikes comes from The Netherlands. Although these two bikes initially appear very different, they’re both based around the same frame: the Avenue.

Blacksmith sees this as its most versatile racing frame and it tweaks the geometry according to each individual rider’s measurements, riding style and aims.

The tubeset also varies according to the individual, Blacksmith using Dedacciai for big, strong riders who want stiffness, a Columbus Life or Max tubeset for more comfort, and Reynolds 853 for a combination of light weight, stiffness and resilience. Both the bikes shown here are 853.

Fresh Fabrications

Fresh Fabrications handbuilds its steel bikes in London. This town bike is made from a double-butted Columbus mixed tubeset and it uses hydraulic disc brakes from Hope.

That’s Brooks leather tape on the swept back bars.

This Milk Bike model is totally different with some interesting tube shapes, particularly those seatstays.

It’s Shimano Nexus-equipped and belt driven. Check out the coffee holder on the front carrier.

Oak Cycles

Oak Cycles is another London brand and this is The Time Machine; you won’t get it confused with BMC’s Timemachine TT bike, despite the similarity in the names.

It’s made with Columbus Spirit Main tubes and an 853 rear end. The head tube is tapered and, as you can see, it uses disc brakes. The finish clearly owes a lot to Penguin books.

Rusby Cycles

Rusby Cycles is yet another London-based brand that handbuilds bespoke steel frames. This bike was made specifically for the city, designed to be nippy and comfortable when you inevitably hit a pothole.

The bike is belt driven – so there’s no chance of getting a rusty chain, the cables are routed through the pursuit handlebar and stem, and the brakes are cantis.


Toad Custom Cycles

Toad is from Kintbury, West Berkshire. We like this lugged road frame made from Columbus steel with a paint job by Cromaworks (we saw a lot of pink/white frames at Bespoked). That’s a Shimano Ultegra build on there.

What are we going to call this, a cross bike or a gravel racer? Whatever, it’s a neat looking piece of work with disc brakes, a single-ring Middleburn chainset and other gear components from SRAM.

The rear brake cable heads backwards through the top tube and eyelets allow for the easy fitting of mudguards.

Shand Cycles

Shand Cycles fillet-braze road and touring bikes from butted Reynolds and Columbus steel. They make both production and custom framesets.

The Stoater is made from Reynolds 853 and it’s built up as an ‘allroad’ tourer in that it is designed to go anywhere on all sorts of surfaces.

“Refined enough to be your main road bike but rugged enough for off road trails and singletrack, it could be the only bike you ever need,” according to Livingston-based Shand.

As you can see, it’s disc brake compatible, the chainstay positioning of the rear brake allowing space for rack and mudguard eyelets.


Teague Bicycles

Teague Bicycles are built by London’s Matt Teague, mostly in lugged steel. This singlespeed road bike is made from Reynolds 631.

The same is true of this touring bike with a sky blue powder coat finish.

This track bike, on the other hand, is Columbus Spirit. Those are Miche Pistard WR wheels on there, along with Brooks’ classic B17 leather saddle.

21 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Given comments elsewhere about built in obsolescence, its funny how the bikes pictured from the bespoked show seem to elicit more lustful comments than the latest whizzy UCI compliant carbon electric aero thing.

Could it be that people actually like handmade metal - round section tubes no less, and gears that are fixable without a laptop - than something designed to be 1% stiffer, lighter, or more aero than the one released onto the market the previous week?

posted by allez neg [4 posts]
15th April 2014 - 18:55


Lustful comments are directly correlated to uniqueness or rarity IMO.

posted by chokofingrz [402 posts]
15th April 2014 - 19:35


The Brian Rourke looks smart, but are we to believe that they expect buyers to go to the trouble of finding and choosing such a unique frame, then combining it with an off-the-peg wheelset from Mavic?

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3722 posts]
15th April 2014 - 20:51


I will sign up to the lustful tag in seconds. The above bikes seem to convey more thought in their design, passion in their manufacture and greater originality than their carbon cousins. But why is this? I think the carbon variant is becoming almost generalised in nature, with little variance in its perceived perception. Yes, they are probably stiffer, lighter and more technologically advanced but I would argue that they do not provide the spread of variation that steel provides. There again, I am a fully paid up member of the 'steel (and titanium) is real' club and am, therefore, not totally objective!

posted by NickK123 [94 posts]
15th April 2014 - 21:18


Horses for courses. My carbon bike is 1.5mph average faster than my steel bike but my steel bike feels like history. Totally pointless trying to make steel race bikes, no matter what genesis and feather are doing, but they are good for going the distance and generally just cruising about on. And they last. And they are not an ecological nightmare when you try to retire them. But carbon bikes really are faster. But... but... but... rinse repeat until you have at least one of each Smile

Of all those bikes above I saw at the show I actually liked the shands the most - quite plain in colour but great angles and very well thought out. The really bling bikes just put me off these days.

alotronic's picture

posted by alotronic [416 posts]
15th April 2014 - 21:43


alotronic wrote:
...My carbon bike is 1.5mph average faster than my steel bike...

