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  1. #1
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    Preventing rust on custom steel?

    I've been looking at getting a custom steel bike, but worried about rust. Are there certain options I should look at that would minimize rust such as paint finish (powdercoat?), etc? I want something low maintenance, and Ti was suggested to me, but I just love the look and ride of steel so much better. Would appreciate any suggestions - TIA.

  2. #2
    Decrepit Member Scooper's Avatar
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    There's always stainless steel like 953, XCr, and KVA MS2. My main ride is a 5 year old polished 953 Waterford, and it still looks brand new. I don't have to worry about paint scrapes or rust in spite of frequent rides in the rain, and it rides like steel (because it is).

    A number of builders at NAHBS last month (Sam Whittingham of Naked Bicycles and Design, Dave Anderson of Anderson Custom Bicycles, and Dave Wages of Ellis Cycles among others) showed stainless frames made with KVA.
    - Stan

  3. #3
    Grumpy Young Coot veryredbike's Avatar
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    I'm not a builder, but I see a lot of older bikes at my shop and saw a few good posts on this before the framefo went down. This is an imaginary problem for most people. Oxidation is actually self limiting to a degree. It forms a barrier preventing deeper damage. For instance, I've got a spot where a local welder took off the paint on my Surly Steamroller to put on rear brake stops. I've been meaning to paint it for almost a year. In the meantime, it's just been bare chromo. I've ridden in the rain a few times, had it out tons... and there's only a bit of discoloration on the very surface. I'll paint it eventually, but it'd take a LONG time for it to be a real issue.

    Internal stuff in a large part depends on the care and construction of the bike. Make sure to use plenty of grease on your seat-post if you're going to spend a lot of time in the wet, it acts as a bit of a gasket to keep water from getting in that way. Ditto on water bottle bolts. Don't leave the bike out in the rain longer than necessary, give it a quick dry when you get it in. Some builders make a vent at the BB, so that water that sneaks in can get out again, that helps too.

    The most common case I've heard of really deep structural rust is when some paper or cloth gets left in the frame, either cleaning or by the builder. I heard one story of someone finding a rusted through seat-tube with an italian newspaper stuffed in it... that sort of thing holds liquid in contact with the tube and prevents quick drainage or evaporation.

    I'm not trying to say that stuff doesn't rust, just that if it was the pervasive problem that a lot of people worry it is, we wouldn't have all of those 70's era road bikes found in people's back yards still rolling around.

    If you're paranoid (or live by the water, or in another area with salty air or corrosive dust), use some frame-saver... most bike shops can order it. It's a rust-arresting and preventative spray that you can roll around in your frame to guard the inside. Some intelligent builders call even that level of preventative maintenance unnecessary. You can cover external scratches with clear nailpolish.

    Also, never bring a bike you don't want to die to burning-man.

  4. #4
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    @Scooper: How does stainless steel ride in comparison to something like Columbus steel, Reynolds 753, or Tange? Is it stiffer?

    @VRB: Thanks for the input, and you're right, I'm probably being overly paranoid, but it's just one less thing I want to have to worry about when riding if possible. I don't intend to ride in downpours or anything, but sometimes you can't avoid getting wet (random shower, puddles, etc).

  5. #5
    Decrepit Member Scooper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kreative View Post
    @Scooper: How does stainless steel ride in comparison to something like Columbus steel, Reynolds 753, or Tange? Is it stiffer?
    Nope; the ride isn't any different. All steels have essentially the same Young's Modulus. The 953 tubes have thinner walls (as thin as 0.3mm), but because the tubes are OS, the frame stiffness is similar to my 531 Paramount with standard diameter tubes. The stainless bike is several pounds lighter than the Paramount, so it accelerates faster and climbs better than the Paramount.

    - Stan

  6. #6
    Grumpy Young Coot veryredbike's Avatar
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    Though, with such a shiny bike you do have to worry about giant birds flying away with it to build their nests ;-)

  7. #7
    Randomhead
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    wax and framesaver will keep any bike from rusting

  8. #8
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    I find that bikes that are neglected have a far greater chance of rusting. Periodic breaking down, cleaning and well lubed reassembly will off set a lot of bad exposure. Andy.

  9. #9
    Charles Ramsey
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    It's not a real problem with 4130 mine spent 10 years in Oregon riding every day. In general higher strength tubes corrode faster than lower strength ones. I've seen rusty 17-4 PH caused by galvanic corrosion.

