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Steel Frame Bikes & The Joy of Cycling

Manta: Side View FrontThrough the early 1980s, steel alloy was the material of choice for bicycle frames, until manufacturers replaced steel with lightweight aluminum, titanium and carbon-fiber composites.

In the early 90s, I found a used, steel frame Manta road bike at a local bike shop. The shop owner explained how durable, smooth and flexible the bike's steel tubing was. I bought the Manta because of the steel frame, and the $125 price tag, then spent a few more dollars restoring and retrofitting the bike. It's been a wonderful bike!

Resurgence of Steel Frames
Yesterday, I read Eli Milchman's Cycling Purists Rejoice: Steel Is Back at Wired, about the resurgence of steel framed bikes. It's fascinating to see steel making a comeback as a new, cool material of choice.

For more background on why steel is a great choice for a bike frame, I highly recommend Rivendell Bicycle Works' article on Frame Materials:

It has been said many times that engineering matters more than materials. But it's not as simple as that. Yes, you can make a strong bridge out of styrofoam, or bike frame out of almost anything, but certain materials have inherent qualities that plain make them more desirable. Steel has been around a long time, and that makes it a hard sell these days. But as a strong, safe, repairable, beautiful, practical, and rugged frame material, it is still the best. The fact that it's not trendy only adds to its appeal.

Amen brutha!

The Joy of Cycling
A few years ago I came across Rivendell Bicycles, through my buddy Michael Ashby. These guys are into cycling for pure joy and practicality. The Rivendell crew rejects pseudo race-ready day-glo lycra, featherweight titanium bottle holders and the manufactured bike racing peer-pressure, for seersucker shirts and cargo shorts, steel frame bikes, leather seats and riding bikes because it's fun to do and good for you.

I've really resonated with the Rivendell ethos the past few years. Now I leave my lycra stuff in the drawer and ride my bike for fun and to get places, wearing regular 'ol clothes. I've replaced my Shimano clipless pedals on the Manta with old-style toe clips and straps. I still enjoy Tour de France bike racing, but I also realize I'm not a racer and don't need to pretend I'm one when I ride.

I ride for the joy of it. :-)

Reader Comments (4)

I was just reading an article that talked about chopping and modding bikes and the author said they look for old bikes made of steel because the can cut them up and weld them back together easily.

I do admit though, the bamboo frame bike I saw looks pretty cool. :)
October 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPete Prodoehl
My husband has an older Gary Fischer steel bike frame that he dearly loves to mod. He blogs about it (with photos) over at his place, if you'd like to take a look.
October 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLux
Pete, I didn't take you for a bamboo kinda guy! :-)

Lux, thanks for the link, and great to hear Scott is back on the road again after a 6 year hiatus!
October 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I totally agree with you on just the feel of going out and free-riding. Since moving to Charlotte, I too have found a good dea of joy in riding my "walmart bike" and just getting out in some regualr clothes and just letting life roll.

I'll admit though, my dad's old steel road bikes and I never got along well though. I used to kill the tires in those once a week easy (35-40miles of riding a week then).
October 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAntoine of MMM

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