The difference between identically specced and set up steel and carbon bikes will be nowhere near 1.5 mph.

I don't follow trends. Trends follow me.

posted by BBB [250 posts]
16th April 2014 - 0:20


It would be interesting to see the sort of prices these bikes fetch. I'd love to own a good looking steel or ti bike over alloy or carbon fibre but they seem to be comparatively expensive. And much heavier. If someone could build a steel bike that is only a pound or so heavier than the alloy or carbon fibre equivalent and doesn't cost the earth it would shift plenty of units. Genesis are giving it a go but they're not cheap for what you get.

posted by darrenleroy [208 posts]
16th April 2014 - 0:21

5 Likes steel 953s faster and stiffer than my equiv carbon and quite a bit cheaper...also going to outlast the carbon frame...

posted by tommytwoparrots [35 posts]
16th April 2014 - 6:53


And what about comfort? I ride steel, carbon and Ti frames. The carbon may be the lightest of the three, but it's nowhere close in terms of comfort. If you can afford it, an 853 steel or Ti frame is vastly preferrable to carbon (imo).

posted by enigmaman [21 posts]
16th April 2014 - 9:26


Versatility of steel and versatility of price, I'm gobsmacked at the cost of today's steel frames. I have an original Viscount Aerospace steel frame with beautifully crafted fillet brazed joints the equal of any of today's costly masterpieces. I picked it up in a bike junk shop for fifteen quid.


antonio's picture

posted by antonio [1108 posts]
16th April 2014 - 9:35


If I was buying* a race bike I wouldn't choose steel, to be honest I wouldn't be buying top of the range either, no point buying anything you can't afford to repair/replace.

If I was buying* a sunday special then I would go steel/Ti, IMO they look nicer which is what the bikes are all about, and as I am less likely to crash it repair/replace isn't an issue.

*As it is I don't have the money for a new bike so the Lemond CdF continues, and will continue till I break it, which hopefully won't be until after discs** become widespread.

**I see little point buying a non disc bike "sunday" bike as that is where the market is going so might as well future proof the bike.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1888 posts]
16th April 2014 - 9:44


Each one of these articles really makes me wish I'd been able to make it to the show, although I probably would have ended up ordering something and being murdered by the girlfriend as soon as we left.
I don't know about whether carbon bikes are really much faster, I'm sure many of them are lighter/stiffer etc, but as to which I want to own there's little contest. It's a bit like guitars, you can buy an off the shelf Fender or Gibson and they'll probably do the job better and be less hassle than a vintage instrument, but it's the vintage instruments that 90% of people seem to want to own. If it all came down to the numbers there'd be no point in so many manufacturers making bikes, I for one am glad there's so much variety.

Ride what makes you happy

posted by RobD [269 posts]
16th April 2014 - 11:17


BBB wrote:
alotronic wrote:
...My carbon bike is 1.5mph average faster than my steel bike...

The difference between identically specced and set up steel and carbon bikes will be nowhere near 1.5 mph.

It might be, it might not - amongst others things, it'll depend on the weight difference (which can be considerable) coupled with the profile (i'd imagine the difference would change a tad depending whether you going up or down the Col du Jandri).

Steel is fine, but not great and certainly not magical - personally, I wouldn't touch a steel fork set again unless touring - but I thought part of the appeal was supposed to be its cost-effective robustness. I certainly has the latter, not so sure about the former.

Ti, on the other hand, should be fabulous and cost a small fortune - thankfully I believe it does both Smile

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [1326 posts]
16th April 2014 - 11:58


I have been in to Rourkes and handled in person one of the latest stainless steel builds they have been fabricating. Anyone claiming you can't make a steel race stick that's competitive for all but maybe very elite pro riders is probably deluding them self that a carbon bike is making them faster along with the team replica jersey. I also feel that steel is far more adaptable and also more sustainable as a material for frame fabrication. Perhaps if we focused more on durability and repairabilty we would return to a more realistic form of the sport instead of what currently seems to be not a million miles from being re-enactment of pro cycling rather than actual competiton. I would like a carbon bike yes, would I want it to be the only bike I own? no.

posted by MKultra [385 posts]
16th April 2014 - 12:12


BBB wrote:
alotronic wrote:
...My carbon bike is 1.5mph average faster than my steel bike...

The difference between identically specced and set up steel and carbon bikes will be nowhere near 1.5 mph.

