Why I ride steel bikes

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The joy of riding a modern steel frame and fork (Photo: Steve Smith)
The joy of riding a modern steel frame and fork (Photo: Steve Smith)

There are a host of reasons not to ride steel bikes – my mates roll them out every time we have this conversation and each of them is completely valid.

I totally get why they see carbon as the way forward. If winning something – Le Tour or the Wednesday coffee ride – is the reason you’re turning those pedals then fair enough, get yourself a carbon-framed bicycle. They are certainly lighter, more efficient and quicker than even the most masterly made modern steel frames. One simply cannot beat the weight and power-transferring abilities of carbon-fibre. Fact.

If, however, Tadej Pogacar is unlikely to feel you on his wheel up Ventoux any time soon, or you’re toward the back of the Wednesday coffee queue, you might want to consider the material Eddy Merckx rode to his 525 pro career victories. Steel, you see, can offer you this.

Steel bike owners always talk about “the feel of steel”. It’s easy to dismiss this violin-soundtracked reverie as desperate positive reinforcement smoused by a bunch of people riding bikes with the lateral stiffness of a pool noodle.

It is nonetheless true (the feel bit, not the pool noodle metaphor). You simply can’t compare the buttery smooth ride that steel provides, absorbing and damping road resonance through its fork and frame. It makes for a compliant and comfortable bicycle that you can ride all day.

You learn to ride them in a different way as well, especially with vintage steel frames. Too much side force isn’t what you want – throwing the bike from side to side with out-the-saddle power pedalling is not what they like.

Keep the bike up-right and exert force in a more straight-up-and down linear way gets the best result. Watch old videos of Eddy climbing – he’s rarely out the saddle, and when he is, the bike doesn’t sway about much.

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