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When did steel bikes peak?

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When did steel bikes peak?

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Old 08-05-15, 12:44 PM
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Jarrett2
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When did steel bikes peak?

In your opinion, when do you feel that steel bikes were at their peak?

Meaning, a time where the best steel was available, the best builders were crafting them, etc.

Or is it now? Do steel builders keep getting better even today?
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Old 08-05-15, 12:53 PM
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Interesting question.

First of all, there has been a huge shift in bikes from lugged to tig welded. It may well be that the tig welded bikes are better, but they tend to get ignored by those seeking "classic" bikes.

Perhaps the peak of steel hit in the early 80's when aluminum started becoming more popular, but both steel and aluminum co-existed side by side for quite some time.

The steel would have really dropped around 99 or 2000 when the CF bikes came into their prime, and started winning the TDF.

For road racing bikes, the new steel are probably a narrow niche. But the steel bikes are still king in a number of categories of cargo bikes, and even some MTBs.
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Old 08-05-15, 12:59 PM
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There was close to nothing but steel bikes from the start of the last century so they were always "peaked". Maybe the question should be, when did they start not becoming THE material for bike frames..... = later half of the 80's......
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Old 08-05-15, 01:02 PM
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I'd rather have something like this than a mass produced carbon composite bike any day of the week.

But most people are sheep and just go into the bike shop and pick from what they are being force fed.

tomii cycles
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Old 08-05-15, 01:05 PM
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Hell yeah! Nao Tomii rules!

Originally Posted by andr0id View Post
I'd rather have something like this than a mass produced carbon composite bike any day of the week.

But most people are sheep and just go into the bike shop and pick from what they are being force fed.

tomii cycles
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Old 08-05-15, 01:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Chombi View Post
There was close to nothing but steel bikes from the start of the last century so they were always "peaked". Maybe the question should be, when did they start not becoming THE material for bike frames..... = later half of the 80's......
Latter half of the 80s seems too early to me. Heck this is when a lot of really beautiful steel bikes were being manufactured. My guess is that post no. 2 is closer to the mark; steel bikes dropped out of favor when racers started switching to other types of tubing.

Looks like '94 is the last year that the TdF was won on a steel bike, Tour de France winning bikes - BikeRadar USA
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Old 08-05-15, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
Latter half of the 80s seems too early to me. Heck this is when a lot of really beautiful steel bikes were being manufactured. My guess is that post no. 2 is closer to the mark; steel bikes dropped out of favor when racers started switching to other types of tubing.

Looks like '94 is the last year that the TdF was won on a steel bike, Tour de France winning bikes - BikeRadar USA
That's also when Aluminum was really hitting the market hard, and CF, Ti was just on the horizon for higher production numbers with the major bike companies. Point is, that's when one can really go to most good bike shops and not only just have Steel framed bikes to pick from. Before that, it was pretty much all steel and you really need to look for bike made from other said materials.
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Old 08-05-15, 01:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Jarrett2 View Post
...Meaning, a time where the best steel was available, the best builders were crafting them, etc.

Or is it now?...
I'm thinking the question isn't about steel market share or big bike company model mix, or representation in the pro peleton, but when was the best steel available, and when were the best steel builders building?

IMHO the answer is today, in fact I don't think we've reached the peak yet. We've got builders in their '60s-'80s+ still building, with a lifetime of experience and access to both classic and modern steel tubes. There's also a strong contingent of talented and successful younger builders with a decade or more of experience. And there's no shortage of newbies trying to make a living with files and torches. We've never had a bigger pool of talented builders.

We've also never had better steel to build with. Modern air-hardened, differentially-profiled/butted tubing give builders more options to tailor tubes and geometry to intended use. We can build lighter and livelier frames, but classic tubing is still available for those who prefer it.

As the internet encourages marketing to niches, we've also never had more categories of models to choose from. There's a lot more than just road/touring/'cross/track/off-road out there, and builders who can make a frame to best fit whatever you want the frame to be capable of.

I'd encourage any and all to check out NAHBS, either in person or through photo coverage of previous shows, to see the breadth and depth of steel product available today. In today's US market we've got quality $300-$500 imported frames, $900-$1,200 US-made production frames, $1,400+ made-to-order frames, and sky's-the-limit fully custom.