  10. #10
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    It is an imaginary problem for the most part, unless you live in Atlantis, or store the bike in the open and it rains a lot. I would not let it determine my materials choice.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Gyro_T's Avatar
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    LPS-3 inside the tubes
    Lover of art and function in lugged steel

  12. #12
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    I've been riding a custom steel frame since 1994 with nary a problem, & I've ridden & raced it in the rain occasionally. I got some nicks in the paint & touched those up with primer until I got around to having the frame powder-coated, & I've kept the seatpost & cage bolts greased, & otherwise I haven't worried about it.

    For extra credit: It's a Clark Kent; who remembers them?
    Last edited by LAWMAN; 04-27-12 at 12:18 PM. Reason: edited to delete off-topic sentence

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    I remembered using linseed oil on my steel bikes, not sure how well it works as I totaled a couple of frames before I knew it

    I've head of people using boiled linseed oil too.

    Care and Feeding of Your Steel Frame | Spews | The Information Hole | Surly Bikes

  14. #14
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    No surface exposed to oxygen is the most basic . paint, frame-saver or grease.

  15. #15
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    I live near the Pacific and frequent the beach paths, and do get enough rust that it concerns me. On my latest build I took several preventative measures.
    • Stainless steel dropouts, because once the paint gets chewed up, rust looks terrible. The contact areas are polished. This added about $50 to the build for labor, materials and silver braze.
    • Weep holes are strategically placed and internal joints allow the frame to drain when hung by the front wheel.
    • Framesaver.
    • All metal axles, steer tube, BB, threads, etc are carefully coated in grease.
    • Wet paint with a thick clear coat, which obscures the lugwork a bit, but rust looks worse.


    My steel Zinn frame did not have these features and I would have retired it due to rust if I hadn't hated the handling and ride. It had only about 20,000 miles on it and spent most of its 20 years in the garage.

  16. #16
    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    You can get clear poweder coat.

  17. #17
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    I have seen and heard of powder paint with rust issues. It's impossible to have a really sealed paint coat. So rust can and does creep under the paint. Without a primer/sealer base, powder will let this creep occur far more then classic wet paint (with primer/sealer). Cable stops, bottle bosses, cable guides are the big points of breaking the paint's coat (and then show up as rust spiders).

    So for most powder coating that I've know about it's about the cost and not the rust prevention. Andy.

  18. #18
    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
    So for most powder coating that I've know about it's about the cost and not the rust prevention. Andy.
    I believe Bike Friday powder coats all of their frames with reasonably good results. It may depend a bit on surface prep.

    And, while they don't salt the roads around here, we do get our fair share of winter rain.

  19. #19
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Agreed that prep is VERY important for any paint. Perhaps that is why I've seen so many poor powder coat jobs. Andy.

  20. #20
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    BF is an awesome company that has more tricks up it sleeve than a bus load of jugglers, but powder coat is not the answer for rust. Most powder coat remains permeable. But given the fact that the problem is largely imaginary, powder coat is certainly a good product. It's main advantages though are film thickness, and the process.

    For paint, irst you need to prep the frame so it is able to wet. This can last as little as a day or an hour so you need to be able to move on to the painting quickly. Then an epoxy primer, followed by paint would probably give the best results in a paint There are many interesting coatings used for other products like guns, but they are probably all too expensive. There is normally zero problem with a well maintained exterior. There will probably be some rust inside the frame. You can spray in there, but for the most part in normal conditions, and those described by the OP, the best practice (other than stainless) is to just get into the whole thing, become a user and learn to love steel the way it is, which may includ tiny rust marks long after you have given the frame unconditional love, and won't blow a gasket over a small blemish. I think in the right bad conditions, (you don't store your bike on a carpet, you do have real rain) Keeping tubes well oiled internally is the ticket.

  21. #21
    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    Anybody use a tannic acid/phosphoric acid rust converter on their bikes?

  22. #22
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    I'm not a framebuilder, but in nearly fifty years of riding bikes in the UK, which is not, let's face it, notable for its arid climate, I have never seen an ordinarily-maintained steel frame fail from rust. Of course it is possible - leave the bike outside in all weathers, make no attempt to clean off the salt in winter, damage it and do no repair/repainting - but in practice, if the bike is given even a modicum of care, it's a non-issue.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

  23. #23
    Senior Member taras0000's Avatar
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    One of the main problems with internal rust comes from condensation. In my opinion, the best treatment/preventative is to oil the inside of the frame.
    Taras - :noun. 1. Typically an overweight has-been that can sometimes be seen pootling around a velodrome on an old Look KG 233.

  24. #24
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
    Anybody use a tannic acid/phosphoric acid rust converter on their bikes?
    A phosphate solution is a very common surface prep prior to applying wet primer. In fact if I found a wet painter who didn't use Metal Prep (or some other etching/rust inhibitor) before painting I'd not use them and go to a painter who did. Andy.

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