Well ok, it might have been 1 and a bit mph... but I ride quite slowly and for a long way, so air resistance is less of a factor, I am talking about the difference between 16 and 17 and a bit mph average.

Seriously though: I set up my carbon bike (mid range orbea onix) and put the same wheels as my steel bike (salsa laraza), matched the setup, swapped saddles out, strapped on my HRM and Garmin 705 and went out on my favourite roads to take a look at the difference. It really is over 1 mph. Then I did the same things with some aero wheels, swapped them around all over the place and the carbon bike with the aero wheels is 1.5 and a bit faster.

Since then I have ridden many rides on each of those bikes on identical roads using targeted HR and the difference is, give or take, 1mph or more.

I guess my steel bike could be utter shit, but I don't think so (Platinum OX racing frame). I suppose I could be riding to prove myself right, but to be clear I was totally surprised and astonished the first time I got the stats. I didn't even want the carbon bike to be faster, I just bought a second hand frame totally out of curiosity and had thought I was never going to find anything better for reasonable money anyway than the Salsa. And to be clear I would swap the Orbea for a Ti Enigma in a heart beat!

You are welcome to disprove me in a peer reviewed double blind test Smile

alotronic's picture

posted by alotronic [416 posts]
16th April 2014 - 13:36


I think a double blind test in this instance can't be done as the tester mustn't know which option they are riding. If you disguise the bike frame from the tester you clearly alter its performance characteristics.

You'd need a robot to ride the different bikes and the person examining the data to be unaware of which set of data was from which bike.

Because cycling is so dependant on climatic variables you would need a controlled climate in a place where there could be range of consistent terrain so that the exact same route with a mixture of ups, downs, turns and surfaces could be repeated. Even then you couldn't account for the differences between bikes, for example when they are capable of slightly different lines through corners due to geometry, bottom bracket height etc.

I think I mean that you can't really test the speed differences between two road racing bikes. I think all the reviewers and testers really know this and the rest of us can understand it.

BUT we love to say this or that is faster and we love to quantify it even if we can't really back up what we say.

After all - if the specific difference is impossible to prove then a claim of a particular difference is equally impossible to disprove.

Sometimes I wish I wasn't pedantic and that I just didn't care!


posted by shay cycles [301 posts]
16th April 2014 - 13:56


I can believe some of the comments around carbon bikes being faster, but whether that would be a fair comparison or not depends on the design remit of the bikes in question.

I ride a Genesis Equilibrium 725 with an Ultegra group/wheels, though was lent a full Dura Ace Cervelo R5 Team early last year.

On the 40-odd mile ride I did, the average speed difference was about 1.5mph, the Cervelo being noticeably faster. But then the R5 is designed for out-and-out speed, though aerodynamics and power transmission, whereas the Equilibrium is designed to be pretty quick, but maintain an element of comfort - which means the back end gets a bit squiggly when you really put the power down really hard.

I think that for a century, a ride over broken roads, or for anything with a lot of descending I'd still probably pick the Equilibrium, as I think it's the better tool for all 3 of those jobs.

andyspaceman's picture

posted by andyspaceman [246 posts]
16th April 2014 - 14:10


About the Rourke/Mavic wheel combo question.That's what I did on mine.

Likewise I have a Ritchey stem and bar, not a hand-confected fillet brazed integrated one off combo.

posted by thereandbackagain [159 posts]
16th April 2014 - 14:28


andyspaceman wrote:
I can believe some of the comments around carbon bikes being faster ...

Then why will all the competitors in the TdF be riding carbon frames this year? Because they're more comfortable?

posted by Joeinpoole [436 posts]
16th April 2014 - 14:29


Joeinpoole wrote:
andyspaceman wrote:
I can believe some of the comments around carbon bikes being faster ...

Then why will all the competitors in the TdF be riding carbon frames this year? Because they're more comfortable?

To counter, why have trek developed the Domane, Bianchi countervale etc.

Because Carbon isn't comfy??????

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1888 posts]
16th April 2014 - 14:37


Not at all - carbon can be plenty comfy - my point is that people make generalisations about materials, but it's really the design remit of the bike (and how well that is executed) that is key.

I've spent time aboard an old (non-Countervail) Infinito, and I quite liked it. It actually performed in a very similar manner to my Equilibrium. It felt a little less 'alive' at low speeds, but did climb slightly more efficiently. They are clearly very different bikes, but in terms of a tool to do a job they perform pretty similarly, despite the material differences.

One final point about custom steel (or other material) frames - a proper physical assessment by an experienced framebuilder will put the rider in exactly the right position - and that will do more to improve performance than any material choice.

andyspaceman's picture

posted by andyspaceman [246 posts]
16th April 2014 - 16:54