I'm pretty stoked about where steel is these days....
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Old 08-05-15, 02:21 PM
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I think the peak of our C&V era bikes was probably mid-80s prior to the flood of aluminum and CF about to take place.
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Old 08-05-15, 02:31 PM
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I agree with @pcb. Y'all need to read the OP's post, specifically the second line where the thread title is defined!
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Old 08-05-15, 02:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Jarrett2 View Post

Or is it now? Do steel builders keep getting better even today?
^^^^ 'Yes' is the correct answer.
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Old 08-05-15, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by pcb View Post
IMHO the answer is today...
+1.
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Old 08-05-15, 02:42 PM
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I started taking an interest in enthusiast/sport cycling in the late '80's, and the cycling publications and shops had already to started to feature higher end carbon and alu frames.

Trek was already introducing very affordable bonded aluminum frames. I bought a gorgeous trek 7000 which I thought rode remarkably well.

Bridgestone had introduced a "higher end" lightweight aluminum road bike.

Kestrel had entered the market with a drool worthy, super light carbon frame.

Merlin Ti was what I considered to be the benchmark dream bike at the time.

---

In just a few seasons' time, both spesh and trek were introducing relatively affordable lugged carbon frames.

So, by the late '80's steel frames were already on their way out. Alu, carbon and ti were vying for market share, and probably as soon as the mid '90's, alu and carbon had more or less taken over the low/mid range and high end respectively. Ti remains a niche frame material.

I just loved bridgestone's/grant peterson bikes at the time, but I just could not pull the trigger on a steel framed bike vs. the "lighter" more "advanced" alu frames from trek!
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Old 08-05-15, 02:47 PM
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Originally Posted by pcb View Post
$900-$1,200 US-made production frames
This is the segment of the market I'd most like to see grow in the coming years. It seems like steel exists in lower priced Asian imports made for hip U.S. brands (All-City, Surly, Soma, etc.) and the custom market, but I can think of very few U.S. made production steel frames. Ritchey, Waterford/Gunnar, and new kid on the block Wraith come to mind, but what else is out there?
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Old 08-05-15, 02:57 PM
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I would say the question is unanswerable. Many very excellent steel bicycles built from the 1920's onward. Numerically, the 70's was probably the peak, but in terms of desirability, the answer is, "it depends".
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Old 08-05-15, 03:14 PM
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Steel bikes have peeked? Well, I suppose one could say that, however; the peek would have to span at least a decade, since the turn to different frame materials was gradual, not immediate. That said...

Only a tiny bit of today's bicycles are not steel. Many, around the world, are, what we would call, entry level steeds, manufactured to meet the needs of the utilitarian markets(my guess would be that many are steel). I was once startled to learn how many bicycles are manufactured annually. I believe the article is one featured on the Ken Kifier website.

So, when did they peek. Didn't realize that they had.

I suppose that was not really be what the OP was asking. Again, the only possible answer would span a decade, or more. And, one can only assume, that few people would agree on when that decade begins and ends, or even if a decade is a reasonable window for the change.

For me, the steel bicycle peeked immediately before the beginning of the braze-on age, and most certainly before the 700c alloy clincher.
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Old 08-05-15, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by randyjawa View Post
...
For me, the steel bicycle peeked immediately before the beginning of the braze-on age, and most certainly before the 700c alloy clincher.
I'd say they "peeked" when the eyelet bolt was introduced to secure mud guards.
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Old 08-05-15, 03:22 PM
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Companies like Colnago were investing in R&D do make the better steel frames in the 80's. They're now just trying to replicate the classic lines.

How many new alloys have been released in the last decade? 4130 is big in the utility bikes.

Perhaps a bit more new stuff in stainless lines...

Cycling has borrowed from other fields such as aviation, but even that may be reducing the reliance on steel as a structural component.

I have no doubt some steel manufacturers will be improving technology... hydroforming? More mandrel forming? But, the industry as a whole has peaked.

Perhaps one of the problems is that he market as a whole has been saturated with JUNK. And most of the gems have moved to other materials.

Nonetheless, there are a few manufactures such as Bike Friday which still use primarily steel, and continue to innovate.
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Old 08-05-15, 03:42 PM
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Waterford (disclosure: I have foreign-market business ties with Waterford) builds for a whole bunch of smaller brands. Mike Kone's Boulder Bicycles, Ben's Cycle's Milwaukee Bicycle Company, Twin Six, Georgena Terry, Shinola, and I'm sure there are more. There's also Zen Bicycle Fabrication in Portland, with a business model based on small runs of contract frames. I don't know who they're building for. Jeff Lyon sells his basic, made-to-order fillet-brazed L'avecaise frame/fork for about $1,400. Elephant is selling their production New Field Explorer frame/fork for $1,285. That's a recent mini-trend, smaller custom builders like Elephant and Wraith selling limited runs of production frames at lower-than-custom prices. They're often niche-y frames, but with enough pent-up interest to sell out the production runs.

Getting closer to Gunnar prices, Rob Perk's Ocean Air Cycles Rambler is US-made, at $1,800. Black Mountain Cycles' MUSA frames are $1,700.

So there's a bunch of stuff out there, but there's nobody I know of, other than Gunnar, with a complete US-built product line that's steel-only. More like a bunch o' blokes with one or two frames each. Maybe Ben's/Milwaukee is closest at this point, since I think they're up to at least 3 or 4 different models now?


Originally Posted by icepick_trotsky View Post
[Quote me: $900-$1,200 US-made production frames.] This is the segment of the market I'd most like to see grow in the coming years... I can think of very few U.S. made production steel frames. Ritchey, Waterford/Gunnar, and new kid on the block Wraith come to mind, but what else is out there?
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Old 08-05-15, 03:53 PM
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When thinking back on the 80s. The bikes we think of a great today we're not without issues then. Names like Bianchi, Gios . Guerciott, Merckx etc. often had paint and workmanship issues. It was a crap shot sometimes getting a good one.

By the late 80's thinks improved greatly. I think Europe was forced to improve because of the rise of American brands.

So, I say the late 80s to early 90s was the pinnacle of steel.

Today's steel is definitely excellent but most I see is like an overworked painting. More than it needs to be.

Della Santa is a builder I like. He builds a basic high quality frame.
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Old 08-05-15, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by icepick_trotsky View Post
This is the segment of the market I'd most like to see grow in the coming years. It seems like steel exists in lower priced Asian imports made for hip U.S. brands (All-City, Surly, Soma, etc.) and the custom market, but I can think of very few U.S. made production steel frames. Ritchey, Waterford/Gunnar, and new kid on the block Wraith come to mind, but what else is out there?
You're not likely to see it return for the 800-1200 market because:
1) the skilled trades are dying off in the US. There's great competition for the remaining skilled labor.

2) bicycle manufacturing is a low margin business (especially against imports)

3) complying with ever increasing environmental and other regulations (ACA, for example) limits the size of startup companies...expansion beyond a certain point opens up a whole new order of magnitude of business expenses but small companies can't generate the volume needed beyond the bespoke market (i.e Waterford/Gunnar).

4) Volume manufacturing in the USA has ceased due to market forces. Cannondale closed their PA plant, Trek long ago left Waterloo, Raliegh left Washington, and Schwinn's last hurrah at Greenville has been gone for over 20 years. It'd be hard to get investors convinced that it's viable to start where other marketable names have failed.

5) Wraith can't be turning much of a profit at the prices they're charging and they aren't able to make the volume to be a stocking company (pre-orders and waves etc point to this).

Make me a solid business case and not just a wish. I'm listening. I'm totally for spending my American Dollars and employing Americans, but most folks start getting really antsy when the price hits four figures....

B
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Old 08-05-15, 04:04 PM
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In regards to sales the peak was reached in 1973 at 15 million bikes sold, as the years when onward those sales fell. In regards to steel reaching it's peak in technology that would be this last 5 years with the coming out of stainless steel frames. Over the last 15 years custom built cromoly steel bikes have really out did themselves, the reliability is fantastic, the quality of workmanship is fantastic, as is the quality of materials.
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Old 08-05-15, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Jarrett2 View Post
Do steel builders keep getting better even today?
Mercian continues to build high quality bespoke framesets as they have for > 40 years and offers "new" steels like Reynolds 853 should one wish.
Retaining traditional qualities of hand craftsmanship in proven designs using the current advanced tubing seems "better" to me for the type of riding that I do.



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Old 08-05-15, 04:14 PM
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Peaked in ~1988-92, so far as I'm concerned. Wide range of fairly good frame builders, lots of good examples of quality high-grade steel frames, priced very decently (all things considered). These days, there's aluminum and carbon, but steel's gotten better along with what can be done with it, despite the costs of such quality frames climbing.

Pound for pound, I think it would be worth doing a real-world shoot-out between, say, today's Reynolds 853 (or similar, in Columbus, Tange, other) tubing in purpose-built and general-purpose bikes.

I still sit in a bit of quiet awe when I see a mid-to-late 1980's Ritchey frame. But then, today's renditions from Alex Meade, Rodriguez and a few other custom and semi-custom makers are producing some pretty sweet rides. Rikulau and a few others are doing it on a larger scale of production. Steel's almost gotten sexy, again. It's an interesting time. Boom time, perhaps?
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Old 08-05-15, 04:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Clyde1820 View Post
Steel's almost gotten sexy, again. It's an interesting time. Boom time, perhaps?
Here here!

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